SEX AFTER ASSAULT
A Healthy Sex Life After Assault
My sex life has definitely changed since I was assaulted. Surprisingly, the majority of the tension has come from my sexual partners knowing that I am a survivor. I knew being so public with my story had the potential to take the Va Va Voom out of an intimate situation. I’m extremely open to having a conversation and answer any questions. Today, I'm in a happy and healthy monogamous relationship and still feel it's best to be open and honest.
Not everyone is in the same boat as me. Some people have particular triggers when it comes to certain actions in the bedroom. Some people have a more difficult time than others when it comes to getting back into the swing of things.
I wanted some professional advice about some specific questions, so I asked. Here is what I got.
When reality hit me that I had been raped, all of a sudden I didn’t want to be touched. It freaked me out for a solid hour. Can you tell me from a professional standpoint what was going on in my mind?
JE: Sounds like you were in a state of survival. Trauma is and can be extremely intense and everyone responds to it differently. Often, people assume that you are instantly broken and a pile of a lost soul in a corner. Sometimes, of course, people are. And other times you continue pushing on continuing as nothing has happened. It’s almost as if your life has been given a giant adrenaline shot. As humans, there are things we suppress, and sometimes they eventually reappear. There is no specific time frame and how it will appear within a survivor. You were just going through your own healing and process.
Are there any specific exercises for people who have dealt with sexual assault to get their mojo back?
AL: Therapy is highly advised for those who have dealt with sexual assault. The work I do with survivors serves to re-harmonize parts of the self that have been fragmented by trauma. People who pride themselves on being confident and perhaps someone you don’t mess with, are often struck with confusion, disoriented by the realization of being a victim. I encourage my clients to connect with their bodies physically, so as to avoid drifting in an unsafe headspace. Mindfulness, meditation, and exercises that utilize sensate focus can help with emotion regulation, and body awareness. Meaningless sex, I caution, can sometimes serve to further dissociate from the need to connect with others and one’s body. Familiar, safe casual sex with sexually satisfying partners might help; I do not encourage people whose sexual and erotic identity is important, to cease to be (a slightly more careful version of) themselves. Focusing on doing things you enjoy, eating food you like, and maybe masturbating to what turns you on when ready, is important.
I’ve dealt with partners after the world finding out I was raped who expressed to be they’re shyer in the bed because they don’t want to trigger me. On the other hand, I’m fine! How do I have that conversation and how to I reaffirm they can truly be themselves?
AL: Survivors of sexual assault often deal with being treated as though they are fragile because someone hurt them. Yet, these folks are often amongst the most resilient people out there. When faced with a partner not wanting to hurt you, remember that this is about their fear of hurting you and not about you being fragile. Remind them to check in with you during sexual play, as any good lover would. It’s best to validate and empathize with them feeling shy and aware of not wanting to trigger you, and let them know it is likely you’ll become more comfortable together, as all sexual partners do. Should you choose to disclose any past trauma to a partner, I do suggest stating your need for them to hold space for the content and feelings in your story, and to thank you for giving them the privilege of your disclosure. From there, you each need only be your fabulous, mindfully-attuned sexy selves.
I once slept with a partner who I knew had been sexually assaulted. They wanted me to recreate the experience of their rape for them. Personally, I can separate role-play from what is actually happening. I understand consent and have that talk prior.
What is there to say about people who want to relive their trauma?
AL: It is not uncommon for survivors of sexual assault to empower themselves by reclaiming ownership of their sexuality on their own anticipated, controlled terms. One of my clients, having survived a horrifying stranger rape, went as far as to have sex with their partner at the location of the assault. The contrast of power between the two events was emotional and interestingly characterized by unexpected arousal. Also, anger and mindful intentionality have a way of doing good things for sexual desire. For some, not all, using trauma in consensual, well-orchestrated kink, is like the make-up sex you have with yourself. It’s like saying, “I’ve got you [self]”, and “This is for me now”. The variables of the could-be stressful situation are controlled, contained, and stoppable at any time.
Remember though that sexuality that is inspired by even the most gruesome of events, is at its core fantastic fiction because the one thing that separates harm from pleasure is consent. Even pain, humiliation, degradation, and the like are profoundly pleasurable and important amongst carefully consenting adults. I would remind anyone engaging in kink, that once the terms of a scene have been agreed upon, and once the scene has begun, no additions or changes, regardless of arousal, are permitted. Retraumatization and consent violations can occur when boundaries are negotiated once arousal has set in.
And I can’t emphasize enough the need for prioritized aftercare.
*Thank you Jimanekia Eborn and Amanda Luterman for your amazing insight!