Orgasms In My Sleep: How, and Why Now?

paperispatientThe Frisky Feminist12 Comments

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Q: So I’m in my mid-twenties and I’ve started waking up mid orgasm every week for the past month or so. And I don’t get it. I’ve never had this (I don’t want to say issue ’cause it’s kind of fun”¦) happen before. Not during puberty when that sort of thing is more common, so I’m curious as to why. Why do these things happen and what do you think could have changed that I’d start having them about a decade after puberty?

A: This is one of those topics that has a disappointing lack of scientific research behind it – disappointing but not surprising if you’re familiar with medical science’s track record with female sexuality. Evolutionary biologists remain largely hung up on figuring out why women have orgasms, with some still questioning whether the female orgasm even exists. (Which, uh, yes.) (Also, it should be assumed that these scientists are uniformly terrible in bed.) Even Wikipedia – and who can we trust if not them? – devotes four paragraphs to the frequency of nocturnal emissions in men and follows up with a single measly sentence on their frequency in women.

Which isn’t to say there’s no research out there at all; in Kinsey’s landmark survey of human sexuality, 37 percent of women reported having had orgasms in their sleep. And… that’s one of the only scholarly works we can offer (and it was published in 1953). More recently, a poll in a 2009 Glamour.com article on the subject showed nearly 80% of respondents experiencing sleepgasms, but then again, if Internet polls were reliable, Ron Paul would be president and your right to even have an orgasm would be dictated by the whims of the free market. So fair warning, most of what we have to offer you is going to come from anecdotal evidence and informed speculation.

When you get all hot and bothered in your waking life, one of the physical changes that takes place is increased blood flow to your bits (and to your nipples, too) – your labia may get a little swollen, you start getting wet, and your clitoris may get harder and more sensitive. During certain stages of sleep, blood flow to your muscles increases – and that includes your pelvic muscles.

Sleeping woman looking happy

I bet I know why she looks happy!

It’s not just blood and your bits – your brain plays a big role in all this, too. According to The Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides, PET scans of people’s brains while they’re having orgasms reveal that multiple parts of the conscious brain, like the areas that process outside information or control motor activity, sort of shut down or temporarily turn off during orgasm. (How would you like to be involved in that study?) Various parts of your brain rest or stay active while you sleep, doing all sorts of things like helping you sort out your memories and giving you wacky dreams, and one post we found stated that sleep orgasms happen most often during REM sleep. So with bits of your brain shut down, blood flowing to some important places, and the possibility of having some very realistic sexy dreams (although not everyone who has sleep orgasms has sexy dreams), it’s easier to understand how your body might react during sleep the way it would to real stimulation when you’re awake.

But why now, you ask? Well…we don’t know. It does seem that most women who have orgasms in their sleep start having them during puberty; one study published in the Journal of Sex Research in 1986 found that 85% of women who’d had sleep orgasms had them before age 21 (and many before age 13), but it’s certainly not unheard of to begin having them at a later age, and many different factors could contribute to that.

One article we found mentioned that the occurrence of sleep orgasms may be related to a person’s testosterone levels, but it didn’t provide any additional details. Starting around age 13, I had sex dreams almost every night, but I don’t recall having orgasms in my sleep until the past few years, which was also when I began having partner sex and plenty of orgasms on a regular basis. (I’m kind of glad it didn’t start happening until after I no longer had roommates – I’ve woken up enthusiastically humping away at nothing, which is hilarious if no one’s watching but might have been a little embarrassing when I shared a dorm room with two friends.) I can also see the opposite making sense – having it happen more often if you feel like you’re going through a dry spell and aren’t getting that release when you’re awake. One study found that sleep orgasms were connected to feelings of “sexual liberalism,” which may be something you’ve acquired as you’ve gotten older, or it might not have anything to do with your sex life at all (see the Salon article we linked to in a previous paragraph).

We know this answer may not be terribly satisfying, but hopefully you continue to enjoy this baffling and delightful development!

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Keep the great ques­tions com­ing! (Hee.) Got a ques­tion to ask, sub­ject you’d like us to dis­cuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com or send us an anony­mous mes­sage via the spiffy new Ask Us! fea­ture here.

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paperispatient

I recently earned my MA in women’s studies. I enjoy reading, working out, playing Scrabble, watching cheesy movies, and cooking yummy vegetarian meals with my partner and Frisky Feminist co-author, Future Mr. paperispatient.
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paperispatientOrgasms In My Sleep: How, and Why Now?

12 Comments on “Orgasms In My Sleep: How, and Why Now?”

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  1. Avatar of Atukana
    Atukana

    So glad I found this page!!!! ♡
    I’ve been having sleepgasms since a few months now. For me I think it is linked to early onset menopause. Therfore I think the link to puberty etc is from hormonal changes. I’m curious if the women who responded that are in their twenties and starting having sleepgasns & have become sexually more active, have also started using the pill.

    For me my dreams are semi-lucid and I try to steer them towards my ‘happy ending’ ;-) but fail and wake up to an overwhelming feeling of nausea (for being out of breath). Getting the job done helps. I also find myself in soaking wet sheets. For me another hint it might be (besides my daytime troubles with which I shan’t bother you) early onset menopause. I suspect I’m having nocturnal hot-flashes. None during the day.

    The nausea sucks but the orgasms are worth it. The dreams are weird (as always), this night I found myself in a swingers experiment with the neighbourhood ending up having a vanilla s&m-sex-relation with an elderly man…. Go figure.

    I’ve just turned 42, so it also may be I’ve just found the solution to life, the universe and everything….. ;-)
    My mother had really onset menopause but has been dead for over a decade, so no answers there. And not the thing to discuss with aunts at birthdays. So, once more, thank you for this page!! I’m even emotional now that I can freely share this here. But hey, that might only be the hormones….

    X

    PS. Dont know how this page works yet so I would love to have some feedback: username at zonnet dot nl :-*

  2. Avatar of Leezaleigh
    Leezaleigh

    Wow, glad to know I’m not the only woman that started having sleep-gasms in their mid 20′s!  I’m in a long distance relationship so sex is on a monthly basis.  Recently I’ve been having really really intense sex dreams and I always wake up when I have an orgasm.  I talk in my sleep so I’m paranoid that one of these days my roommate might hear me moaning…

  3. Avatar of Lilydancing
    Lilydancing

    Great post! I’ve had a handful of sleepgasms in my life, mostly in my mid 20s too. Usually, it was when I was having a really intense sex dream, and I would orgasm in the dream and it would wake me up, and I’d be all WTF was that? Not that it was a complaint.

    I was usually single at the time though, so maybe it was because I was super horny? No idea.

  4. Avatar of Chelsea
    Chelsea

    I’m really glad to see this article because I’m 20 and this just started happening to me, too (at a really convenient time actually, because I’m single for the first time in two years and am subsequently not getting any now… the help is appreciated). It’s only happened a few times but I’m certainly not complaining. Honestly, though, I had never even heard of someone getting orgasms in their sleep until my friend told me that when she was pregnant it would happen to her, and that was only a couple of years ago – yet I’m pretty sure that wet dreams for guys is something I learned about in sex ed in like, the 7th grade. Wtf is up with that??

  5. Avatar of Ptygmatic
    Ptygmatic

    Glad someone brought this up!  I asked my current beau about nocturnal emissions.  I mean, based on how often if got brought up in Sex Ed it must be fairly frequent, right?  I know it’s hardly representative but he told me he’s had maybe two.  I’ve had orgasms in my sleep not that my Sex Ed teacher would care.  They usually occur when I’m very sleep deprived and my dreaming is very intense in the late morning as I’m just waking up.  It’s only happened a handful of times.

    1. Avatar of QoB
      QoB

      From talking to friends who are men, for most of them it’s something that’s associated with puberty – once they became sexually active (I’m including masturbating in that, too) it happens very rarely.

  6. Avatar of Hazel-rah
    Hazel-rah

    Great article! I did a little research on nocturnal orgasms when, a few months ago, I had two in one week. My husband and I were having regular sex, too, so it (happily) confused me. I have had them before but they mostly come once or twice a year. I also didn’t get very far into why this happens but I like the “sexual liberalism” explanation the most. :)

    And many of these orgasms came with some intense dreams, from having sex with women to having sex with a random dude from high school. The brain is bizarre.

    1. Avatar of paperispatient
      paperispatient

      They happen most often to me when I’m having regular sex as well – maybe it has to do with our bodies being in the habit of getting all turned on and tingly? (They’re always accompanied by very vivid dreams for me too – although I never have the orgasm in the dream, just as I’m waking up, which I’ve always thought was interesting!)

        1. Avatar of Hazel-rah
          Hazel-rah

          Oh, waking up CLOSE to one but having it just out of reach is so annoying! That has happened more than a few times. Telling myself to go back to sleep and get back in the mood doesn’t seem to help, either.

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