Sex would be so much easier if our bodies would just do what we want them to do, wouldn’t it?
Or if our minds would just get “in the game” when it was time?
Welcome to our Embodiment Series, where we’re talking about the mind-body connection. We’re going to start in the first bit of the month looking at how to get our minds and bodies lined up, and in the second half we’ll look at the importance of our physical bodies, leading up to Christmas and the incarnation (when Jesus took on human form).
Last week I talked about arousal non-concordance, and how it’s possible for your body to start getting aroused while your brain is not in the mood at all. And it’s possible for your brain to be in the mood–or to want to be in the mood–but your body doesn’t do much of anything.
Today let’s look at some of the common scenarios where there’s a mind/body disconnect when it comes to sex.
I have a routine I like to do about arousal non-concordance during my Girl Talk sex night at churches. I say that sometimes you can be having an awesome time, really enjoying yourself, and suddenly think, “is there milk in the fridge?” And before you know it you’re making a grocery list in your head, and you’re GONE. Or one night he can do something to you that has you in raptures, while three nights later he does exactly the same thing, move for move, and you’re lying there thinking, “will you just get it over with because I want to get to sleep!” It’s not about what he’s doing; it’s about what you’re thinking.
Now, that’s a big simplification, but you get the idea. When our minds and bodies aren’t in alignment with each other when it comes to sex, orgasm is often elusive. Or, if it’s not elusive, intimacy is often interrupted.
I’d like to look at some of the scenarios where this happens, and explain why it can happen, so that many of you readers will realize that you are not alone!
One big thing to understand as we begin: Your brain’s job is to protect you.
You’re actually designed to not desire sex mentally with someone who treats you badly, who is lazy, who in general would make a bad father. (That doesn’t mean that we can’t be attracted to “bad boys”; with everything, we’re very complex, and there are often other dynamics at work too). When we feel betrayed, taken for granted, or mentally overloaded with the burdens of the household, sex drive (or the mental component) can seriously suffer. Basically, our bodies don’t want to get pregnant, and they don’t want to become emotionally vulnerable to someone who doesn’t care for us well and isn’t trustworthy.
It’s like we explained in the Passion chapter at the end of The Great Sex Rescue: you can’t have great sex without the ability to trust and become vulnerable. We need everything firing all at the same time in order for sex to work well. But our bodies and minds have one main job: Keep her safe. (or keep him safe!). One of the big causes of arousal non-concordance is simply not being able to become vulnerable because of past trauma, past history, or current dynamics in your marriage. If there are currently things at play, like uneven mental load, feeling like your spouse doesn’t listen to you or care about you, betrayal trauma, or more, sex won’t fix it and sex can’t be fixed either. Those underlying things need to be dealt with first.
So that’s the main cause of arousal non-concordance, where your body may get a little bit lubricated and even feel a little bit good to his touch, but you just don’t want sex and won’t respond more than that. Or perhaps you have no desire at all.
Okay, now let’s move on to six others: And this isn’t an exhaustive list. :
1. You grew up learning to “turn off” your body
This was the chapter we weren’t intending to write for The Great Sex Rescue, but we heard so many people mention this phenomenon that it had to make it in there.
When girls grow up hearing “boys will push your sexual boundaries, so you need to be the gatekeeper”, then what happens? Whenever they’re in a makeout situation with a boyfriend/fiance, they’re paying desperate attention not to what their bodies are feeling, but to making sure they don’t go too far. They’re paying attention to what HE is feeling, not what SHE is feeling. One woman called it “spectator-ing”. Another said she felt like she was judging what was happening, rather than experiencing it.
Then, when you get married, you can’t turn that off. You’ve spent your whole life trying to separate your body from your mind, and it’s hard to integrate with your body again. Also, since you spent your life “analyzing” what was happening–is he breathing too hard; am I kissing right; am I still in control–then mindfulness has been broken. You can’t be mindful and just experience if you’re also constantly analyzing everyone’s performance (which is a natural thing to do when you’re told that you’re the gatekeeper).
2. You see sex as a distasteful or threatening thing
Here’s really the crux of The Great Sex Rescue: when you grow up hearing that men can’t control themselves around women and that lust is every man’s battle; that you have to have sex frequently or he’ll watch porn or have an affair; that you’re obligated to give him sex when he wants it; that sex is how a man experiences most emotions–well, sex seems threatening and empty and ugly. How can you let your guard down and experiencing something great?
And when we measured how many evangelical teachings affected women’s sexuality, we found that quite often it was not the husband who had convinced her of these things. It was often her church culture, and he may not even know what she was believing!
When we see sex as something we’re obligated to do, then sex becomes about “shoulds”: I should do this for him, I should be enjoying this. But as soon as we access this analytical side of our brain, we stop practising mindfulness. Instead of inhabiting our bodies and just experiencing, we’re in our brains again. And that often disrupts any desire or arousal. We need to get rid of the “shoulds”!
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
3. Your husband never figured out how to physically arouse you, so the only way to get aroused is to fantasize
Here’s another problem (and often these build on each other, so a person experiencing #1 naturally moves towards #2): neither of you truly understand how arousal is supposed to work for women. You can’t understand why intercourse isn’t exciting for you, and he starts to wonder if you’re broken. Everyone is just really depressed about the whole sex situation. The husband feels great, but why doesn’t she? What’s wrong with her?
And she finds that if she stops thinking about what he’s doing, and starts fantasizing about a movie, or a scenario she read about once in erotica, or something else, she can get her body to kick in. So she’s getting aroused at the same time as they’re having intercourse, but it has nothing actually to do with what he’s doing. It’s mostly in her mind.
4. You have porn use/erotica use in your past, and your arousal is tied to that
If porn or erotica use has been in her past, this may be especially accelerated. She learned (and he learned, because this is a big issue for guys as well) that the images or scenarios can be highly arousing. Focusing on those images or scenarios naturally led to arousal and orgasm.
And so the sexual response cycle has largely been fueled by what your mind is thinking or experiencing, rather than what your body is experiencing. In effect, you need the porn or erotica to jumpstart the arousal process, because arousal has become almost entirely about what you’re fantasizing about rather than what your body is feeling. In order to feel aroused, then, you escape in your head, or “dissociate”, from your body to conjure up images or scenarios from fantasy. Your body responds, and the desire for sexual stimulation is there, but it’s not being met by what’s happening to your body, but rather fueled by your mind.
5. You have abuse or trauma in your past that you dealt with through dissociating
This “dissociation”, though, is even more commonly a protective mechanism. Many sexual assault survivors deal with their assault and their trauma by thinking about anything else while the abuse is occurring. They get used to “leaving” their body and escaping into their mind. In a way, then, their bodies feel dead. They may not know how to experience pleasure or how to enjoy touch because as soon as it happens, they break that mind-body connection.
Again, this was a protective mechanism, and it’s not your fault. But you likely have to deal with the trauma first before you can learn to re-integrate. Please see a licensed counselor trained in evidence-based trauma therapies to help your brain stop this trauma response.
6. You’re not practising mindfulness during sex
Finally, it may not be anything nefarious or bad or anything bad in your past. You could simply have a really active brain and you figure, “when stuff starts to feel good I’ll concentrate on sex,” but until then you tend to think about anything else while he’s kissing you. You’re thinking through your schedule for tomorrow; you’re planning that grocery list; you’re wondering about that conversation you had with your sister earlier today. It’s not really a deliberate thing–it’s just normal stream of consciousness thinking.
But when you’re allowing your brain to leapfrog over all of these different things, then arousal is unlikely to register or to grow. As we talked about at the end of last week’s podcast, sex feels best when both of you allow your brains to be mindful of what is happening and experience what is happening, without any analysis. That means turning that one part of your brain off and just concentrating on breathing and experiencing (more on that later this month!).
The big picture: Understand that experiencing desire for your husband and for sex is a complex thing.
Past trauma can influence it. Our teachings about sex can influence it. The dynamics when we were dating or when we first start sex can influence it. No wonder so many of us have difficulty!
But there’s also good news, and it’s this: If desire starts in the brain, then we actually do have some control over it. We can learn how to practice mindfulness. We can learn to re-integrate with our bodies. It doesn’t need to stay this way!
So today: Thank your body and mind if you need to for being protective to you! Honestly. It could be that a lot of the problems that you’ve been experiencing are really protective in origin. Think about getting help if you need it, to deal with past trauma or to quit porn or erotica use.
And let’s move forward in learning not to dissociate but instead to re-integrate with our bodies. That’s when you’ll experience BOTH intimacy and desire at the same time. That’s when passion comes alive. And I hope I can give you some tools to get there!
Be on the Lookout!
I’ve got two GREAT revamped products coming soon that deal in detail with arousal non-concordance, dissociation, and re-establishing that mind-body connection. Over the holidays we’re refilming all the videos for my Boost Your Libido course! We’ve added some info and I’m so stoked about how it’s turning out! We should launch that in January (and if you’ve already bought the course, you’ll have access to all the upgraded materials as well).
And in my re-written Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, which is available for pre-order now, I’ve gone into even more detail than the original version about dissociation. So excited to share these with you soon!
What do you think? Does one in particular resonate with you? Let me know in the comments!
Our Embodiment Series
- Arousal Non-Concordance: What it is and why you need to know about it
- Our Mind/Body Connection Podcast
- An Emotional Journey with Vaginismus
- Manger Theology: What Pregnancy and Birth can Tell Us about Jesus
And check out:
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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