Pleasure is complicated at the best of times. And reclaiming pleasure after you’ve experienced sexual violence can be an absolute minefield.
The first, last, and most important thing I want you to take away is this: your journey is your own. There is no correct way and there is no set path. To that end, this is not a how-to guide. It’s just a set of lessons I’ve learned that helpd me. Maybe they’ll help you, too, or maybe you’ll find something completely different that works for you. It’s all good either way.
Trigger warning for abuse, trauma, and sexual violence
Reclaiming pleasure after trauma is not a linear journey
It’s not a straight line. You won’t just get better and better each day until suddenly, you’ll find that you’re fully healed. At least, I don’t know any survivors whose experience has been this way.
You’ll have good days and bad days. Sometimes you might feel like you take two steps forward and one back. All of this is normal. It’s complicated, multi-faceted, and messy. You don’t need to berate yourself because it’s harder today than it was yesterday.
Be where you are today. Wherever that is, it’s okay.
A healthy sexual relationship with oneself can be immensely healing
“Sex” doesn’t have to involve another person unless you want it to. In fact, masturbation can be a really important part of healing from sexual violence and trauma.
Masturbation and solo sex is something you do entirely for yourself. You don’t have to perform or worry about pleasing someone else. You don’t even need to involve your genitals at all, if you don’t want to.
Self-touch is a wonderful way to get to know ourselves, to be kind and loving and gentle with ourselves. Pay attention to your body and what feels good. Do you just want to run your hands over your skin for now? Perfect, do that. Does using a wand vibrator through your clothes help you access pleasure in a way that feels safe? Amazing.
Your healing is for you. You don’t owe it to anyone else
I hear a lot from survivors who are anxious to recover or “get over” their experiences because they want to be able to give their partner a certain kind of sex. Sometimes this pressure comes from the partner. Other times, the partner is completely supportive and this pressure is internalised.
What I want to say to these survivors is this: your healing is for you.
Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to share awesome sex with your partner(s). But ultimately, it has to be for yourself first. No-one has the right to access to your body. Not even if you’ve been married for fifty years. You can’t heal for somebody else, and you don’t owe your partner(s) a certain kind of recovery.
There is no one correct version of healthy sexuality
Pleasure is many different things, and a healthy relationship with your sexuality means something different to everyone.
There’s a sadly very common narrative that says that promiscuity after trauma is by definition a sign of dysfunction, damage, or lack of healing. For me, it was the opposite. Having lots of hot, filthy, consensual sex with lots of different people has been tremendously healing, validating, uplifting, and a massive part of reclaiming pleasure and my relationship with my body after the abuse I went through.
Find what works for you. Monogamy or polyamory or singledom. Vanilla or kink. Masturbation or partnered sex. All the sex, or none of the sex. It’s all valid and there is no script.
Some things might never go back to the way they were
This was perhaps the hardest thing to learn when I started healing from my abuse experience and reclaiming pleasure and sexuality.
Abuse changes us. It has a deep, profound, and lasting impact. I know that the things I’ve experienced will, in some ways, be with me forever. I’ll never go back to the way I was before – not completely.
But that’s okay. Nothing stays the same forever, and every experience we have shapes and molds us. So no, I’ll never be the person I was before. But I can grow into someone else – informed by my experience, but not defined by it.
This post is part of my #SexEdSeptember series. If you find my work useful, you can help me keep doing this by buying me a coffee! This post contains affiliate links.