Sex for some survivors is a very touchy subject. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of trust. This advice is meant only for survivors who want to be physically intimate- but find themselves unable or wary. Please don’t feel like it is a required part of healing or that it is something you must do for your partner.
1. Slowly build intimacy.
Understand that just because you want to have sex with someone- doesn’t mean you have to go ‘all the way’ immediately.
Figure out the line where you stop being comfortable, and slowly work at that. For some people- their problem is only with penetration. For that- I would suggest starting out with self-penetration on your own- with fingers or small toys, and then work your way up from there. Maybe even doing mutual masturbation in order to be comfortable with having someone else there.
Also, know that penetrative sex is not the end all be all of sex. There are plenty of things that you can do that aren’t that- and both of you still be fulfilled. Focus on mutual pleasure rather than an idea that you have to have a specific kind of sex. Hand jobs/fingering, oral, mutual masturbation, frottage, thigh jobs… there are so many options that aren’t just penetrative sex. Also know that orgasms do not define ‘good’ sex. Some survivors appreciate the intimacy of sex, and enjoy making their partner orgasm- but would rather not do so themselves. and that is alright too.
If your line is about nakedness, work on that slowly. Whether it be hanging out around the house in underwear, or in the nude (both of these only if you have the house to yourself/the others in the house are okay with it). Also, if you want, you can have sex while wearing some clothes. There is no wrong way to go about having sex.
If your line is with sexual touching- start out with your comfort zone and work up from there if you can. Sometimes it can help to have already been worked up (either having an orgasm, or if you’d rather- getting almost to that point- and then trying to do the thing you haven’t yet). If the line is any kind of sexual touchy, why not start out with something like a back rub or a footrub in order to get comfortable being touched and try going from there.
2. Not stopping when you get upset.
I don’t mean forcing yourself. I mean, taking a few moments to calm down and trying again instead of just completely stopping.
One of the options of communicating this with your partner would be to use safe words. Not in place of POE (plain old English) but as an add on because sometimes it can be hard to say what we need- especially if we’re freaking out. Preferably have two words- one for a complete stop- for if you start flashing back or are really freaked out- and another for ‘hey lets slow down/go back to what we were doing previously/can we stop and talk about this for a second’ (whatever you and your partner decide it should mean).
2b. Also! let your partner know what they should do if you freak out/what to look for if they need to stop. Some survivors get really passive when they’re beginning to dissociate- and some survivors are okay with having sex while dissociated, others are not. The best approach is to talk to your partner and be like ‘hey, if I stop talking/get unresponsive- you should stop/check in with me/hold me and pet my head/whatever you need’
Figure out a plan of action should you have a panic attack or flashback. I’m personally a a proponent of keeping a safe sex kit (with condoms/lube/and anything else y’all might use) and if you need to keep a safety object, or something meant to ground you (like strong tasting peppermint, different kinds of fabric swatches, etc) then there’s no problem with doing that.
3. Give up control/take control.
It depends on the survivor- but sometimes it is a control issue. I know a survivor who only has sex when she’s handcuffed because if not- she instinctively feels like she needs to fight.
I know others who when they first started having sex again- handcuffed their partners, or blindfolded them. This allowed them to have the ‘upper hand’ and thus relax enough to be intimate with the one they cared about. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a physical set of handcuffs. Just a ‘hey can you sit back and let me do this’.
4. Switch things up.
For some survivors it is a matter of location. try having sex either in a neutral space, or the space that you feel safest.
If there was a certain position that the assault happened in- then that is probably not the one to try things in at first. Switch things up and try to make the situation as different than the trauma as possible. This could include things like lighting, the feeling of the surface you’re having sex on, the smell of the room.
5. ‘Dirty talk’
As ridiculous as dirty talk can sound, it is also something that grounds you to the situation- and gives your and your partner a chance to tell each other what you’re going to do next, so that the survivor has a chance to speak up and say ‘no’ before it happens- if they need to. If you and your partner aren’t a fan of dirty talk in and of itself- you can still talk things through. Whether its commenting on how nice their skin feels, or how great something is- dirty talk doesn’t have to be ‘oh baby, do me hard’. The important thing is keeping up the flow of communication.
I think the biggest thing is that a lot of us rush into having ‘real sex’ immediately. That we allow sex to be defined in a way that keeps us from feeling comfortable or being safe. Experiment with your partner- sex is just about intimacy, just a way to make each other feel good. Don’t feel like you have to have it any one way- or that its wrong. Whatever you can do, is okay. I promise.