How To Talk About A Past Sexual Assault With Your Partner

Disclosing a past sexual trauma can be an emotional and draining event. Here’s how to gear up for it—and take care of yourself afterward.

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If the recent wave of survivors of sexual assault coming forward has empowered you to want to talk more openly about your experiences, you are not alone. However, even when we feel ready it can still be difficult to tell those close to us that sexual abuse or assault is a part of our personal history.

Working to reclaim pleasure is often a part of the healing journey.

Healing from sexual trauma can be a long and complicated journey. Working to reclaim pleasure is often a part of the healing journey. And, while you should never feel that you have to disclose, it can certainly be a part of the healing process, as well.

How To Start The Conversation About Past Sexual Trauma

Here are some tips for how to approach the conversation with your partner when the time comes:

Only Open Up About Your Sexual Trauma If And When You Feel Ready

You don’t owe anyone your story. The decision to share is yours alone. Because being sexually assaulted takes away choice and power, it’s especially important that when you talk about it you do so because you choose to, and in a way that leaves you feeling in control. You should never feel guilty about setting boundaries and approaching the conversation however feels best for you. Anyone forcing you to tell your story likely isn’t invested in your healing or pleasure, and you might want to reconsider being intimate with them.

You don’t owe anyone your story. The decision to share is yours alone.

Pick A Time And Place Where You Are Comfortable

This is one conversation where having home-court advantage can be very helpful. There is no specific magical place, but having a conversation outside of a sexual setting is usually best. Pick a place where you feel comfortable, like in your home or at your favorite coffee shop or bookstore. Or you could decide to have the conversation over video chat so that you have an easy exit. Whatever works best for you is OK.

Set Boundaries And Expectations For Your Conversation

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “teach people how to treat you,” this is a great opportunity to practice it. Be sure to let your partner know how you’d like them to respond while you’re talking. You may want them, for example, to listen quietly so you can speak uninterrupted, or you may want or not want physical touch from them while you are talking. You may also prefer that they save any questions they have for another day. Feel free to specify whatever you think will make you feel most comfortable and supported.

Let your partner know how you’d like them to respond while you’re talking.

Make A Post-Trauma Discussion Care Plan

Vulnerability hangovers are real. Have you ever shared a really personal thing and then afterward you feel really exhausted or a little woozy? That’s a vulnerability hangover. And post-disclosure hangovers can be particularly draining. Let your partner know how you would like to be comforted afterward. For instance, “can you build us a pillow fort because I am probably going to need to be surrounded by soft things after.” Or, time a delivery of your favorite comfort food. Whatever you do, find a way to bring some sweetness into your life after your talk. Because you just did a hard thing and you deserve pleasure. tr

Disclosing a past sexual trauma can be difficult—and it can also be really rewarding. When a partner is aware of your past trauma, they have the opportunity to be a more conscientious lover and meet you where you are. This can lead to more satisfying sexual experiences, as you’re able to openly navigate what works best for you post-trauma, making the sex you have not only safe, but more pleasurable.

No matter what, remember that when it comes to discussing a past trauma, you—and only you—are in control. And you deserve to do whatever it is for yourself that feels best.

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Video transcript

This book is called "Come as You Are", by Emily Nagoski. It's brilliant.

It talks about the actual science behind desire and arousal. The last chapter init is really great because it was talking about our emotions and then meta-emotions, meta-feelings, because it's how you feel about your feelings and how often when we start panicking or having a negative attitude about ... Or not negative, not like a bad attitude, but start feeling negatively about something. Especially when it's about sex or a relationship that we like, we're telling ourselves, "No. Stop. Stop. Don't think about this. Stop. You're over reacting. Calm down." Which, is negating those feelings.

She talks about how you really have to let yourself feel them as well as just acknowledge them. That's actually been incredibly helpful recently because we both just read that chapter again in the last month. There's been several times where we were going to be heading into some sort of sexy time. And I start having an internal panic and before I would be like, "No. Stop. Just stop. Fine."

This time I was like ... I just stood there and thought to myself, "I am panicking." That's all I said, and it was almost like my brain was like, "Okay. Thank you. You recognize this. Now we can go on."

Seriously. Just this idea of recognizing this is what I'm feeling.

And letting yourself feel [crosstalk 00:02:00].

And letting yourself feel it for a minute. Then we're able to go on. That's too, why that communication is good because there have been times where we've been in the middle of some sort of sexy time activity and there is something that triggers. Before, I would just-

Shut down.

Shut down. Roll over. Start crying. And then apologizing profusely, "I'm sorry. I've ruined this again." You were left kind of like, "I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help you. Yeah, this sucks, but I don't know what to do."

Now, usually I'll just say, "Okay. I need you to hold me for a second." That's like the code like, "Okay. We know something is going on." And he does. He just wraps his arms around me and I just do the deep breathing and really thinking about, "Okay. This is what I'm feeling.

A lot of times you just tell me, "You're okay. I love you. You're safe." That's actually been instead of just shutting everything down, we both just lay there and he's holding me as I breathe through this. Most of the time we've actually been able to gradually get back to where ...

I honestly can't think of a time in the past couple months where it just stopped things cold like it used to.