Does your mind tend to wander during sex? Do you ever get out of a steamy session and think, “wow, what just happened?” Do you feel disconnected from your body, or are you unable to stay in the moment? Don’t freak out—you’re not blacking out, and it’s definitely not just you.
First, we have to ask, what is dissociation? It’s something everyone can experience to varying degrees. When we dissociate, we are (unconsciously) creating distance between our consciousness and any big feelings or sensations within the current experience that feel overwhelming or threatening to our minds or bodies. Dissociation can leave us feeling spacey or foggy, distracted, or unable to remember parts of our experience later. More extreme forms of dissociation include depersonalization (feeling disconnected or detached from yourself or parts of your identity) or derealization (a sense that something or someone else feels surreal or unreal).
So why does this happen during sex? Intense feelings during sex can feel great but also scary or overwhelming at times. Chronic objectification or previous sexual trauma can leave people with mixed or intense feelings during sex and can increase the likelihood of dissociation during this shared intimacy, even when that person wants to be sexual. Similar kinds of sensory stimuli can trigger dissociation, because sometimes the brain cannot always discern between what is happening now versus a previous threat.
When people feel fear or anxiety during sex, that can lead to dissociation, whether it’s related to performance, the nature of the relationship, or the consequences of the sexual encounter. For folks with higher levels of stress in general, surrendering to pleasure may feel overwhelming and can evoke a dissociation response. The mind checks out to avoid being engulfed by feelings that may knock a person off their over-functioning square. In other words, if you don’t think you can afford to lose control, paradoxically, you may dissociate to avoid the stress of being out of control.
A fear of intimacy can interrupt a sense of sexual safety. Sex can trigger many unconscious or conscious fears about connection, attachment, or abandonment, and those fears can feel like a threat the mind wants to detach from during sexual moments. A lack of connection, when connected sex is important to you, can also feel a bit like an existential threat and can foster dissociation.
To recognize dissociation and take the first steps toward fixing it, the key is to develop more effective skills related to interoception (the perception of your internal experience) and embodiment.
Drop any substance like recreational drugs or alcohol
Substance use before or during sex can lead to a chemically induced dissociation and can negate one’s ability to consent, which can result in fear and amplify dissociation.
Practice grounding modalities
When you notice it happening, you might tell your partner to slow down so you can practice some grounding skills such as co-regulation (soft eye contact, gentle touch, or syncing your breathing). Or try engaging in the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique (observing five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste).
Incorporate meditation into your routine
A regular meditation practice can help you develop more awareness and tolerance for somatic cues and emotions and can help you stay more mindful and in the moment, both generally and during sex.
Reduce stress levels outside of the bedroom
When it’s possible, reduce stress, be discerning about sexual partners (no slut-shaming here—but if you feel fear because the partnership is uncertain, that can inhibit your sexual pleasure), and practice sober sex to help you stay more present in your body and less detached or dissociated.
Recognizing your triggers is key to understanding what makes your brain peace out during intimacy. Ground, sync with your partner, and sink into the moment to get the pleasure you deserve!
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