Recovering from Sexual Abuse: Sex and Dissociation Isn’t Uncommon


Sexual abuse can lead to dissociation during sex -- but that doesn't mean your sex life is over. It can drastically improve.

If you’ve experienced any type of sexual abuse or trauma, you may cope by dissociating during sex.

Dissociation can happen during good and bad sexual experiences, and once you’ve done it, it’s pretty easy to continue dissociating. During bad sexual experiences, some people say they feel like they are leaving their bodies. You feel like your body is shutting down — it’s almost like your brain is trying to protect you from the massive amount of trauma you’re experiencing.

Here’s a description about dissociation from sex therapist Vanessa Martin in a XOJane article:

“You may have felt like you were floating up by the ceiling, standing right next to yourself, or far, far away. I tell my clients that dissociation is actually an amazing defense mechanism. Your psyche knew that it was unsafe to be in your body during the abuse, so it got the hell out of there.”

But as stated previously, dissociation can happen during happy, consensual sex, too. That’s why many sexual assault survivors have a difficult time staying “present” and enjoying sex.

Thankfully, Martin says that there are plenty of healthy ways to stop dissociation during sex, and “reclaim” your sex life:

What triggers you to leave your body?: Does a certain sexual position cause you to dissociate? If so, share this with your partner. You don’t have to eliminate that position altogether, but work on making it a positive experience. Other things that can cause body triggering are certain phrases or words, etc.

Where do you go when you leave?: Many people feel like they are standing beside themselves, or hovering above their bodies. I typically just blank out by focusing on a spot on a wall. Think about why you retreat to the place you “go,” and work on coaxing yourself out of that “check out” state.

You also can think about what it feels like when you dissociate. Do you feel numb? Sad? Angry? Pinpointing those feelings can help you learn how to better respond to your body.

Also: Consider contacting a therapist, counselor, or sex therapist. I suggest perusing RAINN, too — it’s a great resource for sexual assault survivors.

If you dissociate during sex, it doesn’t mean your sex life is over. If anything, it means you are aware of what you are doing, and now you are prepared to take the steps to learn how to positively respond to happy, consensual sex.

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Image: Gary J. Wood

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Abbie Stutzer