He never remembers the groping in the morning.
About once a week, I’m awoken from deep sleep by hands aggressively groping my body. I open my eyes panicked and see a person straddling my body. He looks like my boyfriend, but he’s not. He’s an imposter.
At the beginning of our relationship, I slept peacefully through the night. I’d settle in his armpit nook or curl behind him?—?forever the big spoon?—?and we’d drift off. The only thing that might wake me would was a soft kiss on my shoulder. “I love you so much, honey,” he’d whisper.
A few months after moving in together, I was startled awake. Someone was touching me. Someone was touching me down there. In a fog, I sleepily moved his hand. That was weird.
Moments later, he moved his hand back. Now I was angry. Did he not understand what I meant by moving his hand the first time? I grabbed his arm and pushed it away again.
“Stop it. No, babe,” I shout-whispered.
“What?!” He looked at me straight in the eyes.
“Babe, I’m sleeping. I don’t want to have sex right now. Are you kidding me!?”
He grabbed a fistful of blanket and turned his back. I’m such a frigid bitch, I thought. My boyfriend wanted to try something new and exciting and I snapped at him. I stared at the ceiling, trying to process what had happened. The last time I woke up to someone on top of me, it was by a man who wasn’t asleep and definitely wasn’t my boyfriend.
“Sorry I shut you down last night,” I said over cereal and “Spongebob” the next morning. “You know how cranky I get when people wake me prematurely.”
He looked puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
As I recounted the night’s events, the color from his face drained. He had no idea what I was talking about. But he looked at me with open eyes? He spoke coherently? He stared back at me blankly, clueless.
My boyfriend and I brushed off the first incident. We even joked to some friends about him “trying to rape me” in my sleep. It wasn’t funny; we just didn’t know what else to do.
But when groping fingers woke me a second time (and a third, and a fourth), it started to take a toll on both of us. Each night followed the same emotional cycle: Wake scared, become angry and end feeling guilty. I’d hold his face and look into his eyes:
“ARE YOU AWAKE!? TELL ME IF YOU’RE AWAKE.”
He assured me he was. I’d continue to ask, unsure of who I was talking to and what to believe.
Every morning after an incident, I’d smile and say something like, “Guess what you did again last night, ya perv!?” But despite how lightly I’d approach, he’d look back at me in terror. He said he felt like a monster.
He knew about the man who raped me in my sleep years ago and hated that his unconscious actions were dredging up those thoughts?—?that he and that man could live inside the same space in my brain.
I finally mustered the courage to Google “men having sex while asleep” and was shocked to find relevant results.
The first was a quote from Robert Oexman, DC, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, MO, who described a sleep condition called sexsomnia as:
“A form of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) parasomnia, similar to sleepwalking, that causes people to engage in sexual acts such as masturbation, fondling, intercourse, and sometimes rape while they are asleep.”
If you had described this to me a few years ago, I would have shrugged it off as a deplorable excuse for others to act on non-consensual desires. But it’s not. It’s a very real and very difficult condition for those who suffer from it. In extreme cases, the condition has been accepted as cause of sexual assault, including rape.
Next, I found a story about a married couple who candidly described their struggle with sexsomnia. I was so, so relieved. This was a thing! And I wasn’t alone! But the article ended on a mostly lighthearted tone, as the couple poked fun at the ways they work around the husband’s triggers. They seemed…happy. Why couldn’t I feel the same?
Sometimes I’m too upset or angry to fall back asleep. So I lay awake, worrying it’s my fault for not giving into his desires. Wondering if he’s starting to resent me the same way I’m starting to resent him. Wondering if this is something I can deal with for much longer.