That darn white leather sofa. It holds so many stories. Often times, when people find out what I do for a living, they ask if it’s hard to hear all the tragic stories and people complaining all day long. “Never,” I tell them. Especially when it comes to helping victims of trauma.
Childhood sexual trauma leaves massive questions, feelings of guilt, and entrenched painful scripts throbbing in our core.
Unfortunately, childhood sexual trauma isn’t the only aspect of human life that can distort sex. Anger, criticism, and feeling unsafe can also strip sex of its reparative power.
When I listen to clients talk about sex, how uncomfortable it can be, and how much fun it used to be, I always hear the salient undertone of safety, or lack thereof.
Safety is a massive part of sex. You see, sex involves two parts of your central nervous system that are directly influenced by your perceptions of safety: 1) the parasympathetic and 2) sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. To make it easy, I’ll call the parasympathetic branch the “relaxing phase” and the sympathetic branch the “amp up phase.”
Here's the general path:
While you engage in sensual play before sex, you’ll need the relax phase to calm your body down, so it’s ready for climax. If the body isn’t able to relax, the amp up phase can’t kick on. And you need the amp up phase to take you uphill where excitement, stimulation, and orgasm live.
In order to let the first mechanism, the relaxation phase, do its job you’ll have to feel safe. If feelings of being unsafe are present, the amp up phase will activate prematurely.
You see, the amp up phase and the infamous fight-flight-or-freeze response are the same thing.
So if you are feeling unsafe with your partner, either because of the slightest criticism, because of a memory that plagues your life, because your mind can’t shut off, or because you don’t feel emotionally secure with your partner, the wonderful spillover effects of the relaxation phase will never get to be yours.
The fight-flight-or-freeze response (or “amp up phase”) will hijack the moment to protect you- firing your anger center.
And then you will stumble onto familiar ground. You’ll find the sneaky snake of ambivalence sitting in your heart, mind, and body: “I want to enjoy your body and experience pleasure, but I am not safe with you. Stand down solider.”
In the moment when ambivalence flares and your fight-flight-or-freeze center turns on, you’ll: 1) shutdown, confusing your partner into a haze of perceived rejection, or 2) go through with sex, feeling as though your partner is taking advantage of your body.
If your fight-flight-or-freeze mechanism (sympathetic response) turns on, your body will be uninterested or incapable of becoming excited and/or reaching climax.
Protect your heart. Protect your body. Protect your relationship. Be safe.