Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2024
Sleeping together’ or ‘Sleeping together’ It is an interesting fact that we use the phrase to ‘sleep with’ to mean both sharing a bed and to have sex, when surely actually falling asleep during sex would not be considered the ‘done thing’. But have you ever wondered when the phrase to ‘sleep with’ started to also mean to ‘have sex with’? Well, it isn't some 19th century euphemism designed to protect one’s sensibilities, but pure Anglo-Saxon, the first known usage of the phrase is in King Alfred’s Prologue to the Laws of England, written approx. 890AD, where he translates Exodus 22 verse 16 as: Gif hwa fæmnan beswice unbeweddode ┐ hire midslæpe, forgielde hie ┐ hæbbe hi siððan him to wife In modern English this can be given as; “If anyone seduces an unbetrothed virgin, and sleeps with her, let him pay her and have her thereafter as a wife to him”. After this the phrase appears to have been used infrequently and then seemingly for around 400 years (approx. 1300 to 1750) it seems to have disappeared altogether from the written record being replaced by the phrase to ‘lie with’ (hence the King James Bible’s (1611) version of the above verse “And if a man entice a maide that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife”). The first modern usage of the phrase, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is from 1819 in Shelley’s Cenci, Act 1, Scene 3, where the line ‘Whilst she he loved was sleeping with his rival’ is used. So although the phrase is an ancient one the fact it was rarely used shows that for most of our recorded history sleep was not explicitly connected with sex as it is perhaps nowadays. In the past we would all sleep together; men, women, children, animals and any passing strangers and so sleep was about sleep and sex was something separate. Nowadays you can ‘sleep with’ someone (i.e. have sex) but you don’t have to ‘sleep with’ them (i.e. share a bed and sleep), indeed sharing a bed and sleeping with someone is actually seen by many as being the more intimate act.