Over the years I have worked not only on my own sexual healing, but with clients who are working through sexual traumas. As a result of my own journey I have been reading, investigating and discovering “different worlds” of sex and sexual pleasures.
I have adapted some of the sexual learnings into my coaching tool box for clients working through relationships and their sexual trauma at the same time.
The first thing to understand about healing sexual trauma is it takes time. Like any kind of healing, it can be one step forward and two steps back. At other times it can feel like progress has been made and real healing has taken place, only to be triggered and slammed back into a place of fear and panic.
As a result, the person can be left feeling hurt, abused, and guilty, as well as many other feelings. Their partners may feel confused, frustrated and hold their own guilt for “pushing” too hard. The question becomes how do partners minimize the triggers, or move through their sexual experiences, in a way that is satisfying to both parties?
Communicate, Communicate and then communicate some more
When anyone has had trauma in their life, it is important that their partners not only know about it, but also know how it is affecting them now. Has there been any counseling, mind clearing, or other forms of healing? Do they feel shame, have low self-esteem or hate their bodies? Do they have trouble achieving orgasms, do they enjoy sex at all? Do they disconnect from their bodies during sex? All of this information needs to be openly discussed so there is an understanding of what may be occurring during sex, both in the mind and the body.
Talk about sex before engaging in sex. Talk about sex during sex and ask questions like, “Do you like this?”; and “Can I do that?” And then talk about it after you are done having sex, even if it is not right after, but the following day. The open communication around sex ensures both people are continuing to consent to what is happening. It opens the heart and allows for trust to build. The open communication will also let both partners know if something is being triggered.
Negotiate sex BEFORE engaging in sex
I remember the first time I tried to talk to a partner about what I wanted to happen during our sex scene and was told that talking about it took away from the magic of the sex. He quickly learned what took the magic away even faster was having me go into a panic attack when he placed his hand on my throat to kiss me.
Had he allowed for us to talk about what was acceptable and not acceptable during sex, he would have known that while I was raped my throat was held, and that when anything got too close to my throat I flashed back to the rape. He would have known to stay away from my throat, or he could have warned me that he might touch it to pull me in to kiss me.
Talking about what is acceptable during sex actually frees up space for magic. The scene does not need to be planned step-by-step; however, stating that certain positions are allowed, certain places to touch are allowed, that there could be oral, anal, and whether or not there will there be name calling, dirty talk, rougher sex, or possible holding down – all things that could cause the trauma to be triggered – will let the partner know what is allowed and what is not allowed. There is no worry and fear that something could go wrong.
Once there is a list of yeses and no’s, engage and have fun. Remember to come back to negotiations often because things change when trust grows, or when a partner is feeling more sensitive. There are likely to be things that don’t need to be negotiated each time, such as kissing; make sure you are clear with your partner about these items so they know they are free to do them, thus allowing spontaneity in the sexual relationship.)
Safe words and making them work
In the BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/ Masochism) world, there are three universal safe words in any sex scene: Green (go), Yellow (slow down, something is happening), and Red (stop).
Green is the easy and most fun. It means that everything that is happening is good and that they want more. Who doesn’t want all their sexual experiences to be Green: fun and fulfilling?
Yellow is a bit of a tricky one. It means that something is being triggered. This is the time to slow down, stop and communicate. What is happening? If a partner is saying Yellow, they are warning you. They are telling you that if something does not change, the sexual experience will be suddenly ended.
I remember the first time I ever called yellow with a partner; he immediately froze and said “Tell me what is going on”. He did not remove himself from my body; he did not move his body in any way. He waited for me to share with him what was going on. He listened and adjusted accordingly which allowed for us to continue and have Green experience.
By asking me to tell him what was going on he immediately took the fear away. He allowed for me to breathe and to process. He made me feel safe and my trust for him grew because I knew he wanted me to enjoy myself too.
It is important that when Yellow is called, the person calling it is not made to feel wrong. Using the safe words is about growing emotionally with one another to allow for pleasure for both people. Yes, it can be hard to stop especially if someone is really into what is happening, but by ensuring both partners are on the same page, this will make the experience positive for both people.
Red = IMMEDIATELY STOP. Something has gone wrong. There is likely anger, fear and panic in the partner that has called Red. They are not wrong for calling Red and their partner is likely not wrong either. Triggers can be a tricky thing. It could be an action that has never been an issue, but for whatever reason, in that moment, it is a problem. Calling Red does not mean you will never be able to engage in sex again, it just means that time is needed. The emotional body needs to be cared for.
Safe words can be used as ongoing consent when engaging in sex especially if something is new to the experience. Giving the instruction – “Tell me a color” – lets your partner say if they are ok with what is going on or if they are uncomfortable. It can also tell a partner that more can be handled.
After care also known as self care
Once upon a time cuddling after sex was the worst thing that could have happened for me. I wanted to be disconnected from both my body and my partner. It was not until I started working on healing my sexual trauma that I realized how important it was for my healing to be held, to be kissed; to have a conversation. I remember my first partner who, after a very intense sexual experience, pulled me in close. I tried to wiggle away and he stopped me telling me that he needed to hold me close, to know that what we had just experienced hadn’t only been about him. I was shocked because I had never thought about it that way. When I burst out crying he held me and kissed the top of my head. Even though this man and I never had a relationship other than sex, he cared for me in that moment and made me feel safe and valued.
For someone who is dealing with sexual trauma, it is important that they know they are worth more than the sex you just had. This is especially true if they called Red. They need to know that that their partner still cares and still “likes” them. Often the person who is dealing with the trauma will revert to the emotional age where the trauma occurred and this means in a moment you could be dealing with the emotions of a small child.
Some aftercare may include water, chocolate, cuddles, sleep, warmth and a million other things that can make a partner feel good. Knowing your partner will help determine what aftercare needs to be for them.
If you are the one needing the aftercare and your partner is not in a position to give it to you, it is important that you know what you need and know how to give it to yourself. If you need to be cuddled, grab a fuzzy blanket and wrap yourself in it. If you need water to re-hydrate yourself then grab some water. Do you need to laugh? Watch a comedy or call a friend and talk. Most importantly be gentle with yourself. This is not the time to beat yourself up emotionally.
Entering into a sexual relationship while dealing with past trauma takes time, patience and understanding on behalf of both people – the person with the trauma and the partner. Remember to be gentle with each other and that it is the journey not the destination that matters in the end.