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Dissociation and sex

Rose White

MyPTSD Pro
I am wondering if sex is a sort of dissociative event even for people without a history of sexual assault or abuse? When I was married I dissociated every single time we had sex.

Been single for four years. Only had sex with other people a handful of times. Wasn’t able to fully dissociate so wasn’t able to climax. When I take care of my own needs, the more intense it is the more likely I am to dissociate.

Sometimes I work hard on pretending there is someone with me, practicing communicating and looking at them, and going slow and breathing. And it feels like I’ve gotten better but not yet allowed myself to be in a relationship where I can practice that.

But if I do certain things that heighten the intensity then I “need” to escape my body, my environment, in order to submerge into some kind of vortex, where it’s just me and my feelings and NO ONE else, so I am in complete control. My ex-husband got used to it. He sort of complained sometimes but mostly he just seemed to accept that I could not stay present.

So I’m wondering if it’s not uncommon for people to disappear into la-la-land during sex? I am very curious to hear about people’s perspectives who must/need to stay connected with their partner during sex, through communication and eye contact *in order* to feel safe enough, turned on, whatever. That’s where I *want* to be, not in this situation of “leave me the f*ck alone, I need to do this”. For me, just knowing they’re present, and trying to connect with me makes my body shut down. Which is why I was practicing the slowing down, pretending to communicate with eye contact, etc. I guess if I ever allowed myself to be with a partner sexually and/or physically I would need to go VERY slow in order to stay present, if that’s my goal.

Would very much appreciate your thoughts from either side, especially if you are thinking about similar things.
 
I think I’m probably the opposite, in that if we’re talking? there’s something seriously wrong. Hopefully at that point it’s into throughly non-verbal communication 🙈 Going very slow, checking in constantly etc would probably cause me to be less present, as at that point I wouldn’t be into it at all and I’d be ‘making’ myself go through the motions. I would go so far as to say really good sex, with someone skilled in the bedroom department is pretty grounding for me.

I think it really just shows that everyone has preferences, and that’s okay & normal & you need to match with a partner that shares the same preferences.
 
Hmmm… I do see what you’re saying. Sort of the idea of, “Whatever you do is right for you and just find someone who fits with you.” I do understand the validity of that statement, and I definitely believe that self-acceptance is a crucial part of recovery from SA.

But! 🌚

I only have one life. And sex is a curious phenomenon. And I’ve made great strides to make changes in my mind and emotions and developed the ability to stay present with myself… and I believe that it’s possible to stay present with someone else while the bedroom. So I would like to challenge myself to grow in that way.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with non-verbal communication— I think it’s fabulous. Eye contact for example is non-verbal but does not go along with dissociation! I think checking in can be something that’s sexy and I think it’s possible to have pleasure while present with a person—that sounds sexy to me! I just have no experience with it and am curious about it.

Since it’s a very grounding experience for you it sounds (to me) like you are able to stay present despite the lack of verbal communication.
 
I am wondering if sex is a sort of dissociative event even for people without a history of sexual assault or abuse? When I was married I dissociated every single time we had sex.
Whilst I have a rather long history of sexual assault, sex has never been dissociative for me. The opposite. It’s incredibly grounding / be here now.

Ditto @No More … With the occasional exception here & there, one of my baselines goals with sex is removing the ability to talk, and ideally the ability to even think; If I/they are still able to talk? I’m not doing my job, and need to up my game.

I can now hear from a distance, the collective shouting of my friends in the BDSM world, “Nooooooo! You HAVE to talk-talk-talk-talk!!! What are you doing?!?” 😱 “Talk before! Talk during! Talk after!”

LMAO. Again, ditto @No More, just goes to show everyone has their preferences.

BDSM sex is waaaaaay too structured for me. What I adore is the constant paying attention /nonverbal / acting/ reacting/ split second timing. Even BDSM vanilla sex still tends to have the same sort of constantly checking in ethos, that just breaks the 4th wall for me …unless someone has some serious skills, which -to be fair- has happened… but savants are rare creatures, indeed.


Been single for four years. Only had sex with other people a handful of times. Wasn’t able to fully dissociate so wasn’t able to climax. When I take care of my own needs, the more intense it is the more likely I am to dissociate.
Climaxing isn’t even on the top 10 of my favorite things about sex, but I’m also someone who comes easily/often, so it makes sense it’s never really been a focus for me… unless it’s reversed… and I’m attempting to get someone else off before they want to, or it becomes a game. But, for the most part? It’s the 99.999% of all of the other WOW feelings/sensations I’m focused on.

Which means I totally get your desire to be more present FOR all of the amazing. That’s my favourite part!!!


So I’m wondering if it’s not uncommon for people to disappear into la-la-land during sex?
I don’t think it’s UNcommon, from talking with people over the years? I just wouldn’t personally know how to dance with someone who isn’t here.
 
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@Friday that makes a lot of sense. What I’m hearing you and @No More saying is that sex is an incredibly grounding and present experience which is why you enjoy the non-verbal, subtle communication. Makes sense!
I just wouldn’t personally know how to dance with someone who isn’t here.
This is very revealing. It might be related to why I felt frightened and alone after sex because I simply wasn’t there. It also continues to open my mind about the kind of person my ex husband was that it didn’t hardly bother him that I couldn’t stay present. (A very difficult thing to accept/process—gonna have to take that one slowly.)

Rebuilding my sense of self and the ability to stay present during mundane life was a profoundly slow process. Being able to stay present while hanging out with friends? Also took a long time.

Which means? Developing the ability to stay present during sex is likely going to take a significant amount of work and time. I don’t like thinking about that. It’s uncomfortable. Like finishing two marathons and then seeing another hidden one.

Kind of overwhelming actually. Parts of me want to cry and just let it go. “Who cares? Being single is perfectly fine. You’ve come a long way.”

What I’m realizing is that I cannot go the traditional route of relationship building. I cannot just meet someone with the intention of dating and f*cking. Which means online dating is all but out (though I still enjoy looking and swiping left!). It’s out because I can’t go into a relationship thinking “How will the sex go?” That’s just the prequel to dissociation for me.

I will need some kind of super slow (feeling the teary overwhelm again) friendship type thing that starts with like just eye contact—a ton of that—and then like breathing together (even that sounds scary) and like very very very very very tiny touch.

Jeez. It sure sounds like a lot of work. I can see how when I think about doing it the “right” way (staying present and connected) my small parts are all tense. I’m well-versed in doing it the wrong way (shut those vulnerable parts in a dungeon and tune out). Doing it the “wrong” way is familiar and well-grooved.

But for better or worse some parts of me are aware, quite aware now, of the possibility of staying present and grounded during sex, and they want to experience that. I think my parts that want to experience that are my wise self and adult parts.

Enough for now. Definitely stirring shit up. Gonna need to breathe and move and music now.
 
Jeez. It sure sounds like a lot of work.
That’s why I tend to think of these things as artforms to perfect.

Whether it’s living life with PTSD, or diet, or relationships, or a sport, or whatever. Anything worth doing? Can be risen to the level of an art. And that’s a helluva lot more fun than looking at all the work that goes into it!

I can see how when I think about doing it the “right” way (staying present and connected) my small parts are all tense. I’m well-versed in doing it the wrong way (shut those vulnerable parts in a dungeon and tune out). Doing it the “wrong” way is familiar and well-grooved.
How are you & your parts at other partnership activities?

- Dancing
- Fighting/Sparring
- Singing/Choir
- Instruments : Orchestra/ Band/ Jamming
- Volunteering to kangaroo infants in the hospital
- Etc.

No People, Still Partnered!
- Horseback Riding
- Swimming -or kayaking, surfing, sailing- in currents (ocean, river)
- Downhill (skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking)
- Rally Driving

For me? Those things above (and others) require nearly the exact same level of paying attention / being here, as sex.

1. Is there anything you love doing, or have wanted to learn, that would give you & your parts a chance to learn to work together in split second timing?

2. Ditto, that you could practice bringing yourself forward whilst child-parts are sent away to a NOT-dungeon? (Not-Dungeon = Pretty much ANY better mental playscape). Because it makes sense that if they’re sent to the dungeon when you’re being raped to protect them AND when you’re having sex? There’s

a) no way for those aspects of yourself to know you’re not being raped &

b) their attempting to rescue you from being raped by pulling you back with them is both a kindness & a desperate bottom line

No amount of arguing I can imagine (no no, I’m FINE, really, stay present, go slow, connect, stay pres- No, no, really. I’m okay, stay present) would convince ME to stop trying to rescue someone. Nor would I believe their protestations that I should stay safe whilst they do this. Know what I mean? No matter what small thing I might be able to offer, I would still feel compelled to attempt to offer it. And feel hurt, confused, guilty, ashamed if I was unsuccessful, or turned away.

But for better or worse some parts of me are aware, quite aware now, of the possibility of staying present and grounded during sex, and they want to experience that. I think my parts that want to experience that are my wise self and adult parts
The Not-Dungeon could also be a fun sort of practice for your adult parts to help create a space for your child parts. Like dropping kids off at the gymnastics facility or dance studio or science center or museum for Parents Night Out. The kids get to play, and eat pizza, watch movies… whilst the adults get to do grownup things. Everyone has fun.

By practicing the ‘divide & conquer’ PNO for fun things that aren’t sex? It would both help build a pattern of expectation for when you are having sex, and allow the space for you to go as slow as you want in developing friendships before sex.
 
Dancing
- Fighting/Sparring
- Singing/Choir
- Instruments : Orchestra/ Band/ Jamming
- Volunteering to kangaroo infants in the hospital
Dancing ✅ though I’m not good at partner dancing, hard to “follow”. Maybe worth looking into.

Fighting/Sparring… I used to do Judo. I was scared to do the “flip over your own arm thing.” Also Judo was my dad’s thing, so probably best to leave that one but there are lots of other options. Watched Mark Zuckerberg do Jiu-jitsu with Lex Fridman and their junk was all up in each other’s faces and I was thinking how they were NOT doing anything inappropriate but it was also intimate? So maybe I could try jiu-jitsu. I’m also intrigued with how the whole point is to go to the point where you could kill your partner and you would if they don’t tap. Very intense.

Singing/choir. I like practicing singing. I did choir briefly in high school. There’s a whole breathing aspect to it and vulnerability and loudness. Been thinking about taking voice lessons to strengthen my confidence with all that. And since I’m not that good at it there’s a whole vulnerability aspect. Am scared to sing harmony because I gravitate to what the other is singing. I like this idea.

Am noticing that fear is a part of all these. I recently heard that the feeling of a crush or falling in love might actually be fear. There was a study where men went across a rickety bridge and a stable one then encountered a beautiful woman. The ones who went across the rickety bridge were more likely to try to exchange numbers with the woman. Same idea with people falling in love with emergency service workers who rescue them.

Instruments. I like playing piano. I remember I assisted in a music class of my students and the music teacher and I worked together to play music while they sang. The experience was sexy. Need to build up my confidence. But maybe I could figure out a way to play easy chords and jam somehow? Definitely like the idea of this.

Those are all great ideas! I can definitely see how I’ve dipped my toes in all of them yet have kept myself very separate from other people in those experiences. Thinking about those activities inspires me to explore crossing the threshold to a partner-y way of interacting.
- Horseback Riding
- Swimming -or kayaking, surfing, sailing- in currents (ocean, river)
- Downhill (skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking)
- Rally Driving
Horseback riding: whenever I’ve done it the teacher says I’m fighting the horse with my rigid body. It’s been a while. That was all pre-recovery. I could try again.

Swimming: my T was always going on about swimming. My body seems opposed to water. I feel kind of ashamed of it, in a weird way. Like I feel weak about it. This one would be lower down on my list.

Downhill: grew up skiing (luckily). Lots of bad dad memories associated but the physical act was like flying. It’s fun to ski when you’re little. Mountain biking? Am afraid of falling and getting a broken bones/skull. These things would be below swimming. I liked these things when I was young but because my medical insurance is so minimal I treat my body like a collectible.

Rally driving: I have no idea what this is. Is it like the thing where people smash the cars? I will look it up. Ok, not the crashing kind, but I still don’t understand. Sounds dangerous and expensive. Never considered it. Lowest down on the list.

Oh the baby thing? Had enough babies in my life.

I like thinking about all those things. I think I can make a list and try to do it. When I divorced I made a list like that and did a lot of them (dance, roller skate, car maintenance, and so on.). This will be my new list. Goal would be something like in 2 years I will have tried 8/10 of them.
Is there anything you love doing, or have wanted to learn, that would give you & your parts a chance to learn to work together in split second timing?
Not really sure. You mean athletic stuff, like what you listed above? I will think about that concept of split-second timing. I tend to be drawn to things that progress languidly, like watercolor, yoga, ceramics, hiking. Maybe those are what I’m comfortable with because I *don’t* have to coordinate split-second interactions.
whilst child-parts are sent away
This is the comment that brought me back to ponder all this stuff. Because I was thinking that if you don’t have “parts”—if your life experiences are integrated for the most part—then aren’t your younger/vulnerable/inexperienced/playful parts involved in the whole sexual experience? Rising and falling, ebbing and flowing as the interactions unfold? I’m not sure that my goal is to send them away, but I surely don’t want them fronting or taking command.

Maybe you’re suggesting that as a kind of intermediate step? If I’m already “locking them up” then sending them to camp would be a better option?

I feel I am mostly integrated. So my child parts come and go throughout my daily experiences. Sex seems like a way more challenging situation though. And so maybe in the beginning thinking of them being in something like a beachside resort would be on the way to integrating?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am unsure if sending them to camp is a long-term solution? Like an integrated person doesn’t *switch* into a certain “personality mode” when they have sex, do they? This is a very clunky question but do you feel “very adult” in a way that is different from your normal life when you’re having sex? (Struggling to convey what I’m trying to say.)
 
Drats! I was just closing out old tabs/pages, and realized? I didn’t actually respond when I’d thought I’d had. 😖 So I’m not sure if any of this is still useful/relevant, but defo my apologies for the late reply!

How are you & your parts at partnership activities?

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For me? Those things above (and others) require nearly the exact same level of paying attention / being here, as sex.
I like thinking about all those things. I think I can make a list and try to do it. When I divorced I made a list like that and did a lot of them (dance, roller skate, car maintenance, and so on.). This will be my new list. Goal would be something like in 2 years I will have tried 8/10 of them.
You may durn well already grok this / I just wanted to be clear that I didn’t mean to try these things in particular? They’re just the things I do in my own life that Venn Diagram the kinds of paying attention / be here now / react & respond as sex does.

Making a list of partnership activities that sound fun to you? Or at least potentially not “kill it with fire” 😉 to practice the kinds of give and take, react and respond, present rather than zoning out… Would be awesome. Just don’t limit yourself to these ones, ya know?



Not really sure. You mean athletic stuff, like what you listed above? I will think about that concept of split-second timing. I tend to be drawn to things that progress languidly, like watercolor, yoga, ceramics, hiking. Maybe those are what I’m comfortable with because I *don’t* have to coordinate split-second interactions.
Not just athletic stuff. That’s my ballywick -or at least it used to be- so what I spoke to, is all.

ANYTHING that you love doing, or have wanted to learn, that would give you & your parts a chance to learn to work together in split second timing & partnership.



This is the comment that brought me back to ponder all this stuff. Because I was thinking that if you don’t have “parts”—if your life experiences are integrated for the most part—then aren’t your younger/vulnerable/inexperienced/playful parts involved in the whole sexual experience?
Nope! Because if you don’t have parts? You don’t have child parts.



I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am unsure if sending them to camp is a long-term solution?
I don’t know. Definitely a first step or intermediate step, though. Someplace safe, fun, & interesting.



Like an integrated person doesn’t *switch* into a certain “personality mode” when they have sex, do they?
Again, I don’t know.

My understanding is that an integrated person -as opposed to coconscious- wouldn’t have child parts, because those parts had been given the opportunity to grow-up and integrate into the whole; rather than being locked into a trauma loop in a specific age. Just one’s self. But that’s not something I can really speak to, just my understanding of what I’ve been told.



This is a very clunky question but do you feel “very adult” in a way that is different from your normal life when you’re having sex? (Struggling to convey what I’m trying to say.
Nope. I never feel very adult. But I also don’t have child parts, to create a distinction between feeling adult & not. I’m always an adult, regardless of what I’m doing, so I just feel like “me”. Whether it’s having sex, climbing trees, being playful, or serious, or silly, or throwing a tantrum. If I’m running around a playground being a pirate or grocery shopping? That’s not kid-me playing and adult-me shopping. That’s me playing, and me shopping. As an adult? I get to do everything I ever did as a kid, plus more. I don’t have to break down activities into “things xyz age group would do”. I do it all.

I would SUSPECT that anyone with child parts is going to feel very adult in situations where it’s inappropriate to have children present.

Ditto that how one handles those parts? Can be like the abusive parent screaming at them to go to their room / or chases them into their bedroom/bathroom/closet/wherever beats them and locks them in for interrupting; the healthy parent stopping having sex when the 4yo opens the bedroom door or baby starts crying next door; or the neglectful parent who ignores what their child needs/wants, or what’s appropriate for them to be present for.

It makes sense that whatever the abused/neglected child’s actual experience? Would form the basis for both how things are handled in the present, and what they would expect. IE locked in a dungeon, or present for adult situations (not just sex) inappropriate for children.

AND that changing ^that^ paradigm? Changing the expectation? (Somewhere safe, fun, interesting). Would both be job 1, and leave one feeling very adult; both because there are only adults present, AND because it’s the grownups job to take care of the kids.
 
@Rose White said: I am wondering if sex is a sort of dissociative event even for people without a history of sexual assault or abuse? When I was married I dissociated every single time we had sex.

Just found your Dissociation and sex thread from Jun 25, 2023 which interests me but it's nearly 3am and I can't concentrate. I feel sort of dissociative just reading what's basically a dialogue between yourself and Friday (+ No More) and would, in time, like to ask a few questions but (as well as being sleepy) I am not in a good frame of mind at the moment.

Is it OK to keep this thread open or are you done with it?

BTW: Is OliveJewel and Rose White the same person?
 
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... then I “need” to escape my body, my environment, in order to submerge into some kind of vortex, where it’s just me and my feelings and NO ONE else, so I am in complete control.

Yes, it is an issue of control for many survivors. When we were kids, whether we were sexually abused or not, some of us did not have adequate control over our lives. Now, as adults, we need to be in control whenever possible. And for those of us who were sexually abused as children, we most especially need to be in control during sex.

Classic scenario: A girl is repeatedly overpowered and sexually abused as a child. She grows up and becomes promiscuous, but does so in a way that allows her to have a sense of control over her partner. Her promiscuous behavior allows her to relieve her childhood abuse but with one major difference: This time, SHE is in control. Perhaps she picks up a man, "uses" him purely for her own sexual gratification, and then "throws him away." Perhaps she gains an interest in SM but where only SHE is the powerful one. Perhaps she ties the strange man up, uses him sexually, and then just walks away.

These actions are a way of reliving our trauma but while giving the trauma memory a "different ending." It's a form of self-help therapy.
 
This time, SHE is in control. Perhaps she picks up a man, "uses" him purely for her own sexual gratification, and then "throws him away." Perhaps she gains an interest in SM but where only SHE is the powerful one. Perhaps she ties the strange man up, uses him sexually, and then just walks away.

These actions are a way of reliving our trauma but while giving the trauma memory a "different ending." It's a form of self-help therapy.
Does that mean that this poor 'stranger' will be next in line for needing therapy?
 
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