If you’re a survivor of sexual trauma and/or domestic violence, the journey toward healing can be long and difficult — especially when it comes to reintroducing pleasure and sex into your life.
In this stream, sex educator Mia Little speaks to her own experiences as a sexual and domestic violence survivor and the steps she took toward reclaiming her body and sexuality. Remember, everyone’s journey is different. Take the tips that serve you, and leave the rest behind.
A good first step can be to figure out what you need to reclaim. For Little, those things included her sense of self, her physical space, her body, energy, and sexuality. To reclaim her sense of self, she relied on a network of support — friends who could validate the positive things about her. She set boundaries to curate that support, and to let go of those who no longer served her.
“[…] by having people acknowledge I was part of [their] enrichment,” says Little, “it helped me collect, view, and process the things they saw in me [that] were true. These things challenged the notions of worthlessness […] and stupidity and inability that my abuse had endowed me.”
Little also took steps to reclaim her time, space and energy by continually reminding herself her time is her own, and that she can make her home environment her own, too. “I realized I could put time and energy into caring for myself, not constantly managing the potential violence of another human being, “ Little says.
When it comes to reclaiming sex after trauma, Mia suggests first finding ways to regulate and control how your body experiences sensation. You can perhaps start by seeking pleasure in things that aren’t necessarily sexual, like music, meditating, deep breathing, or maybe a massage. If you are ready to experience sexual pleasure, masturbation can be a way to begin reclaiming your time, space, and body. Being slow and intentional about how you touch yourself can be a mindful departure from how you experienced physical touch with a past abuser.
“Where before, in the trauma context, a sensation could have made me feel really scared or fearful or compromised, if I take that sensation and apply it slowly, incrementally, into a context where I am in control [...]” says Mia.
If you are ready to invite a partner into that space, the same principles apply. Try being slow and mindful of touch and sensations, with lots of communication about what is working for you and what isn’t.
If your partner is a survivor of sexual trauma, Little suggests making your partner feel acknowledged, seen, and listened to. Help them during the healing process by`“holding space as opposed to taking up space.” This means actively listening and being present, without feeling the need to fix everything. Encourage self-care and remind them they are their own person. Be aware it may be difficult for them to speak about their trauma. Recognize the times it’s appropriate to ask questions, or simply say, “Can I ask you a question about this?” This is good tool to avoid triggers that can be retraumatizing.
Overall, seeking the support of friends and/or partner(s) can be important first steps toward reclaiming your sense of self, time, space, energy, and sexuality. To reiterate, everyone’s healing journey is different. It is often not linear, as some days may feel like progress while others may feel like setbacks. Be patient with yourself, and listen to your body for cues you might be ready to experience pleasure and sex again. But, most importantly, know you are your own person with agency over your life, body, and pleasure.