Overcoming Sexual Triggers
Learning to enjoy sex after trauma.
While unfortunate, the statistics around sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault are staggering. More often than not, the people you come in contact with have suffered some form of sexual trauma. The list goes on with ways to reduce and improve these statistics, and it can certainly be argued that sexual violence survivor rights have a LONG way to go before anything gets much better, but what can we offer ourselves as sexual trauma survivors now? In my time of healing, and sharing experiences with other survivors I have found that sex after trauma can physically and mentally hurt, become a coping mechanism, become nonexistent or hyper-existent, and may or may not trigger the feelings and experiences of sexual violence. Many painful years have inched along, and I am finally ready to write my process on overcoming my sexual triggers. Everyone's experiences and pain is different, but I do hope that something within this article resonates and further aides you in your personal healing.
1. Take the time you need to grieve.
Your experience is not only a negative one, it is also a traumatic and insidious one. take time to process your grief in a way that works for you. It is very common (confirmed by personal experience) to turn to drugs, alcohol and risky behavior once something of this nature happens. I can assure you, this leads to more pain. I found later in my journey that journaling and counseling have done more good than I could ever mask in my binge drinking. Surround yourself with people that understand, believe you, and support you. Express whatever emotion you feel. I recall a lot of years of uncensored rage, and looking back, I needed to let it all out. You deserve that and much more.
2. Make it your mission to find what works for you.
After sexual trauma, it is too easy to get lost in a cycle of not knowing what you want from sexual relations. I struggled for years with conflicted interactions where I didn't feel I could say no, so I said yes, but deep down meant no. We owe it to ourselves to stand up for our boundaries. I find laying out my boundaries before hand has become a staple in my consent process. Inform your partners what a "yes" response would look like, versus what a "no" would look like when you are not being verbal. Create a space where you and your partner both can check in and see how the experience is. Having firm boundaries and check-ins help rebuild the autonomy lost after the injury occurs, and can do wonders for making sex more enjoyable.
3. Trust makes everything better.
Having a partner you can trust goes a long way in making your love life more enticing. Partners that understand your triggers, body language, cues, moods, and methods of coping are wonderfully therapeutic in the healing process. Most people believe this can only occur in a relationship, but having consensual relations with a person(s) that respects you does not necessarily only happen in such arrangements. Find an interaction that works for you, with a person(s) that works for you too. It might take some time, but all things good, usually do.
4. Get to know yourself again.
Partners aside, take time to get to know your body again. Science has proven that after traumatic injury, our bodies will respond to stimuli differently. Things that may not have hurt in the past may be excruciating now, you may favor different stimulation than you once did, you may gravitate towards different interests. Immerse yourself in self care. Explore different porn and toys and techniques (if these are things you are comfortable exploring), take romantic baths, light candles, tune back in to your desire. You deserve to love your body, your body deserves the love you can provide. Do not deprive yourself this gift.
5. Healing after pain will not be linear.
Some days will feel amazing, you're riding the high of it all and nothing will be able to take you down. Then, some days will feel very close to your pain. These times will happen for days, weeks, years, and decades after trauma. Be patient with yourself during your healing. You are mending a wound you didn't create, it is going to take a lot of hard work and patience on your part to treat yourself kindly. It is perfectly okay to recognize an area that still hurts and let it rest until you feel strong enough to bandage it. Low days are wonderful days to focus on self care (non-sexual related). Take a walk, a hot bath, or read something you enjoy, anything can be considered therapy when you have the intention of kindness towards yourself. Take time during the good times to tackle obstacles in your healing that requires a ton of firepower. Work with your mental support team to identify what is appropriate for which day, and why.
6. Don't be afraid to try again.
In the years following my trauma, I wanted nothing, absolutely nothing to do with oral sex. Everything about it made my skin crawl, I figured I would never enjoy it again. A decade later, it has become one of my favorite things. Things that are terrifying to you now can change in the course of your healing process. Instead of focusing on the aspects that you no longer know how to enjoy (or your body refuses to enjoy) try to concentrate your intimacy around things that are still pleasurable to you. Talking with your partner about sex acts that are completely off limits is a good starting point. In the future, if and when you feel ready, you can discuss dipping your toes back in the water. If you try and it is still cringe worthy, get out and dry off again. There is no time limit on healing, and some things may not change. If you find yourself in this latter boat, I suggest trying things similar to what you desire, but not as triggering as the act itself. For example, if you desire oral sex, but cannot get past the fear of it, try thigh kisses, try finger sucking, etc. Starting small or similar may be just as satisfying as the triggering act used to be or could be.
7. Know you are not alone.
Sexual violence survivor resources can be hard to navigate. I found usefulness in online support groups and pages that I have access to 24/7. Counseling with a provider you trust is also a wonderful resource in recovery. Friends and family that can relate to and support you are also tremendously valuable. Sexual wounds can feel very isolating, and people can have a hard time noticing when something is amiss, but that does not in anyway mean you have to deal with this pain alone. Millions of people everywhere shoulder a similar pain, and through our shared experiences, we can tap into a natural spring of empathy and camaraderie.
Sexual violence hits close to home for numerous individuals. It steals a lot that is not easily replaced, but becoming comfortable in your sexual pleasure doesn't necessarily have to be the headache I found it to be. Try building your renewal on patience, kindness to yourself, and boundaries, and look forward to the intimacy you desire and more. Sending you all lots and lots of love!