GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC


Somnophilia refers to an abnormal sexual desire. It causes sexual gratification from having sex with someone who is not conscious. It is considered a sexual paraphilia that is not common. Because it is not common, not much research has been performed to understand the disorder.

It is important to note that a person with somnophilia does NOT always act on their sexual urges. They do NOT have to act on problematic thoughts and impulses to have somnophilia. There is a difference between the disorder and the assault.

Affected people who act on their sexual impulses may do the following:

  • Perform sexual acts on people who are unconscious.
  • Rape people who are sleeping or unconscious.
  • Use date rape drugs like GHB and rohypnol on unsuspecting victims.
  • Perform sexual acts on people who are sleeping.
  • Target people who are in comas or otherwise cannot consciously defend themselves.

Somnophilia may involve rendering a victim unconscious. Once unconscious, the affected person performs sexual acts to their body. The victim is not conscious and not aware of the acts being performed. Acts involve rape and other means of sexual violation.

Acts of somnophilia are immoral, violating and dangerous. Victims are helpless to defend themselves. They may not remember what happened or who violated them. This is particularly prevalent for victims of date rape drugs.

Symptoms of Somnophilia

Somnophilia is considered a paraphilia. A paraphilia is a mental health disorder that causes abnormal sexual desires. These sexual desires may involve risky and dangerous sexual behaviors.

People with somnophilia understand that performing sexual acts on unconscious and sleeping people is immoral. There are many affected people who are able to make the moral decision to resist their urges. These people may seek treatment and find ways to resist their urges. People who fail to resist their urges are considered sexual predators.

People with somnophilia may suffer from a number of symptoms, whether or not they act on them. The possible symptoms of somnophilia include:

  • Recurring sexual thoughts and fantasies about people who are unconscious or sleeping.
  • Recurring urges to perform sexual acts on unconscious or sleeping people.
  • Difficulty resisting thoughts and impulses about having sex with sleeping and unconscious people.
  • Experiencing distress in reaction to thoughts, fantasies, urges or impulses of somnophilia.
  • Having the somnophilic thoughts and impulses significantly affect a level of functioning. (work, school, socializing, etc.)
  • Experiencing symptoms consistently or a period of six months or longer

An offender with somnophilia becomes sexually aroused in the following situations:

  • Fondling, caressing, or performing other sexual acts on someone who is asleep.
  • Performing sexual acts on people who are in a coma or otherwise incapacitated.
  • Using drugs to render a victim unconscious, then performing sexual acts on them.
  • Having sex with an unconscious or sleeping person.

Offenders with somnophilia do know that these acts are wrong, but cannot resist their sexual urges and impulses to act.

Causes and Risk Factors of Somnophilia

Little professional research has been performed to understand somnophilia. Because of this, not much is known about what causes the disorder.

Some speculate that it has to do with obtaining a sense of power over the victim. Others believe it is the result of the affected person’s personal history of sexual abuse. This theory specifically refers to affected people who were abused during the night or while sleeping when they were children.

Despite speculation, no empirical evidence has been found to support the cause or causes of somnophilia.

While there is no research on what specifically causes somnophilia, there has been research on what causes a paraphilia. Considering somnophilia is a paraphilia, the evidence found for its causes may shed light on what causes somnophilia.

There are several correlations between different cases of paraphilia. These correlations support the following as possible risk factors:

  • Suffering from a severe anxiety disorder.
  • Suffering from a history of substance abuse.
  • Having low self-esteem.
  • Suffering from a history of childhood sexual trauma or abuse.
  • Having a need for the sense of power or domination for sexual gratification.
  • Feeling incompetent, unattractive or sexually inept.
  • Feeling insecure about sexual performance or genitalia.
  • Impotence.

Treatment Options for Somnophilia

There is little evidence about effective treatment for somnophilia. Despite the lack of research, it is best for affected people to seek treatment.

People who are concerned with their symptoms, thoughts and potential to act on their impulses should seek therapy. Early intervention is the first defense against acting on the sexual impulses.

Treatment options that are most highly considered for somnophilia and paraphilia disorders include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • 12-step programs
  • Intensive rehabilitation programs

Programs that treat sex addiction can aid in the treatment of somnophilia. Treatment may involve inpatient therapeutic programs. This depends on the affected person’s unique condition.

With early treatment and intervention, acting on sexual impulses can be prevented. Victims can be spared. Treatment can also prevent offenders with somnophilia from re-offending.

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