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.