Shame isn’t just an emotion. For sexual trauma survivors, shame can show up in your body. Your emotional and physical boundaries are violated during a sexual assault, so it makes sense that you deal with shame in both places afterward. Below are some tips on how to get your sex life back after experiencing sexual assault.
Where Trauma-Based Shame Comes From
Sexual trauma causes shame because it forces us to talk about sex. In our culture, sex in general is a very stigmatized, difficult topic to talk about, and it’s worse when you’re talking about sexual trauma. When you don’t want to talk about something, suddenly you have a secret on your hands.
Further, women are conditioned to look inward for blame when sexual trauma occurs. Our culture often lets rapists off the hook while investigating the survivor’s decisions, which is a backward and traumatizing approach. Women may feel shame about the choices they made or worry that others will misinterpret their actions.
Sometimes, your body will respond in surprising subconscious ways during a sexual assault. For instance, your body may lubricate or get an erection because it is coping with the stress and sexual nature of the attack. Due to these biological reactions, survivors will often wonder if they secretly wanted the assault, even though they clearly did not.
Sexual Symptoms of Trauma
If you haven’t fully worked through the sexual trauma, you may still be dealing with some symptoms. Your body is still in survival mode, so it will try to protect you during sexual encounters. For a lot of people, this looks like sexual numbness. They may love their partner and be in the mood, but when it comes time to have sex, they feel absolutely nothing. Sensate focus—whether you practice with a partner or on your own—is a great way to help restore feeling and mindfulness during sex without any pressure to perform.
Survivors may have rape fantasies, which are very common after sexual assault. Your mind is trying to understand the events that happened in a less threatening way. Essentially, you are taking back control in your mind in a situation that felt very out of control. So, it can be helpful to stop feeling additional shame about the fantasies. Instead, focus on other ideas that turn you on so that you can add to your sexual toolbox of sexual fantasies you enjoy.
Unprocessed trauma can have an impact on all of your relationships—the ones you have with other people and the one you have with your body. Occasionally, survivors of assault will develop an eating disorder because they feel so disconnected from their body. Or, they may have trouble in romantic relationships because of lingering coping mechanisms related to the assault.
Lastly, survivors may have pain during sex or loss of libido. They might feel okay masturbating but be unable to have pleasurable sex with a partner or reach an orgasm. Or, they might need to get drunk or high to be able to endure partnered sex.
How to Have Great Sex After Trauma
Focusing on your pleasure is a simple and effective way to get started. Make a list of all the things that turn you on or make you feel present in your body. Then, do more of the things that bring you pleasure. It seems like a small step, but it’s important to remember that you deserve pleasure and to prioritize it in your everyday life.
Next, reading science-based books about moving through trauma can give you some tips on how to grow after trauma. Literature written by other survivors can paint a picture of how your post-trauma sex life can look, giving you some hope for what you have to look forward to in the future.
The best way to get through sexual trauma is to find a therapist you trust. Contact me for a free consultation, and we’ll create a path toward sexual healing and pleasure.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area. She works with various individuals to understand and improve their sexuality. Dr. Moali conducts personal consultation sessions in her Torrance and Hermosa Beach offices, or via a secure, online video-counseling platform. Click here to download the 101 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Hot checklist.