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Wifey Wednesday: Learning Not to Dissociate

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: 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.

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 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. 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 this is a very intractible 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.

Now, do you have any marriage advice you want to share with us? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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At 2:57 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

Can I make a suggestion that you write a book about a new bride's bedroom manuel? I would have loved to know these things when I was first married. And if I have daughters I would love to be able to equip them with proper advice on how to enhance the intamcy in the new journey of their marriage.

It's wonderful to be able to learn all these things with your husband. Sex is God's gift to move us from roommates to married and one flesh. Thanks for this post.


At 3:13 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks, Tessa!

It's so funny that there's only one comment today, because my traffic has actually been up!

I think we're all interested in this topic, but a little mortified to write about it....

Welcome to my world! One of the hardest things I had to learn to do was to talk openly and frankly about sex at the marriage conferences I speak at. Now that's weird.

But if you don't feel comfortable commenting, don't worry! We're getting back to regular bread and butter issues tomorrow on this blog!


At 8:26 PM , Blogger sarahe said…

great topics! It's sad that sex is not spoken about openly among christian women. I always try to be frank and honest and let me friends know that they can talk to me about anything. Thanks for doing the same here!


At 8:55 AM , Anonymous myfathersdaughter said…

Again I say "Bravo" to you and your COURAGE to touch such an IMPORTANT and relevant topic!! I am not ashamed to openly share because "go figure" this is the very thing that the Lord has called me to- to minister to women who struggle in this area and other "hard" areas that are not openly ministered to in the body of Christ--I know what it is like to feel so overwhelemed with bondage and want to be so desperately free and have no idea how--I remember feeling so lost and even asking other Godly women that I trusted "what do YOU think about during sex" because I SO wanted to be "normal" and I just needed to know what a "normal" woman thought I could try to be normal :)
Disassociation did begin for me in the midst of being abused- while being abused I would become in my mind a little speck on the flower on the ceiling- truly I am thankful that I had that tool as a child to survive the abuse mentally- however, once married I didn't want to be able to "go away" in my mind anymore- but then it had become such an automatic response to sex that I had to work on NOT doing that-- I would say that for some (like me) - it takes years....not weeks or months to retrain your mind to remain present- for me, I had been so tremendously abused sexually that it was very difficult to retrain every part of who I was to think and feel and know that "o.k., this is GOOD now, this is your Godly husband who loves you, you are safe, your suppose to like this now...." The Lord has brought me SO far and I have been SO healed from where I was but honestly even to THIS day I continue to work on being completly free in this area-a big part of this was just renewing my mind to what God's word said on sex- reading Godly books about sex--it's kind of like if you were stabbed with a knife every day of your life for 15 years then probably after that you would try to find a way to just stay away from knives if you could- becasue for you they wouldn't represent a helpful tool but instead a weapon that had been used to instill fear, pain and agony... for me this is how I though about sex when I entered marriage- love DID NOT equal sex in my mind- for instance, of the techniques that you mentioned I have absolutely utilized the "Keeping my eyes open" one- when my eyes close then my mind wanders-- as time goes on I am able to here and there but as soon as an image tries to creep up I have to open them again and RE-FOCUS-- I have to be extremely careful what I allow into my ears and eyes- there are VERY FEW secular movies these days that I can veiw- because anytime there is a sexual scene it triggers danger on the inside of me that my mind will grab ahold of that and hold it for later to feed on during making love with my husband- and secular books- HA! I haven't been able to read one of those for YEARS--this is for ME though- and not everyone may have to go to the same extreme but for Me I wanted to be FREE and the Lord was very Faithful to show me what was and was not beneficial to help me continue to heal-- but as for "talking" during sex, that is still a struggle for me- and even if my husband talks I'm not entirely comfortable with that- and even learning how to allow him to be the one that initiates...shew! That took alot of time and is still a work in progress for me- Sex is SO MENTAL--in the beginning of my healing there was no ability to be spontaneous at all- IF we were going to have sex it was going to be on my terms, when I wanted and how I wanted-- initiated by ME--that way I had all day (or week) to work myself up mentally to a place to be o.k. with it-- if women are crockpots then let me tell you- I was a VERY slow warming one that only turned on when it wanted to and then didn't even get the job done most of the time!!


At 8:56 AM , Anonymous myfathersdaughter said…

An additional technique that I would suggest when your mind starts to wonder is to pray on the inside of your brain-- ask the Lord for help to experience sex the way He intended with your husband- it may not make you feel aroused but if your mind is wandering this will at least keep it from wandering to the monster of porn that will grow bigger each time it is fed.... This is the only way that I felt safe-the level of trust required with someone to allow yourself to be present during such complete transparency, vulnerability and intimacy is very high indeed- Many times at the beginning of our marriage, trying to make love with my husband reminded me so much of being abused (not because of anything my husband did at all) that it would throw me into flashbacks that would end with me rolled up in a little ball crying like a little girl-- God bless my husband. And on THAT note- I do have to say that I am BLESSED with a wonderful husband- I could not imagine trying to overcome these types of things if I did not-and even for my wonderful husband it was VERY difficult to here that I struggled with masturbation- that I disassociated during sex--because of my traumatic childhood his brain could understand that it had nothing to do with him but his heart--well, there were many times that my husband felt rejected and hurt and frustrated at how LONG of a process healing was for me--and he is very attentive during lovemaking and cares very much about us both being sexually fulfilled-- I have talked to MANY Godly women whose husbands are selfish in bed and only care about their own needs- for these women I imagine that the absence of the intimate, loving part of sex with their husband would make it much more difficult NOT to disassociate. Because TRUST is of such vital importance in the bedroom I would add that MUCH healing came when my husband and I worked on our communication, trust and intimacy OUTSIDE of the bedroom- when I began to trust my husband with my heart and heart issues- it was then that we began to see true breakthroughs in the bedroom--


At 9:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

interesting question on the mouthy housewives today ( *not a christian site* - your wisdom could certainly be utilized here Sheila.


At 9:06 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

My Father's Daughter: Thank you for your honesty and your help in posting here! I think you've really blessed many with your story of hope that God can restore what was stolen--if we keep our focus on Him!


At 9:14 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Anonymous: I did visit mouthyhousewives and left a link to the four posts in this series! I hope it helps people realize how dangerous porn is.


At 5:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

This was a good post. I second the need for a new bride's bedroom manual, it could even be a pamphlet. I find myself praying "please God let me be receptive to my husband" and God usually answers my prayers..


At 11:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I have been absolutely amazed as I have read your posts on this subject. I saw myself so clearly. I had no idea that these things were so interconnected. I now have a glimmer of insight and of hope to move toward a more intimate relationship with my husband.

Thank you so much for writing about this subject.


At 10:30 AM , Anonymous Jill said…

I don't go looking for porn, porn seems to find me. Changing channels on the TV, looking at a magazine, etc. I cover up my problem by doing other things, trying not to think about it. The images I have seen are burned in my brain. I have never spoken to anyone about my problem, too ashamed.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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