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Dr. Kelli Palfy 12108

Involuntary Arousal

In consensual sexual encounters, arousal and the achievement of orgasm are welcomed outcomes. Under normal sexual conditions, experiencing an orgasm is the ultimate ecstatic state. Sexual arousal occurs not only as a physical state but as a mental or emotional state as well. In pleasurable situations physical and mental sexual arousal occurs simultaneously. However, it is important to distinguish that mental and physical arousal can and does occur exclusive of each other. Most adults know that it is possible to be mentally aroused (they want to have sex) without showing any physical manifestations of arousal (in males they can’t get an erection despite really wanting one); this is commonly referred to as a sexual dysfunction. Alternately, the reverse is also true. Physical arousal can occur without any positive mental stimulation, even when a person is experiencing extreme duress in the middle of a traumatic experience. During sexual assaults, it is not uncommon for both men and women to exhibit a physical (genital) manifestation of arousal without being positively emotionally aroused. In males, many heterosexual and homosexual boys and men experience what I refer to as ‘involuntary arousal’. Basically, while their thoughts are “I am scared, I am not sexually aroused, I don’t understand, or I do not want to be sexually aroused” their penis becomes erect anyway. The involuntary nature of this type of arousal can be understood through recognizing that sexual responses are directed by our autonomic nervous system, the same system that regulates our ‘fight and flight” response. During times of ‘fight or flight’, even the slightest physical stimulation along with an increase in stress or body tension can create erections even though no sexual stimulation is present. The nerve endings in a penis that are generally extremely sensitive to touch, simply do not know the difference between good touch/bad touch and physical stimulation occurs. We all have heard stories of poor unsuspecting males getting unwanted erections in math or gym class and giggle or think nothing of it. In fact, there is a very long list of differing stimuli that can bring about an erection in a male that is far removed from any emotional sexual arousal. The list includes (but is not limited to) being scared for one’s life, or having a fear of punishment (flight) or during athletic events or times of war (fight) etc.… Younger males who have little-to-no control over their erections are especially prone to involuntary arousal. Erection and orgasm is induced more easily in pre- and early adolescent boys than it is in older males. However, by default, when a male obtains an erection during an unwanted sexual experience, he often automatically assumes he was positively emotionally aroused as well and assumes personal responsibility for it. He adopts the idea that he must have had some sort of desire or control, that subconsciously he must have wanted it to occur, when cognitively he also knows that the opposite is true. This is very confusing for males. Alternately, many males recognize the involuntariness of their arousal and feel betrayed by their bodies. The shame and guilt both of these categories of males often feel is a strong deterrent to disclosure. Unfortunately, many professionals also still struggle to understand involuntary arousal and they too shy away from discussing it. Psycho-education around involuntary arousal must occur for this psychological barrier to seeking help to end.

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Dr. Kelli Palfy

Kelli Palfy

Dr. Kelli Palfy

Dr. Kelli Palfy
Other posts by Dr. Kelli Palfy

I medically retired from the RCMP with just over 13 years of field experience in 2009 (Reg #45004, HQ 1112) and began the journey of pursuing my doctorate degree. I am now a registered psychologist, running a private practice in Edmonton, AB. I have a strong interest in working with trauma related issues, specifically adult male survivors of sexual abuse.

I have a considerable amount of life experience and exposure, both personal and professional, which I drew upon to write my first book, Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse (an educational, heart-wrenching look at 13 male sexual abuse victims experiences).

Full biography

Full biography

I am a registered psychologist, running a private practice in Edmonton, AB. I offer counselling services to adults (individuals, couples and groups) struggling with issues associated to childhood abuse/neglect, life transitions, harassment in the workplace, chronic illness, anxiety and depression. I completed my doctoral internship at the Cross Cancer Institute where I worked with adults struggling with cancer diagnosis, grief, loss, issues of faith and other major life transitions. I have a strong interest in working with trauma related issues, specifically adult male survivors of sexual abuse; as well as issues associated to grief, loss and bullying and harassment in the workplace.

In 2007 I began pursuing my MA, initially to further my career as a police woman, but God had other plans for me! In 2009, I medically retired from the RCMP with just over 13 years of field experience (Reg #45004, HQ 1112) and began the journey of pursuing my doctorate degree. I have a considerable amount of life experience and exposure, both personal and professional, from which to draw upon during my work with you. What was once my misery is now my ministry. I have used this experience and training to write my first book, Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse in an effort to changing the way people think about male sexual abuse.

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Melissa Brown

Willful Blindness

Academic research discusses how neural networks in the human brain are hard-wired to reject information that will make us less certain and keep peace when faced with conflict.  But what if instincts about Child abuse are...

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