Somnophilia is a clinically diagnosable fetish. A new motion filed by Cosby’s first accuser uses this word as a possible reason to why he allegedly drugged and raped women. (Photo: Getty Images)
Comedian Bill Cosby’s first accuser is asking a judge to release full details of his deposition in her sexual assault lawsuit, in a motion that comes after shocking excerpts from Cosby’s deposition were released this week in response to an Associated Press request.
In one excerpt, Cosby said he obtained seven Quaalude prescriptions in the 1970s with the intent of having extramarital sex with young women. He also testified to giving a woman three half-pills of Benadryl — an antihistamine that can induce drowsiness in some people.
Dolores M. Troiani, a lawyer for Andrea Constand — who sued Cosby in 2005, alleging he drugged and raped her after she met him while working at Temple University — argued Wednesday that the entire deposition should be made public under grounds that Cosby, his lawyers, and his agents broke the confidentiality agreement that sealed the 2006 court document.
According to Troiani, the deposition includes 50 questions that Cosby answered under oath about his use of Quaaludes and other drugs and his alleged sexual interactions with 13 other women who say Cosby molested and possibly drugged them.
“Although some of the women engaged in consensual relations with Cosby, their accounts substantiated the defendant’s alleged predilection for somnophilia,” Troiani wrote in her motion.
Wait, what? Somnophilia?
Somnophilia is a clinically diagnosable fetish in which a person is sexually aroused by a partner who is asleep or unconscious. “It’s also known as the ‘Sleeping Beauty fetish,’” sex therapist and best-selling author Ian Kerner, PhD, who has treated somnophiliacs, tells Yahoo Health.
(Somnophilia shouldn’t be confused with sexsomnia — or sleep sex— where a person acts out sexual behaviors while in an unconscious sleep state.)
Somnophilia is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the standard classification of disorders used by mental health professionals in the U.S. The disorder is classified as a “predatory paraphilia.” (“Paraphilia” is the clinical term used for fetishes.)
“If the act of somnophilia involves harm to self or others (lack of consent, for instance) and/or impairs the person’s ability to live, it is considered a disorder and not a mere sexual/arousal orientation,” clinical sexologist Kat Van Kirk, PhD, explains to Yahoo Health.
Somnophilia is rare and, in order for a person to receive a clinical diagnosis, must be a persistent and distressful arousal experience that occurs for a minimum of six months, she adds. It can sometimes progress into necrophilia, a fetish in which a person is aroused by having sex with cadavers.
Somnophiliacs generally fall into a pattern where they procure drugs and have sex with partners when they’re unconscious, Kerner says — a habit that lines up with accusations Cosby has faced.
Many have alleged that Cosby spiked their drinks, leaving them unconscious or semi-unconscious.
One accuser, former actress, publicist, and journalist Joan Tarshis, wrote an essay on the website Hollywood Elsewhere last year detailing the alleged assault. Tarshis says it occurred when she was 19, after Cosby gave her a drink at his cottage in Universal Studios when they were dining alone together.
“The next thing I remember was coming to on his couch while being undressed,” she wrote. “Through the haze I thought I was being clever when I told him I had an infection and he would catch it and his wife would know he had sex with someone. But he just found another orifice to use. I was sickened by what was happening to me and shocked that this man I had idolized was now raping me. Of course I told no one.”
Supermodel Janice Dickinson also came forward last year to accuse Cosby of drugging and raping her in 1982. In May, she took legal action, suing Cosby for defamation after his lawyers accused her of lying about the alleged assault.
Cosby has never been charged with a crime and has denied the allegations from more than a dozen women that he drugged and sexually assaulted them.
Experts say somnophilia isn’t a fetish that develops overnight.
In fact, it is thought to begin during childhood. During that time, Van Kirk says, “somehow the person’s erotic template (i.e., what a person finds arousing) has become imprinted with the desire to exert power over another.” That can then lead to somnophilia, which remains dormant until a person reaches puberty.
Kerner stresses that somnophilia shouldn’t be confused with sleep fantasies (a common fantasy in which a person is aroused by the concept of having sex with a person who is sleeping). If a person has a sleep fantasy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a somnophiliac. “There’s a difference between having a fantasy versus actually having a nonconsensual sex partner,” he says.
While there are treatments for somnophilia, Kerner admits that they’re “largely unsuccessful.”
However, there are different approaches to treating the condition. Psychotherapy is one option, he says. That approach often tries to discover the root of the somnophilia and work to change the pattern of becoming aroused by a sleeping person.
Another is cognitive behavioral therapy. “That’s like saying, ‘Any time you think of getting sexually aroused with a sleeping woman, I want you to think about having sex with your sleeping grandmother,’” Kerner says. “You try to counter the arousal with repulsion to interrupt the arousal pattern.”
Some people also try hypnotherapy (which Van Kirk says has “mixed results”) or drugs that lower their sexual desire, since, Kerner notes, many fetishists are so distressed by their desires that they would rather give up their sex drive altogether than give in to them.
Treatments for somnophilia should be undertaken with caution, says Van Kirk. “Since most somnophilia is considered a predatory paraphilia, special care is taken to reduce any chance of victimization,” she says.
Unfortunately, experts say there’s a lot we still don’t know about somnophilia and fetishes in general. “We just don’t have a lot of answers around them right now,” Kerner says.