Sleeping Beauty Syndrome: Fantasies About Sex With a Sleeping Person
July 21, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller
Some people are turned on by the idea of having sex with a partner who is sleeping—or being asleep and receiving sexual attention from someone else. This sexual interest is known as somnophilia, and it’s a subject I’ve been increasingly asked about by journalists, often in relation to stories about sexual assault. However, speaking from a scientific perspective, there hasn’t been much to say about this because there’s almost no research on the subject, in part, because it has been assumed to be a pretty rare phenomenon.
So how common is somnophilia, and what do somnophilia fantasies look like?
Before we go on, I should mention that the terms somnophilia and “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” are often used interchangeably to refer to arousal from the idea of sex with a sleeping person. However, some psychologists have characterized Sleeping Beauty Syndrome as a specific type of somnophilia in which arousal is increased by the sleeping person waking up during sex. In other words, Sleeping Beauty Syndrome is just one form of somnophilia—other forms exist that do not involve the sleeping person awakening.
We really have no idea exactly how common somnophilia fantasies are because it’s not something that has been included in many sex surveys—but here’s what we know:
In a 2015 study of 1,516 adults surveyed online , participants were asked whether they had fantasized about “sexually abusing a person who is drunk, asleep, or unconscious.” In total, 22.6% of men and 10.8% of women reported having had this fantasy.
However, this question wording conflates sleep with intoxication and is framed in terms of “abuse,” meaning it focused only on non-consensual acts. It also did not ask whether people had fantasized about someone else having sex with them while sleeping. Thus, I’d be cautious about drawing too many conclusions from these numbers because the question isn’t optimized for assessing prevalence of somnophilia fantasies. However, the findings suggest that having ever had a somnophilia fantasy of some type before probably isn’t all that rare.
However, for somnophilia to be one’s preferred or favorite fantasy content is a different story. In the survey of 4,175 Americans’ sexual fantasies I conducted for my book Tell Me What You Want, I did not ask specifically about somnophilia fantasies because they weren’t on my radar at the time; however, I did ask people to write out their favorite fantasy of all time in their own words. So I went back and performed a search for “sleep” in those fantasy narratives and looked at each instance that came up.
Sorting through the responses to pull out the somnophilia fantasies was honestly kind of a pain because a lot of people mention sleep in their fantasies—but the vast majority weren’t talking about anything remotely related to somnophilia. Most of the sleep mentions consisted of people talking about either (1) wanting to “sleep with” a specific person (i.e., using “sleep” as a synonym for “sex”) or (2) falling asleep after sex (often in the arms of their lover).
So when I narrowed down the responses, I could only identify about 20 folks whose fantasies could be characterized as somnophilia or some variant of it. In other words, we’re only talking about one-half of one percent of the total sample. This would suggest that, while it may not be uncommon for people to have ever had the thought or fantasy of somnophilia, it is rare for it to represent someone’s favorite fantasy of all time.
To give you a better idea of what the somnophilia fantasies looked like, here are a few examples. Many took the form of Sleeping Beauty Syndrome—but it was more common for people to fantasize about being awakened while someone was having sex with them than to fantasize about awakening someone else with sex:
“My boyfriend comes to me while sleeping and awakens me to oral pleasure.”
“I awake to the sucking of both of my tits and tongue on my clit. What is going on? How can that be? I don’t care. It feels so good.”
“My favorite sexual fantasy is about me and a certain someone. He comes in my bedroom while I’m sleeping and wakes me up by running his hands over my body, paying special attention to my nether regions. I wake up. We make out. I undress him slowly, kissing him and licking him all along the way.
“While I’m still asleep and relaxed, I fantasize that my partner would begin to caress me softly all over my body and kissing me in various places while I’m still asleep. Then I wish he would proceed to stimulate my clitoris and vaginal parts with a hand job and later oral job. I would want him to continue until I reach climax and orgasm. After that I would like to continue with penetrating sex and I want it deep.”
“To be sleeping in my bed alone with the door closed and for my partner to pretend to sneak up on me and force himself on me. Although I would know it was him all along, the sensation of being a complete victim of someone else’s sexual desires would turn me on like crazy.”
“I’m asleep and one or more women—usually my wife and a friend of hers or mine—have decided to have some fun and start taking advantage of me in my sleep until I wake up. Sometimes, it’s complete strangers. Sometimes they tie me up while I’m still asleep and force me to perform for them. If it’s just one woman, then when I wake up, I dominate them for taking advantage of me in my sleep. Mainly it involves being desired and wanted so badly that the partners will use every advantage to have me that they can.”
What you can see in some of these fantasies are themes of sexual submission—there’s a BDSM component to many of them, with being asleep representing a way to give up control. For some, that may be part of the appeal of the fantasy. For others, however, it may be more about a partner having overwhelming desire for them—a partner who starts having sex with you in your sleep may find you to be irresistible. Interestingly, in pretty much all of the fantasies where people described a partner having sex with them while sleeping, the individual woke up at some point and continued the interaction.
Here are a few examples of somnophilia fantasies from the other perspective—people who fantasized about having sex with a sleeping partner:
“I would love to go into my sister-in-law’s room while she is asleep, slowly pull the covers off her, and uncross her legs slowly. I kiss her through her panties and smell her luscious juices as she gets wetter. I watch her morning in pleasure like she is having a sex dream.”
“While he’s asleep, I begin sucking him. As soon as he wakes up, he’s hard and I start riding him as he’s wiping sleep from his eyes.”
“I love any sort of thought of domination, humiliation, and control. My favorite fantasies involve mind control or sleep. I can describe them all, but they involve me being in complete control of the woman and her doing whatever I want.”
“Coming home late after playing hockey, my wife is laying naked in our bed as she always does. Seeing the lovely woman sleeping peaceful and silent gives me the strong desire to have some fun while she sleeps. So I crawl onto the bed and start kissing my way up my wife’s silky smooth legs. Licking, nibbling, caressing up past her soft thighs to the warm delicious flower between her long beautiful legs. Slowly I place my mouth then tongue onto the softest flesh I know. Within a few minutes, I’m feeling her body responding to my mouth and the honey starts to flow into my waiting mouth…In her sleep she now places her hands on my head and pushes me into her swollen wet flower. I continue, hoping she does not wake…She pulls my head into her tight and rides the waves of pleasure over and over as she cums…Her hands leave my head and I move to lay beside her, cuddling and falling asleep till morning. Morning comes and she tells me of this strange and wonderful dream she had. Saying it felt so real. I just smile and think of the next time it may happen.”
Interestingly, in these fantasies, most did not involve the sleeping partner waking up. People talked about their partners becoming aroused—and, in some cases, experiencing it as a sex dream. In other words, they seemed to want their partner to experience pleasure and to have the sexual sensations transferred over into their dream content.
As you can see, there can also be some BDSM components to these fantasies (i.e., having complete control over someone)—and there can also be taboo elements (e.g., having sex with someone you’re not supposed to), perhaps with sleep being seen as a way of carrying out a taboo act without anyone else knowing.
With all of that said, somnophilia and Sleeping Beauty Syndrome are not common when you look at people’s favorite fantasy of all time. However, among those who are aroused by the idea, there appear to be very different factors that draw them to the fantasy. And while somnophilia fantasies are frequently discussed in the context of sexual assault in the popular media, people’s descriptions of these fantasies (at least in the data I have) don’t necessarily seem to be about the desire to abuse another person for the most part, with many involving themes of mutual pleasure.
Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for more from the blog or here to listen to the podcast. Follow Sex and Psychology on Facebook, Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit to receive updates. You can also follow Dr. Lehmiller on YouTube and Instagram.
 Joyal, C. C., Cossette, A., & Lapierre, V. (2015). What exactly is an unusual sexual fantasy? The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12, 328-340. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12734
Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >