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Arousal Non-concordance: Disconnection Between Mind and Body

Have you ever been turned on mentally, but your body wasn't matching your thoughts? Maybe you struggled to become lubricated or erect but were really into having sex with your partner. Or have you ever experienced a time when you became erect or lubricated to something that didn't turn you on, which you found confusing? This is called arousal non-concordance. Let's examine it in depth below.

What is arousal non-concordance?

To understand arousal non-concordance, it's helpful to have an understanding of the two types of sexual arousal first: objective arousal and subjective arousal.

  • Objective arousal. Objective arousal involves the physical changes in the genitals, such as increased blood flow to the genitals and vaginal lubrication, in response to sexual stimuli. This can be triggered by direct stimulation of the genital and other erogenous zones or through alternative forms of stimulation like reading erotic material.
  • Subjective arousal. In contrast to objective arousal, subjective arousal relates to the positive mental and emotional sensations a person experiences in response to sexual stimulation. These feelings may include pleasure, contentment, or a sense of intimacy.

Both objective and subjective arousal contributes to the overall experience of sexual arousal.

For some individuals, objective arousal enhances subjective arousal, meaning the physical response heightens their overall mental engagement and pleasure. However, for other people, these two types of arousal may not align or occur simultaneously, which is known as arousal non-concordance.

Experiencing arousal non-concordance can cause confusion and upset. For example, while genital changes during sexual stimulation are typically pleasurable and desired, some individuals may experience these physical responses even when exposed to stimuli that they find unappealing or non-consensual.

In other instances, individuals may experience mental arousal and find sexual stimulation enjoyable, but their physiological responses may not align with their feelings. For example, a person might be mentally turned on but have difficulty getting an erection, or their vagina may not become sufficiently lubricated.

Arousal non-concordance is normal

Sexual arousal and desire involve a complex interplay of various factors, and it is important to recognize that experiencing arousal non-concordance is a normal aspect of human sexuality that many individuals may encounter at some point in their lives. While this phenomenon can affect people of all genders, it is more commonly reported among cisgender women. On the other hand, research suggests that the alignment between objective and subjective sexual arousal tends to be stronger in cisgender men.

Therefore, if you find yourself mentally turned on, but your physical responses or genital sensations aren't aligning with your feelings, or if your body responds to unwanted sexual stimulation, it is crucial to understand that this is a common and entirely normal experience.

Arousal non-concordance and sexual assault

If you experienced a physiological reaction to a sexual assault, such as feeling confused, conflicted, or even guilty about your body's response, it was entirely normal. Many survivors of sexual assault have faced similar experiences and struggled with similar emotions. It is crucial to understand that your body's reactions are in response to the stimulation of nerve endings rather than an indication of desire. It does not change the fact that what happened to you was wrong and non-consensual. If you are struggling with these feelings, seeking support from a mental health professional is essential.

It is crucial to understand that arousal does not automatically imply consent. One significant aspect to remember is that body language and physical indicators of arousal do not equate to giving permission for sexual activity. For example, people can experience bodily responses, such as vaginal lubrication or even orgasm, in situations they have not consented to. Likewise, when a body responds with arousal, it is important to understand that it is merely a physical reaction and not necessarily an accurate reflection of a person's intentions.

This is an important reminder that a partner should always seek verbal consent before engaging in any sexual activity. Relying solely on body language cannot be used to determine if a partner is consenting to sex.

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Tips if struggling with physical arousal

If you are struggling with physical arousal, try these tips.

Focus on the clitoris

Many people with vaginas struggle to become physically aroused or orgasm without stimulating the clitoris. The clitoris is a highly sensitive erogenous zone that houses a significant number of sensory nerve endings, approximately 10,000 in total. This makes it an ideal focal point for maximizing physical pleasure. Stimulating the clitoris can be accomplished by using fingers to explore and rub it or incorporating a vibrating or suction sex toy to enhance the experience with added stimulation.

Use a lubricant

Lubricant is highly recommended in most sexual experiences as it effectively reduces friction and enhances pleasure. Incorporating a lubricant can significantly assist you if you have a vagina and find it challenging to produce sufficient lubrication naturally. Applying lubricant can significantly improve comfort and ease during sexual activities, ensuring a more enjoyable and satisfying experience.

Prolong foreplay

Giving your body enough time to reach arousal naturally often requires an extended period of foreplay. If you and your partner have been in a long-term relationship and have established sexual routines, it might be important to communicate your desire for extra foreplay. Expressing your need for additional time and stimulation can help ensure you and your partner have a more satisfying and fulfilling sexual experience.

Tips if struggling with mental arousal

If you are struggling with mental arousal, try these tips.

Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness helps combat mental arousal struggles. Stress, anxiety, and excessive thoughts can hinder present-moment focus before and during sex, which reduces the amount of pleasure you can feel. Practicing mindfulness cultivates presence, reducing racing thoughts and distractions.

By being present and observing body sensations, mindfulness quiets the mind during sex, enhancing mental responsiveness to sexual cues. It also boosts sexual desire, allowing individuals to recognize internal bodily sensations, including desire, when they come about spontaneously.

Explore what turns you on

To enhance mental arousal during sex, it is important to approach the experience with an open mind and explore diverse turn-ons. Engage in fantasy exploration, allowing your imagination to run wild and incorporating scenarios and roles that excite you.

Introduce erotic stimuli into your sexual encounters, such as erotic literature, audio recordings, pornography, or other sensory cues that align with your preferences. Experiment with different forms of sensory stimulation to find what resonates with you, igniting your mental arousal.

If you're facing difficulties finding a healthy balance between your mental and physical arousal, it is advisable to seek professional help from a doctor and a sex therapist. Various factors can influence arousal non-concordance, and professionals can assist in identifying the underlying causes and collaborate with you to develop a personalized treatment plan. In addition, consulting with a doctor and sex therapist offers the opportunity to receive specialized guidance and support tailored to your specific needs.

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