Here’s a column for ya: I’m afraid to masturbate because I worry I’ll think of my emotionally painful last relationship. This started happening after a boyfriend of mine died, but it has happened with other people over the years, but only if we had had really good sex or if I was really attached to them. I don’t get sad about FWB or casual sexual encounters. The sadness isn’t usually debilitating, but it does ruin the experience. What’s going on with me? I’m a sexual person, so I want to masturbate, but I don’t want to think about my exes.
There are a few key pieces to this that really stick out to me: trauma and attachment. You experienced a profound loss with an earlier sexual partner, possibly one that was formative to your development. Not that old dogs can’t learn new tricks (I see you old kinky bastards ;)), but the people that we have our first sexual experiences with can really build us up or really fuck us up. That’s why childhood sexual abuse is so damaging—those traumas are held in our bodies for our lives, which can come out in all sorts of unhealthy ways.
In your case, there’s still trauma stemming from this loss. That’s normal and natural, and okay, believe it or not. I’d honestly be worried if you weren’t traumatized from a loss that profound. Healing from that trauma will be a lifelong process, and that wound will probably never fully heal. You’re not a hopeless case, you’re a human. Finding ways to honor him and the love you shared can help ease the burden you carry.
It sounds like you get pretty intense emotional bonds with sexual partners, which can be a really beautiful gift, but also a painful one. If they’re just trying to hit it and quit it when you are craving more, that rejection burns. I suspect that you may have anxious attachment patterns, meaning that when you fall for someone, you fall fast and come on STRONG. The plight of the anxiously attached is that they will always crave more security and love, demanding of their partners something that in actuality must be in part self-generated. It’s crucial to be cognizant of how you attach to others so you don’t set yourself up for a world of pain. After all, when sex and emotions are involved, it can be hard to step back and see the forest for the trees.
If you are anxiously attached, I want to caution you in utilizing fuck buddies, friends with benefits, and casual sex. It can be really easy to slip up and develop The Feels after a nice dose of oxytocin and dopamine. If you are able to navigate those boundaries and can really see the situation for what it is, then great! Grab your protection and get busy. But as soon as you’re putting effort into trying to get them to love you, it’s time to step back.
For the masturbation piece, there are a couple of tools at your disposal. Thought-stopping techniques can be helpful in saying, “Nope, brain, not going there today!” It takes some practice, but acknowledging that you are having the thought, and then pausing and replacing it with something more pleasant can begin to reroute your brain.
You may also find being mindful of your body really helps. Some of my clients that have struggled with sexual dysfunction have found it really helpful to use a thought-stopping technique and then just enjoy how their body (or their partner’s body) is feeling. Perhaps if you begin to experience painful memories, slowing your pace and finding a new and pleasant way to touch your body you could shake away a bit of pain. In general, experimentation is a healthy and fun way to enhance your sex life, even if you’re not sharing that piece with anyone else. Maybe you could find a type of toy that you haven’t tried before, or begin a bit differently than you have in the past. Try to create new experiences for yourself.
I hope with time you can create the sex life that you deserve.