Crying during sex can be a challenge, both for you and for your partner. It’s tough for your partner because they feel like they’ve done something wrong or they are hurting you. It’s tough for you because you don’t understand why it is happening. You have experienced sexual abuse or molestation in your childhood, but that was a long time ago and you’ve “moved past it”. Even though you’ve heard it’s common for survivors of sexual abuse to experience some difficulties during sex, you are baffled at your reactions. After all your with a man whom you feel safe with. You trust them and feel taken care of emotionally and physically by them, so why do you (still) cry during sex and how can you make it stop?
Your past coming back to haunt you:
As a child someone you loved and trusted betrayed this love and trust by forcing themselves on you. When it first happened you cried and tried to make the abuser stop. As it continued you would freeze and float away, to a safe space away from the hurt and pain of the moment. Later when it was over you cried.
You suffered for a long time, carrying this secret burden all alone. But the abuse is over now and you thought you put this all behind you. Then you had your first consensual sexual experience, and to your shock and dismay you froze, just like you did in the past, and began to cry. Feeling embarrassed you couldn’t communicate as to why you began to cry. Your chest may have tight, your stomach in knots and your mind blank.
You can blame this reaction on your brain and how memories are created and stored. The brain is constantly making associations between things. It’s how we learn and integrate new information. Information comes in through the five senses. It’s compared to previously stored information (memories), moving through the different levels of the brain, beginning with the bottom (brainstem) and moving to the top (cortex). At each level the information comes in and is processed, within seconds, before an response (action) is taken.
In the case of sexual abuse, in which you were being violated, your body learned to protect and guard you by signaling (without your conscious awareness) certain survival adaptations. This response is your Stress Response System which has the sole job of keeping you alive. Otherwise known as the fight-flight-freeze response, these responses are triggered when your feeling threatened. When repeated traumatic events occur, over time your Stress Response System become sensitized so that anything that resembles that initial trauma, causes the brain to send a cascade of signals throughout your body preparing you for the threat. You act on this information by either fighting, fleeing or freezing. This occurs at the lowest part of your brain (brainstem) and it’s effectively a reflexive reaction to stimuli. It’s only afterwards where you begin to piece together the events and think about how you could’ve reacted differently that your even aware of what happened. This occurs in the top part of your brain (the cortex).
This response is largely out of your control in the moment, which is why you may feel out of control and powerless. The good news is that this can be changed. You don’t have to feel powerless and out of control for ever.
Flashbacks are very real and very common symptoms of trauma, especially sexual traumas. During a flashback you feel as if the traumatic event is happening in the present. In fact, the present and the past are blended, in a sense, as you are immersed in the experience you have no sense of time. It’s even common to loose track of time. During a flashback you may experience the same physical sensations of knots in your stomach, feeling as if floating above your body (dissociation), pressure on your chest, tightness in your muscles, pain in pelvic region, etc as you did in the past. This experience can lead you to feel guilt, shame, embarrassment, and confusion, thus your desire to avoid anything that brings on these sensations.
How to stop crying:
Crying during sex can make you feel embarrassed, confused and powerless. It can negatively impact your relationship as you begin to feel anxious about sex and avoid it, despite wanting to feel connected to your partner in that way. You may feel scared to talk about the abuse with your partner, feeling like your partner will no longer want to be with you if he learns about the abuse. On the flip side you may have shared your past with your partner but you don’t want to believe (or for them to believe) that its currently impacting you.
The key to changing this behavior is to identify your triggers and then take the necessary steps to try to mediate them before engaging sexually.
1. Identify triggers within your relationship. Don’t just look at the physical sexual act but go beyond this and examine all of the relationship. Does your partner make you emotionally safe not just physically safe? With emotional safety you should be able to talk openly about your wants, needs, and desires without fear of judgement. You may feel anxious and uncomfortable bringing up certain topics, this is normal, but if you are having trouble acting despite this, this may be an area to pay close attention too. If there are questions around your emotional safety this can be a trigger which signals your Stress Response System to act when you’re engaging in the physical sexual act. It’s not uncommon for survivors to unconsciously seek out partners who have some characteristics similar to their abuser and you may be unconsciously recreating a similar dynamic in your current relationship, which can impact your sexual relationship.
2. Identify triggers in your surroundings. Do you cry every time you engage in sex or only in certain environments? What about positions, do certain positions trigger crying such as missionary or oral sex? If your noticing that this is a factor, you can try grounding techniques to help you orient yourself to your present environment. You can do this by calling attention to objects, especially comfort objects, within your environment. Look at your walls and name what you see reminding yourself where you are at the present. Feel your feet on the ground.
Maybe there is a certain smell that you love and makes you feel calm which you can have in the room.
You may need to move slower before engaging sexually. By using deep breathing techniques, you will give yourself more time for the information to move through all levels of your brain.
If certain positions are triggering, talk with your partner about leaving those out for the time being and engage in ones that are not triggering. This is were communication and emotional safety really comes into play because you will need to be able to communicate about what makes you comfortable and what makes you uncomfortable. It’s ok to leave certain positions out for the time being and move towards engaging in those at another time when your ready.
3. Physical touch as a trigger. Touching is something we all need. It’s part of any relationship, and it’s one of the most effective non-verbal modes of communication. With touch you can soothe a crying baby or an friend in distress. Embracing a person you love in a hug as a source of support and comfort. Touch can also be exciting and sensual. Unfortunately with sexual abuse during childhood touch becomes something you may want to avoid or can tolerate if your in complete control over the amount, type and the person doing the touching. Trauma can trigger a flashback which signal your Stress response System into acting and making you feel out of control. One way of unraveling the touch and making new positive associations with touch is to get a massage. You can start out by self massage and then lead to having your partner give you a massage. There are trauma informed massage therapists who can also provide you with a new, positive and safe experience of touch in a non sexual way.
Crying during sex is surprisingly common for child sexual abuse survivors. Survivors feel a multitude of emotions, from embarrassment to confusion, which leads them wanting to run away. Avoiding sexual relations is one response but may leave you feeling unsatisfied. On the other hand if you want to have more pleasure and enjoyment from sex there is hope. By taking the necessary steps to essentially rewire your brain, you can achieve this goal.
Does your past continue to haunt you, affecting your self-esteem and relationships? Let’s work together to change this. Schedule your intake session today.
These are just a few strategies, tips, and recommendations! I hope you found this post helpful! I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!
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Until we connect again,