Posted by Ryan Hurd on June 25, 2010
This piece about sexual spirit encounters and ghost rape is adapted from chapter 6 of my ebook Sleep Paralysis: A Dreamer’s Guide.
The historic fears of succubi and incubi must be reconsidered in light of contemporary psychology. As the medical community disregarded the narratives of sleep paralysis until David Hufford’s ground-breaking work in the 1970s, we would be making the same mistake if we chalk up the old tales of sexual demons to “merely legend.”
Modern dreamers still have sexual experiences in sleep paralysis, and ghost rape is still whispered about in anonymous and private settings. I have already discussed how alien encounters are one popular interpretation of the sensations of being forcibly touched by an entity (seen and unseen) while paralyzed in bed. Other cultural interpretations today include demons of the devil (evangelical Christianity) and a visit by the spirit form of a dark magician (indigenous shamanism).
Jungian psychologists may interpret spectral rape as a “vampire complex,” representing an imbalanced relationship with the parent of the opposite sex, or perhaps hinting at memories of incest. Dreamers with a history of sexual abuse may be more likely to experience flashbacks during sleep paralysis/hypnagogic hallucinations (SP/HH). Similarly, survivors of trauma also may incorporate flashbacks into HH.
However it is viewed, I think it is important to not “interpret away” the actual encounter. These things happen, and they are a natural, although disturbing, part of human experience.
We’re Wired for Sexual Dreams
The physiology of the dream state may be one reason why sexual content is so often reported. In the REM state, our muscles are in paralysis but the body is in a state of excitement. Even though sleep paralysis doesn’t feel like a dream, it has been shown in the lab that the experience occurs during REM intrusion after awakening or just after falling asleep. In REM sleep, whenever it occurs, men typically get erections, and women’s genitalia become engorged. Orgasms have been documented countless times in dream labs, and in sexual lucid dreams it is possible to experience orgasm too. Dreaming sleep is simply a sexy place to be.
Even when we are scared, and sometimes because we are scared, sexual excitement does not diminish. Sexuality and terror are deeply intertwined, neurologically speaking. So it’s not that outlandish to believe the medieval court documents in which men tell of being forced to have sex with mysterious she-demons and witches, even though this testimony was used in service of misogyny and the destruction of indigenous religious practices.
Positive Sexual Encounters in SP/HH
However, some sexual SP/HH encounters are not necessarily unpleasant. For dreamers who do not have a traumatized past, sexual play during hypnagogic hallucinations can be healthy and exciting. This was brought to my attention when one reader from my website admitted that he cherishes the ephemeral spirits who approach him at night. He reports excitement, pleasure, and mental orgasms during his SP-induced hallucinations. He does not seek these escapades but does not seem to mind too much, even though he admits it somewhat weird that the “spirit” sometimes is not altogether human.
In the book Dark Intrusions, Louis Proud also has collected reports of spectral sex that are erotic, albeit deeply weird. As with lucid dreaming, sensuality can be safely explored in this private mental arena.
I don’t treat these experiences like a “fantasy world,” however. There are always psychological repercussions to any act, thought, or way of being. Also, as with lucid dreaming and waking life, these encounters can be more pleasurable if they are not goal-oriented, but rather based on intimacy and consensual action. If the encounter gets too weird, or compromises your safe boundaries, you can always wake up from sleep paralysis.
Spiritual Bypass and Chi Sucking Vampires
As with all vision-states, one can become “addicted” to the inner adventure at the expense of healthy waking life. Psychologists call the unhealthy drive for ecstatic states “spiritual bypass,” and this concept may be at the root of the historically noted danger of falling in love with the spirits and nymphs of the inner world. After all, what ordinary and flawed human partner can compete with an alluring fantasy lover who comes only at night?
Sexual demons can reveal patterns in our romantic life, especially concerning how we give of ourselves. For men, repeated encounters with “sexual vampires” who seem to suck up inner resources or willpower may be reflective of an unhealthy sexual pattern in waking life. This encounter illustrates a “leak” of life force that may be unsustainable.
For women, not being able to stop the sexual advances of a night demon may be indicative of difficulties in drawing firm boundaries or deciding who is allowed to “enter your sphere.” Of course, these visions of energy imbalance (of chi-sucking and demon rape) can work for either gender, depending on character, personal history, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
In spite of these dangers, rest assured that in the 21st century no one will condemn you in a court of law for having intercourse with a night elf or a water pixie.
For more about the positive, and even life-changing, possibilities of sleep paralysis and hypnagogic visions, check out the Sleep Paralysis Kit, featuring my ebook Sleep Paralysis: A Dreamer’s Guide, and a lot more.
I’m also still collecting accounts of sexual encounters during SP/HH for my ongoing research (positive, negative and the deeply weird). Contact me using the form on my contact page. As always, I promise anonymity if you choose to share your experiences with me.