5 Blocks to Sexual Gratification

blocking sexual gratification

Humans have an amazing capacity to experience pleasure. From laughter, joy, awe, gratitude, love and feelings of accomplishment, to experiencing a deep sense of connection to a loved one—the different forms that our earthly pleasures take are varied, to say the least.

And while we’re speaking of pleasure, let’s not forget sexual pleasure. Sex is all about enjoyment, about ecstasy, about being swept up by the sensuous delights of giving and receiving sexual gratification. Sex (and expressing love through sex) also has the power to momentarily transform us, to psychologically lift us above the mundaneness of life into rapture’s pinnacle.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? So why isn’t everyone enjoying the wonders of sexual intimacy?

One of the reasons I see in my clinical practice arises from another truism of being human. Just as we have the remarkable capacity to experience pleasure, we also have the capacity to complicate things, to sabotage ourselves, and to get mired in our own perceived inadequacies and shortcomings. What this means for the sensual delights of sex is that, unbeknownst to many of us, we often stand in the way of our own sexual pleasure and fulfillment.

Sexual fulfillment starts and ends with an openness to receiving pleasure.

Let’s now turn our attention to some of the ways that sexual pleasure gets muted.

5 Toxins to Sexual Pleasure and Intimacy

1) The Internalizing of Negative (Or Conflicting) Messages About Sex

We weren’t born disliking our bodies, nor were we born conflicted about the sensual and sexual pleasures our bodies are capable of experiencing. This is where socialization comes in—we are inundated with messages and images about sex and what great sex is supposed to look like. These myriad messages get internalized throughout our lives and become deeply ingrained into the fabric of our being. Many of these messages do not allow for a healthy relationship with our bodies and with sexuality in general.

The messages you’ve internalized impact how you think and feel about sexuality and sex; and these messages shape the ways in which you allow (or don’t allow) and experience (or fail to experience) sexual pleasure. What are some of the messages that have taken hold in your psyche about sex and sexual pleasure? Try to identify the pro- and anti-sexual pleasure messages and attitudes you may now hold.

2) The Long-arm of Guilt

Guilt is insidious. It often hides behind the curtain of our conscious minds ready to pounce on and undo any moments of joy or pleasure. Guilt is a manifestation of your deep-seated scripts that say you shouldn’t be experiencing pleasure (“How can you be enjoying your life while your sister is distraught over her recent divorce?”; “You should only be having sex after you are married or in love with the person, otherwise you are doing something wrong!”). And if you are able to squeeze out a modicum of sexual fulfillment, guilt, like an overly harsh drill sergeant, will try to restrict the ways in which you are allowed to feel good (“That shouldn’t turn you on, it’s perverse!”; “You just had sex last night and you want more? How self-indulgent!”).

Whenever you feel “bad” about some aspect of sex; whenever you hear the mental shouts or whispers of, “You really shouldn’t…”; “What you’re doing is wrong”; “You should only have (or enjoy) sex under these conditions…”, the long arm of guilt may be at work.

3) The Emotional Sledge-Hammer of Shame

While guilt is the “I’m doing [or feeling] something that is wrong” experience, shame is the “I am inherently wrong” experience. When we are in the throes of shame, we don’t want to be seen by another—shame tells you you are broken and propels you to hide. As one client told her husband during sex, “I don’t want you to see my flaws, please don’t look at me.” When the shadow of shame surrounds us, we emotionally hide out of the expectation of judgment and criticism (which we feel is deserved). In these instances, shame closes us off emotionally, and, as you might suspect, hiding yourself is in direct opposition to the emotional openness and vulnerability required for meaningful physical intimacy.

If you feel undeserving of emotional and sexual gratification, if you feel that you must emotionally cover up despite the loving and reliable presence of your spouse/partner, the reverberations of deep-seated shame might be at work.

4) Negative Associations

Restating the obvious, sex should be a pleasurable experience—yet for some, sex has negative associations due to painful emotional and/or physical events from one’s past. When this occurs, unpleasant or traumatic memories may be triggered; your body may tense up (rather than relax into the moment); your breathing may become overly constricted; and your body may become numb and you may even dissociate while having sex. Under these circumstances, it’s as if the painful past floods the present moment, robbing you of your birthright to experience joy and pleasure.

If you’ve experienced traumatic events that continue to block your ability to feel emotionally and sexually close to your partner, a licensed professional may be able to help you make sense of these painful experiences.

5) Somatic Disconnection

How connected do you feel to your body? Your body is the vehicle for physical, sensual and sexual pleasures. Our bodies take center stage during sex, but in order to fully receive these pleasures, you must be connected and attuned to your body. The truth is, many of us aren’t. As the hectic pace of life pulls at us, our attention and focus are continuously directed away from ourselves. Just take a moment to redirect your attention and mentally scan your body right now. Notice the many sensations you weren’t aware of a moment ago. Our bodies are constantly experiencing sensations we are unaware of, simply because we are focusing elsewhere.

For some of us, a disconnection with our bodies solidifies and becomes the norm. Day after day we become more intensely estranged from the physical sensations of our bodies to the point that even sexual pleasures barely register (or if they do register, the sensations are still muted to some degree). Mentally slowing down and attuning to your body both in and out of the bedroom will slowly reset your connection back to your body.

The above list of blocks to sexual pleasure is by no means complete, but it’s a good starting place for you and your partner to assess whether emotional issues are standing in the way of a fulfilling sex life. Gently identifying these hurdles is an important step in reclaiming the gifts of sex. In an upcoming blog post we will examine common relationship conditions that may be blocking your sexual potential.

I go into greater detail about this important issue in my e-book on sex and passion in long-term relationships.

(Featured [top] image Girl Hand Blocking” by Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)