After sexual assault, the memory of what happened can linger long past when the incident occurred. Painful and frightening feelings can resurfaces at times that are unexpected, or inconvenient, like when you’re having sex.
Learning how to navigate triggers can empower you to enjoy your sexuality and connect more with your partner. Here’s some guidance on how to start that process.
Talk to your partner in advance
Communicate with your partner about your needs and desires in a neutral setting, before things start to get sexy. Let them know any activities or body areas that are triggering for you. For example, if you don’t like your face to be touched, or if you’re uncomfortable having sex after drinking alcohol.
Make sure to also give space to conversation about what you actually do enjoy sexually, and what you’re enthusiastic about doing together. This will help direct sex toward a place of pleasure, instead of avoidance of triggers becoming the primary objective.
Take your time having sex - don’t rush getting in the mood or taking things further right away. This will help you practice being mindful of the sensations and emotions you’re experiencing, and feel comfortable continuing if you’re feeling good or pausing if some difficult feelings are coming up.
Ask your partner to join you in using explicit consent. It might sound cheesy, but having the opportunity to literally say yes or no to questions like “can I kiss you?” and “can I take this off?” can help you feel more empowered to direct where your sexual experience goes.
Stop when you need to stop
If you notice yourself tensing, freezing up, or feeling like you’re floating away from your body, your body is probably trying to signal to you that you need to stop. Take a pause from sex, either by telling your partner verbally or using an action or a sign to indicate pause that you discussed in advance.
Use the practices you need to soothe your body’s trigger responses. This could mean receiving caring non-sexual touch from your partner, stretching and moving around, breathing practices, aromatherapy, or enjoying a warm shower. As you begin to feel better, assess whether you’d like to resume having sex or call it a night. Know that whatever you choose is perfectly OK.
Be gentle with yourself
You’re healing - and I know it can be hard to hear this, but healing takes as long as it takes. Practice acceptance of this process and releasing yourself from the expectation to feel totally fine right away.
Criticizing yourself for struggling is not going to help; it’s just kicking yourself when you’re down. It diverts valuable mental and emotional resources away from working through your challenges, and uses them to reinforce unhelpful messages instead.
It’s OK to acknowledge that working through trauma is frustrating, or that a sexual encounter that didn’t turn out like you hoped is disappointing. But throughout it all, remember that these experiences do not define you, and you deserve care and support throughout them all.
Getting more support
You don’t have to go through navigating trauma alone. Therapy is an important tool you can use to process what happened, and work on moving forward. I’m ready to help — click the button below to set up a free phone consultation.