Baffling sex disorder leaves embarrassed wife sleeping around

Nick Squires

Australian doctors insist a rare condition known as sleep sex, in which a person sleepwalks and seeks out sex with total strangers, is genuine.

Sleep physician Peter Buchanan identified the condition in one of his patients, a middle-aged woman who would regularly wake up in the middle of the night, creep out of her house and have sex with men she encountered.

Dr Buchanan said the woman and her partner were baffled and embarrassed by her actions.

Her partner first suspected something was amiss when he found condoms scattered around the house. His suspicions were confirmed when he woke one night, discovered the woman missing from the bedroom and found her having sex with another man.

Details of the case will be presented to the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australasian Sleep Association this weekend.

'There's a huge embarrassment about seeking medical help,' Dr Buchanan, from Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, said. 'People are often stunned and overwhelmed when they're told what they've been doing.'

Of course, there was an understandable reluctance on the part of the partners of people suffering from the disorder to believe that the behaviour was beyond their control.

'It's very stressful for both of them, for their partner and for their relationship,' Dr Buchanan said. 'It also promotes an intense sense of embarrassment on their partner's behalf. This inhibits people from seeking potentially helpful professional intervention.'

Sleep sex has only recently been identified as a bona fide sleeping disorder, but Dr Buchanan hopes to have it included in the next revision of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders.

Almost half of sleep sex cases were associated with psychological problems that can be treated with psychotherapy.