Intimate relationships stir things up—for all of us. Whatever your history, being in an intimate relationship will call on you to look at yourself in new ways. 

For survivors of childhood sexual abuse or other sexual trauma, sex in the context of intimacy can be an opportunity to attend to the issues of the past and to deepen your own capacity for intimacy and sexual pleasure. It can also be scary.

You get into a relationship, and everything’s great...at first. But then all those old memories and fears come bubbling up. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the relationship (though you might jump to that conclusion). Your history is offering itself up for healing. Your job is to pay attention.

While there may be times that partner sex takes a backseat to your healing, remember that sexuality is part of a full life as an adult.  Don’t let the process of healing past abuse to rob you of that.

As a trauma survivor, the key is to continually to turn toward triggers rather than avoid them. Of course, in order to face the sources of your pain, you’ll need to create a context of safety for yourself—support may come from a somatic coach, therapist, group of friends or more formal network, as well as from your partner. In my coaching practice, I  work with many survivors of sexual trauma.

What exactly is a trigger? It’s an automatic response to present-day stimulus that is caused by past trauma. Triggers can be experienced as emotions, like anger or sadness, and as physical sensations in the body. (For instance, this article may be pushing your buttons. Is your stomach tense? Are your shoulders tight? Do you feel an overwhelming urge to quit your browser? Want to toss your laptop across the room? Are you breathing?)

Turning toward triggers doesn’t mean recreating or mimicking trauma. Putting yourself in harm’s way will not toughen you up. Past trauma doesn’t go away if you power your way through it. Though you may become desensitized to your own painful emotions, you’ll also lose the sensations of pleasure and joy. That’s not healing; in fact, that’s a capsule description of how your body (quite intelligently) shut down to protect you from trauma in the first place.

Turning toward triggers means intentionally risking discomfort in order to stretch your capacity for sexual engagement. The point is not to avoid triggers, but to face them. This is how you can heal. Over time, you will be able to experience a wide range of sensations and feelings without needing to shut down. Sexually, this means you will be able to tolerate more and more pleasure.

I work with both survivors of sexual trauma and their partners. Working somatically to heal trauma, I have seen remarkable changes. Please feel free to call on me. 

Two helpful resources for both survivors and partners: Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, by Staci Haines, in her DVD, Healing Sex: The Complete Guide to Sexual Wholeness.

See also: For Partners of Sexual Trauma Survivors

Healing Sex by Staci Haines

“What a terrific book! Every survivor needs this encouraging,down-to-earth guide — and the joy of freely chosen, healthy sexualpleasure.” —Ellen Bass, co-author of The Courage to Heal
For all women who love women

 

"Infectious and empowering
and extremely well-researched. I highly recommend The Whole Lesbian Sex Book
to every woman."
-- Bust Magazine