Having healthy intimacy and sex after a toxic/abusive relationship is not only complicated and multi-layered, it’s stigmatized, shamed, and poorly supported. To be blunt – there are many resources around how to get out of an abusive relationship. It is a different kind of Easter egg hunt to find resources that guide, teach, and empower women about how abusive relationships may have impacted their sexuality, sexual identity, and most importantly, what to do about it. That being said, we want to make some things known, bring it into the light – and let you know you are NOT alone.
We Want You to Know...
You’re Typical (In the Best Way Possible) First and foremost, experiencing emotional barriers, blockers, shutdowns, anxiety, and general confusion when attempting to be intimate after a toxic/abusive relationship is TYPICAL. Let me repeat that for the ladies in the back: What you are experiencing is an appropriate response to trauma!
These experiences may look like flashbacks to past events, low libido, difficulty achieving pleasure and/or orgasm, difficulty lubricating, avoidance of engaging in certain intimate acts, or avoidance of being touched or touching another. It may also look like the opposite, such as engaging in sexual acts outside of your boundaries or what is healthy for you.
Deep Breathing Isn’t a Fad When we feel stressed, anxious, or tense our brains release cortisol AKA the stress hormone. Cortisol brings on rapid, shallow breathing, quickened heart rate, high blood pressure, and feelings of being hyperalert to potential danger. In other words, it puts us in a place of fight, flight, or freeze. Deep breathing combats this stress response by pushing more oxygen into your bloodstream & slowing your heart rate down. Then these magic hormones called endorphins are released, which produce the “feel good” feelings and relax our muscles (which is the way we want to feel when we are playing footsies with a potential partner). So if you’re feeling tense, slow down, communicate to your partner what you need – and breathe deep.
Learn From the Best (YOU!) Trauma isn’t the only thing that may change the way we experience self-pleasure and intimacy. Lots of other factors, age, menstruation journey, childbirth, hormone imbalances, and vulva structure to name a few, can also impact how we feel about our bodies. And of course, how we feel about our bodies is often reflected in how comfortable we are with intimacy with a partner. So how do we deal with these changes? We sit down, take pause, and become the best students of OURSELVES. Yes. We are saying listen to your body. Study it (ALL of it). Get curious about what’s going on and how to enjoy where you are instead of wishing it were different. For added support, here are some great resources to get you started...
Come as You Are - Emily Nagoski
Sex For One: The Joy of Self Loving- Betty Dodson
The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love - Sonya Renee Taylor
We can’t teach ourselves what we don’t know. Luckily, we can learn. What you have been through may have impacted you – but it doesn’t define you or your body.