CN: sex talk, sexual trauma, sexual dysfunction
I get a lot of questions about how to manage a sex life when you have experienced sexual trauma. I don’t know if I am the right person to answer as I feel I am still working through this. But I’m gonna try my best.
This is the point I say to my Dad, who gets the Extra Ounce emailed to him directly, please click away. We both know you don’t want to read this.
There was a time when I was so disconnected from my trauma that sex wasn’t as much of an issue for me. At the time, I was suppressing the memories of my sexual abuse. I was able to begin my sexual journey in a straight forward enough fashion. But that feeling of security and confidence didn’t last long. My trauma was always bubbling under the surface.
In fact, the first time I ever disclosed to someone about my sexual abuse was after receiving a sext. I was on a school camp. I don’t know why it triggered me in the way that it did. I had received them before. But for some reason in that moment I began having intense flashbacks that I could no longer control or suppress. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. I eventually disclosed to my best friend.
Things have become more and more complex since then. For me at least, things have gotten a lot worse before they got better. My sexual trauma has caused me to have a lot of body image issues. These were obvious for a long time before I fully comprehended what was going on inside me; manifesting in my eating disorder.
And when I started trying to deal with my sexual trauma in a direct way it invaded my thoughts more and more. To this day I often find myself unable to ‘complete sex’ in the conventional sense.
I also have issues initiating sex. I think because I struggle seeing myself as a sexual being beyond my abuse. When I was abused, I became a sexual being against my will for a while. So I struggle to put myself in this position. This means I can often be quite passive sexually. Not always. But a lot of time. I sort of fall into the role of the abused, forgetting my needs and just letting things happen.
That is why I am very lucky I am with an extremely supportive partner. J has really been great at enabling me to explore my sexuality in the context of my trauma. Communication is key. I often remove consent at a moments notice. J has to be able to respond to this in a nurturing way. I then have to make sure that they don’t feel rejected. We have to keep the communication channels flowing at all times. In fact, it is usually when those channels break down sexually that I am most prone to dissociating or flashbacks. The more J communicates to me throughout sexual activities the more I am able to stay present and remember who I am with. We talk a lot and make a lot of eye contact.
Another important part of our sexual relationship for me has been re-conceptualising how we both think about sex. If we thought sex was all about penetration it would be quite disappointing for us because this isn’t always possible for me. Thinking of what most would call foreplay as sex within itself has been a breakthrough in our intimacy for me post-sexual trauma. Sometimes just touching each other and kissing for long periods can be far more intimate and rewarding than penetrative sex. It also goes a long way in my own healing and building a positive relationship with the body I have been at war with for such a long time.
Speaking of building a positive relationship with my body, my therapist once made a recommendation to me that changed my life: mindful masturbation. Yes, you read that right. Mindful masturbation is essentially applying the principles of mindfulness to masturbation. I should preface this by saying up until about 6 months ago I was unable to masturbate without crying. I felt so much shame. I only recently made myself orgasm for the first time. Which also made me cry but for a good reason. That wouldn’t have happened without mindful masturbation.
Like I said, mindful masturbation is masturbating mindfully. So instead of necessarily doing it with the goal of orgasm, you just approach your body with curiosity. And with no judgement. No judgement for me was key. When I used to masturbate I would think about how disgusting I was. When I do it mindfully though, I can have those thoughts without listening to them and just enjoy the sensations. It has been one of the most crucial steps in my own recovery from sexual trauma.
I’m not sure if sex will ever be easy for me following the type of sexual trauma I have experienced. But it is getting easier. It has taken a lot of work. And probably will continue to take constant work. I guess what I am trying to say is when it comes to pillow talk communication is key. Not just communication with your partner(s). But communication with yourself, your body and your inner child.
Learning to believe I deserve pleasure has been a journey. Yours may be different to mine. But I hope you find peace with sex if you need it. It can be magical when it happens, however short lived.