Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Sleep is a mystery. Despite decades of research, scientists have hardly begun to uncover its physiological function. We know that staying awake for prolonged periods of time — the record is 11 days — causes deficits in memory, perception, and overall health. And we know that pulling an all-nighter before an exam (almost) never works. But we don’t know why.
What happens during sleep? Voluntary movement is reduced. Responses to external stimuli are suppressed. Consciousness is lost. Additionally, some neuroscientists have speculated that during sleep the brain replays experiences from the day, so as to encode them into long term memories. Perhaps this is what happens when we dream.
Neuroscience, schmeuroscience. I had a question about sleep, and brain research wasn’t going to help me. Is it possible to have sex (specifically, intercourse) during sleep? Or, as I like to put it, is it possible to “sleep bone”? Let the experiment begin!
The plan was as follows. My partner and I agreed, ahead of time, that I would try to have sex with her while she was asleep. We considered going the other way (her trying to have sex with me), but the experimental data on spontaneous sleep erections (“splerections”?) is murky at best. Yes, it can happen, but the erections are erratic and ephemeral. And my partner wasn’t about to sit next to me all night waiting to jump on an exigent erection. I don’t blame her. I wouldn’t want to stare at my penis for that long, either.
I have a proclivity for staying up late, so I decided to go downstairs and get some work done while my partner went to sleep. Before leaving, however, we set up shop. Two condoms on the bedside table (the second one was just in case of difficulties), and a tube of lube. And my partner took off her pajama bottoms and panties. This part is key. Sleep boning can’t work if you go to sleep clothed. Removing clothes wakes people up, and sleep boning requires that the boning commence prior to waking. Ipso facto, no clothes.
Now, before going further, I need to make two disclaimers. First (and I can’t stress this enough): consent, consent, consent. My partner and I agreed on and planned this out ahead of time, with complete consent and trust. Anything less would have been entering dangerous moral and legal territory. ‘Nuff said.
Second, there is a continuum of “sleep boning.” On one end is mild touching and foreplay used to waken one’s partner so as to initiate waking sex. On the other end is beginning (and completing) some kind of sexual act while one or both partners are entirely asleep. While we tried something closer to the latter, anything along the continuum could be a source of exploratory fun.
But I digress. I waited downstairs for about 4 hours, letting my partner get deep into her sleep cycle. Then it was business time. My first task was getting hard. If I was going to succeed without waking her up, I would need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Bed-side masturbation was not an option. So I went into a nearby bathroom and started shaking hands with the unemployed. Not too much, of course. Just enough to get hard.
I then crept into the bedroom, erection intact and gym shorts ready to drop. That’s when I faced my first obstacle. No light! The bed was on the far side of a messy room, and attempting this in the dark was going to land me on my ass and wake up my partner. Unacceptable. So I went back downstairs and grabbed my cell phone. Temporary flashlight! But during all this stress my penis took a turn for the worst, softening up like a rotten banana. So on my way back to the bedroom, I paused outside the door to give the old bearded one-eyed love dog a quick walk. Then I opened the door, illuminated my path, and crept towards the bed.
My partner looked peacefully adorable. Curled up, hands under cheek, mouth ajar. Could I really do this? I focused on recalling her pre-sleep enthusiasm. We both really wanted to try this. There was no turning back!
I quickly and carefully went to work. Still hard, I went to put on a condom. But I couldn’t do it one-handed. So I propped my mock flashlight on the bed, put on the condom, and lathered up with lots and lots of lube. I put the flashlight away (my eyes had adjusted to the dark at this point), and removed the covers from my partner slowly, quietly, and nervously. This didn’t wake her up. Phew.
I then crawled around her on the bed to assume an approach vector. This was the hardest part. She was on her side, so sidelong rear entry seemed optimal (“sidewinder”? “spoonsex”?). But her legs were closed tight together. I felt like Jason and the Argonauts facing the Symplegades, the mythical Clashing Rocks that squeezed together as shipmen tried to sail through. On the advice of the seer Phineus, Jason tricked the Clashing Rocks by sending a dove through first, letting the rocks crash and re-open, and then quickly racing through. And he made it.
But I’m hardly a Greek hero. And I didn’t have a dove. So I just went for it. And it only kind of worked. Even with lube, the sleeping vagina is dry. And my angle of entry was less than ideal. I sort of hung out at the edge, partially penetrating, planning my next step. But then she started to rustle, like a sleeping dragon disturbed by the thief stealing its gold. I backed away. She stretched her legs, quietly moaned, and rolled onto her back. The Clashing Rocks were open!
I put on some more lube and tried again, this time with much more success. I think my partner was, for all intents and purposes, still asleep. She moved with me a little, and it was clear that she sort-of knew (and was sort-of glad) that I was there. But she did nothing to evince full-on wakefulness. The sensation was interesting. It felt strangely disconnected to have sex with someone who wasn’t, in some sense, present. But the whole affair was so unique, so clandestine, so sexy, that it didn’t really matter.
Eventually my partner rolled back over onto her side, ready to re-enter deep sleep. We continued to have sex, but slowly, softly, and sleepily. Orgasms weren’t in the cards, but it didn’t matter. It was intimate. It was pleasant. It was everything sleep boning should be.