As the accusations against American comic icon Bill Cosby keep coming, I (like everyone) can’t help but wonder why a charming multi-millionaire race-barrier-crashing superstar would feel compelled to drug women into unconsciousness before having sex with them. Several of Cosby’s accusers actually said they would have happily had sex with the man—and some actually did—without being drugged into it (pun intended). Drugging people and/or forcing them to drink excessively and then having sex with their unconscious body is a kind of stealth rape. Apparently, Cosby risked his marriage, career, empire and a lengthy prison term by committing these acts upon the slumbering bodies of multiple women throughout his life, and now, whatever happens, his legacy appears to be tarnished beyond repair. Max Factor heir Andrew Luster is currently serving a 124-year sentence for similar misdeeds. So, assuming Cosby did it, why would he?
When I first heard the news, I wasn’t as “shocked” as some, never having been a fan of Cosby’s “Father Knows Best” attitude on or off camera. Even worse was the way he waggled his sanctimonious finger at “black culture,” blaming it for African-American poverty and incarceration, as though his good fortune and impeccable comic timing gave him a right to condemn individuals and whole communities who weren’t as blessed as he was.
Nevertheless, despite my distaste for his smug, megawatt personality, I felt I ought to give his character the benefit of the doubt, having known several people, mostly of the male gender, who have been accused of sexual assault most unjustly and with devastating effect. I’m all for female solidarity (more on just how vital this is in my new book The Bonobo Way). But I’m not one to side with women just because we’re fellow females. Besides The Cos and I both hail from the City of Brotherly Love. I hate hearing about my fellow Philly dogs doing bad stuff.
But the accusations, which Cosby’s lawyer calls “unsubstantiated and fantastical,” keep coming. Some could be false, but most display an eerie similarity, and this glib comedian’s taciturn responses to simple questions seem to all but sign a confession of guilt. Almost everyone acknowledges the man’s king-sized arrogance, and many have addressed related subjects of race, gender, affluence and privilege. But still, why would he do such a thing, repeatedly? Suddenly, as one more accusatory tale flashed across my screen (this from a friend of a girl who told her that Cosby drugged and violated her even though they were already active lovers), the sexual heart of the matter dawned on me like the morning sun seeping through the dark fog of a bad hangover: Bill Cosby has a sleep fetish.
As a sex therapist in private practice, I’ve treated many clients with sleep fetishes of various kinds. The clinical term is “somnophilia,” a paraphilia in which sexual arousal arises from fondling or having sex with someone who is asleep or unconscious. A more romantic name for it is the “Sleeping Beauty” syndrome. The fairy tale fantasy of an exquisitely beautiful, utterly helpless princess in a deep, hypnotic, erotic sleep that only awakens, with the climactic kiss of a charming prince, has captured imaginations and titillated libidos for centuries of civilized human history. If Prince Charming had given Beauty a roofie and then done his kissing and maybe a little fondling, he’d be a nonconsensual sleep fetishist, a.k.a., a sleep rapist. Not so charming any more.
Google “somnophiliac,” and you will find that most sleep fetishists maintain they would never use force or violence on their “partners,” and even the thought of forcing someone against their will is a turn-off. Yet the fact remains that you can’t give consent if you’re unconscious. Some couples work this out in advance so that the sleeper agrees to the sex before going to sleep, whereupon the sleep fetishist can then have his or her way with the sleeper with some level of impunity.
There is also the fact that all that fondling would likely cause a light or even moderate sleeper to wake up and possibly shriek, “What the f*ck are you doing?”
This is where drugging comes in. And this is where the rape begins.
Which does not mean that assuming the Sleeping Beauty or “victim” role doesn’t have a certain erotic appeal, if only in fantasy, for some who enjoy submission and passivity. Indeed, over the past couple of weeks, several of my sex therapy clients have informed me that they are having fantasies and dreams of being drugged and ravished by Cliff Huxtable himself. Some men and women are aroused by the idea of being “taken” as they snooze unawares, “slipped a mickie” or “put to sleep” by a powerful lover or diabolical anesthesiologist who then has his or her way with their sleeping body. This dreamy but dangerous fetish can be a tough one to understand (especially for those of us who savor wakefulness), let alone explore safely. Insomniacs are especially likely to crave and fetishize sleep and anesthesia. Some say that the late great “King of Pop” Michael Jackson suffered from an anesthesia fetish which may have ultimately killed him.
Some relish the feeling of being forcibly “put to sleep” without drugs. Many of my sex therapy clients get highly aroused under “erotic hypnosis,” in which a relaxation exercise leads them into a trance state where they can enjoy their sexual feelings without feeling “responsible” for them.
The other side of the sleep fetish, getting sexually aroused by having sex with slumbering lovers, is far more dangerous to others than to the fetishist, especially when it involves putting “lovers” to sleep without their consent and then using their knocked out, very vulnerable, rag-doll body to satisfy desires for absolute power, selfish sensation and an intoxicating feeling of total control. If the allegations are true, this appears to describe the sexual appetites and behaviors of Bill Cosby.
In her thesis ‘Potent Sleep: The Cultural Politics of Sleep,’ Christina Eugene (Bowling Green State University, USA) asserts:
“Sleep is the essential objectifier of all life. The passivity of sleep transforms subjects into inanimate objects, and in doing so removes the subject’s privilege of being able to act on the world of objects… This rendering of people into inanimate objects allows them to be fundamentally treated as objects – consumed, fetishized, and controlled. In accordance with the totality of capitalism and phallocentrism, an erotic fetish for sleeping beauties has surfaced”.
This is not to excuse Cosby’s alleged crimes or his capitalist (read: “I own you”), controlling, consuming, phallocentric attitude towards the weak, the sleeping, the drugged, the imprisoned (who are often, ironically, subject to the torture of sleep deprivation) and those less fortunate. Not at all. This is just to offer up a possible explanation in the hopes that if any readers are struggling with a nonconsensual sleep fetish (or if you know someone who might be), you seek help from an experienced sex therapist, before you find yourself committing acts of Cosbyësque hubris in the Sandman Land of dreams. If only my fellow Philly dog had come clean to me or someone like me a few decades ago when he first felt the sexual urge to sedate women into utter object inanimation, there’s a good chance he and Camille would be enjoying their golden years in glory, instead of infamy, right now. Moreover, it might have saved over a dozen reluctant “Sleeping Beauties” from being violated while sleeping.
Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is an internationally renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. Visit her at http://DrSusanBlock.com. Email your comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and you will get a reply.