The Ecstasy of Lucy Liu: Erotic Encounters in Hypnagogia

 In 1999, actress Lucy Liu had sex with a heavenly figure. Or so she claimed in an interview with US Weekly. She’s not shy about what happened, either. She was laying down on the couch for a nap, and felt an unknown presence on top of her. What followed was a pleasurable spell of lovemaking. “It was sheer bliss. I felt everything. I climaxed. And then he floated away.”

It sounds sensational, but Lucy Liu’s account is actually very much in line with the experience of millions of contemporary dreamers.

Lucy Liu’s amorous ghost is probably a subset of the incubus encounter, a nocturnal meeting with an otherworldly creature that sits on your chest or otherwise gets all up in your business while you lay in bed.

The entity can take the shape of known mythological figures, ghosts, demons, or weird human-animal hybrids.

Often, the encounter is fearful, and is described as supernatural assault.

But for others, it’s pleasurable, resulting in orgasm and bliss.

We live in a time that tries to ignore the visionary moments of life, yet the experiences keep happening anyways.

Oh Pan, you shouldn’t have…

Science of the Incubus

Usually, the dreamer feels awake and aware, and may even have their eyes open when the encounter begins.

Known formally as REM intrusion into stage 1 sleep, the realistic vision is often called hypnagogic imagery or a hallucination.

Many people who feel these encounters also get the more unpleasant side of this mish-mash of consciousness: sleep paralysis, in which the paralyzing effect of REM intrusion into wakefulness results in terrifying waking nightmares.

The realistic encounter with non-human –or supernatural– entities has been recorded as early as Babylonian times. Some sexual imp traditions include the Sumerian sex demon Lilith, and the ancient Greek god Pan.

Although fearful, these encounters were sometimes interpreted as demonic possession. But not always.

For example, the Greek dream interpreter Artemidorus wrote that sexual Pan encounters “foretells a great profit,” especially if he “does not weigh a person down,” referring to the more common paralysis sensations.1

The Eros of REM sleep

In modern populations, a significant minority have erotically charged hypnagogic experiences despite the lack of cultural prompting.

Those who are feel safe enough to “go with the flow” and not fight the ecstasy are sometimes rewarded with bliss.

Physiologically, this shouldn’t be too surprising, as REM sleep is a sexually active brain state. It’s quite common for both men and women to have multiple periods of genital engorgement during the night – usually these are not remembered.

REM engorgement is also the source of morning wood.

So how does the positive incubus encounter take place, even when the dreamer does not have a previous understanding that these things are even possible?

Taboo is a big part of visionary consciousness, but  “cultural loading” is not the only, or possibly the stronger, influence. In my mind, the cross-cultural nature of sexual incubi points towards a neurobiological constant, an ancestral legacy.

It’s simply a natural part of being human.

Medical folklorist and anthropologist David Hufford suggests that not only are these extraordinary events “normal,” but “better knowledge of each [event] strengthens that belief rather than weakening it (e.g., learning that others have had virtually the same experience; information regarding possible physiological triggers is irrelevant to the assessment of the reality of the experience).2

Here is Lucy Liu’s full quotation from US Magazine:

“I was sleeping on my futon on the floor, and some sort of spirit came down from God knows where and made love to me. It was sheer bliss. I felt everything. I climaxed. And then he floated away. It was almost like what might have happened to Mary. That’s how it felt. Something came down and touched me, and now it watches over me.”

I find it fascinating that the line in bold above is edited out of most mentions of Lucy Liu’s account.

Her comparison to the experience of the Mary draws me back to the many women Christian mystics from centuries past, such as St Teresa of Avila.

Liu may be citing the Virgin Birth of Christ — wow there’s some taboo for you — or possibly the ecstasy of Mary Magdalene, which has also been captured with a decidedly sensual overtone by Peter Paul Rubens and other artists in the 17th century.

Long Term Effects of Visionary Experience

After her encounter, Lucy Liu reports that she feels she is being watched over. The encounter brings her a sense of trust in the unseen that she did not previously have.

This sort of long-lasting effect places positive incubus encounters in the same grouping as otherworldly visions such as near-death-experiences and angel visitations.

Interestingly enough, all three of these vision states may be correlated with REM intrusion states. When REM sleep blends with heightened frontal lobe activity, the imaginal richness of the dreamworld is enhanced with self-awareness and powerful drives for emotional significance.

NDES, ancestral visitations and sleep paralysis can all result in positive emotional growth in the long run.

In my mind, this neurobiological explanation does not in any way disprove or “debunk” the power of these visions for the individual. I’m a pragmatist and I feel there’s room enough for both science and spirit in this bed.

More importantly, David Hufford reminds us that NDEs, ancestral visitations and sleep paralysis can all result in positive emotional growth in the long run.

In clinical circles, disturbing events that result in long-term positive change are known as visionary spiritual experiences. Psychiatrist David Lukoff argues that these cases are not disordered mental breakdowns, but rather collapses that result in improved wellbeing and life-change.3  

As William James stated over a hundred years ago in his Varieties of religious experiences, “Know them by their fruits, not their roots.” In other words, no matter the material correlates, these visionary experiences can result in long lasting life-change, renewed trust in the world, and a happier life in general.

So have you ever had a pleasurable incubus or succubus encounter? 

Continue the discussion below. Intolerant comments will not be approved. If you prefer anonymity, I am also collecting accounts for my ongoing research. Contact me here.

Additional references

1 Adler, S. (2011). Sleep paralysis: night-mares, nocebos, and the mind-body connection. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. (p. 43)

2 Hufford, D. (2010). Visionary spiritual experiences in an enchanted world, Anthropology and Humanism, 35(2): p. 155 (142-158)

3 Lukoff, D. (2007). Visionary spiritual experiences. Southern Medical Journal, 100(6), 635-641.

Comments

      • Steven Perry says

        Insect aliens, you say? Have you happened to read Graham Hancock’s “Supernatural” or the DMT research of Dr. Rick Strassman? Insect aliens have quite the significance in those works.

        • Ryan Hurd says

          oh yeah — and don’t forget the Machine Elves from Terrance McKenna. I am skeptical of the premise that they are intergalactic beings out for mind control. Television accomplishes that well enough. Although, it’s interesting to note that medieval people saw tall lanky whispy spirits too (the Irish Sidthe) as well as the dark broody figures (goblins and night elves). Communion is another excellent work to reconsider with the idea of SP/HH in mind – Strieber also saw the tall aliens and the gnomes. So there is a thread of similar entities across culture …. are they aliens or ancestral energies traveling up the DNA spiral staircase through time and space?

    • Ryan Hurd says

      thanks Harold! I haven’t gone down that road but I know there’s some interesting research correlating DMT based visions with some lucid dreaming phenomenology — researchers are with CIIS in San Francisco.

  1. says

    I get accosted by an very large (and frightening) gorilla with metal plates attached to his hairy body. I haven’t seen him in a while, but then again I haven’t tried to Wild or any dream-work in long time either.

  2. sophia says

    I used to have unwelcome presences squash me from time to time. Then I read The Warrior Woman by Maxine Hong Kingston in which Kingston’s mother deals to what she calls a sitting ghost by threatening to chop the ghost up and eat it, she also lit fires in buckets. This tactic works for me too. Some people may enjoy this kinda thing but I retalliate by threatening to bar-be-que the entity because nobody real or imagined sits on my belly without my permission.

  3. sophia says

    Also thanks for talking about this – as a teenager I was terrified and assumed that these kind of encounters were bouts of madness.

    • Ryan Hurd says

      thanks Sophie for the comment! I suffered pretty bad as a teen myself. My goal is to prevent yet another generation from thinking they’re crazy.

  4. Steven Perry says

    Aw man… If I knew there were possible succubus experiences in store I wouldn’t have been nearly as terrified during those night time ‘visitations’ when I was a teenager. Because of my attitude all I got was a good dose of fear from them shadowy types. Who knew I could’ve instead gotten a happy ending? And I’ve seem to run out of chances because now all my hypnagogic buddies seem to be animals. I draw a line at that.

  5. Alissa Ruppert says

    I had an outer body experience and upon returning to my body I started to freak out because I could hear people talking around me and then I felt the immense pressure on my chest and before gaining my motor functions I saw flashes of colorful lights. Since then I haven’t been atleast consciously aware of any out of body experiences, I am still wondering if maybe that is a little too much for me and if I should just stick to conscious dreaming…

    • Ryan Hurd says

      I’ve had similar sensations on “arrival” – they are classic kinesthetic sensations involved with visionary REM + sleep paralysis. Is an OBE different than a lucid dream? Some people say it’s just the mindset that’s different. ultimately, it’s our own personal beliefs that structure the universe — and also provide opportunities to tear the structure down. ashes ashes!

  6. Lise says

    Well, this is all very interesting. It seems I’ve had a variation on both kinds. I’ve only had a couple of the orgasmic variety, but was not aware of a being as such, only being bathed in brilliant light and love. I figured that this must have been a kundalini experience, as opposed to any sort of visitation as such. I’ve also had the nasty sort several times which I experienced as some demonic being wanting to overtake me, again not in a particular form. The being causes me to feel that I’m flailing, though in reality I’m still. One such encounter happened not in sleep, but while in deep meditation, outside at night. Thanks for sharing this; I appreciate knowing that this may not be simply a result of my own psychology!

    • Ryan Hurd says

      thanks Lise! yes, it’s fascinating to me how we are wired for these things. energy moves in some funny ways.

      I’m very interested in hearing more of your account — can you send a more detailed version of one experience to http://dreamstudies.org/contact

  7. Chard says

    I’ve had several dreams of women lately, with no major changes in my sex life in the waking world. When I reach down to try to have my wicked way with them, though, it feels as though something solid is blocking access, like bone. I didn’t understand why until one time I simply asked, and the dream answered in a creative way. I asked a guy at a gas station why I was being blocked and immediately a car came into view being driven recklessly. I said “That driver sure looks angry; I hope he doesn’t come over here.” Then I realized the dream got me to answer my own question. What if these women had boyfriends who didn’t want me playing with them?

    • Ryan Hurd says

      interesting. often in dreams, a vehicle is a metaphor for a journey. So a recklessly driven car could suggest that “the way I am going about this is reckless — it may hurt myself and others too.” Take all dream interpretation with big grains of salt — this is my projection onto your dream… ultimately only you can decide what feels right. I also recommend this essay on how to deal with sexual lucid dreams in a respectful manner: http://dreamstudies.org/erotic-lucid-dreaming-exploring-sex-spirit/

  8. says

    Lucy’s experience seems more negative than positive. It is never safe to allow an entity to perfirm any act.

    Could the invisble entity be a demin? An astral being from the subplanes?

  9. Maggie says

    I had an encounter the other night where i was half asleep and half awake and I was having sex with an androgynous man, I asked him his name and through a smoke filled screen I saw a mythological looking male with long hair who answer Adonis. Then as I was regaining consciousness there was something in my room huvoring over me pulling at my breasts. It quickly disappeared making a sucking sound (the sound made when you smoke joint).

  10. Christo.A says

    I’ve always been curious about these “encounters” however I read somewhere I few years back that letting your self open and purposely attract the succubi or incubi I can turn into a negative issue like that if that spirit is now with you it knows how you like to share it’s presence and can cause harm if replaced or ignored. any idea?

    • Ryan Hurd says

      Yes… many a dreamer has experienced the phenomenon of the “unwanted guest” who comes back for a repeat encounter.

      It’s helpful to remember that every thought lays down the possibility of a habit, a mental framework built for repetition. So once you invite the encounter past the threshold, so to speak, it can happen again. But we always have the power to say no and to draw our boundaries.

      For more about the negative side of sexual hypnagogia, see:
      http://dreamstudies.org/2010/06/25/succubus-and-supernatural-assault/

  11. Patrick says

    I am unbelievably happy I fell upon this!!! I have been “visited” twice by the same “incubus” which appeared to be a lovely blonde haired woman. I do not remember where I was sleeping the first time, but I remember the experience vividly. I felt very stimulated and aroused, however, the location where this was taking place in my dream state, was much different then where I was actually sleeping. The second time around was with the same blonde haired woman who appeared on the same couch that I was resting on during an afternoon nap. Only this time, it was much more intense. I can only vaguely recall these two occurrences, and they have been years apart…

    • Ryan Hurd says

      I wonder if something can be learned by the dream locale she visited you in the first time… you may be able to discern if she has a tie to the past for you (or not).

  12. says

    Thanks for the great article, Ryan. I’ve experienced erotic encounters several times during SP/OBEs. It was very much as Lucy Lui described, except that I don’t feel any being watching over me after the fact. The climax that’s possible during one of those encounters is far more pleasurable than anything real life has to offer. But sometimes it can turn unpleasant and feel like mild electrical shocks. It’s amazing how a prude like me can be so promiscuous in an OBE state, lol. I get downright wild when I’m out of my physical body. I guess that’s pretty common from what I’ve read in OBE books.

    • Ryan Hurd says

      exactly! it’s very normal to feel sexual freedom in this altered state. interesting comment about the electrical shocks… that makes me think about the Eastern concepts of sexual energy/Tantra.

  13. spa says

    I’ve had this happen to me before. These things actually happen to me a lot lately and I’ve been pretty scared to go to bed until I really am full-blown exhausted. I usually get these experiences when I’m near falling asleep (similar to when I get sleep paralysis) and actually, these experiences feel like sleep paralysis but with sexual sensations. It’s scary to me because it’s like I’m being raped by an invisible force, but I’ve always just chalked it up to my history with sleep paralysis and my fear of ghosts. Since sleep paralysis usually results in a nightmare, why not make this nightmare really twisted and have me assaulted by some kind of ghost or being? Great, that sounds perfect. So really I just thought my mind was playing tricks on me. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it less scary.

    Reading this, on the other hand, is pretty encouraging. Thanks for helping me understand this strange situation!

    • Ryan Hurd says

      hey Spa glad to shed some light, although there’s still plenty of mystery! many have commented that if you can relax during this state, which is an act of will, the sensations can become more pleasurable. if not, the same tactics for waking up out of sleep paralysis can apply.

  14. Jimbo G says

    I had a recurring dream that frightened the living hell out of me as a child and continued to do so for many years afterwards. It was just so damn sad that it left an overwhelming sense of despondence when I was only 8 or 9 years old. In the dream I am awoken by my bed rushing down the stairs with me aboard. It plows through our glass doors in the living room and out into our backyard. It stops at a weeping willow that is sobbing uncontrollably and whaling with a sound that it shatters my childish notions that the world is intrinsically good. I don’t know what triggered it or what it meant, but I went from a happy go lucky kid to a pessimistic overly pragmatic realist in the course of a single night.

    • Ryan Hurd says

      trees hold a lot of our sorrow — that is something that is true for me personally that I discovered in my own dream explorations. that suffering exists and can’t be solved is one of the harshest truths that takes us out of childhood. thanks for sharing.

  15. Ashley says

    Hello,
    My name is Ashley and I’m 26. I’ve just recently discovered that I suffer from sleep paralysis. It’s been happening to me since I was about nine years old. Sometimes it’s 4 or 5 times a month, but recently it occurs 4 or 5 times a week.
    I just blamed the fact that my husband is deployed, and I’m under a great deal of stress.
    But last night, when it was happening, (my daughter was sleeping in bed with me), I felt someone wrapping their arms around me. There wasn’t anything there. I grew panicky, and knew immediate that I was having a sleep paralysis episode. I felt invisible hands touch my breasts , and grab my face, then pulled me onto the floor. I know this sounds crazy, but I felt something thrusting into me. I was completely paralyzed and being violated.
    I woke up on the floor. My underwear was pulled off. I was so freaked out that I walked into the living room to make sure my alarm was still set. What can I do to stop this?

    • Ashley says

      It wasn’t an aggressive attack. It was just unwanted. Whatever it was, touched my face, and stroked my hair. When it touched my breasts, it was almost euphoric. Still, I’m totally freaked out.

      • Ryan Hurd says

        thanks for sharing your experience Ashley. before automatically assuming some kind of paranormal spirit was involved, its’ important to point out that we routinely touch ourselves, our clothing, and do other behaviors like that during sleep. some people actually drive cars, eat, and have sex with their partners in bed without any memory of it later. that said, this experience is obviously distressing and I agree with your thought that stress is aggravating your propensity for sleep paralysis episodes. I would recommend learning some new stress management techniques, such as meditation, walking, soothing music before bed, and other ways you can tap into your calm and get grounded before bed. I know its not easy with your husband deployed. Maybe next time he’s in town you can record his voice saying an evening prayer, or something that makes sense for your tradition, and play it with your daughter each night.

        • Ashley says

          We aren’t religious at all. My daughter never even sleeps in bed with me. But when I googled what had happened this morning, i was haunted by stories of Incubi. (I don’t even believe in that stuff!) i just purchased your book from Barnes and Noble, along with “Dark Intrusions.” hopefully, I’ll be able to gain more understanding about what is actually going on with my dreams. I’m very thankful for your website; I saw Lucy liu and was totally intrigued.
          The touch was familiar. It was warm, and special. And the way the “figure” cradled me before the sexual encounter, it was something my husband would do before bed, and as he’s usually the last thing I think about, it makes sense that I would dream this.
          I look forward to exploring this subject further. My husband will be home in 4 weeks. He also looks forward to reading your book/online blogs.
          Thanks so much for the support.

  16. Marianne says

    I just accidentally stumbled over this article and i’ve always found dreams very facinating. And reading this one reminded me of one i had a few years back. Kinda dreaming whilst having my eyes open.
    Basicly lying in my bed and trying to fall asleep, i just look around in my room, not really thinking about anything. And as i look up the ceiling i see a figure apearing. It’s a big doll, hanging from strings from the roof. I can see the joints of it clearly, it’s belly is facing the roof and the head is in a odd angle and facing me. And when i look at the face, it’s me! As i do that the face starts to smile and it basicly twists into a horrid grin that covers half the face. And at this point i’m scared shitless, trying to get out of my bed, but i’m pinned down and i can’t move. And then the doll starts to move, and tries to grab towards me, and i can hear myself trying to scream. All i can hear is this little sound comming from me, and at that point i was just telling myself to wake up! And suddenly i did, or, the thing in my room went away. I still had my eyes open, i didn’t jolt awak as one normaly might have when having a nightmare. It just…vanished.

    I’ve had several other episodes of this after that one, but not a scary one, like that. Just something touching me, my arm or face. Or sitting on my bed.
    Think I’d like to read more about this subject, it is truly fascinating!

  17. Josimar Baillie says

    This is very interesting reading all this. When I was around 20-21 I used to experience with alot of different substances. I believed that to be the cause of my sleep paralyses attacks I would get. I would wake up feeling like something was sitting on my chest weighing me down and when I would snap out of it I would feel as if a dark presence was in the corner of my room watching me. Recently I have done some research on Lucid Dreaming and Sleep Paralyses and now thanks to this article on Lucy Liu’s experience, I feel like I should try this again, but go with the flow lol.

    Cheers
    Josimar

  18. says

    An experience is i want to share here which is about similar but has some differences.It is being written in Indian language.I think there are so many websites for change to other speaking languages.
    |
    Here the similarity is the ghost sat on the chest. That time I could see whole room clearly and light was on.I also could not move my body.
    But the word was spoken was Goddess mother.And all thing became normal,light off and no one there.

  19. G says

    I was just reading this article and some of this is interesting but what if you are positive the being visiting you is much more then simple tricks of the mind. I have had many encounters with a spirit/entity that are pleasant and extremely energetic I also witnessed a small spinning wormhole recently during one encounter.

  20. Massage Lady says

    I have had several experiences like this. The first time I was paralyzed and couldn’t speak- something was lifting me off the bed, I couldn’t move, but I could see exactly what was on tv.. etc There was no sexual encounter.

    The next few times occured about five years later.. I would be lying in bed, and it would feel like a cat was walking across my bed- I didn’t have a cat.. It happened several times and I would wake up to nothing being there… The last time it happened, I decided to let it go, and thats when it happened.. It felt so good that I didn’t want to move.. It was heaven and bliss and I climaxed.. guiltily..

    Lately, it has started to happen again.. another five years later.. This time, its more frequent.. It started after I met someone.. and it seems like whenever he is not here, I am visited. I don’t know if this has something to do with it, but I’ve been meditiating a lot lately as well. I’ve been using some fuided meditations on meeting your soulmate.. etc.. Thats when I met this new guy, and thats when I’ve been visited.. Its not scary or anything when it happens, it feels very good.. and feels like its there in bed with me.

    Last night, it visited me in my dream, though.. It made love to me, and I could see his face. Then he went away to do someone else, and I wasn’t too happy about that.. So he came back and put his arms around me… This is so wierd saying all this..

    I told my sister a little of what was happening and not knowing whether it was a dream or not, and she told me about Lucy Liu experience, which prompted me to look this up..

    I don’t know what to do, or why I’m even sharing this…

    • Ryan Hurd says

      nothing to fear! This is a totally natural experience. It’s largely a matter of personal choice if you want to relax into the experience or try to wake yourself up from it. Make a decision and resolve to follow through the next time it happens (whatever your decision!). Thanks for sharing your story… you are not alone in this strange but altogether normal “dream-vision.”

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