QJSex: Sex after assault

*Trigger warning*

Although there are many resources for victims of sexual assault, it’s hard to find information about sex after assault. Sexuality is an essential part of being for many people, and it’s healthy to explore your sexuality. Sex after a sexual assault is sort of like getting into a car after an accident: a person may not feel comfortable driving after the accident, but that doesn’t mean they’ll never enjoy it again. What is needed is time, healing and trust.

Find out what you want: A great first step is to identify what you want. Some reasons for wanting to become sexually active could be: gaining intimacy with a partner, exploring your sexuality, to get a feeling of closeness or to just have a good time. By identifying what your wants are, you can figure out from there what you want to pursue.

Become comfortable: It may take some time to be physically and emotionally comfortable with another person. Comfort is key to enjoyment, so it’s important to do what makes you feel best. One way to start is by being comfortable with your body. Some people may find it helpful to explore their sexuality through masturbation, while others may prefer first to get used to other types of touching, like a massage. From there, you can work on becoming comfortable around others in different settings. Some examples could be talking about what you are looking for sexually, being alone with someone or undressing in front of someone.

Pace yourself: There’s no timeline for when somebody will be ready to have sex after a sexual assault. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take time to handle your feelings, or being okay to have sex soon afterwards. You can figure out how you want to ‘pace’ yourself. Pacing could be something like beginning to cuddle with a partner before any touching occurs. Pacing could also be making sure you feel emotionally stable and safe before becoming intimate. Still, if you do something that doesn’t make you feel okay, it’s your right to take a step back and wait a bit longer.

Communicate: Though some people may recommend disclosing an experience of sexual assault to a partner, going into detail may be upsetting for some. Sexual assault can be a difficult thing to talk about, and at no point should you feel obligated to say what happened. Though it’s important to have someone you can trust about sharing this with, that person can be anyone from a partner, a peer or a counsellor. If you want to communicate your experience with a partner but you're not sure how, you can write it out, saying that you aren’t comfortable talking about it right now. Like pacing, communicating with a partner depends on the individual’s comfort.

Identify triggers: Sometimes, things can trigger feelings about the assault. Triggers can occur from various factors and could happen during physical contact with another person. Though they’re not pleasant, it’s completely normal and nothing to apologize for. Before engaging in sexual activity, you can tell your partner certain things that may remind you of the assault (for example, touching a specific area of the body) so they know what to avoid. You can also have a ‘safe word’: when it’s said, all sexual activity and touching immediately stops (aim for something more definite than "no", but something easy to remember - "red" is a standard choice for many). Afterwards, you can debrief about what happened with a trusted individual. Not only does this help figuring out what possible triggers are, it is a way for others to understand part of what you are going through.

A final note is that sexual assault is not sex - sexual assault is about power and control. Sex is consensual and enjoyable. Though it may be at times hard to differentiate between the two, with time it becomes easier to see them as separate entities. It’s completely possible to have a happy and fulfilling sex life, but you just need to be patient and understanding of yourself.

For more information about sex after sexual assault:

The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse - Wendy Maltz
The Sexual Assault Centre Kingston
Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres

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