Trauma and violence can affect the way you experience sexual intimacy in a multitude of ways. While it may feel different or overwhelming to be with someone sexually in the beginning, it is possible to enjoy sexual intimacy again one day.
After experiencing sexual violence, many survivors find that sexual situations make them feel afraid or anxious even when they’re with someone they trust. Some survivors experience distressing flashbacks or memories during sex, which can make it hard to relax and feel safe. Other common experiences include feeling disconnected from your body, losing interest, or feelings of guilt & dread. Some people even report hypersexuality after traumatic experiences. It can be hard to feel fully present sexually when you’re coping with these challenges.
If you encounter any of these things, know that you aren’t alone. Over 60% of survivors of sexual assault say they experience some form of difficulty with sexual intimacy during recovery. Sometimes sexual difficulties are related to psychological symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, or anxiety--and working through those underlying issues can be helpful. Learning to set boundaries and safely explore pleasure on your own can also increase feelings of control.
If you notice yourself getting disconnected during a sexual encounter, remind yourself that you are safe. Practice a grounding activity to get yourself back into your body. For example, counting similar objects in a room, or silently name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Tell your partner you would like to take a break if you notice you are feeling disconnected. Get yourself a drink of water. You do not need to continue on with a sexual encounter if it is no longer serving you.
You might find that sexual intimacy looks different for you after violence, and that’s okay. It is okay to change your sexual boundaries & what things you are & aren’t comfortable with. Research has shown that having conversations about boundaries with a sexual partner can build trust, feelings of safety, & improve communication after experiencing sexual violence. While it can be helpful to disclose your trauma to a partner, remember that it is your choice and only you know what’s best for you and your situation.
Your safety & comfort matters. You are allowed to advocate for your needs, set boundaries, and move at a pace that feels right for you. You may also want to explore intimacy in ways other than sex, while you work on feeling comfortable in sexual scenerios again. Sometimes we are just not ready to experience sexual intimacy in a safe and healthy way yet. And that is okay. It is also important to note that if you don’t have issues with sexual intimacy, it does not mean what happened to you wasn’t serious. You deserve to be in a trusting, healthy relationship.
Navigating sexual intimacy after violence is challenging and sometimes it feels like it will never get better. Healing takes time, but it is possible. Just because something is difficult now does not mean it will be difficult forever. Be patient and kind with yourself. We are here for you.