Warning: This post mentions sexual assault and trauma.

Experiencing sexual trauma at any age is a terrifying and life-changing event with lasting effects. Studies show that 45% of women and 65% of men who go through sexual trauma develop PTSD, impacting their ability to trust and feel safe with others.

A recent story on Reddit highlighted a common issue – dealing with sexual trauma can make it hard to enjoy intimacy in a relationship. After reading many similar comments, it’s clear this is a widespread struggle.

I reached out to sex and relationship therapist Cyndi Darnell to learn how people can heal from sexual trauma.

“Survivors of sexual trauma are not a monolith,” Cyndi explained. “The effects manifest differently for each person. For those whose relationships are impacted, it can show up in various ways.”

“One of the most common effects is a sense of disembodiment,” she continued. “This can show up as an inability to stay present, a lack of feeling, or numbness in the body, skin, and genitals.”

According to Cyndi, coping responses like this are common after sexual trauma. “Survivors may find it hard to feel pleasure, or compulsively seek sex they don’t want with unsafe people. They may feel compelled to do sexual things that make them uncomfortable,” she explained.

For those who thought they healed but still struggle, Cyndi suggests more therapy. “Go back to talk therapy or somatic therapy to process what happened. These can be very effective ways to address residual trauma,” she said.

According to Cyndi, “The degree trauma affects you and how it manifests is unique for each person. It could impact emotional connections, pleasure, or lead to compulsive behaviors that feel gratifying in the moment but cause problems later. Finding therapists or others you can process this with is crucial.”

She suggests opening up to your partner at a calm time: “Hopefully you have an empathetic partner. Choose a moment not during sex to say something like ‘I want to share something big that’s hard to talk about. Are you open to hearing about my sexual history and why I sometimes struggle with it?'”

“Healing from trauma takes time and grace,” Cyndi emphasized. “Don’t rush into pleasure without processing emotions first. It’s worth investing in yourself. You are not alone, and this was not your fault.”

If you or someone you know has suffered sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. This hotline will connect you with the nearest service provider. You can also find local support centers through this link.

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