Some people get turned on by the thought of having sex with their bedmate -- or getting sexual attention while they sleep. This sexual interest, known as narcolepsy, is increasingly being asked about by journalists, often in connection with sexual assault. But, from a scientific point of view, there's not much to say about this, because there's very little research on it, in part because it's considered such a rare phenomenon.
So how common is narcolepsy? What does a narcoleptic fantasy look like?
Before we continue, I should mention that the terms narcolepsy and "sleeping Beauty syndrome" are often used interchangeably to refer to the arousal caused by having sex with a sleeping person. However, some psychologists have described sleeping Beauty syndrome as a specific type of narcolepsy, in which the sleepers wake up during sex with increased alertness. In other words, sleeping Beauty syndrome is just one form of narcolepsy, and there are other forms of narcolepsy that don't involve people waking up in their sleep.
We really don't know how common narcolepsy fantasy is, because it's not included in many sex surveys -- but here's what we do know:
In an online survey of 1,516 adults in 2015 , participants were asked if they had fantasized about "sexually abusing someone who was drunk, asleep, or unconscious." A total of 22.6 percent of men and 10.8 percent of women said they had such fantasies.
But the wording of the question conflates sleep with drunkenness and has been framed as "abuse," meaning focusing only on non-consensual behavior. The study also didn't ask people if they fantasized about someone having sex with them while they slept. Therefore, I would be cautious about drawing too many conclusions from these numbers, as this issue is not appropriate to assess the prevalence of narcolepsy fantasies. However, the findings suggest that having some type of narcolepsy fantasy may not be so rare after all.
However, whether narcolepsy is a person's top or favorite fantasy content is a different story. I conducted a survey for my book, Tell Me What You Want, which surveyed 4,175 Americans about their sexual fantasies. However, I do ask people to write down their favorite fantasy in their own words. So I went back and searched for "sleep" in those fantasy stories and looked at every example that came up.
Sorting through these responses to figure out narcolepsy fantasies is a real pain, because a lot of people mention that they sleep in fantasies -- but the vast majority aren't saying anything related to narcolepsy. Most people who mention sleep either say (1) they want to sleep with a specific person (i.e., they use "sleep" as a synonym for "sex") or (2) they fall asleep after having sex (usually in a loved one's arms).
So when I narrowed down my answers, I only identified 20 or so fantasies that could be classified as narcolepsy or a variant of it. In other words, we're only talking about 0.5% of the total sample. This suggests that while it's not uncommon for people to have thoughts or fantasies about narcolepsy, they rarely represent a person's favorite fantasy of all time.
To give you a better idea of what narcolepsy fantasies look like, here are a few examples. Many people suffer from Sleeping Beauty syndrome -- but it's more common for people to fantasize about waking up while someone else is having sex with them than waking someone up with sex:
"My boyfriend came to me while I was sleeping and woke me up on a blowjob."
"I wake up and see my nipples and tongue sucking on my clitoris. What's going on here? How is that possible? I don't care. It feels so good."
"My favorite sexual fantasy is about me and someone. He came into my bedroom while I was sleeping and touched my body with his hands, paying special attention to my genitals to wake me up. I woke up. We did it. I slowly undressed him, kissing and licking him along the way.
"When I'm sleeping and relaxing, I fantasize about my partner gently touching me all over and kissing me everywhere while I'm still asleep. Then I wanted him to continue to stimulate my clitoris and vagina with masturbation and oral sex. I hope it lasts until I climax, climax. After that, I want to have more deep sex."
"A man sleeps in my bed with the door closed and my significant other pretends to sneak up on me and force himself on me. Even though I always knew it was him, the feeling of being the victim of someone else's sexual desire drives me crazy."
"I fall asleep and one or more women -- usually my wife and her or one of my friends -- decide to have some fun and start taking advantage of me while I sleep until I wake up. Sometimes, it's total strangers. Sometimes they tied me up while I was sleeping and forced me to perform for them. If it's just a woman, THEN WHEN I wake up, I control them, because they take advantage of me while I sleep. Mainly to be desired and desired, so that my partner will use every advantage to own me."
What you can see in these fantasies is the theme of sexual surrender -- many of them have a BDSM component, and sleep represents a way of giving up control. For some, this may be part of the fantasy appeal. For others, however, it's more likely that a partner has an overwhelming desire for them - and a partner who starts having sex with you while you sleep may find you irresistible. Interestingly, in almost all fantasies, when people described their partner having sex with them while asleep, that person would wake up at some point and continue the interaction.
Here are some examples of narcolepsy fantasies from other angles -- people who fantasize about having sex with their sleeping partner:
"I want to go to my sister-in-law's room while she is sleeping, and slowly pull off her quilt and untie her legs. I kissed her through her underwear and smelled her sweet juices as she got wetter. Looking at her in the morning makes me happy, like she's having a sex dream."
"When he was asleep, I started sucking on him. As soon as he woke up, he was miserable. I started riding him because he wanted to wipe the sleep out of his eyes."
"I love any idea of domination, humiliation and control. My favorite fantasy is mind control or sleep. I can describe all these things, but they all require me to have complete control over the woman and get her to do what I want."
My wife came home late from hockey, naked in our bed as usual. Seeing this lovely woman peacefully asleep made me want to have some fun while she was asleep. So I climbed into bed and began kissing my wife's silky legs.
Between her soft thighs and long legs she licked, chewed, and caressed the warm, delicious flowers. Slowly, I put my mouth and tongue on the softest meat I know. After a few minutes, I felt her body react to my mouth, and honey began to flow into my waiting mouth... She fell asleep, put her hand on my head, and pushed me against her swollen, wet flowers. I keep saying I hope she doesn't wake up... She held my head tightly, over and over again in a wave of joy, her hand away from my head. I lay next to her and hugged and slept until the next morning. In the morning, she told me she had a strange and wonderful dream. Said it felt so real. I just laugh and think about what might happen next time."
Interestingly, most of these fantasies did not wake up the sleeping partner. People are provoked to talk about their partners -- in some cases, it's like a sexual dream. In other words, they seem to want their partner to experience pleasure and transfer their sexual feelings to their dreams.
As you can see, there are also some BDSM elements in these fantasies (e.g., total control over someone) and some taboo elements (e.g., having sex with someone you shouldn't have). Perhaps sleep is seen as a way of performing a taboo behavior without the knowledge of others.
All in all, narcolepsy and Sleeping Beauty syndrome aren't that common when you look at people's favorite fantasies of all time. Among those inspired by this idea, however, there seem to be very different factors that appeal to their fantasies. While narcolepsy fantasies are often discussed in the popular media as a topic of sexual assault, the way people describe these fantasies (at least from the data I have) for the most part doesn't seem to necessarily mean abuse of another person, and many of them involve mutual well-being.