Reclaiming Sexuality after Sexual Trauma

Finding a healthy sense of sexuality is one of the hardest, but most important things to do if you have sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape in your past.  There is a well-intentioned but misguided sense that rape or sexual assault is an act of power and not an act of sex.  This notion attempts to separate the power aspect from the sexual aspect, but the fact is sexual crimes affect the victim’s sense of sexuality and empowerment.  Survivors can become hypersexualized, often trying to fill the void or work through the trauma by repeating it or hyposexualized, so paralyzed by the trauma, that the thought of having sex sends a panic and a rush of fear.  There is a fear that their perpetrators face might pop into their head, something that is very normal and hard for partners to understand.  There is a fear that they are not safe and sex will only bring up the feelings of dis-empowerment and terror that happened at the time of the trauma.  There may be a deep sense of guilt and grief that they cannot enjoy sex the same way they used to if they have a current, supportive partner.  Many people also dissociate during sex if they have sexual trauma because this was an important strategy to survive at the time.

As normal and understandable as all of these reactions are, I would like to encourage all the survivors out there that YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO FEEL LIKE AN EMPOWERED SEXUAL AND SEXY BEING AGAIN! You get to decide what that looks like and what that means for you.  Perhaps it means not having intercourse again, perhaps it means learning what you like by yourself and cultivating a healthy sexuality just on your own.  If you have a supportive and loving partner, working towards healthy sexual intimacy just might be an extremely important part of your own personal growth and healing.

An important place to start is to get some support for the trauma.  EMDR therapy is the most effective way that I know to help clients walk through their pain and truly feel free from the grasp of the past.  We cannot change the past, but we can change how those memories are stored in isolation in the brain and move them to the frontal lobes rather than have them stuck in the limbic system constantly triggering your fight or flight response when it comes to sex or other stressors.

The next step might be to read about healing sex after trauma.  There is a book: Healing Sex: A Mind-body Approach to Healing  Sexual Trauma which is very helpful.  Strengthening your mind-body connection is extremely important.  Learning to meditate, practice yoga or even martial arts can improve the connection between your mind and your body.  Because dissociation is so common with sexual trauma, the brain and the body feel separate from one another.  Learning how to connect emotions to physical sensations, learning how to be fully embodied, even when things are uncomfortable can really help to heal our fears about sex

Learning what you like through self-touch is also important. Even if you are not ready for full on masturbation, learning which part of the body you like, even if it is light touching in the bath by yourself or massaging your shoulders are arms.  It’s okay to like what you like and to learn how to talk with supportive partners about those things.

At some point, after you have worked on these steps, there may be a time that you have to choose to break through your fear.  As with all of the impact of trauma, it is so important to hold compassion for the path that we have walked, to understand that fear has become a strategy for survival.  When we let fear take the steering wheel, we live our lives motivated by aversion and avoidance because it alleviates stress we feel when we are growing or changing.  At some point, we must practice bravery and live intentionally in creating the life that we want.  We want to be motivated by freedom and love.  The past can be incredibly painful and it is important to address those wounds AND the past does not have to dictate who you are in the present.  Our sexuality is so linked with our ability to feel connection and to feel creative.  Of course, being asexual is a valid sexual identity.  But if you long for sexual connection with a partner, having sexual trauma does not mean you are doomed.  It is a difficult path, but sexual healing isn’t just a Marvin Gaye song.  Learning how to have sexual intimacy with someone you really trust is a type of healing and growth that cannot be done any other way. You can find the sexy, amazing badass that is still there despite what has happened to you in your past. Do not let the perpetrators of the past take that away or have power over you. Does it take bravery? YES! You can feel sexy again, you can enjoy sex again.   You can feel love and intimacy as well as desire again.  THAT IS YOUR BIRTHRIGHT.

 

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