In the midst of a sexually abusive experience, we disappear. We become invisible. We retreat so far into ourselves that sometimes, we even dissociate. It is our best coping strategy for avoiding the pain, horror and trauma of the abuse.
However, even if it occurred decades ago, past abuse may still be haunting you in the bedroom in your current relationships. It can be very disconcerting. You’re disappearing during sex and don’t know what to do about it. You feel like something is missing but can’t figure out what it is.
You see, hear and know other women who love sex. They experience pleasure and orgasm and get all lit up when they talk about sexual play and intimacy. But you don’t enjoy it. You feel pressured to have it, like it’s an obligation, or feel like you need to perform. Sometimes you even fake enjoyment so as not to hurt your partner’s feelings.
“What’s going on?” you wonder. And, if you’re anything like I used to be, you may even judge yourself and think, “What’s wrong with me?”
Please know this experience of disappearing during sex is nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve done this myself and thousands of my clients have done this, too. There is nothing wrong with you. But it’s important for you to know that what’s missing during sex is YOU.
The act of sex – the vulnerability of it, the intimacy of it – can bring up all your stuff: from the actual memories of abuse to the programmed “fight or flight” response. You might stop breathing, you may begin to disconnect from your own body. Your past abuse becomes more real to you then the person naked with you in bed.
You most likely don’t experience any pleasure. If you do, it’s not the deep satisfying kind of pleasure you desire. Any faking of enjoyment separates you even further from yourself.
As the ghost of your past abuse takes over, the possibility of enjoying sex disappears along with you. You’re not able to receive from your partner: your invisible walls go up and every touch feels invasive, every attempt at opening you up only serves to send you further away.
So what can you do to stop disappearing and start enjoying sex?
Take these 5 steps:
Step 1: Let Go Of Judging Yourself
Remember: there is nothing wrong with you. If you keep making yourself wrong about this you will never change this. Instead, you will keep yourself locked up in a prison of judgment and wrongness.
Instead of focusing on the wrongness, begin to get curious. Ask yourself, “What’s right about this that I’m not seeing?”
One thing that’s right about this is that you ARE AWARE that you are disappearing. Do you realize how great this is? This means you are not dissociating completely during sex. Part of you is still present and this part of you KNOWS this experience can be different.
Step 2: Pause During Sex
When you notice you’re starting to disappear or you’re disconnecting from yourself and/or your partner during sex, pause. Ask your partner to pause whatever they are doing, too.
This requires a lot of courage and vulnerability. However, it’s essential. If you keep going through the motions of sex while disappearing the same cycle will continue: you won’t enjoy sex and won’t know how to change it.
Pausing interrupts the old cycle of disappearing and opens a door to another possible experience.
Step 3: Connect With Your Body
Don’t make the mistake of thinking now you need to reassure your partner. That could further disconnect you from yourself. Just let them know you desire to have a moment to tune into yourself so you can be more present.
You might close your eyes and put your hands on your body – one hand on your heart, one hand on your belly, or wherever else you feel called. Take several breaths, exhaling out your mouth.
Wiggle your toes. Feel the bed, the sheets, your partner’s body, beneath, on or over you. Notice the sensations. Allow yourself to be in observation mode so you are taking it all in without any judgments: nothing is right or wrong, it just IS.
Step 4: Connect With Your Partner
When you feel connected to yourself, open your eyes and invite in connection with your partner. Perhaps some eye gazing or a hand on their heart feels good. Perhaps some other way of non-verbally connecting emerges. Trust what arises.
You might say, simply, “Hi,” as if greeting a dear friend for the first time again. For in some ways, you are.
Step 5: Ask For What You Desire
Do you desire to continue with your lovemaking? Do you wish to change anything about it? Do you desire to stop entirely?
Tune into what feels inviting to you and ask for this from your partner. This is a very empowering experience: to ask for what you desire. During sexual abuse, our needs and desires didn’t matter. The abuser’s needs were the only thing that mattered.
So by having the courage to ask for something, you empower yourself. You remind yourself that everything that is happening here is by your choice and you get a say in it. This step will support you in becoming more present and engaged with yourself, with your partner, with sex. And when you have more engagement, you have more enjoyment.
I encourage you to write these 5 steps down on an index card or other piece of paper and keep it by your bed (or in your purse). This may sound silly yet it’s your cue card: it’s there for you if you forget what to do yet know you have a plan for how to change the situation when you begin to disappear during sex.
Often, just knowing you have the cue card serves to jolt your memory when you require it the most. The more you use these 5 steps, the more they’ll become natural and familiar to you.
Ultimately, you won’t need the cue card anymore. You may still choose to pause during sex to connect more deeply to your experience, yet eventually, this will be an experience of pleasure and communion. This is what I most desire for you, my friend. You deserve to engage with and enjoy sex in ways beyond what you ever dreamed possible.
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Be You. Beyond Anything. Create Magic.