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Sex and Sensory Dysfunction

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Sex and Sensory Dysfunction
The ways in which we process sensory information have an unrecognized impact on our sex lives.

Kids with sensory dysfunction issues are lucky. Or maybe I should say, “luckier” than adults. Because the kid who can’t stop running on tiptoes, or who screams at the touch of play-doh, or who can’t handle bathing, or who bumps into everything, is often noticed, and then in the best case scenario gets some help from teachers and/or occupational therapists and other specialists. The goal, of course, is to improve functioning and chances for a normal life through early intervention.

Adults with sensory dysfunction issues have to cope with the challenges of everyday life while struggling with their neurological responses to such things as ceiling fans, background noise, off-gassing synthetic carpets, too many people talking at once, uncomfortable work clothes, and so on. They may be socially shunned as “clueless,” “weird,” “geeky,” or “overly sensitive.” They seldom get the kind of support and understanding that many children get, unless they are already receiving services and support for some other condition, such as autism or ADHD. Then sensory integration support might be folded into the treatment plan. We can easily imagine the troubles such people might have trying to cope with the demands of a job or profession.

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Now imagine that you’re a person who is “weird,” “geeky” or “overly sensitive,” but you’re lucky enough to have a long-term relationship. Chances are your partner started out as loving and understanding, thinking that once you started to relax and feel secure in the relationship, you’d be less likely to react to the “little things” that seem to drive you nuts. But it’s been years now, and you haven’t changed. All sorts of things set you off. You’re still so nervous! Your partner has a hard time coaxing you into intimacy too, which she thinks would be helpful for both of you - but she doesn’t know that it’s because you can’t get an erection when your teeth hurt, and the reason your teeth are hurting is because that fresh coat of yellow paint on your bedroom walls puts you so much on edge that you’re grinding your teeth just to stay in the room! She’d think you were just making excuses and over-reacting again. She’d think you don’t really love her if something like a color would keep you from feeling aroused.

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The marriage counselor or sex therapist you both saw said that you had to make an effort to be “less selfish” and your partner agreed. You’ve had too many fights about sex over the years, and you’re very afraid of that kind of fight, so you don’t say anything when your partner begins to stroke you, and nothing much happens, so you just pretend you’re tired, and you shut your eyes against that yellow, which still bruises your nerves even though it’s dark, and so both of you go to sleep unhappy and hurt.

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