by Staci Haines
Have you ever had those sexual experiences where you or your partners were out to lunch while you were having sex? Maybe you were waiting for the sex to be over, thinking about the proverbial grocery list, or watching the wallpaper. Or perhaps it was your partner who was somewhere else. Maybe he or she seemed preoccupied, like nobody was home. It can be an especially terrible experience when you feel this lack and ask your partner something like, “Are you here? Are you thinking about something else?” and get the response “What you are talking about — I’m fine, what’s wrong with you?”
Even if the position is hot, the orgasm is good, and the person is someone you like, the lack of being there can leave the sex disappointing at best and empty at worst. Although we humans have all kinds of sex, from recreational to spiritual, on some level we have sex to connect with another human being. If being with another person didn’t matter, we’d stick to masturbating.
Most of us don’t talk about being present or checked in during sex. You may decide it is not a big deal and just fill in for the person, act as if your lover is with you. Or, you may not know how to ask your partner to be present during sex, or not know how to be there yourself.
Dissociation at its core is a bodily or physiological phenomenon. The breath tends to get shallow in the upper chest. The small muscles in the body contract, so that blood flow is constricted and there is less sensation and emotion. The change of breath and muscle contraction can cause a sense of floating away, or not being able to connect with or notice others as a separate three-dimensional person.
Dissociation is an automatic bodily response that we have little control over. It can be brief or last over years depending on the cause and need for protection or shutting down.
People dissociate for lots of different reasons — it’s an automatic physiological response to high stress, danger, threat, or trauma. The threat can be large or small, real or imagined; the person must only perceive it as potentially dangerous. For some this is a new situation, or just the fact of being revealed or vulnerable, not necessarily a physical threat. For some people dissociation can be an automatic response left over from hurt or trauma that happened in the past. The dissociation can linger.
We are also culturally trained in it. Overall, our schooling, Western religions, and the violence we live around call us out of our senses and bodies and into a very mental, and at times anesthetized relationship, to ourselves, our bodies, other people and the world. What I mean by this is that our culture does not promote a life of being inside of and connected to our sensations and the information that comes from our bodies and physiology. We have learned to think of ourselves as a brain atop a body.
Presence is the Deciding Factor
Presence is the deciding factor for hot sex, satisfying and connected sex, and sex over time with the same partner. New positions and creative expression are important to quality sex, but if you or your partner are not present or checked in, the others do not matter as much. It may be difficult or impossible for a relationship to last if one partner is not present during sex.
If you are in the process of recovery from abuse or trauma, learning to be connected to your own body, sensations and emotions is a cornerstone of healing. Coming back into yourself by contacting your sensations and emotions will allow you to move through the pain and let it leave your body. You learn to respond to the present rather than automatically dissociating out of the past hurt or trauma.
When you are checked in you can feel your own sensations, emotions, boundaries, and sense of what you care about. You can be in the experience you are having rather than just thinking about it in your head. The other great piece about being present is that you can pay attention to your partner as well as yourself. When we live in a dissociated state it is easy to have people become living symbols in our minds, instead of real flesh in our beds with us.
You can feel the difference of presence. Most people talk about a magnetism, or sense of ease or trust that they notice when someone is present with them. There is a different possibility for being connected, and having a sense of meaning, depth or playfulness.
Being checked in or present is a learned skill that takes a little practice. If you are used to being off somewhere else during sex, it may seem strange at first to have your attention on your experience. To practice being checked in, bring your focus and attention into your own body, sensations, emotions and thoughts. While attending to yourself in this way, also pay attention to your partner. Practice paying attention to both yourself and your partner at the same time. (At first, it may seem like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.)
Notice how long can you stay present before you want to float off again. If you find yourself wanting to be away from the experience instead of present for it, see how that makes you feel. There may be information there for you. To get really good at being present during sex, practice noticing and feeling yourself from the neck down in your everyday life.
The practice of checking in during sex may be the best thing you ever give to your sex life and intimate relationships.
Staci Haines is the author of The Survivor’s Guide to Sex: How to Have an Empowered Sex Life after Child Sexual Abuse. She is a somatic practitioner specializing in trauma and recovery and teaches Somatics at Rancho Strozzi Institute in Northern California.
The Real Cougar Woman is a 5-carat diamond who knows the importance of taking care of her health, beauty, relationships, finances and spirituality. Linda Franklin says,”there is no stopping a woman who has a strong belief system, passion and a dream. All things are possible”. Linda’s book, Don’t Ever Call Me Ma’am helps women of all ages tap into their power and live life to the fullest.