Somnophilia-Sexual Attraction To Those Unconscious

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS
April 6, 2019

In January 2019, a story broke of a twenty-nine year old woman who gave birth to a baby boy in a long-term care facility in Phoenix, Arizona.  This story by itself would probably not have garnered much attention, but ended up in the public eye after learning that this woman was in a vegetative state while giving birth.  Moreover, the story went on to report that this woman has been in a vegetative state for ten years and none of the workers were aware that she was pregnant.  The story concludes by stating that DNA was acquired from all staff members of the long-term care facility in an effort to find the perpetrator.

This individual is representative of somebody afflicted with somnophilia, or a sexual attraction to someone who is unconscious.  Somnophilia is a type of paraphilia, which is the occurrence of sexual arousal to uncommon objects, people, or situations.  Somnophilia derives from the Latin word “somnus”, meaning sleep, and the Greek word “philia” meaning love.  Somnophilia is also known as the sleeping princess syndrome.  An individual with somnophilia becomes sexually aroused by somebody who is non-responsive.

A person with somnophilia may attempt to cause an unconscious state by drugging their victim, or by taking advantage of an individual who is intoxicated or unresponsive in a deep sleep.  A person with somnophilia is ultimately aroused by the fact that their sexual partner is unable to oppose their advances.  Symptoms of somnophilia include frequent thoughts and excessive fantasizing while thinking about or when in close proximity to those who are unconscious or non-responsive.  Other symptoms of somnophilia include overt sexual desire and sexual behavior with the unconscious.

Somnophilia is diagnosed when it is deemed that there is significant impairment, usually resulting when a sexual act is performed without the consent of the other partner.  Treatment is usually unnecessary unless the behavior is deemed criminal or injurious, or if legal trouble results.  Treatment options can include hypnosis, behavioral therapy, and 12 step programs.  Other treatment interventions can include psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, orgasmic reconditioning, or group therapy.  Medications are not commonly prescribed for this condition and are never the primary source of treatment.  However, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or other medications may be helpful as a secondary course of treatment. 

Psychologist, John Money, linked somnophilia with necrophilia, or sexual arousal or intercourse involving corpses, in the late 1900’s.  Money believed that somnophilia and necrophilia were separate entities, but suggested that somnophilia had the potential of turning into necrophilia.  Other theorists believe that somnophilia is a type of necrophilia in that both conditions involve sexual attraction with those who are unconscious and non-consenting. 

In 1972, psychologists Dr. Calef and Dr. Weinshel published an article in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis that donned somnophilia as “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome.”  This article suggested that somnophilia was a “neurotic equivalent” of necrophilia.  The biggest difference between somnophilia and necrophilia is that individuals who meet the diagnostic criteria for somnophilia are only interested in individuals who are still alive. 

There is still a lot that is not known about somnophilia, especially due to lack of research and formalized studies.  In order to fully understand the causes, risk factors, and development of somnophilia, more research is necessary.  The individual who impregnated the woman in the vegetative state at the Arizona long-term care facility is representative of one with somnophilia.  This person became sexually aroused and followed through with a sexual act on a person who was not responsive and who was unable to reject their advances.  As this became a criminal matter, if the perpetrator is ever located, treatment will be essential.

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.

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