Picture this: You’re in bed dreaming about McSteamy… and you feel a pleasurable tingle between your legs… and then another… and then another…
As you, ahem, come to realize, it’s not a sleepgasm taking hold, but your partner waking you up with oral sex.
Sounds hot, right? It can be. But without proper communication and explicit consent, it can be sexual assault.
“Waking someone up with sex is sexual assault if you haven’t pre-established that this is OK,” explains Kai Werder, a trauma-informed certified sex educator and author of the upcoming book “Beyond Yes and No: The Intimacy of Consent.”
Here’s what you need to know about the difference between wake-up sex and assault.
If this just happened to you
If you’ve recently woken up to sexual activity that you didn’t consent to, you were sexually assaulted.
Know that however you’re feeling is valid, whether that’s ambivalent, angry, annoyed, ecstatic, or something else entirely.
Ultimately, your next steps are going to depend on how you’re feeling right now, and the circumstances that the wake-up sex took place under.
For example, being woken up with sex by a long-term partner that you love and trust may feel different than being woken up by someone else.
For the former, assuming you feel safe, Mary-Margaret Sweeney, LSW, an Indiana-based sex therapist and founder of Seek and Summon, recommends talking to your partner.
You might say: “I really enjoyed being woken up by sex with you this morning. But I know it’s not something I’d always love. Do you think wake-up sex could be something we only try when we talk about it before bed the night before?”
If it’s the latter and you don’t feel safe, try to get away from that person as quickly as possible.
- Call your local emergency services if you’re in direct danger.
- Seek advice or shelter from a local or national resource center.
- Receive treatment for any physical injuries.
- Get a sexual assault exam, or a “rape kit,” which preserves potential DNA evidence.
- Find mental health support.
- Call on someone you trust.
If your partner says you did this to them
You might be feeling defensive, but it’s best to respond from a place of compassion.
Ask your partner what they need from you right now to feel safe, heard, and cared for.
In the future, you should also spend some time understanding:
- why you (wrongly) thought waking your partner up without consent was OK
- why waking your partner up without consent isn’t OK
- what consent is exactly
To understand why wake-up sex counts as sex in some instances but assault in others, here’s a lesson in consent.
“Consent is an informed, specific, and ongoing negotiation of enthusiastic desire,” says Werder.
“It can be withdrawn at any time and happens in the absence of pressure or coercion,” they say.
Consent also can’t be implied or assumed.
Consent to another sexual encounter ≠ consent to this specific sexual encounter
“When someone is asleep, they can’t actively consent to any sexual activity,” says Werder. And consent is A-L-W-A-Y-S required.
“It doesn’t matter if you were having sex hours ago before you fell asleep or if you’ve had morning sex before,” they say.
“If this isn’t something you’ve previously discussed and consented to, being woken up in this way is sexual assault.”
Informed consent vs. assault
If you want to have consensual wake-up sex, “there are definitely conversations that need to happen prior to this kind of sexual interaction about what this sex will entail, when, and why,” explains Werder.
More on exactly what these conversations entail below.
Why people are into it
A wide range of reasons. Including:
The time of day
Unless you’re a Nap King, odds are that if you’re being woken up with sex, it’s morning.
“Morning sex is a great option because it makes sure you’re getting the sexual gratification you seek,” says Sweeney.
If you wait until the end of the day, things like work stress, rambunctious children, and the nightly news can bog down your interest in sex, she says.
It’s basically the opposite of scheduled sex
Most couples (and throuples) who want to have more sex receive advice to start scheduling sex.
While good advice, scheduling sex is the opposite of spontaneous.
Scheduled wake-up sex offers the best of both worlds.
“Wake-up sex, even if you agree it’s going to happen, can recreate the feeling of spontaneous sex you likely had at the beginning of your relationship,” explains Sweeney.
The side effects of certain medications may be lower in the morning
By now you’ve probably heard that there are a number of medications — allergy meds, anti-anxiety meds, and antidepressants, to name a few — that can mess with your libido.
According to Sweeney, “If you’re on a medication that affects your libido and you take that medication in the morning, that medication is at its lowest dose in your body right when you wake up.”
Meaning, those sexual side effects are the least noticeable in the morning before you take your next dose.
And as we’ve established, wake-up sex usually means morning sex.
“It’s common for couples who have been together a long time to get into a sexual routine where sex always looks the same,” says Sweeney.
When that happens, trying anything new can be incredibly pleasurable, she says.
Wake-up sex can be that something new!
For some, being woken up by sex can help fulfill fantasies of consensual nonconsent, says Sweeney.
“It can help people explore the fantasy of being a play thing for their partner,” she says.
If you want to try this with a partner
One word: communicate.
How to bring it up
“This conversation should happen outside the bedroom,” says Sweeney. So wait until you’re in the car or on a walk.
“Next, introduce the idea, giving as much context [as you can],” she says. In other words, explain why this is something you’re interested in.
This might look like:
- “The Domme/sub relationship we play with during sex is so hot to me. Would you ever have interest in waking me up with sex one weekend? I was thinking it would be a fun way to lean into those power dynamics.”
- “I recently read an article about wake-up sex, and it made me realize it could be a fun way for us to explore that consensual nonconsent fantasy I’ve told you about before. Can I send you the article so we can discuss?”
- “I know morning sex consists of, like, 90 percent of the sex we have. So I was wondering: How would you feel about waking me up with sex or vice versa?”
Werder notes that another option is to invite them to watch porn with you.
“Choose a particular video that engages in someone being woken up by sex,” they suggest.
“This allows you to ease into the conversation after you enjoy the porn or erotica! You can feel it out by asking your partner(s), ‘What did you think of that?’ or ‘Would you ever want to wake me up with sex?’”
How to set boundaries and expectations
Trying wake-up sex isn’t as simple as saying “Wake-up sex: yay or nay?”
Before you actually try it, you need to be able to answer the following questions:
- When is wake-up sex on the table? Every day of the week? Just this once?
- The night before wake-up sex, what kind of communication (if any) will there be about the fact that it’s going to take place?
- What specific sex acts are on the table? What power dynamics, if any?
- What pleasure products and sex aids can be used during the initial wake-up?
- How will the partner being woken up communicate if they wake up and actually don’t want to be engaging in any sex play?
- What verbal and nonverbal safety cues will you be using?
What to actually do
Wake-up sex involves an “awake” partner waking up a “not yet awake” partner with sex.
For this to actually happen, that means:
- The partner doing the waking up needs to wake up first (likely, with the help of an alarm clock).
- The partner being woken up needs to be asleep.
But those are really the only musts.
Explore all types of touch
Sweeney encourages folks exploring wake-up sex to remember that sex is far more than just P-in-V intercourse.
Rather than going from sleeping to penetration, she recommends that the partner doing the waking up begins with things like:
- neck kisses
- chest worshipping
- belly licking
- thigh teasing
- gentle, nonpenetrative grinding
“This gives the partner being woken up time to come to and recognize what’s happening, as well as time to consent into the physical experience or consent out of it,” she says.
In the BDSM world, aftercare refers to the time spent after sex where everyone involved checks in on and tends to each other’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs.
Here’s the thing: Aftercare shouldn’t be regulated to just BDSM practitioners. It’s something pleasure seekers across the so-called kinky-vanilla spectrum should be participating in.
“When you’re done, ask each other how that felt, what you liked and didn’t like, and talk through whether or not you want it to happen again,” says Sweeney.
If you try it and like it, talk about blanket consent
If you and your partner(s) enjoy wake-up sex, Werder recommends talking about whether or not there’s blanket consent.
“Giving your partner blanket consent means you’re offering your partner consent to do this at any time,” they explain. “This option could be particularly arousing for people who engage with power dynamics.”
Remember: Consent can be revoked at any time. So, if the partner being woken up by sex isn’t in the mood one morning, their “no” MUST be honored.
If you try it and you or your partner don’t like it
Simple: Don’t do it again!
No matter what your “why” was, there are other ways you can meet that “why.”
There are many other ways to explore consensual nonconsent, like kidnapper roleplay.
Likewise, there are thousands of other ways to spice up your sex life. For example: using nipple clamps or hiring a webcam model.
Sweeney also recommends congratulating yourself for trying something new.
“Just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean you didn’t accomplish something,” she says.
After all, you had to talk about this new thing, communicate, communicate, and communicate some more about this new thing, and trust each other enough to give it a whirl.Bottom line:
Any time of play or day, consent is non-negotiable. Because a person can’t give consent when they’re snoozing, waking a person up with sex qualifies as sexual assault. The only caveat to that is if your partner has explicitly agreed to being woken up with sex ahead of time.Reference:
Written by Gabrielle Kassel on March 1, 2021
Sweeney M. (2021). Personal interview.
Werder K. (2021). Personal interview.
Photo Credit: Damir Spanic