Question: I’d like to know whether you’ve heard of cases where a lucid person masturbates during their sleep. I believe that I am one such person. Normally I can control and stop myself as soon as I become conscious of the rhythmic movement of my body but last night I could not. I masturbated twice – aware of what I was doing but not conscious enough to stop myself. Masturbation is against my principles. I am a 29 year old single male who engages in sleep masturbation in times of stress. I don’t masturbate consciously anymore and when I do it during the night I wake up enough to stop myself so that I don’t ejaculate but last night I went all the way without a single thought of stopping. I was lucid but not fully conscious. All the accounts I’ve read say that people who masturbate in their sleep have no recollection the next morning. What do you think?
Great question! There’s more than one way that masturbation happens during sleep.
In recent years, the scientific and medical research has paid more attention to “sleepsex” – also called “sexsomnia” – which is when people engage in masturbation or partnered sex while they are sleeping even though they don’t have any memory of it the next day.
These events are often connected to a sleep disorder and are best addressed by a sleep specialist. Sexsomnia is pretty rare but has been increasingly recognized and written about and maybe that’s why, in your search for more information, you have read so much about that kind of sleep masturbation.
The second kind of sleep masturbation is exactly as you describe and it is very, very common. This is when a man or woman is fast asleep and then may wake up – either a little or a lot – to find that they are rubbing their genitals against the bed or even using their hands or fingers to masturbate. Some people stop themselves. Others allow themselves to continue masturbating, possibly even to orgasm.
History and Research
Pioneering sex research Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues, who interviewed people in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s about their sexual lives, found that it was quite common for both men and women to experience orgasms while sleeping. More recently, in my own scientific research that involves surveying thousands of Americans about their sexual lives, my colleagues and I have found that most Americans have experienced orgasms while sleeping. And you’re right: this kind of sleep masturbation or orgasm is generally recognized by the person doing it. They may be somewhat groggy or still half asleep, but they are lucid enough to know what is happening.
Decisions and Health
Although there is nothing wrong with masturbation and it’s a completely healthy and common behavior for people of all genders, some people – like you – have their own personal reasons for wanting to abstain from masturbation. That’s a perfectly fine choice. However, your body may occasionally have other plans and perhaps you can find a way to make peace with that – choosing not to masturbate during waking hours, for example, but trying to not be so hard on yourself should you wind up doing so while sleeping.
Increasingly, scientific research suggests that ejaculation is healthy for men, and frequent ejaculation during early adulthood may even be linked to a lower risk of prostate problems later in life, though the research is a little unclear at this point. It may be that there are benefits to ejaculation and a biological drive to do so.
If you find yourself feeling particularly guilty or ashamed about your masturbation, or if you’d like other support or advice related to your sexuality, it may help to meet with a sex therapist. You can find one through the Society for Sex Therapy and Research – www.sstarnet.org.