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Sex after sexual trauma

Sexual abuse and trauma impacts on people of all ages, genders, sexualities and ethnicities. Although we as a society are starting to talk about it more widely there are very limited conversations regarding how sexual abuse / trauma impacts on peoples relationship with sex. I believe that this conversation is extremely important as for many people, sex (either solo or with a partner / multiple partners) is an important part of who they are and who they want to be.


Why is sex important


There are many reasons why we as humans want to have sex and although this isn't an exhaustive list, some suggestions might be:


  • Because it's fun / pleasurable

  • To feel connected to our partners

  • Because we enjoy it

  • As part of a job / to get paid

  • To try to conceive


Sex after trauma


Sexual trauma can really mess up how we feel about sex. It can impact on how we think and feel about our bodies and how we think and feel about other people. It can make us scared of sex and all that it entails. Unprocessed sexual trauma can result in traumatic memories being triggered by anything that reminds us of sex.


Trauma of any kind triggers what Compassion Focused Therapy ( e.g.Paul Gilbert 2009) refers to as our "Threat System". This is the part of the brain that is wired for survival and involves Fight, Flight, Freeze (and also the fawn and flop) responses.


Sexual trauma can lead to any sexual contact (or anything that is related to the trauma eg smells, tastes, sounds, environments, people) kicking off our threat system so putting us into a state of fight, flight etc. It's pretty hard to want to have sex, to have safe and consensual sex and to enjoy sex when we are functioning in this threat system space.


Often after sexual trauma people will avoid sex, engage in sex under the influence of drugs / alcohol or continue to have sex even though it triggers them / they don't really want it. These ways of coping are completely understandable however they reinforce to the body and brain that sex is bad / scary / dangerous / painful etc and also potentially re-traumatise.


Moving forward


There are many ways of working through sexual trauma and working towards having a healthy and happy relationship with sex that works for you. The most important part is to find a therapist and an approach that works for you as there is no one size fits all approach.


I use an integrative approach which incorporates the psychological therapies that I feel are really useful in issues relating to sexual trauma and sex. These include:


EMDR therapy to process traumatic memories and to work on future anxieties

Compassion Focused Therapy to reduce shame and self criticism and increase self compassion

DBT to instill coping strategies for when trauma is close to the surface and easily triggered

Schema therapy to heal child parts, particularly when trauma has occurred in younger years


I also offer a short ( 7 session) self help course focused on sex after sexual trauma which offers a place to reflective and develop some basic skills in managing the issues that arise from sexual trauma. If you are interested in finding out more about this, please email me.


Therapy for partners and couples


I find in my work that supporting partners around sex and relationships is also important as is couples work where relevant. Partners of those who have experienced sexual trauma can experience many different emotions around their own thoughts and feelings about sex so providing a safe space to explore this outside of the couple can be really beneficial.


Sexual trauma is often life changing and devastating however you don't have to suffer alone. There is help out there. If one type of therapy doesn't work for you please know that sometimes the timing is slightly wrong, sometimes it's not the right therapist for you and sometimes it's not the right therapy. Sometimes all 3! There are so many different ways to address your trauma in a way that works for you, please just make sure you do your research and make sure that the person or people you choose to help you are appropriately trained / qualified / experienced.



Dr Nichola Marchant is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Sex Therapist based in Derbyshire and working predominantly online. She has over 20 years of experience in working with issues relating to trauma and sexual trauma in particular. Dr Marchant has (and continues to) engage in further training on issues relating to trauma and sex to ensure that she is able to provide the best service to the people she works with. Working from a sex positive and kink friendly perspective, she provides a safe, non-judgemental space where no topic is off limits but where there is no pressure to discuss topics unless you are comfortable .


#traumatherapy #traumarecovery #sextherapy #sextherapist #sexualtrauma #sexualabuse #supportforpartners #EMDR #CompassionFocusedTherapy #Schematherapy #DBT #sexaftersexualtrauma #drnicholamarchant #selfhelp #RubyPsychologicalServices





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