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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sex Basics and Sexual Health » Troubles with sexual intimacy

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Author Topic: Troubles with sexual intimacy
E.Carr
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I am a young woman of 19 and I have been in a loving respectful relationship with my best friend for just shy of two years. Both he and I are mature for our age (he is also 19) and we have managed to maintain a strong level of trust and support while I attend school across the country. We are polar opposites in many aspects and this has promoted a good deal of communication between us on every level. I tend to be a bit of an introvert, but he always knows when I am not telling something in full, and encourages me to talk about it. He is a gentle and compassionate person which is why I am having trouble coping with a problem that has arisen from becoming physically intimate. Over the last few months we have progressed slowly to experimenting with manual stimulation and I have experienced increased levels of arousal just from touching and rubbing against him. The intensity in the build towards climaxing is incredible, but just as it reaches its height I feel this horrible sinking in my chest and head, like somebody has thrown me off of a cliff and I become overwhelmingly depressed, I don’t want him to touch me, I just want to disappear. I was able to control this at first, but it became progressively worse so I end up carefully pushing him away from me and curling up a few feet away to wait for the feeling to pass. This part has become worse too, it started by only taking a minute or so, now it takes ten or longer. I have explained what happens to him, and he has been incredibly supportive. He waits for me to get better and then curls up with me so I don’t feel alone. I am writing because I am at a complete loss at what to do. I know completely that it is not a physical issue, and I know that this is not a type of action which oversteps my comfort level. I have no experiences of sexual abuse or trauma, and no conservative or religious inhibitions which would incur any such reaction. Both sides of my family have a history of anxiety and depression ranging from mild to very severe which I have been aware of for some time, and I have abstained completely from drugs and alcohol which could serve as psychological triggers. I did go through a year or so during high-school when I suspected I might be depressed but this could have been purely due to adolescent hormonal factors. I have been researching the internet as well as several psychology journals to try and find something that can be done to put an end to this. I don’t care about achieving an orgasm, I just want this sensation to stop. I am terrified that I won’t be able to make this stop. I have been hesitant to approach a doctor, partly because I am afraid that what I have to say will be dismissed or taken too lightly given my age, and partly because I don’t know how I would explain being referred to a mental health specialist to my mother, who would likely assume the worst given prior experiences with close family suffering from disorders. I would greatly appreciate another take on this as well as any advice or knowledge anyone has to offer.

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E.Carr

Posts: 5 | From: Canada | Registered: Feb 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
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I have a couple of questions that would help me to address this best, E. Carr:

• How do you feel in regards to this when you're masturbating, and it's just you as the intensity starts to build. The same or different?

• Are there any other times or situations where you find yourself feeling like this?

• Does a sexual relationship with the two of you -- rather than a friendship -- strongly feel like the right kind of relationship for you to have with him? Does the sexual dynamic you two have together feel comfortable to you overall?

• Is this your first sexual partner, or have you had other partners before? If you have, did you experience this with them?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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E.Carr
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Thanks for replying [Smile] ,
For the most part it is different when I masturbate (it isn't quite as intense on my own, but this part is entirely pleasurable), there has been only one occasion which the same sinking feeling occurred (I was interacting with him but stimulating myself...other times when I've done this with him it wasn't the case, only after our experiences with him stimulating me). Aside from the sentiments I mentioned from when I was at a younger age, these are the only times this happens. He is my first sexual partner, and as strange is it sounds the only person I have felt any degree of sexual attraction towards. The dynamic is very comfortable, for the most part developments in our level of intimacy have been something I have been the first to instigate, and up until this it has all been wonderful.

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E.Carr

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Heather
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I'm afraid I've worked a bit harder than I planned today and am really wiped, so I'll have to come back to this in the morning.

But one thing I realized I didn't ask is how long this has been happening for. has it just been the last few months? If so, during that time, has it gotten worse? Or maybe gotten less and less bad per these negative feelings?

At any point, too, have you tried NOT curling away and just riding this out WITH your partner? If so, how did that go?

My feeling right now (though I still want to think on it a bit more) is that this may just be intense anxiety about reaching orgasm with a partner and having that loss of control and that level of vulnerability and exposure. You'd not be the first person who felt that way, especially if you may also have anxiety in general. Does that sound like it rings true for you at all?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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E.Carr
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No worries Heather, I really do appreciate your consideration.

This started early last July, with (if I remember right) two incidents shortly before from other activities without direct manual stimulation... these were minor though, and the accompanied emotional sensation amounted to nothing more than a flinch. I have been away attending school so my boyfriend and I were together for the months of July and August, as well as two weeks over Christmas and just recently for a period of four days. It has been getting progressively worse. There was once over my last visit when I did orgasm without the feeling hitting me (this was the only time I have started to orgasm with him without the feeling and thought I was cured, we were comfortable, in a safe environment, it was wonderful) but it was more severe the next time we tried (that was a day later, same conditions, safe,comfortable...) When I reacted like this last summer I did not say anything intitially, I was not sure how to relate to him what was happening, I just told him I wasn't orgasming and that we needed to ease into more experience. In part, I expected the feeling to go away on its own. At this stage I was not pushing away at all from him, and we would cuddle... this kindof made me go colder inside (am sorry I can't think of a better way to articulate this). When it started to become more apparent that something was going wrong (observable flinching, gently pushing his hands away from any where on my body), he started asking, over and over if something was wrong or if I was in physical pain. At this I told him everything that was going on, and he reacted with full support for me.

I would agree that it is possible I am reacting this way from worries of vulnerability. I suppose my main source of confusion and concern stems from the fact that it does seem to be increasing in severity, and if it is a sign of underlying anxiety I am worried it will interfere with my growing sexuality, or begin to surface in other areas of my life. Also the reality is that all other aspects of this relationship and sexual exploration have contributed greatly to my over all happiness... I understand that something so intimate can seem formidable, especially with a first partner, but I feel so comfortable and passionate with him. Should I really be looking into speaking to a doctor, or would it be best to wait this out?

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E.Carr

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CJT
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Hi E,

I just wanted to add in a few questions to the mix from what Heather has already been exploring with you.

What is it like for you--minus sex--to be in a relationship that is long-distance? What's it like for you when you and your partner have to go your separate ways at the end of visits?

The reason I'm asking is because sometimes those separations can be hard. Particularly when you add sex into the mix, and this is something so intimate that you two have been building up, I can imagine that it might feel overwhelming or just too vulnerable to allow yourself the loss of control of orgasm and then, in some sense, have him leave you, or you leave him.

I know that you say he's been really supportive, and that is awesome, but sometimes physical distance can be a lot to manage when you're building this much intimacy with someone. So, in a way, it sounds like the reaction you're having is to distance yourself, maybe in a reaction to fears about what it might be like for him to leave (not leave you like dump you, but leave as in go back to school or home) after you've had that experience? Could be totally off base here, but does that seem at all like it might resonate with you?

Since you have a history of anxiety--something that could definitely be a part of this--might you be willing to explore counseling around that anxiety. That might be a place where you could bring up these sexual components and really try to see if they could be connected, or if it is a separate issues all together.

I think that sexuality is a critical part of our lives, and sexual issues are often tied in with other worries or stresses in our lives. When we ignore them, we're essentially ignoring our overall health.

I'm one of those folks who thinks that pretty much everyone can benefit from having a supportive therapist in their lives, so I'm inclined to suggest that you could start there. Certainly going to a doctor and getting an exam to rule out any medical issues would be helpful, but my guess is that a lot of this could center around anxiety, loss of control, feelings of vulnerability, and just the stress that can go into a relationship that has become a distance relationship.

Posts: 384 | From: Philadelphia, PA | Registered: Sep 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
E.Carr
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Hello CJ,

Although being in a long distance relationship can be emotionally taxing at times, for myself it is very much the norm and I did not have any reservations about the arrangement. My father's profession is one with a great deal of travel time involved (when I was in grade school sometimes he would be working away from home months at a time). This worked out just fine though, and to this day my family is a happy one [Smile] Because of this I have never been too intimidated by the distance aspect.

Before I leave for longer intervals my boyfriend and I can get a bit emotional, but once we settle into a normal routine things are fine. We are both busy enough to not get over preoccupied about being apart and we communicate on a near daily basis.

When I am home for the summer it is for periods of four months, so for the most part, it feels like the relationship is a "normal" one.

I was hopeful that I could consider a therapist as a last resort (because of some of the family related issues mentioned in my first post). I know that speaking with someone can be kept private, but if it is at all avoidable it would be great.

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E.Carr

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CJT
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I wanted to address a little bit what you said,
quote:
I was hopeful that I could consider a therapist as a last resort (because of some of the family related issues mentioned in my first post). I know that speaking with someone can be kept private, but if it is at all avoidable it would be great.
You're 19 and so it's totally up to you about whether you would want to disclose to your mother that you're seeing a therapist. Your privacy in the decision to pursue therapy as well as what happens within therapy is safeguarded.

What are you afraid might happen if you pursued therapy? If your mother were to know?

Anxiety and depression are conditions that are both often really manageable with therapy. All of the internet research in the world can give us a lot of intellectual information, but I find that so many times we need more than intellectual information to heal: we need help within a safe relationship such as therapy.

I will also add that reading up about this in psych journals and on the internet could, in some ways, make things worse. Sadly there's still a lot of pathologizing and we're quick to label things as dysfunctions and failures. I wish that we had more empowering language, but often times when we read about issues we're just told that we're defective. And it sounds as if you're frustrated enough with yourself that you don't need anything adding to that for you! [Smile]

As you said, it seems less likely that this is something that is purely physical. Whatever the reason, you're having an intense emotional reaction to this level of intimacy, or these feelings of pleasure that exist until you near climax. I don't think that we can solve this one for you over the internet, so if you want to talk more about what therapy might looks like, or weigh that decision, I'd be more than happy to talk about that with you.

And, in the mean time--regardless of whether you choose therapy--one thing I want to add is that, whenever possible, it's a good thing to be able to practice unconditional compassion toward oneself. It sounds as if your partner is really trying to support you and is being gentle, which is great. But sometimes we need to leave space for ourselves to fall short of our hopes, and recognize that whatever our bodies are telling us is ok. It's not a reflection of you as a bad person, or a bad partner. We can be quick to judge ourselves and then inadvertently put more pressure on ourselves, which can just feed these cycles.

So, if this happens again, perhaps you can think of some self-talk to repeat to yourself our out loud to help soothe yourself in that moment. Something like, "I'm here in this moment, and I am ok. I am loved, and I accept myself right here, as I am." Sometimes I think the harder we struggle against feelings that seem wrong or bad to us, the harder it is for them to pass. Emotions and feelings are always temporary--good or bad ones--and they can always change.

Finally, perhaps there are other ways of sharing intimacy that would not be so triggering for you? Though I hear that you're trying to work through more intimacy, perhaps it'd be more comfortable to step back. Massage, cuddling, stuff like that. You can always slow down or take steps back to find activities that perhaps don't elicit this response.

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E.Carr
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Thanks CJ,

I think that my main concern about therapy would be that if my family did find out, I would not know how to explain it in a way that wouldn't cause any distress for my parents (both in respect to past experiences with disorders in the family, as well as becoming sexually active... they can be quite protective). I suppose I tend to convince myself that going directly to speak with someone should only happen if my experiences were violently debilitating on a daily basis, if I were feeling this way from other things besides sexual experiences.

Besides my boyfriend, I have never spoken face to face with anyone about this, and I get distraught from having no idea what is going on. I don't really know how to go about finding help... I would be very appreciative if you could tell me more about therapy in general, as you mentioned above.

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E.Carr

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CJT
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One of our other volunteers, Jacob, just wrote a blog about his experience with starting therapy. It might be helpful to get an idea of one person's experience:

Shrink Cocktail: My Starter Experience of Counseling

But, in general, therapists can be pretty helpful people! Many folks find a lot of relief in being able to talk confidentially with someone about what is going on in their lives in order to help get new perspectives and insights.

You don't have to owe your parents any explanations beyond what you want to tell them, really. They can be as concerned as they would like to be, but therapy is not uncommon even for people who don't have a mental health diagnosis, or a "history" of concerns, or anything like that. Simply going does not imply anything about you or your mental status. So you could simply tell your parents, if it came up, that you had some personal concerns that you felt would be helpful to get some 3rd party perspective about. You don't need to say what they are, or details. But, again, since you're an adult it's your right to consent to going to therapy on your own and your therapist, without written consent, can't disclose information about you to anyone, barring emergency and specific situations.

One of the first things that generally happens in therapy is that the therapist will go over privacy and confidentiality policies so you can ask any questions at that time.

Then, most therapists will want to get what's called a biopsychosocial history. So they'll want to know about health stuff, relationship stuff, family stuff, school stuff, work stuff...basically to get a picture of you as a whole person, within the context of your own life.

What we find is that it's often hard to isolate problems. Things that show up in one part of our life (say, sexually) are often connected to other pieces of our lives, which is why therapy can be so helpful in making those connections and helping us better understand ourselves and the ways in which we relate.

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Johann7
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This could also be a physiological issue. There's not a lot of research or literature on the subject, but mental health professionals are gaining awareness of a phenomenon called "sex-linked depression"; see this NY Times article.

Depression, anxiety, and sexual response are all related to serotonin levels, so it's possible that the onset of, or build-up to orgasm is triggering a chemical change that results in you feeling withdrawn, cold, or empty.

There's also a possibility of a psychological component. You say in your initial post that you have "no conservative or religious inhibitions which would incur any such reaction", but you say in a later post that you don't feel like you could tell your parents that you were seeing a therapist OR that you are sexually active. While I understand that they might react with some worry given your family history, if they've dealt with family members with psychological problems in the past, they probably also know that not all problems are sever and that seeing a therapist means a person is getting HELP for something, which is good, not bad.

In terms of not wanting to tell them you're sexually active, is this because you feel generally uncomfortable discussing sex or sexuality with your parents, or is it because you think they'd disapprove of your behavior? If it's the latter, it possible that you're internalizing some guilt about partnered sexual activity, which might have some bearing on your reaction as you approach orgasm with a partner.

Whatever the reason is, I strongly advise seeing a psychologist, as s/he will be able to give you a better diagnosis. And there's no need for you to feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeing a doctor or a therapist; you have every right to a happy and healthy sex life, and you don't need to let anyone make you feel bad about wanting that.

If you do decide to see a therapist, don't be afraid to meet with a few different people in order to find someone with whom you feel comfortable. Therapy works best when you're able to be open and relaxed during sessions, and the best way to do that is to seek out someone to whom you feel like talking.

It sounds like your boyfriend's been great about this, so gold star to him. Since you don't have this problem when you masturbate, one other thing you might want to try while you're looking for a therapist is masturbating in situations that gradually increase your boyfriend's presence in the sexual encounter. For example, try masturbating with a blindfold on with your boyfriend in the same room watching you (he should be silent and not engaging in any sexual activity himself, fully clothed too). If you can reach orgasm without issue, try it without the blindfold, but with him still just watching and not masturbating himself. If that works, try it with him naked, then with him masturbating while you do, then with him touching you, etc. This sort of gradual approach will help you determine exactly where your comfort level is right now, and you can avoid activities (for the time-being) that trigger your negative response, while still potentially engaging in sexual activity together where you get to orgasm. This can help reduce your anxiety about your problem, which in turn might make the problem itself less severe. But until you and your therapist-to-be figure out what exactly is going on, you should avoid activities that make you feel this cold and empty.

Best of luck; I really, really hope you can find a way to manage this and get to the great sex life you deserve!

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Robble Robble Robble!

Posts: 46 | From: Milwaukee, WI USA | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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