This is a serious topic.
Working with partners of sex addicts over the years, I’ve been truly disheartened by the number of times partners have shared with me that the sex addict in their life has been sexual with them without their permission.
Non-consensual sexual touch (including intercourse) in relationships between sex addicts and their partners is far more common than you might think.
While the general public may assume that sex addicts are sexually inappropriate or even abusive with their partners, anyone familiar with sex addiction knows that while most sex addicts are hypersexual outside their committed relationship, in their most intimate relationship they are typically sexually avoidant.
Non-consensual means that there is no consent — or agreement — for sex or sexual touch.
Examples of non-consensual sex include:
- Saying no to sex (or sexual touch) and being repeatedly prodded, harassed, or even forced to be sexual.
- Being touched sexually while you’re asleep.
- Being touched sexually when you’re blacked out or unconscious.
In my post boundaries 101, I talked about non-negotiable personal boundaries. The right to say no to physical and/or sexual touch is a non-negotiable personal boundary.
That means when you say no to physical or sexual touch of any kind, you have a right to say no, and the other person must honor your no. If they don’t, they have violated your boundary and have acted in an offensive manner.
Non-consensual sex is rape.
Non-consensual sex in a committed (marital) relationship is marital rape.
Marital rape is illegal in every state in the United States, including the District of Columbia (source: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network [RAINN]).
To be fair, it is possible for a person who is sleeping to unknowingly initiate sex with another person in the same way that some people — while sleeping — get out of bed, get in their car, and drive.
The technical term for engaging in sexual activity while sleeping is sexsomnia. Sexsomnia can include a wide variety of behaviors, including masturbation.
A 2010 study showed that nearly 8% of patients at a sleep disorder clinic reported initiating sex while sleeping. Men reported the behavior at nearly three times the frequency of women patients (Study Finds That Sexsomnia is Common in Sleep Center Patients [American Academy of Sleep Medicine]).
The researchers concluded that because they were only studying patients who had been referred for a sleep study, the prevalence of sexsomnia in the general population is likely much lower.
In the majority of cases where someone is approached for sex while sleeping, the person initiating sexual contact is fully aware of what they’re doing.
Sadly, many women silently endure years of forced sex or being approached for sex while sleeping. They may believe, for religious reasons, that their husband is entitled to sex with them whenever he wants it.
Some women remain silent because the offending behavior of their partner mimics a past sexual trauma (most often from childhood) when they weren’t able to say anything or get away from their abuser. They may feel — as they did in the past — that they don’t have a right to stop the abuse or that there is nothing they can do to stop it.
Some women, after being awakened in the middle of the night by unwanted sexual touch, agree to engage sexually because it’s the only time they’re ever approached for sex by their partner. They — understandably — want sexual attention and sexual intimacy, but these unwelcome episodes are their only opportunity.
Non-consensual sex — of any kind — is abuse and must be treated as such.
If you’re enduring unwanted sex with your partner and you want it to stop, I urge you to take one (or all) of these steps:
- Remind yourself that you have a right to say no to any physical or sexual touch.
- Tell your partner that you will no longer participate in sexual activity of any kind unless you give a clear “yes” without any pressure or coercion.
- Tell your partner that when you say no to any sexual touch, you do not want to be asked again or otherwise “persuaded” to change your mind.
- Establish consequences if you are repeatedly prodded or harassed for sex (for example, sleeping in another room, leaving the home for a specified length of time, or in more extreme cases, separation).
- If you’ve been repeatedly approached for sex while sleeping, ask your partner to sleep in another room for a specific period of time while you are working on resolving the issue.
- If your partner will not sleep in another room, protect yourself by sleeping in another room or leave to stay in a safe place.
- Take any actions that help you feel more comfortable and safe. This can be as simple as placing a pillow between you and your partner in bed, or as serious as installing a lock on your bedroom door.
- Surround yourself with people who support your right to protect yourself from unwanted touch.
Imagine what you would think or how you would feel if your sister, your best friend, or your daughter were experiencing what you’re going through? You would probably be outraged, and rightfully so. You deserve the same concern and care for yourself.
Lastly, if you are in a situation where you fear for your physical safety, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline [(800) 737-3224] or your local women’s shelter.
You have a right to protect yourself and keep yourself safe.
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2015)
All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity.