Dissociation during sex is very common in survivors of sexual trauma. It can be frustrating for both you and your partner if it occurs regularly.
This article will discuss what dissociation feels like, why it happens, and how to prevent it in order to have a fulfilling sex life.
Sexual trauma can leave people with mixed or intense feelings during sex, which may increase their risk of dissociating. The intense sensations can be a reminder of past trauma and can create fear, anxiety or even physical pain in their bodies. Dissociation can also occur because of a lack of connection or intimacy. This can be a common response to childhood trauma or any type of abuse.
When someone dissociates during intimacy it can feel uncomfortable, frustrating and even unsafe for both partners. However, it is important to remember that this is a normal coping mechanism that people use in the face of unsettling events. It is not a reflection of you as a person or your relationship. Rather, it is a coping mechanism to keep you safe and protect your consciousness.
Women who have experienced CSA (childhood sexual abuse) report experiencing dissociative symptoms more frequently and with greater intensity than those without a history of CSA. This is because of the prolonged nature of the sexual trauma and abuse that these survivors experience.
A study that looked at 60 sex-abuse survivors found that a history of CSA was associated with dissociation, state and trait shame, as well as intimate relationship difficulties. It is thought that these symptom clusters work together to influence complex PTSD and their impact on relationships.
If you or a loved one dissociates during sex, it can feel like they are mentally checking out or hiding from the experience. In some cases, this is because of past trauma. For example, sex may trigger memories of sexual abuse and the person may disconnect during sex to escape the feelings of danger. It is important to remember that this is a survival mechanism and not to take it personally. A therapist can help you work through the past experiences that are making intimacy and sex unsafe.
A person might also dissociate during sex due to fear of being overwhelmed or having an out-of-control situation. This is a common feeling for people who have anxiety in general and can manifest as physical sensations or mental feelings like being suffocated, trapped, or immobilized.
For people who dissociate during sex, grounding can be helpful. This involves bringing attention back to the present situation through things like talking, touching, or using safe words to communicate during sex and keep each other engaged.
For example, a couple might agree on a word or sign to signal that they need to check-in with each other and slow down. Mindfulness and meditation techniques can be used to help with this as well. A therapist can teach you strategies to help you overcome dissociation during sex so that you and your partner can enjoy sexual intimacy without fear.
There are many reasons people fear intimacy. It can be rooted in anxiety, dissociative disorders, or past trauma. For people who have suffered sexual trauma, intimacy may feel unsafe and triggering. The fear of intimacy can also be due to past experiences of neglect or rejection. These feelings can lead to dissociation as a means of self-protection.
If you are in a committed relationship with someone and you notice them dissociating during sex, it’s important to talk about it. It’s important to set boundaries and agree on a safe word to use during sex. It could be something like “blueberries” or anything else that will notify your partner that they need to slow down and check-in.
In addition, it’s important to practice grounding techniques. These are simple ways to help a person reconnect with the present moment. These can include breathing exercises, focusing on sensations that are not triggering, or listening to music or sounds that bring a person back into the present.
Depending on the reason for your partner’s dissociation during intimacy, you may need to seek out professional support. It’s important to find a therapist who has experience working with dissociation in couples and individuals. A therapist who specializes in trauma work, body-mind therapy or an alternative approach to trauma processing (like EMDR) may be helpful.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
For people with dissociative identity disorder, sex is often difficult because it can trigger dissociation. Dissociation is a coping mechanism that helps someone deal with overwhelming experiences, traumatic events and abuse they experience as children. This type of dissociation is often associated with multiple personality disorders or what used to be known as multiple identities.
During a dissociative episode, a person may seem distant from you or behave in an uncharacteristic way. They might seem frightened or spacey, which can be confusing for the loved ones around them. It is important to remember that this is their coping mechanism and not take it personally. It is also helpful to support them and encourage them to seek professional help.
People who dissociate often experience gaps in memory and feelings of being disconnected from their body, sense of self and surroundings. This can be due to trauma or any number of reasons. Dissociation is common in those with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by multiple shifting identities, which often have different memories and behaviors. Attitudes and preferences can shift suddenly as identities switch. This can lead to a loss of memory and confusion over previously held beliefs, decisions or purchases. People who have dissociative identity disorder often find themselves feeling no longer human and report being a prisoner in a concentration camp, a victim of severe child abuse or other severe traumas.