I’m Not There During Sex

I dissociate during sex. At least, I believe I dissociate. I don’t really know what it is I do. When I’m aroused, at a certain point, I cease being present as myself. It’s as if a switch flips, and I am gone. Whatever happens after that, in my mind it is not me making love with her husband.

I still like sex. It feels good physically. But afterwards, I can’t always remember what happened. Is this dissociation? I don’t even know.

I haven’t been able to talk about this with E. I have tried two or three times, but it’s felt extraordinarily difficult, and she has misunderstood me. And because it was so hard, I couldn’t find a way to correct her, and I dropped the topic. I have told her that my current sex life is the one thing I think I will never be able to “fix.” She has reminded me to “never say never” but otherwise hasn’t pushed me on this topic. Anyway, we’ve had enough other things to talk about.

Since I’ve started talking to my husband about my experience of childhood sexual abuse, we haven’t had sex very often. He knows it’s emotionally complicated for me, so he never pushes me. On top  of that, I had my pelvic organ surgery last April and a physically difficult recovery–another reason he hasn’t been pushy. That means for the past year or more, we only have sex if I initiate it.

Sometimes I want sex, but I’m afraid to start anything, because I know I’ll check out mentally and emotionally, and that just feels wrong. I feel I’m not being honest with my husband. I feel ashamed that I do that. Sometimes though, I initiate things anyway. This makes my husband happy, but that’s not why I do it. I do it because I’m an adult human being, and I feel desire, and I want that connection even though I can’t sustain it throughout our interaction.

I imagine what is going on is that I concluded at some point in my past that there was something wrong with sexual arousal. My subconscious copes by taking me away, protecting me from the “dirtiness” of it all. Knowing that doesn’t change anything for me, however. That’s why I feel like this is not fixable. That’s why I’ve felt that I am unlikely to experience the deep emotional connection with my husband that others describe experiencing with their partners during sex. It seems sad not to have that, especially with a genuinely loving husband, but I’ve told myself, oh well, not everyone gets every good experience.

So this brings me up to last night. I am freshly returned from Denmark and predictably jet lagged. The extra 9 hours in my Sunday meant I am 9 hours behind on my Effexor dose, something that guarantees vivid, colorful dreams and odd thinking patterns. In the middle of the night, I am awake and thinking in circles. I am also, unusually for the middle of the night, feeling aroused. Perhaps from a dream I can’t remember?  I decide I should try again to talk to E about this difficult topic of arousal, sex and dissociation. Then, immediately after that decision, an idea asserts itself: I should strangle myself for thinking this way. I should fasten a belt around my neck and try to attach the belt to a hook so I cannot breathe. The arousal-punishment connection has never been more clear.

Wait, I say to myself, you don’t have to harm yourself. I run my hand over my cheeks, my hair, my shoulders. You are here. You are okay. It’s all right to have sexual feelings. It’s your body. Your body is made to feel desire. You don’t have to punish yourself.

I have never thought that way before, never given myself this message. But I know right away, despite my shaky thinking, that this is important. It is the first time I have given myself conscious permission to be in my body and to accept my sexual feelings. But I also feel frightened and confused. I urgently want to talk to E (at 4 am), and at the same time, I feel afraid to talk to her about it. So I get up to eat a piece of toast with cheese and wait for morning to arrive.




  1. Hi Q. As always, I am in awe of your courage and integrity into walking into the most terrifying experiences with compassion and grace, in your determinatiin to heal. I wonder if reading this book would be helpful? I loved loved loved it (althouh it was at places so triggering I had to pace it) but she just captured so exactly the experience of being traumatised and fighting to recover. It was immensely validating to read. The parts I thought might be helpful for you were her struggles with dissociation during sex with her loving, supportive husband, and the steps they took to help her with this together.
    I hope it’s of interest.
    Warm wishes, Pink


    • Thank you for this recommendation! I had never heard about this book, but I looked it up, and it seems like it’s something I would like to read. I added it to me list. And thank you too for the supportive comments. I am trying very hard these days to face up to the things I’ve tried to hide from.


  2. Such an important and powerful message to give yourself. I don’t envy you the conversation with E. However I think she can reinforce that positive message and would want to help. It does sound like dissociation to me.


    • One of the best things about getting better (or starting to) is finding out it’s possible to talk gently to myself or to give myself accepting messages. I used to think I couldn’t do it and really mean it, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t feel phony anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is going to be really difficult, but really important, to talk to E about, and I am sending you all the strength and love and encouragement I can for that conversation.
    I also feel like I should punish myself for feeling sexual desire. Anything sexual is a highly, highly charged and triggering topic for me. I was reading my old diaries a few months ago (bad idea, highly triggering) but nevertheless, I found an entry that said, (paraphrased because I don’t have it in front of me) “Because I masturbate, I am bad. I am a bad, bad, girl. I know I am bad so I tried to make myself not eat dinner. But then I was too hungry and ate it anyway and now I feel worse. I can’t succeed at anything. I don’t know how to get rid of these bad thoughts and feelings.”
    That was age 11.
    The feelings are still generally the same for me. I know I have a lot of work to do in this area. I desperately want a sexual / emotional partnership at the moment, but am too terrified to even begin to seek one out.
    Not to make this about me… I guess I just want to say that you’re not alone. ❤


    • Lily, I read this a couple of days ago and didn’t have a chance to respond right away. I was so moved by the words of that 11 year old. I longed to sit with her and tell her she was not bad at all, to give her permission to love and enjoy her own body.

      Just a note about the “not to make this about me…” comment: it’s very useful to have people connect comments back to their own experience. It’s validating to know others have similar experiences, and many times I can learn from you and how you have coped. So please continue to bring your own life into your comments. I love that.


  4. It is something to talk to E about, but when the time feels right to do it for *you* and not because of any feeling that you have to. I’m not sure whether this is relevant to you or not, but I found Pandora’s Aquarium (sexual assault and abuse) forum quite helpful for discussing things and asking questions and finding out that I wasn’t alone or strange for what I felt. I was able to put words to the experiences I had had or was having so that I felt more comfortable bringing that to therapy. I haven’t used the site since much since it was updated though as I’ve found it a little harder to navigate.


    • I’m really glad to know about Pandora’s Aquarium and bookmarked the site.

      I think I use this blog in much the way you describe using that site. It’s true that sometimes I write here after therapy, as a way to process what happened. But other times, I use it to try to find the right words or to even figure out what it is I have to say. And then people’s comments help me figure out what it is I really mean, or help me refine my question or issue. I feel like I couldn’t have accomplished as much in therapy as I have without being able to interact with others who understand what I’ve experienced.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I hope that is true. I’m putting a lot of effort into being very honest with myself and with E. In the past, I sometimes left out details or any part of a story that I was especially ashamed of. I’ve certainly learned that avoiding the shame doesn’t help me overcome it.

      I really appreciate your comments and support.


  5. […] Back a few weeks ago, before a bunch of family stuff and getting triggered and another round of venlafaxine withdrawal derailed me, I was venturing into the treacherous but oh-so-important territory of sex. I’d had several therapy sessions with E, in which I explained to her that I couldn’t stay present during sex with my husband. […]


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