What I learned about child sexual abuse survivors and sex and relationships

Photocredit: Morning Spiral Rose by Nexus6

Here’s a post from a place where I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a handle on all of the post-traumatic symptoms, although I have come a long way.

Stages of my sexual life as a survivor:

1) Teenage – not going ‘all the way’ and enjoying all the sexual play leading up to intercourse. Being quite prim and avoiding sexual situations

2) Young adult – having intercourse with boyfriends and experiencing pain, fear and flashbacks. Not being able to connect the dots with abuse at first, but trying to avoid sex. Bargaining with sex for safety while sleeping. Needing to make sure my partner was satiated before sleep so I could be assured that I would not be awoken with demands (with variable success).

3) Middle adult – Sex in relationships got good and a lot easier. However, in relationship it always dried up after the first year or two, not always on my end. Partners would lose interest and I would try and interest them in pleasing me the way I needed, which would be interpreted as a criticism.  Or I would lose interest and be harder to please and have a hard time getting into my body deeply enough for things to work well.  Hiding intense feelings (from myself or partner) and having sex at the same time became impossible, so if intimacy was a problem, then sex wouldn’t work either.  On the up side though, the sex I did have was a lot better and more connected and pleasurable, and almost all the time the sex I had was sex I wanted.

What I’ve learned / believe about survivors and sexual healing

  1. If you’re just having sex with someone to have them guard you while you sleep at night, get a dog. They will guard you for free.
  2. Experiencing feelings and flashbacks isn’t so bad, avoiding them is what causes all the trouble. If you allow yourself to process the gunk in therapy, sex gets easier and less like a trigger minefield.
  3. Never ever pimp out your inner child to get your adult self off sexually on things that are part of the abuse. It’s tempting if it’s the only way you know now to have an orgasm or get connected sexually, but it’s not worth it. It cuts deeper a channel between sex and trauma that should never have been there in the first place, making it harder to eradicate. Your child self was used to satisfy an adults sexual wants already, it’s a betrayal to do that to her now that you know better. You can break those abuse-sex connections if you stick with it. Find other things that feel good. Get in touch with your body. Do the work of clearing out and integrating flashbacks and feeling feelings. What fires together in the brain wires together and you owe it to your child self to set her free of abuse. Rewire with positive fantasies that make you feel safe.
  4. Clenching your vagina and vulva cuts off blood flow and can cause or worsen vulvadynia (pain and itching in the vulva). It is possible to be doing this without being conscious of it. Ice helps with the pain of an injured vulva, and heat can help keep it from coming back. I thought I had a yeast infection for years, but it turns out it was actually part of the long term effects of the wounds on my vulva from the rapes.
  5. Use completely different setting to remind yourself you’re not in the same place you were abused in and not with your abuser. Different lighting, smells, textures, positions, activities etc… really help keep you present day.
  6. Develop a routine around staying in your body and a way to get back when you dissociate. Mine is feeling the temperature of my feet, and telling myself “It’s okay, you’re safe now”.
  7. Develop a safe sex list of things that you actually can do without getting triggered, and an unsafe sex list of things you probably can never or never want to do. With a new partner, only do the safe sex things, and then maybe work into the medium risk things as trust and safety builds. Never do the unsafe sex things. If they want to make love with you, your partner needs to understand and accept that the unsafe sex things are forever off the table. You might even have body types or genders of partners that are not going to ever work for you, and that’s okay.
  8. See a therapist regularly if you are going through lots of flashbacks and stuff with your partner. They are too close to the action to help you heal that stuff, no matter how loving and compassionate they are.
  9. Tell your inner child self that sex is an adult thing. You and your partner will play together, and you can meet her needs later (or before). Make sure you do this to keep adult stuff adult. Think of your abused child self as an external child that you can put to bed with her teddy in another room while the adults play. Meet your inner child needs for play, validation, touch  and attention separately if you can. Have some times and places that your partner knows are off limits for initiating sex, where you can meet those needs for nonsexual cuddling and hugs.
  10. If your spirituality makes you feel safe, bring it into your sexuality. Make loving your partner an act of magic or prayer. It will completely change the feel and energy.

15 thoughts on “What I learned about child sexual abuse survivors and sex and relationships”

  1. I keep hearing you say “change the settings. Light, smrll, ect” I posted in another artical an hr ago so I will skip the details.
    I’ve known her for 11 years. I know a lot. More the n I want to know to be honest, but I will always listen and support her in every way. (I hope that didn’t come out wrong) I was her “first” (consentual partner)
    This has always been a subject that I let her bring up. I don’t bring it up, even though I probably should for my own health, I’m not sure how to do that. Which brings me to how do I help her change the settings? I’m always worried that I will trigger somthing.

    1. Do you know the conditions around her abuse? Where it happened, time of day, lighting, smells etc… She may not have that information yet. It’s okay to find someone to talk to about this. It affects you too.

      I know it’s frustrating, but you need to let her figure this out. You can give her this page and ask her what she thinks about it, and if there’s anything she’d like to change about your lovemaking surroundings.

      I understand the worry you will trigger something. It happens, unfortunately, and that’s part of how we figure this stuff out. I am wondering if filling out a ‘safe sex list’ for each of you would be a helpful place to start.

      Here’s another post with some helpful info for you: http://sworddancewarrior.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/rules-of-kvetching-applied-to-survivors/

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  4. I slightly hate to admit to this, but I can very much relate to this despite having different experiences and still being a virgin. I just never really managed to get past stage 1, or never let me get past that stage. It took me quite a while to figure out why. Anyway, when I do get past that point I’ll try keeping the things you have learnt in mind.
    Thank you so much.

    1. @mywordswerefaded: There’s nothing wrong with being where you are. I took a big break from sexuality and relationships in the middle of my healing and worked on expressing and healing the abuse. It made a big difference. Once I got back into a relationship, I noticed I was a lot less triggered in bed. I think some people are already married or in a committed relationship with the abuse comes to the front to be dealt with and have to figure out how to heal while staying intimate with their partner, and that’s really hard, so doing the work first is definitely not a bad idea. Some pagan feminists define ‘virgin’ as being ‘whole unto oneself’.

      1. I sometimes find that I just don’t know where the boundaries lie to begin with, and I fear that the more I’ll dig, the more likely I am to shut myself away from the possibility of ever finding/crossing them.
        Thank you again for your wise words, and sharing them with us.

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  6. WOW.
    You have no idea how much this speaks to me. I struggle immensely with sexual issues, pain, flashbacks, dissociation. It’s really hard on my relationship.
    I have read through much of your archives and I feel so very comforted by your words. It’s like you’re in my head. Until recently, I never believed someone could possibly understand what it feels like to be me.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.

  7. Holy shit, Warrior. I didn’t realize other people do this too: “having sex with someone to have them guard you while you sleep at night.” I can’t even count how many relationships or people I had sexual relationships with just for that guarding!!! Wow. The only one I didn’t do this with is my husband. Wow. Thank you for putting words to this for me.

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