sexual pain to relational strain

From Sexual Pain to Relational Strain: The 8 steps between painful sex and relational challenges

Experiencing pain or discomfort during penetrative sex can be incredibly frustrating and isolating. Whether it’s vaginismus, a tight pelvic floor, vulvodynia, or any other pelvic floor dysfunction, the physical pain can often lead to a cascade of emotional and relational consequences. What starts as some pain or discomfort can lead to impaired sexual desire, difficulty with orgasming, or even relational strain.

The Trigger: pain or discomfort during sex

It all starts with the physical pain itself. Whether it’s a sharp pang, a dull ache, or a burning sensation, the discomfort triggers an involuntary anxiety response. Your body, in an attempt to protect itself, tenses up, making further penetration even more difficult and reinforcing the cycle.

The pain may stem from a anything from a hypertonic pelvic floor, vulvodynia, endometriosis, not enough lubrication or arousal, or it can even be the clenching in anticipation of pain that causes discomfort. But regardless, the introduction of pain or discomfort during penetrative sex can lead our body’s to develop a heightened protective and anxiety response.

The Involuntary Response: Anticipation and fear of pain

This initial pain response isn’t just a physical reaction. It can also lead to anticipation of future pain, creating a mental hurdle that fuels anxiety even before any physical contact occurs. This pre-emptive fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing your muscles to tighten even before any potential discomfort. This is where vaginismus starts calling the shots.

Your brain has now linked penetrative sex with pain, building a pathway of associations. The brain is quick to learn and the body is quick to defend against threats. Penetrative sex has now become a threat.

Disengagement and disconnection in the bedroom

To avoid the anticipated pain, you may naturally disengage from intimacy. This can manifest in various ways, from subtle withdrawal to complete avoidance of sexual activity. While this disengagement is a natural protective mechanism, it can unfortunately create a distance between you and your partner, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

It’s confusing, you’re in the moment and things are getting heated, but you’re just not feeling it. You brain says yes, but your body isn’t following. You wonder, “why don’t I seem to want this?” You may even feel guilty for not being able to intimately connect like you had desired in the past. But your body is doing what it should- disengaging to protect you from “harm”.

The development of Sexual Arousal Disorder

This disengagement can trigger a domino effect, leading to SAD. Decreased arousal and lubrication, disrupted hormonal fluctuations, and even changes in neurotransmitter activity can all contribute to this condition. When your body isn’t naturally preparing for and enjoying pleasure, it becomes even harder to overcome the initial fear and pain.

So when your body is turning off all of the internal signals FOR arousal, the “heat” never really gets turned up and you’re not able to get turned on. Hormones aren’t doing their job, your genitals aren’t getting the right signals from your brain, and the clitoris is holding out on you- all in attempts to keep you from experiencing pain and disappointment.

Decreased interest and desire outside the bedroom

It’s no surprise that when intimacy becomes associated with pain and disengagement, your desire for it naturally wanes– both in and out of the bedroom. If your body isn’t responding in a way that feels pleasurable, why would you seek it out? This can be incredibly frustrating and confusing, adding another layer to the emotional burden.

Your body isn’t going to pick up on external or internal cues for arousal because it’s put a halt on all of that. What used to “turn you on” before, now doesn’t even register. His advances now result in an internal panic and you feel hopeless and confused.

Arousal and orgasm difficulties

The cycle doesn’t stop at desire. When your body is preoccupied with protecting itself from pain and anxiety, it struggles to build up and release the physiological responses needed for orgasm. The focus shifts from pleasure to protection, making achieving orgasm a distant dream.

In order to have an appropriate sexual build up and release, your body needs to be able to balance and harmonize your parasympathetic restful state and your excited sympathetic state. If your nervous system is preoccupied by anxiety around pain, why your body isn’t getting turned on, or what he’s thinking about all of this, then performing well for an orgasm isn’t likely.

From pain to complete avoidance

When all these factors converge, it’s understandable that some individuals choose to avoid sexual activity altogether. While this may seem like the easiest way to escape the cycle, it can further isolate you from your partner and leave you feeling alone with your struggles. If you’re like I was, you may feel like you could go the rest of your life without ever having sex again and be totally content.

How pain leads to relationship strain

The impact of this cycle often extends beyond the individual. The frustration, guilt, and emotional hurt can lead to strained relationships. Communication becomes difficult, intimacy fades, and both partners may feel confused and unloved. It’s important to remember that this disconnect is not a reflection of your love or commitment but rather a consequence of the underlying pain and its associated emotional responses.

Understanding all of this can be difficult in the moment. Although you’re attracted to and enjoy your partner, you don’t know why you have little-to-no desire to be intimate with them. You feel guilty and your partner may feel hurt. Both possibly failing to realize that this is a natural physiological process that results from sexual pain or discomfort.

Breaking the cycle

The good news is that you’re not alone in this. There are effective pathways to break the cycle of pain and rediscover pleasure. In my Mind-Body-Sex Reset Vaginismus Program, we target every one of the steps above to make sure sex isn’t just pain-free, but its desirable, pleasurable, and connecting. We restore your relationship with yourself and your partner so that intimacy is full of life and not full of unconscious anxiety.

Remember, you are not to blame. Your body is simply responding in a protective way to a perceived threat. With the right support and guidance, you can regain control, rebuild intimacy, and create a fulfilling sexual life.

For more information on my Mind-Body-Sex Reset Vaginismus program, schedule a free consultation call today and we’ll get you on the road to restoration!

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