What Are Sleep Orgasms, and How Can I Have One?
I orgasm in my sleep about three times a month, so I figured it was time to let everyone else in on my secret.
Illustration by Eleanor Doughty
It happens about three times a month. I'll be in that hazy middle ground between sleeping and waking, clinging onto some vaguely sexy dream I can't quite pin down, before I feel something slowly building. By the time I wake up, I'm having an orgasm.
It's probably the best way to start the day, bar being presented with a latte and scrambled eggs on toast, and it always takes a few minutes to confirm what's actually happened. Did I....? Yes. Yes I did. Internal high five. Then I get up, check my phone, and all appreciation of my body's amazing abilities vanishes under a panicked sea of being really, really late for the train.
But it is amazing. According to the Kinsey Report, around 37 percent of women will experience sleep orgasms by the age of 45. If you're in your 20s or 30s and have still never woken up climaxing, you're in luck. The highest incidences of nocturnal orgasm for women overall occur between their 40s and mid 50s—unlike men, who sadly experience all the dream-coming in their teens and early 20s before seeing it diminish rapidly in their 30s.
"It's a bit like a present from your brain," says Jade, 24, who only really experiences sleep orgasms when she's going through a serious sex drought. 'I'm not getting a lot of action, I sometimes even got so bored of not having sex that I lose interest in masturbating, and my brain reminds me that yep, I can still orgasm." When she's in the middle of a sexless desert, Jade can have a couple of nighttime orgasms a week. Sometimes she helps herself out in her sleep, sometimes it's hands free.
When I was younger and frustrated for not being able climax on command like a porn star, one of the most mind-blowing stats I came across was that only 25 percent of women are consistently orgasmic during vaginal intercourse alone. Women are a little more complex when it comes to coming. It's all about the head, and not just in that way.
Pretty much every woman knows that orgasms—or lack thereof—are twinned with what's going on psychologically. "A number of factors often hold women back from having orgasms during sex,' explains Dr Debby Herbenick, associate professor at Indiana University, Kinsey Institute researcher, and author of The Coregasm Workout. "Including not having enough information about how to have an orgasm, an uncaring partner, or one who doesn't prioritize her partner, not giving it enough time (such as during masturbation or oral sex), body image concerns, and so on." As with good sex, sleep orgasms are definitely not a case of just going at it with your good hand until something happens.
Luckily, because it's so wrapped up in confidence, security and our own brains, orgasms tend to get better with age. "Orgasm generally gets easier with age and experience, and when women have sex with regular partners who they feel care about them," says Dr Herbenick. "Thus we see higher rates of orgasm among those in their mid to late 20s, 30s, and 40s."
Makes sense, then, that sleep orgasms are the same. In fact, whether or not you can come in your sleep often doesn't even relate to how much you come while conscious.
First, it helps if you've had a fair few orgasms followed by a sudden drought.
"There is good reason to believe that orgasms while sleeping are not, in fact, the result of genital stimulation, but instead are created in the brain," write Barry R. Komisaruk, Beverly Whipple, and Sara Nasserzadeh in The Orgasm Answer Guide. Studies have also found that those with spinal cord injuries resulting in a lack of connection between the brain and genitals, can still sleep-orgasm. Basically, if you've got a working clitoris and/or vagina, you can dream-climax.
Orgasms may involve pretty much every bodily system, but they're ultimately controlled by the brain. Think about it: Men in their teens can't often control their erections—it could happen in the middle of history class or in the middle of the night. Arousal is dominated by their brains, rather than physical contact. Uncontrollable sleep orgasms diminish as men get older and gain control of their orgasm, both waking and sleeping, and their ability to climax becomes more of a bodily response to physical contact. With women, however, orgasms remain psychological—our sleep orgasms increases as we get older, reaching its peak past 40.
While sleep orgasms can be a relief for those of us in a sex drought, it's incredibly frustrating for those who can only come while asleep. Message boards and forums are full of cries for help.
"I have a big problem,' writes one woman on an eHealth board. "It is this I am in my early thirty's [sic] and have never orgasmed from my man or from myself. But when I sleep I just have 1 thought in my dream and I can orgasm so intense from either my clitorus [sic] or inside me or even both I wake up on the brink and touch myself till I explode."
The closest male equivalent is probably premature ejaculation, where the root cause is unclear but has been linked to anxiety, guilt, or depression; similarly, anorgasmia (an inability to orgasm) in women is largely associated with the same symptoms. Unless it's a gynecological problem or you're on a specific medication that can stop you from coming (hello antidepressants), there's little you can do other than 'relax.' The more you try to come, the more it'll evade you, which is probably just as annoying as when people tell you you'll find love if you stop looking for it. "I am not familiar with any large scale or systematic studies of groups of women who only have sleep orgasms and not orgasms from masturbation or partner sex or exercise," says Dr Herbenick. "Thus no one—including me—can really explain the difference, or offer solutions.'
For those who can orgasm when not sleeping, and fancy giving it a whirl, there are certain ways you can encourage nocturnal fun. It may be an underresearched area, but thankfully this is one situation where my own experience is just as valid as any medical professional. Call me Dr Sleepcome Von Orgasm, or something.
First, it helps if you've had a fair few orgasms followed by a sudden drought. The drought can be a few days, a few weeks, however long it takes to make you think, "Uh, I haven't come in a while"—anything to plant that seed in your mind.
If you're lucky enough to wake up coming, then I'd also say—spread the word.
Second, you have to be lying on your front. I know, I know, there are books that say it's not about genital stimulation, but it doesn't hurt to have something pressing on there, right? Also, it's been proven that sleeping on your stomach provokes sex dreams (apparently because you're likely to get a bit short of breath at some point), so that definitely doesn't hurt. Third, you have to be tired. Like, exhausted. There's no scientific evidence for that other than writer Daisy Buchanan, who wrote an article on her sleep orgasms—but her own experience definitely correlates with mine.
Finally, have a think about something pretty hot as you drop off. This is a given. Go crazy; it's not like anybody is around to judge you.
If you're lucky enough to wake up coming, then I'd also say—spread the word. The fact that we don't talk about it with friends, boyfriends, grandparents (joking, please don't talk about it with your grandparents unless they're very chill) means that people aren't aware of the bounteous joys of what our bodies can do. It's possible that your brain can make you come without your body doing anything at all. If that isn't a Christmas miracle, I really don't know what is.