Content Warnings: trauma, sexual violence, abuse
Trauma can hit us in a number of ways. At its core, it is a huge ordeal to our minds. It can make the everyday feel like a marathon, and something that used to be totally normal to us be a representation of everything we now completely fear, even down to a certain smell or place. What is often not talked about is how trauma can affect the body, and how any kind of suffering to the mind can be carried out in the body. For example, some people who suffer from anxiety can experience purely physical symptoms, like nausea, vomiting or blurred vision.
Our bodies are the ultimate safe space. It is all we’ve known our whole lives, and we know it pretty well, all its nooks and crannies. So when that space gets violated, it can become really difficult to live in our bodies. Moreover, we become more protective of it, maybe because we feel more vulnerable or because our safe space – well – no longer feels that… safe. Figuring out how to have sex, safely, meaningfully and in a fun way is an often difficult, but still achievable, journey to go on.
When it comes to sex, to me it feels like a conversation between two bodies. In having sex, whether it be in a relationship, with a randomer, or with a friend, there is a certain level of trust put into one another. A trust to have fun whilst having sex, to respect each other’s desires and boundaries, and to care for each other’s bodies.
Sex is often not thought about this deeply or analysed at all whilst in the act. But when you are a trauma survivor, it can be hard not to have this mentality. If you’re super pro-sex and always going on about it (like me), or quite private about that part of your life or even feel a bit inexperienced, it can feel nerve-wracking getting yourself back out there after experiencing any kind of abuse or traumatic incident. Sex can often end up becoming an anxiety-inducing topic where victims of abuse or trauma feel lots of shame and stress around the idea of sex.
There are many different ways our minds and bodies can respond to sex after trauma. Some struggle to have sex until a long time after an incident of abuse, or have sex but often are unable to relax and enjoy themselves. Some can become obsessive around sex and disconnect their mind from their body. Once your body and sense of trust and safety have been disrespected, it can feel very hard to feel a sense of worth. Moreover, rape or assault works under power dynamics, and when a person takes another’s right to choose, ignoring their signs of distress, you start to feel like sex isn’t a conversation, but a monologue. In a world where women can feel like a vessel for sex rather than a participant anyway, dealing with this after trauma can be unbelievably difficult. There is a disconnect from your sexuality that occurs, whether you’re participating in sex or not.
However, there are ways to get through these many new feelings you can have towards sex after trauma. Sex for a lot of people is a really fun, fulfilling and exciting part of life. And if you, like me, love sex but have vulnerabilities around feeling safe and comfortable, there is a way to manage this.
Firstly, it’s important to know that trauma can show itself at random times. You could be having sex with your partner for months, and suddenly one evening, for whatever reason, something triggers you and you don’t feel safe to carry it out. This is completely normal. It’s just like consent – just because you’ve done the dirty with someone a hundred times, the 101st time you might not be into it for whatever reason, and that’s okay.
Reconfiguring your mindset around sex is really important, including knowing and understanding that any kind of violation of your body, big or small, is not okay. We live in a society that often doesn’t believe victims of abuse, so it can be easy to normalise or dismiss an act of mistreatment. Remind yourself of what you are comfortable doing. And it’s okay to figure that out along the way. Take your time. If you were in a car crash, no one would expect you to go on a five-hour car journey the next day. This is the same thing. Baby steps. The process of healing from anything will come with its difficult moments, step-backs and exhaustion, but recovery is achievable. You deserve for your body to feel like home again. You deserve for sex to be a conversation again.
At the same time, if you don’t want to have sex, as much as you may have used to, don’t feel worried you will miss out on intimacy. Intimacy is far more than just sex and should be practised in a variety of ways regardless. Intimacy can be felt physically and emotionally, whether it be by holding hands, a cuddle, a massage, a romantic dinner or even a long walk.
After abuse, your body can feel like a site of pain rather than pleasure. It’s important to get to know your body again and find out what feels good, what doesn’t, and what could be triggering. Triggers can occur in a number of ways, from certain phrases or smells or holds.
If you’re in a relationship, and you feel comfortable, opening up a dialogue about your trauma can be helpful in making you feel safer and at ease. There is no need to go into details if you don’t want to, but an acknowledgement of this can mean your partner will be in a better understanding of what’s going on. This way, you can work together in having delicious sex and making sure everyone feels good throughout.
An integral way to reaffirm yourself within your body is, of course, wanking! Wanking is great and should be recommended to all. It is particularly helpful in reassociating your body with pleasure, while also having total control of when, how, and how much you want to explore yourself. Wanking and knowing what you like can also make communicating this easier to a sexual partner, but making sure you’re comfortable and feeling sexy in yourself is the most important thing.
All in all, the best thing you can do is try. Take it at your own pace and see what works for you. Just know that despite difficult moments of your past, you can still flourish and be having bloody good sex as much or as little as you please.