Let’s talk about sex baby…particularly about sex and dissociation. While starting a conversation about sex in itself is a herculean task, dissociation is on another level of “taboo,” to the point that most therapists have little to no idea how to address it. In order to change that- even just a little- let’s take a minute to understand dissociation during sex and how to address it.
What Is Dissociation?
Dissociation is a feeling of disconnect from your thoughts, feelings, memories, self or even from the place you are in physically. They could either all happen at one time, or just one at a time. We dissociate when we find ourselves in danger- indicated by our body itself- and we can not physically remove ourselves from the situation. Instead our mind creates a barrier as a method to protect ourselves from pain. For example, if someone were to catcall you, you might be able to repeat it without feeling anything about that particular event.
Dissociation almost always manifests in those that have undergone prolonged sexual or physical abuse as children- a point of time where the body and brain is still developing. The prolonged nature of sexual, physical or emotional abuse- as a child or otherwise- can lead to the body and mind using dissociation as a technique to protect you from pain. It acts as a mediating technique between sexuality and trauma.
Why Do We Dissociate?
As a coping mechanism, dissociation protects us by disallowing us from feeling pain. Dissociation might occur when:
• Moments are too painful for us to deal with
• A trigger that would lead to pain is presented to us
• Memories come to mind- dissociation in this case means that we might not be able to feel anything despite actively thinking about it.
In essence, dissociation is a means of the body to protect from pain from the trauma. In a broader way, it could be characterized by poor memory, the feeling of being unreal, and inconsistent emotions.
Do You Dissociate During Sex?
There is a set of symptoms that you can look out for during sex that helps identify if you’re dissociating:
• You might be someone who is unable to have an orgasm
• You might get “lost” during sex and effectively block out the whole experience
• You might even take a backseat and not be fully present in the moment
How Do You Cope With Dissociation?
• Communicate With Your Partner: let your partner know that you tend to dissociate during sex (or in any situation). Also make them aware when and if you happen to dissociate.
• Safety First: Make sure you discuss your boundaries with your partner and ALWAYS agree on a safeword.
• Ground Yourself: Try to bring yourself to the present by focusing on sensations that are not triggering. This can also mean just keeping your eyes open and reminding yourself that you are in a safe space with someone you consent to and love.
• As a Partner: If you notice them dissociating, do not try and yank them back into the present as it can be jarring. Instead, ease them back naturally and pause on the intimate moment for a while.
It can be scary and confusing to undergo dissociation, especially if it ultimately means you have to face pain in order to deal with it. Since dissociation is indeed a trauma response, you would need therapy and professional help in order to feel the pain and help yourself. Another Light specializes in trauma therapy and is a safe space in which you can talk about sex and dissociation.