A Therapist Offers Advice On How To Cope With Dissociation During Sex
Ever felt butterflies in your stomach or nothing at all during sex? Here’s how you can bring yourself back.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 11, 2022
Many people come to therapy looking to resolve sexual problems they are having. Sometimes, this takes the form of 'sexual dissociation.' They may say things like:
- "I cannot seem to stop my mind from wandering during sex with my partner."
- "I do not feel connected to my body during sex."
- "I am unable to feel any bodily sensations during sex."
- "I struggle to have an emotional connection with partner."
We usually experience heightened sensations during sex but sometimes this pleasure plummets and we find ourselves caught in out-of-body sensations.
Dissociation can affect your mental health as well as your sex life and sexual functioning. Thus, understanding the concept and taking steps to manage it is beneficial for you and your partner.
What is dissociation (during sex)?
Dissociation is generally understood to be a disruption in consciousness, memory, identity, and/or perception. It is often triggered by a traumatic experience.
Dissociation exists on a continuum. Mildly dissociative experiences include daydreaming and fantasy-proneness while clinically incapacitating conditions refer to things like dissociative identity disorder and dissociative amnesia.
Common feelings of dissociation during sex include:
- Depersonalization, or being disconnected from one's own body
- Derealization, or the feeling of disconnect between a person and reality
According to one study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviours, women with a history of childhood sexual abuse experience more dissociative symptoms and sexual difficulties than women without a history of abuse.
However, any experience of stress or anxiety can trigger dissociation during sex. The authors of the research state:
"Dissociation is not an experience reported only by trauma survivors. An epidemiological study reported that 5.8% of women without a history of childhood sexual abuse reported high levels of daily dissociation, although, dissociation is particularly common in individuals exposed to a traumatic event, with approximately 30% of women with a history of childhood sexual abuse reporting severe daily dissociative symptoms."
Here are two ways you can cope with dissociation during sex to feel connected to yourself and your partner, and heighten the sense of pleasure you feel during sex.
#1. Practice mindfulness to ground yourself or prepare yourself for sex
Mindfulness and meditation can help you manage your anxiety during sex. It can additionally make you aware of when your mind is beginning to wander.
Deep breathing and grounding exercises can be helpful when you find yourself dissociating during sex. A simple grounding technique is counting backward from 100 or naming five things you can see around you at any given moment in time.
To focus on heightened sensations, utilize the power of your senses (seeing, touching, hearing, etc.) as a fun foreplay game to get you and your partner in the mood.
#2. Talk it out with your partner
Whether it is casual/hookup sex or sex with someone you are in a serious relationship with, you may want to communicate your dissociative tendency with them, perhaps establishing ground rules to make sex safer and more enjoyable for both of you. You may also want to determine at which point to stop, if the need arises.
If you are in a trusting, long-term relationship and know your partner well, notice when your partner may be dissociating and stop immediately. Take time to check in with how your partner is doing and feeling. Keep in mind the need to back off if you sense that your partner is dissociating.
Another way to communicate about this is to ask your partner about how they felt during sex and check if they experienced dissociation. Take this as an opportunity to understand your partner better to minimize experiences of dissociation in the future.
If you or your partner has experienced sexual abuse as a child or as an adult, dissociation during sex could be your mind's way of protecting you from retraumatization. In such cases, it is best to reach out for therapy from a qualified mental healthcare provider.