As someone who has been through it multiple times, I understand just how frustrating and stressful getting triggered during sex can be.
My current partner is the first person I’ve slept with since I was assaulted at age 19, and the effects of that traumatic event only became apparent to me once we started becoming intimate. I noticed that having my partner on top of me or manipulating my limbs in any way during intimacy brought me to a place of tense muscles, intense dissociation and heart-palpitating fear. Once I started talking about it with my partner and with a therapist, I realized what was happening: I was getting triggered, brought back to my sexual trauma via muscle memory, psychological damage and absence of trust (no matter how much I wanted to trust them).
Since much of our sex life was framed by my PTSD, especially during the first year of our relationship, we began learning lots of ways to address my difficulties mindfully and gently. Among all the frustrations, improvements and emotional development, I learned a lot about how to have sex in a way that feels safest to me. To all my fellow survivors–here are some things to remember in the bedroom that has helped me move towards recovery:
If you’re still feeling sensitive but feeling ready to start having sex again, taking it slow is pretty essential. Going full speed ahead is nothing like ripping a band aid off quickly–easing back into intimacy is essential for improving your relationship with sex and your body. Your partner should be in agreement that things are going to have to go slow in order help you feel comfortable again. And if that’s something they can’t get on board with, don’t blame yourself. You are not broken–you’re on your own journey to sexual fulfillment and empowerment, and people who can’t understand that don’t belong on that journey.
Notice What Triggers You
By going slow, you can more clearly identify the things about intimacy that trigger you. Personally, having my wrists restrained and having my partner on top of me used to trigger me. So, we ceased all wrist-restraining activities and I spent lots of time on top. Compassionately notice the things that trigger you, and take steps to avoid or find ways to ease back into those activities (perhaps through something like sensate focus touch).
Come Up With Safe Words
Though we were trying to have more mindful sex, I found it very difficult to find the words when I would get triggered during sex. Usually, I would tell my partner at the end if they hadn’t noticed before then. In an effort to help solve this issue, we came up with easy code words to use during sex to communicate my need to either slow down (“yellow”) or stop completely (“red”). Using these proved to be very helpful for me, as they empowered me to stop or take a break from sex where my partner and I could shift gears into talking or giggling together.
Trust Your Instincts
Out of guilt and frustration, I started trying to ignore oncoming palpable triggers with the idea that could work through it myself. Though this did occasionally work, it wasn’t actually effective since it would result in a mild freak out at something small later or a mighty trigger during our next sex sesh. It’s best not to ignore or attempt to compartmentalize your feelings when you feel yourself getting triggered. Trusting and listening to your body is challenging, but it’s essential in rebuilding trust in your sex life.
Let Yourself Cry
No matter what, I used to always cry at the end of sex with my partner. And I used to feel pretty embarrassed about it, causing me to try to hold back tears or cry quietly in the bathroom as I stared in the mirror loathsomely. The thing is, recovery takes time. Crying is a natural way for your body to release stress, something you might be consciously or unconsciously feeling during sex for some time after a trauma. Let yourself do it, whether alone or with your partner, without shame.
Discuss A Plan For Anxiety Attack
Sometimes, I used to see my attacker’s face in place of my partner’s during sex, which would launch me into an anxiety attack. In order to be more helpful to me, my partner and I discussed things that would help me get through a strong reaction like this. I told my partner that holding me while telling me “you’re safe” or “it’s me, Skylar” would be helpful, which they used on multiple occasions after that. But we also discussed that sometimes I would need not to be touched as they soothed me, a conversation we had in order to ease their own hurt and confusion over me turning them away. Communicating your feelings and exactly what you need to your partner is super helpful in making sure that your recovery is going as smoothly as possible.
Don’t Get Mad At Yourself /Feel Guilty
I used to constantly beat myself up for not wanting to have sex or needing to stop sex in the middle out of fear of “depriving” or frustrating my partner. But I found this way of thinking imitated damaging things I used to think regarding sex, like the responsibility of feeding a masculine lovers “insatiable sexual appetite” (ugh) and the idea that part of having sex was doing things I don’t want to do. I get mad at myself a lot less these days since unlearning damaging lessons about sex my abuser taught me, and with the help of my supportive partner and growing self love.
It took me a long time to be able to have sex on my terms, terms that I needed to feel safe enough to communicate to my partner. So now, I get triggered way less. But when I do, I’m sure to notice my reactions, use code words, and let myself cry…and these days, I even beat myself up a little bit less. Working through PTSD is a long process, but don’t forget: take your time.