A healthy, pleasurable sex life is an important part of healing after sexual trauma. Pleasure is something that survivors and their partners can reclaim, with techniques that support PTSD symptoms and the healing of the body.
This means being prepared to talk about your triggers and flashbacks, and making aftercare a standard. The following tips are a good place to start:
1. Know Yourself
Having a healthy sexual life after trauma is possible but it takes communication and compassion from both yourself and your partner. It also requires a lot of self-exploration and retraining your brain to know what pleasure is.
It’s a good idea to do some self-exploration and work on getting comfortable with the intimate parts of your body, especially your genitalia. The process of self-exploration might take some time but it’s a vital step in the healing journey. It’s not about how quickly you can start having sex and it isn’t about reaching an orgasm (although that would be amazing). It’s about building intimacy in your relationships and enjoying sex that feels good.
Luckily, there are many services and projects dedicated to helping survivors of sexual trauma reclaim their pleasure. For example, The My Body Back Project hosts Cafe V sessions to teach survivors how to love their bodies and The Clit List is a curated collection of erotic media that’s feminist, non-misogynist and empowering, and excludes content that could be triggering.
2. Talk to Your Partner
Sexual trauma can impact the quality of a relationship, whether it’s physical or not. Many survivors of sexual trauma are prone to desensitizing or numbing themselves during sex and intimacy, which can cause difficulties in the bedroom for both partners.
The key to healing from sex trauma and being able to enjoy sex again is communication with a partner that feels safe, empathetic, and supportive. It’s okay to share as much as you’re comfortable with, but don’t feel pressured to tell your whole story.
It’s also important to discuss your needs, boundaries, and triggers before sex. Talking about turn-ons and offs, how you will communicate during sex, and the language you will use to express consent is crucial to making sure everyone feels safe and regulated. This can be done by yourself or with a therapist trained in trauma informed care, like those at Embrace Sexual Wellness. Often, these conversations are the first step towards healthy relationships and reclaiming pleasure again. A therapist can help you establish aftercare for both you and your partner that makes sense for you and your unique trauma experiences.
3. Set Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries is essential for reestablishing control, but it can be challenging for those who have experienced sexual trauma. It’s important to communicate openly with a partner about expectations and boundaries to make sure that everyone is on the same page, both mentally and physically. This can help prevent PTSD triggers and ensure that your emotional, physical, and sexual safety is prioritized.
When your boundaries are tested or crossed, remember that it’s ok to say no. You can remove yourself from the situation if necessary, and you can always reach out for support to a trauma informed therapist to discuss your experiences with sex and boundaries.
For survivors, it can be helpful to educate themselves about sex and how trauma affects intimacy. It can also be helpful for partners to do the same, as it can increase empathy and understanding in relationships. Educating yourself about sex can help you learn more about what you want and need in a relationship, as well as establish healthy boundaries. This can be a huge step towards enjoying sex after trauma and building healthy relationships.
4. Make Aftercare a Standard
It can be hard for a partner to navigate sexual pleasure after trauma, and it’s important that they don’t feel alone or unsupported. They can find resources online or contact a therapist that works with survivors to learn more about how to support them and enjoy sex together. Some of these services include the My Body Back Project, which encourages survivors to reclaim their bodies and sexuality after violence. They run ‘Cafe V’ sessions, which offer a safe space to talk about sexual pleasure and sex in recovery. They also have The Clit List, a collection of erotic content that’s feminist and non-misogynistic, and excludes anything that is violent, objectifying or patriarchal, which can be triggering for survivors.
Other ways to support your loved one’s recovery are through grounding exercises, such as meditation and mindfulness activities. They can also practice saying “no” and try deep sighs, which are slower than normal breaths and are accompanied by noise, which can help to calm the nervous system. These strategies can be useful before sex, and can be helpful if flashbacks or triggers arise.
5. Know the Triggers
Having a conversation about triggers before you have sex is one of the most important things you can do. It’s a good idea to do this with someone you trust, and in a neutral time or place, preferably not right before or during sex.
Even when you have a clear understanding of your triggers, it’s possible to experience new things that make you uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean you should stop engaging in sexual activity, but rather, it’s a sign that you haven’t reached the level of pleasure you want.
If you’re struggling with sex after trauma, it’s important to seek therapy. Look for therapists who work with trauma, or a sex therapist, and shop around until you find the right fit for you. It’s also a good idea to join survivor support groups and check out resources like Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Sexual Trauma. Lastly, remember that everyone’s process is different. It takes time to feel aroused again, especially when there is an underlying lack of safety caused by sexual trauma. The key is to take it slow and be patient with yourself.