So now that you know what some of the main "norms" are when it comes to sexual behaviors from my previous two articles ("What is "normal" when it comes to sex" and "What is "normal" when it comes to solo sex?"), how do we define what is healthy? Whether you have a trauma or dissociative issues or not, there are still a lot of red flags you can look for to determine if you may be facing an unhealthy sexual pattern.
Continue to proceed with caution for triggery topics and possibly graphic terms.
Continue to proceed with caution for triggery topics and possibly graphic terms.
Let's start with the basics of intention, motivation, and tools:
- Are they seeking something that they know is pleasurable? It might be healthy.
- Or are they trying to trigger, manipulate, threaten, scare, harm, flood (with memories or body sensations), someone else inside? That's not healthy.
- Are they consenting to their own behavior? Do they feel in control of what's happening? Do they feel able and are they willing to stop if the body needs to stop? Are they able to stop themselves if the behavior is no longer safe and desirable (for example, if they get triggered, or if someone else inside the body pushes them to the point of hurting the body sexually)? It might be healthy
- Do they feel a compulsion to do this? Where it's not a calm, reasoned out choice, but something they feel driven to do? Something they "must" or "have to" do? Do they fear a negative consequence if they don't to the activity (for example, increased stress, pain, internal strife, triggering/flooding, or feeling overwhelmed)? Is it possible that a trigger is driving them, or that someone else inside is forcing them to feel this compulsion (maybe because that person has a very different intent)? That's not healthy.
- Are they using something that is safe to the body, in a way that is safe to the body? It might be healthy.
- Or are they using household objects which weren't intended as sex toys (or even things that are meant as sex toys but may be in materials that the body is allergic to), or sharps to cause bleeding, or unhygienic methods or objects that might cause infections, or so much force that they are causing the body's tissues to bleed? That's not healthy.
- Are they choosing to engage in sexual activities in a safe environment? Where the body is safe and under their control, and the consequences of doing the activity in this place are not negative? It might be healthy.
- Or do they run the risk of being arrested, being sexually attacked, losing control over the body (i.e., an outsider takes control without consent), having a minor walk in on the activity, being fired from work, having a car accident, or other negative consequence based on where they are performing this activity? That's not healthy.
- Relationship Health:
- Are they still able to function adequately in their relationships, including sexual relationships and social relationships? It might be healthy.
- Are they using solo sexual activities, or activities with people who aren't their partner, at the expense of their other relationships? Do they have less interest and willingness to have sexual activity with their partner because they are spending so much energy masturbating or watching porn or other sexual activities? Has their desire for more intense activities, to reach sexual fulfillment, changed to drastically that their partner can't or won't consent to their new needs (for example, someone who becomes interested in BDSM pornography and wants to bring those behaviors into a relationship where that hasn't existed before, and the other partner is not interested or feels it is not safe for them)? Do they now have warped expectations of what is normal in appearance and behaviors and sexual wants for themselves or their partners based on pornography (not consensual experiences)... that greatly differ from what is actually normal? That's not healthy.
- Duration/Time Spent:
- Are you able to get your routine activities completed? Are you able to meet the needs of your family and school and occupation? Are you able to engage in sexual activities only as long as you actually need to? It might be healthy.
- Are you losing big chunks of time engaging in sexual activity to the point that you're falling behind on other important things? Or losing sleep because you're staying up to late/long pursuing sexual activities? Is your partner or your family complaining about the amount of time you spend on these activities (for example, too long on the computer, not enough time with sexual activities with your partner)? Are you finding that it takes longer and longer to feel like you've reached your goal (for example, 10-15 minutes used to be enough, but now you need 60 minutes or more)? That's not healthy.
- Quality of Life:
- Do your sexual activities benefit you and add to the quality of your life? Does it make you more happy, content, peaceful, confident, and feed your emotional needs? It might be healthy.
- Or does it make you feel guilty, dirty, ashamed, tired, broken, scared, anxious, or depressed? Does it make you feel abnormal and further distanced from friends and family and your partner? Are you afraid of what will happen if you partner, family, or boss finds out about your habits or risks? That's not healthy.
- Do they have the consent of the insiders and outsiders who are near them and aware of what they are doing? Are they able to block out or distance themselves from those who have objections (such as religious differences of opinion), or those who might get triggered? Are they willing and able to stop if some accidentally gets triggered out who is not safe or triggered by what's going on? Then it might be healthy.
- Or are they wanting to watch porn or masturbate or participate in other sexual activities regardless of who is near, what they think, and what damage they might be causing to other people in the system? If they are unwilling to compromise to find a way to balance everyone's needs, especially if they are already falling into these other risks categories we've identified, then it's not safe for the system. That's not safe.
- Are they seeking to cause pain, bleeding, overstimulation (such as for causing someone else inside the system to become overwhelmed enough to have a crying fit, to cut, to trigger eating disorder behaviors, or other negative consequences), or to cause enough overstimulation and overwhelm to cause the body to drop (such as when one alter forces others to suddenly pass out or sleep for safety concerns, or because the resources have been depleted)? That's not safe.
- Unhealthy Concepts of "Normal":
- Bleeding during sex is not normal.
- Pain during sex is not normal.
- Feeling trapped, helpless, or scared during sex is not normal.
- Feeling like you have to have sex or you'll be hurt is not normal.
- Feeling like you have to have sex or you'll feel even worse (more depressed, more anxious, more suicidal, more overwhelmed) is not normal.
- Feeling like you can never get enough sex, that nothing makes you feel the release or satisfaction of healthy and consensual sex, is not normal.
- Feeling like you have to lie about (or hide) you sexual activities is not normal.
You need to talk to your system. The situations, environments, power-plays, and toys that might attract your interest may cause harm to the body or others inside. Many alters will look at BDSM and say "see, it's normal" when what they are trying to do is rationalize why they are used to sex being painful, scary, violent, out of their control, forced onto them, or causing the body actual harm. They don't understand that the people who participate in BDSM give their consent. The submissive partner is the one who sets the limits on what is and what is not allowed to happen to them. It is the job of the Dominant partner to respect those limits and work within them. That is the exact opposite of what happened to you in abuse.
BSDM also appears to be painful and violent to some people. What they don't realize is that something that can appear painful (such as flogging) isn't about pain, it's about sensation and blood flow. Taken too far, yes it can become painful. But very rarely is pain the goal (and when it is the goal of the submissive it is still in their control to say stop, slow down, or do something else whenever they desire). Discomfort and power-play may be part of it, but the consent never stops. If a Dominant refuses to allow or refuses to honor the safe word, which ends consent immediately, then they have crossed into the area of sexual assault.
Until you are strong enough to be able to say stop, and until you have a BDSM partner that you trust to pay attention to your verbal and non-verbal cues (especially dissociation and switching and being triggered), you should not be messing around with BDSM. Period. You'll only re-traumatize people inside and throw your recovery way back at best... and at worst you'll trigger someone else inside into self-injury, self-destructive, and maybe even suicidal habits.
Remember, the pain and chaos you may have been taught was "normal" as part of sex, isn't. You may be seeking out those same experiences in order to trigger yourself, triggers others, or numb out emotions and thoughts and compulsions (including being forced to seek it out by others inside your system) that you don't know how to cope with. Get help from others inside, and from your support system or therapist outside the system. Do not just accept more pain and choas and internal fighting/attacks as being normal. Take a step to end abuse... you're own abuse... that you learned because people violated your body, your mind, and your trust. It's not your fault, but it is your responsibility to choose wisely now.
Sex isn't supposed to be miserable. It's supposed to be fun, and enjoyable, and relaxing. It's supposed to bring people closer together and strengthen their relationship. Not trap them, or keep them afraid.
So, the more flags you've hit as being "not healthy" increase your risk that your behavior has crossed the line into a coping mechanism gone wrong, a sexual addiction, a form of self-injury, or another negative pattern that needs to be explored and addressed.
That's a lot to think about.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!