Reclaiming Sexuality After Sexual Assault

Sexual trauma comes in many different forms and affects each person individually. For most people, the effects of assault are usually present physically and emotionally and can interrupt people's sexual intimacy with their partners. However, it is possible to reclaim your sexuality after sexual assault and have a safe, trusting, and pleasurable relationship with sex. Knowing the steps to reclaim your sexuality after sexual trauma can put you on the right track to a healthy and fulfilling sex life.

Key takeaways:
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    Sexual trauma affects every person differently, but for most people, it causes an interruption to their sexual intimacy with themselves and their partner.
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    Setting boundaries, identifying triggers, communication and mindfulness can help people reclaim their sexuality after sexual trauma.
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    Many survivors go on to have healthy and pleasurable sexual intimacy with themselves and their partners.

Take your time

There is no right amount of time to wait before resuming sexual activity after a sexual assault. For many people, taking a break from sex with others can help them focus on themselves and their healing. Taking a break from sexual activity may also be a healthy option, even if you are in a long-term relationship with a trusted partner.

Taking the time and processing your emotions allows you to understand what makes you feel safe and nurtured. This process is different for everyone, so give yourself permission to take as much time as you need and only engage in sexual activity when you feel ready.

Educate yourself on sex and trauma

Educating yourself on how the body reacts to sexual trauma and its effects on intimacy can help you better understand your feelings. Sex education can also help you learn and express your attitudes towards sex, establish sexual boundaries, and learn about consent and bodily autonomy.

Education is also helpful for partners of sexual assault survivors, as they too can learn the effects of trauma and help support their partner through this period in a healthy manner. Partners who take the time to educate themselves on the impacts of sexual trauma are often met positively by the survivor as it is seen as a sign of support.

Identify triggers

Before attempting to engage in sexual activity, it is important to identify your triggers so that you can communicate them to your partner to avoid any further traumatization. Triggers are usually related to the senses and could be something you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel.

While identifying your triggers, it may also be helpful to identify things you can control that bring you feelings of safety or pleasure, such as having sex with the lights on.

Set boundaries

Feeling safe is an essential factor in having good sex. It could be helpful to make a mental or physical list of the sexual activities that you are ok with doing, the things that you are sometimes ok with doing, and the things that you are not ok with doing.

If you are having sex and suddenly feel uncomfortable with a boundary you had previously set, it is ok to change your mind. Sex is dynamic, and boundaries can change. You may have communicated to your partner that you felt comfortable in a particular sexual act but felt uncomfortable when engaging in that act. It’s important that you stop the act rather than trying to push through, as this may cause retraumatization.

Communicate with your partner

Once you have identified your triggers, set your boundaries, and are feeling like you may want to be sexually intimate with your partner, it’s important that you communicate these to your partner. Having an open and honest conversation about your boundaries will let your partner understand how you want to be touched. Let your partner know what you don’t like and what you're comfortable with doing.

If you engage in consensual sexual intimacy with your partner and it becomes too uncomfortable, you are free to stop at any time.

Get exploring on your own

Before getting sexually intimate with a partner, it may help to explore your own body to find out what feels pleasurable to you without the pressure of a partner. Masturbation can help you reclaim your body and sexual pleasure, as you are in control of your body. Once you find what feels good for you, you can communicate this with your partner and slowly incorporate it into partnered sex.

Listen to your body

When exploring sexuality again, it is essential to listen to your body. Being sexually mindful allows you to focus on the sensations happening within your body, in the present moment, in a non-judgmental way, which is beneficial in increasing arousal in women with a history of sexual abuse. Being present in your body allows you to notice what feels good (and doesn't), which increases desire and arousal.

The effects of sexual trauma can be devastating and often affect a person’s relationship with sexuality. However, survivors do go on to have healthy and happy sex lives. Reclaiming your sexuality after an assault is not easy and will take some time. Still, a few methods can help during this process, including setting boundaries, identifying triggers, and clear and open communication.

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