Posted December 20, 2020 by Niki Davis
How to Thoughtfully Get Sexual with a Trauma Survivor
About the author
Folks within the LGBTQI community experience a high rate of sexual trauma. As a result, chances are pretty good that at some point in your dating and sex life you will come in close contact with someone who has survived sexual violence, because let’s face it, survivors want to get down too. How do you engage with those that have experienced trauma in a conscious and humane way?
Trauma is the body’s normal response to an abnormal experience. As a result, trauma may show up differently in each survivor. Regardless, there are some fairly universal ways to respectfully engage with survivors of sexual violence.
Here are some tips:
Don’t push them to share.
There may be a moment when you can tell your partner has been triggered by something. Your natural inclination may be to ask “what happened to you?” Although, I’m sure your intentions are good, asking someone about their trauma can feel very confrontational. Instead, let them know you are open to talking when/if they are ready, but make sure to not be pushy. There’s a fair chance they haven’t yet spoken to anybody about their experience, so they may not feel comfortable disclosing to a newer person about it for a while, if at all.
Let them call the shots
When you are sexually engaging with a survivor, let them take the lead in regards to how fast things will go. At least in the beginning, wait for them to initiate sexy times and use verbal consent to be sure that they are enjoying what is going down. Also, be very clear that you are happy to stop at any time, so they don’t feel any pressure.
Interestingly, it is not uncommon for survivors to want to engage in power play, where in some cases they want to let go of power in a consensual and safe way. If you are open to this, it can be a very healing way for them to rewrite their story, but this time with control. There is nothing inherently unhealthy about engaging in power play with a survivor of violence, although beware that for some survivors it may bring up all the feels.
Get Educated and Make no Assumptions
Getting informed about trauma is great. I highly suggest the book The Body Keeps the Score if you are looking to better understand the body’s response to trauma. But no matter how informed you get, you have to remember that each survivor is an expert in their own experience. As everybody experiences trauma differently, we all have unique triggers that aren’t necessarily easy to predict. My friend who is a survivor doesn’t like sex from behind because her assailant approached her from behind. This is pretty straightforward. However, I know another trauma survivor who is triggered by a particular type of deodorant and aqua-marine colored jackets. These are things that are almost impossible to predict without discussing with a partner. When engaging with a trauma survivor I highly suggest that you don’t make any assumptions about what will trigger them. Instead, you can also say to a new partner, regardless of if they have disclosed their history to you, “how can we create an environment that is most comfortable for you?” If they tell you not to wear a certain blue jacket around them, just go with it!
We live in a modern world where we are not trained to take things slow and be patient. When you are engaging with a partner who is currently processing trauma, you may have to wait a bit to get the sex, love or relationship that you want. Of course, it’s your prerogative if you are up for waiting while they work on healing. However, I find most good things in life require some patience!
It is rare that somebody clearly reveals to you that they are processing a trauma before sexually engaging. Unfortunately, we live in a world where many LGBTQI folks and women have experienced sexual trauma. I find the most thoughtful way to engage with someone new is to assume that they might be processing trauma. As a result, I suggest with any new partner work on creating a safe space and be on the lookout for any verbal or non-verbal cue that they might be uncomfortable. If you notice anything, immediately stop and check in. By being informed about trauma, you can help make the world feel a little safer and more comfortable for survivors!