Do you struggle with dissociating during sex?

It’s Wednesday, the day that we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all write your own post and come back here and link it up! Or you leave comments to participate in the conversation!

For the last week we’ve been talking about a really difficult subject: recovery after pornography. I know not everybody struggles with this, and if your marriage is fine, more power to you! Read on, though, because the advice near the end of this post will apply to just about everyone who wants to make their sexual life more intimate. Today I want to talk about the problem of having to fantasize during sex to get aroused–basically having to dissociate during sex and retreat into your head, rather than focusing on your husband. It’s more common than people think. But we can recover from it!

Last Wednesday, when I posted on the trouble with men and pornography, I received a number of emails from women saying, “what about me? How do I stop?” So on Monday I wrote a follow-up post about why women sometimes battle with pornography.

Basically, the motivations are often different. While some women do struggle with pornography simply because of lust, I don’t think it’s as straightforward as that usually.

Here’s what I mean. Men, when they use pornography, usually fantasize about that particular image (and thus that particular woman) which is, of course, the definition of lust. They may be doing it for very complex reasons, such as needing to feel powerful, or wanting to feel loved, but the end result is the same.

Women, on the other hand, rarely look at pornography and fantasize about the person in the picture (though some do).

They tend to look at images of other women. In university I did a whole paper on this, and basically it comes down to the fact that women are fantasizing about what might happen to this woman. They’re experiencing their sexuality vicariously, through the woman in the picture/video, rather than through themselves. In other words, when they start looking at images, most women are already dissociating. They’re already thinking of something outside their bodies, where their bodies aren’t actually participating.

And hence lies the problem. Men’s problem with pornography is that they can’t become aroused with their wives without picturing an image of another woman; women’s problem frequently is that they can only become aroused by retreating into their heads and fantasizing about what is happening to someone else (or to a generic woman). And this really short circuits your sexuality.

When God invented sex, He designed it to be something which brought us together on many levels simultaneously: emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Physically because we’re enjoying ourselves together; emotionally because we reaffirm our relationship while we make love; and spiritually because we reaffirm our connection.

Unfortunately, for many of us, we’re not able to attain most of those goals because we’re not really present during sex. We’re dissociating during sex instead.

Many women, as I explained on Monday, turn to these images because sex physically isn’t working for them with their husbands. Perhaps they’ve never figured out how to make it feel good for her, or perhaps she has other issues, like past sexual baggage, abuse, or physical difficulties (we talked about all of these on Monday). She starts worrying about not being able to respond or enjoy sex, so she does whatever she can to put herself in the mood. And frequently that involves pulling up old images in her brain from seeing porn before, or seeking new ones on the internet. Women don’t necessarily need the constant new images the way men do; but it doesn’t matter. The result is the same, in that many women use images to get them through sex. And thus they’re missing out on what God designed it for.

I’ve received lots of emails and some brave comments from women saying,

I know I’m dissociating during sex, and thinking about anything except what is actually going on, but I don’t know how to stop.

Others of you may find this a really icky issue, and are wondering why we’re talking about it at all. But it is something that increasing numbers of women struggle with, and there isn’t good information out there. If you’re a good Christian woman, and you really do want to live for Christ, and raise your family well, where do you turn when in this one area you can’t seem to overcome? What do you do?

First, I do believe that God can heal and can give everyone a new sex drive. Some of the comments have already shown that God really is working in people’s lives to help them overcome this.

Second, recognize that this is an area of our lives where we are likely to get attacked. Sex is what binds us together, spiritually as well as physically. Sex is very closely tied to our identity. If we’re to be ripped apart, this is a good place to target. And with sex going so extreme and so crazy in the wider society, it’s a wonder anybody can have a healthy sex life at all, especially because our idea of “healthy” is so skewed. We think a healthy sex life is one where people make love frequently and always achieve orgasm. We don’t leave any room for “healthy sex life” including feeling connected and feeling intimate. It’s all a physical thing.

And that’s just not true.

When you use fantasy to get you through making love, you’re essentially conceding that sex is only physical, because you’re not present in an emotional or spiritual way.

Thus, you’re missing out on the best.

The way to be present in those ways, though, also involves being present physically. So if you want to overcome this problem (or if you don’t have this problem but you want to make your intimate life even more intimate), here’s what I would suggest:

1. Take time to practice being naked together.

Lie naked together. Have baths together. And don’t let your mind wander. Without necessarily making love, enjoy his body. Run your hands over it. Concentrate on the intimacy that comes from doing something you will only do with him. Every now and then, do this separate from making love to get you more accustomed to being mentally present when you are also making love.

2. Play some games where you learn what makes you feel good.

Make it fun. Suggest it for some evening this week, where he just touches you in different ways. Many of us assume that our sex drives are dead, and that they exist solely in our heads. You need to reawaken that. Many women, too, developed these coping mechanisms because they weren’t enjoying sex. The key to defeating this, then, is to give you confidence that you can enjoy this one day. Your body, after all, was created for this. We don’t all enjoy the same things, though. But get some good Christian books on the subject and have fun figuring out what you like. You can even do the same thing to your husband, to figure out how he best likes to be touched. It’s amazing how little we actually communicate in this aspect of our lives.

This may be a long process, going on for several weeks or months, as you get used to relaxing, being present, and learning that your body can respond. You aren’t going to rewire your brain overnight. But the great thing about being married is that you do have a lot of time to practice! Take it.

3. When you are making love, pay attention to what is going on.

If you find your mind wandering, stop. And ask yourself this question, over and over, “what would I like him to do now?” It sounds silly, but as you concentrate on how your body is feeling, you may find that you actually DO want him to do something specific. Tell him. He’ll likely find this very exciting, because he never will have seen you like this before. If you’ve used most of your intimate experiences in the past to think about other things, it means that you weren’t as active physically. Once you start concentrating on what your body is feeling, you start moving a little more. I hope that’s not too much information, but it is true. And it makes you much more engaged in the process from his point of view, as well.

Ask yourself, then, what am I enjoying? What do I want to come next? Then tell him! Don’t order him around, but show him. In other words, get used to listening to your body, not separating from your body to go somewhere else. If something doesn’t feel good, tell him that, too. Don’t just put up with it, because for women, paying attention is the key to sexual arousal. If our heads aren’t in the game, our bodies won’t follow (unless we deliberately fantasize). So you must keep your head there, and if he’s doing something you don’t like, it’s hard to keep your head there. So in a polite way, find a way to redirect him.

4. Clear distractions from your head.

It isn’t just images that we can use to distance ourselves during sex. Pretty much anything that enters our head can steer us from what was a positive experience to something else. You might suddenly start planning your day tomorrow, without meaning to. You might start a shopping list in your head as soon as you get a little bored. Stop. As soon as you find yourself doing that, take control and come back.

This is much harder for a woman than it is for a man because we tend to be multi-taskers. We’re always thinking of 3-4 things at a time. But sex doesn’t work unless we’re able to completely concentrate on him and on what’s happening. That’s one of the reasons it can be so intimate for a woman; it’s the only time in your day that you are completely focused on one thing.

Often when sex has been a source of tension, women cope with it by making those shopping lists. It’s a hard habit to break. But do break it, and start concentrating on what you’re both doing, and on what feels good.

5. Talk to him.

If you want to stay present, talk. Tell him you love him. Tell him what you like. If you talk, you’re forced to think about what’s actually happening, and you’re forced to stay in the moment.

6. Look into his eyes.

As one of the commenters said on Monday, she has learned to look into his eyes to help focus on what is happening. You can’t picture an image if you’re looking into his eyes. And the connection then is really intense.

If you focus on talking to him, looking in his eyes, concentrating on what he is doing, and banishing distractions, you’ll find that sex is much more intimate than it was before–even if you don’t achieve orgasm at first. There’s a big sexual high that comes simply from feeling so connected to your husband, and many women, if you’ve been involved in dissociating during sex, have never experienced this.

You may also find that this whole process results in making love taking longer than it used to–but that can be a good thing.

It’s much more intense. And as you concentrate on what feels good, one of the things you might want to do is to get him to slow down!

I do hope that helps. I know that dissociating during sex is a very intractable problem that seems like it may never have a solution. But if you pray about it (you are allowed to pray about sex, you know), and work on being truly intimate with your husband, I think you’ll find that things slowly start to improve.

GGGGS High Res 150 - Wifey Wednesday: Learning Not to Dissociate During SexRemember–my book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, talks about this issue at length, and how we can start enjoying sex for everything God created it to be, and stop settling for less. Check it out today!