Dissociation During Sex: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
What is Dissociation?
According to professional therapists, dissociation in intimacy involves experiencing disconnection from your thoughts and feelings, or even from your location. We often dissociate when we may be in danger and cannot physically remove ourselves from the circumstance. Instead, our mental state creates a barrier or technique to help us cope with the pain and trauma related to sexual violence.
Sexual dissociation is often manifested in those who have encountered continuous sexual or physical abuse as children; a critical time of physical and mental development. During highly vulnerable situations, these individuals may not be fully present, use dissociation to protect themselves, and are emotionally detached. Dissociation during sex can cause memory gaps, especially during specific time periods that feel unsafe or unstable.
Sex-related dissociation exists on a spectrum. Individuals can experience mild forms, including daydreaming, fantasizing, or feeling distracted. More serious types of dissociation during sex include depersonalization and derealization. Health experts define depersonalization as “a sense of detachment from your identity” and derealization as “when the world or people around you seem unreal.”
Causes of Dissociation During Sex
For those with a history of trauma, sex can trigger and activate a dissociative state. Fear of intimacy can make some subconsciously try to protect themselves from feeling traumatized all over again. Even if the trauma or abuse occurred decades ago, the experience may still haunt you in the bedroom.
Anxiety can also cause dissociation in intimacy, especially performance anxiety for men. Issues with one’s body image and feelings of insecurity or inadequacy around sex affect both genders. Stress is also a significant cause of dissociation when we do not switch off our minds during sex. Further, stress can affect your ability to become aroused or maintain arousal.
Let’s review a few examples of what sexual disconnection from your spouse or partner looks like:
- Mind wandering from sexual experience
- Not feeling connected to one’s body
- Not experiencing physical sensations
- Struggling to emotionally connect with partner
The good news is dissociation during sex can be managed effectively. You shouldn’t deprive yourself of sexual fulfillment. Therapy is key to overcoming dissociation in intimacy. If you are a survivor of childhood abuse, or assault during adulthood, reach out to a qualified mental health provider.
If your type of dissociation is unrelated to past trauma, the following recommendations may provide guidance:
- Sobriety – Discontinue using drugs and alcohol to stay present and more attentive to yourself and our partner.
- The five senses — utilize your ability to see, touch, smell, taste, and hear as a fun foreplay game to get you and your partner into the moment.
- Breathing techniques – refocus on yourself if you notice your mind wandering; take your time to get settled before you have sex.
Mindfulness and meditation may help you battle anxiety or insecurity about sex. Such techniques may also help you recognize when you’re dissociating during sex and emotionally detached. When you sense your mind wandering, practice mindfulness to refocus on the present moment.
According to Shira Myrow, LMFT, MA, communication is also vital. “If you are having casual or hookup sex, it may not be appropriate to talk about dissociation. But you can still communicate ground rules to make sex safer and more enjoyable for both of you. For example, talk about how you want to check in with each other during sex. Determine if you want to use a safe word to stop at any point.”
You and your partner deserve to feel loved. Sexual disconnection from your spouse or partner shouldn’t be anyone’s intention. Your mutual desire to support each other will make your love soar. At The Couples Center, our experienced counselors work diligently with these specific individuals.