I’ll never forget my conversation with a woman I’ll call “Pam.” We were talking about her sexual response, which was impaired. Interestingly, her libido was intact, and she was able to orgasm on her own, but found it almost impossible to respond with her partner.
Pam was the perfect example of inhibited sexual response, with intact desire (libido) and ability to orgasm. So, this deserved some sleuthing, and I started to probe. The first thing I wanted to know about was how she felt about her body. Particularly with women, it’s extremely common for us to be hyper-focused on what we don’t like about our bodies and assume that our partner is not only noticing, but judging us for our perceived flaw. This, in and of itself, is a huge buzz-kill! There becomes so much noise about the imperfection that we can’t be present for the experience, and our response gets inhibited (this goes on in our heads… remember how we discussed that infernal internal dialogue in the blog “Enjoy Your Fantasy“).
Of note, I have never, ever heard a man or woman complain about a body part (fat thighs, big bum, non-perky breasts) of their partner. Really. During a sexual encounter, their hyper-focus is NOT on judging and evaluating you! It’s on their impending orgasm and how they are going to get there, and for most partners, on how much pleasure they can bring to you during that process!
In Pam’s case, she weighed about 300 pounds, and was extremely self conscious about her weight. It was an issue for her that she had not yet come to powerful resolution about (i.e. being in action about losing weight and working on loving herself no matter how she looked). Pam was not only self conscious about one body part; she was self-conscious about her entire body. Obviously it’s not a linear relationship with number of body parts and level of inhibition, but it’s almost impossible to respond to stimulation if you are exclusively aware of your body’s appearance, and not present at all to the sensations.
So, with Pam, we worked on strategies. The first was that she needed to understand that her partner was attracted to her! Although he would support her in her weight loss endeavors, he loved her and was attracted to her exactly as she was. He had zero judgment. This one took a while, but once it sunk in, she felt freed up.
But wait, there was more.
Pam lived at home, and the only place she and her partner could be intimate was in the FAMILY ROOM. She had five brothers and sisters, and her parents were extremely conservative. Living in New England, being outside was not only not private, but too cold for much of the year.
THIS IS NOT A SET UP THAT LEADS TO SEXUAL RESPONSE!!! (I am a master of observing the obvious.)
It’s crucial that where you engage in and experience intimacy be a safe place. Your body is an extremely primitive being and is either in relaxation mode or fight-or-flight. And guess what? Fight-or-flight does not lead to sexual desire, response, or orgasm, since it’s all about keeping you safe from the lion that your body thinks is chasing you. Relaxation DOES allow you to respond. So if you are somewhere unsafe, or with someone whom you know in your heart you should not be intimate with, your body knows it (sometimes before you do), and you won’t experience sexual response.
The other major category that inhibits sexual response is your internal dialogue. I know, we talk about it a lot. But it is extremely powerful, and not usually for the greater good! It’s the voice that tells you that you look unattractive, or focuses on the imperfect body part, or just won’t stop about all the other things you need to be doing that being intimate is taking you from doing (laundry, cleaning, lunch prep, bills… you know what’s yours).
Silence would be golden, but quieter would also be a breakthrough! It’s often helpful to make yourself a written list and then set it aside, so that all those “to-dos” get out of your head. Since they’re on paper, they’re in a safe place and you can pick them up when you’re done.
Inhibited sexual response is the one that’s least common to exist on its own; often it comes with inhibited desire or orgasmic difficulties.
When it occurs alone, it’s often a result of being too busy, too self-conscious, or too physically uncomfortable. Take a moment to see if you can identify the source, since it’s often an easy fix.
With Pam, what made the most difference was to move out. She changed her scene, and it changed her life!
Next week we’ll cover inhibited orgasms.
Have a topic you’d like me to cover? Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.