Staying connected during sex?
August 30, 2010 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I dissociate during sex, but I haven't been sexually abused or assaulted. What is my problem?

For as long as I can remember, I have dissociated during sex. (Datapoint: I am a lady who dates ladies. My sex drive is usually pretty low because I'm on SSRIs, but I'd say I want to have sex a couple times a month. At least I start out wanting to.) I might be Into Things for a while, but within a few minutes my mind starts to wander away to pretty much anything else and the sense of physical pleasure is sort of distant and, I don't know, mechanical? It feels good but it's not something I enjoy, but something I have to endure. My mind is totally not there anymore. Like I'm too conscious of myself to enjoy it. After, I feel a pretty pervasive sense of shame about having had sex at all. This latter fact is true whether I'm flying solo or with my partner, and whether I am giving or receiving in any capacity. If I stay focused on my partner I can keep it together long enough to get her off, but if I manage to have an orgasm before the cold feeling sets in (which doesn't always happen anyway) I am for sure done then. When it happens, my partner usually asks if I want to stop, and we do. (She can tell when it's happening.)

Now, I've been told before that this is usually the response of people who have been sexually traumatized somehow, but I haven't been. At least I don't think so. So stuff like this book isn't really a huge help. I've tried sort of focusing on my breathing, but that doesn't work either.

What do I do? I want to enjoy sex more and I want to help my partner enjoy it more. (Yes, I am in therapy. Working my way up to talking about this.) Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

This happens to me when my anxiety is out of control.
posted by politikitty at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2010

Just throwing a couple ideas out here -- no idea how likely these are:

- Maybe you're asexual (not necessarily aromantic).

- Is it possible that you're not as sure of your sexual orientation as you suggest here? The main thing we know is that you're not getting much enjoyment from sex with women; are you confident that you wouldn't get more enjoyment from sex with men?

It might be useful to know your age and how experienced you are.
posted by John Cohen at 11:42 AM on August 30, 2010

Are you into the person you're with? And yes, I agree, anxiety does this too.
posted by stormpooper at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2010

I don't mean to horn in on your therapy, but "I think I might not like sex" is a pretty fundamental thing that for me would be important enough to cut short a whole raft of discussion topics.
posted by rhizome at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2010

This can happen to me, too, and I also have no history of abuse-- it's usually a sign that my stress levels are so far beyond acceptable that I need to drop something in order to carve out time for myself.

When this was happening extremely frequently, it also turned out that I was quite a kinkster, and I was disassociating from vanilla sex because it was boring for me. I'm not sure if I was being bored because vanilla sex is boring inherently to me, or if a little bit of kink keeps me in the moment so I don't get bored, but either way, learning to love and accept my bedroom choices, no matter how "strange" they might be, was a big step on beating this problem. Is it possible you are going through the same thing?
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2010

Um John, I don't know what you read but I don't see how you've reached your conclusions.

That shame is a strong force here suggests that this is a topic that will need discussion because the cause(s) are obviously not readily identifiable to you. I don't know how one could offer an explanation here for you other than by sheer accident that triggered a relevant memory. You need to plan with yourself when and how to bring it up with your therapist: the sooner the better it sounds. I presume your partner is at least partly aware of how sex is for you. It might help you both if you tell her that you need to talk to the therapist about it - having a plan is a good first step.
posted by peacay at 11:56 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should chase the source of that shame. Pervading shame is about the past and unresolved issues. And it is very hard to detect, becasue it is probably the most repressed feeling ever, and is often disguised by other emotions. Bring all of this up in therapy.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:43 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, do you start to get tired when it starts to get hot and heavy? Everything you're talking about seems to be related to reaction formation, which is a way people try and get away from things they do not like. They get tired, they get disassociated, they get away from things.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:45 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Yes, I'm attracted to and into my partner (this happened before I was with this partner), and no, this doesn't have anything to do with my sexual orientation--it was just a datapoint to avoid assumptions about my gender or my partner's. Thanks for your replies thus far.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:57 PM on August 30, 2010

I know when I am unhappy with myself and how I look and my self esteem is low, I experience feelings similar to what you describe. When I am exercising and liking my body I feel sexy and more tuned in sexually and I am much more able to be present during sex. So, I am not sure if you are exercising, but I know for me, it helps a lot in this area.
posted by heatherly at 1:09 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it possible this could be tied to some sort of non-sexual abuse? Not just assault, but neglect, or abandonment, or emotional abuse?
posted by almostmanda at 1:11 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I, too, am on an SSRI.

Before the SSRI, I had pretty nasty GAD, but I had a pretty voracious appetite for sex. Like, 5-7 times a week. I never really understood what it was like to have a low libido. I was always really/willing to have sex. I was always on the edge. I actively thought about sex. All the time.

Post SSRI, I rarely do. Even when I do think about it, it's more of an abstract activity. That doesn't mean I view sex as a bore/chore, I just don't have the same (strong and/or immediate) physiological reaction to thinking about sex and sexy things. It takes a lot more work to, uh, get me going and "connected" (in more ways than one).

So, I think I might know what you mean when you say you dissociate. I try to stay connected with my partner in other ways. I'll look him in the eye when I feel myself drifting away, or I'll give him/her in-the-moment feedback ("Yes, just like that" or "Harder!", for example). Oh, and some extra foreplay is very much a necessity for me now.

My experiences are almost completely SSRI-based, so YMMV. I hope you do bring it up with your therapist just so you can talk it over with her. It's never a bad idea.
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 1:21 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ditto to everything your mom's a sock puppet said. I completely attribute it to the SSRIs, as I had no such problem before I was on them. If it's something that's truly an issue for you, definitely discuss it with your doctor - disinterest in sex is a common side effect, and you may be able to adjust your dose or switch medications. (I should probably do the same!)
posted by jenny76 at 3:59 PM on August 30, 2010

This may be totally off the mark, but have you ever been tested for ADHD? What you are calling dissociation sounds like it could also be just an inability to focus on the sexual sensations (except for the feeling shame part, but lots of people feel some shame regarding sex but don't necessarily find it difficult to focus or stay in the moment.) If your sex drive is low to begin with and you have SSRI's causing issues, the lack of compelling desire to have sex makes it harder to concentrate so your mind wanders all over the place. Meds can help with this, so you might want to check with your therapist to see if he/she thinks ADHD is a possibility.

Also, I feel like I preach this all the time like it's the gospel of the lord or something, but adding bupropion to SSRI's can sometimes help with sexual side effects like low libido and difficulty reaching orgasm. It's possible that part of the reason you're not getting into the sex is that you're just not all that horny to start with.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:23 PM on August 30, 2010

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