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Sexual Intimacy After Sexual Assault or Sexual Abuse - The HealthySex Trust Contract

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The HealthySex Trust Contract4

  • It's okay to say no to sex at ANY TIME.
  • It's okay to ask for what we want sexually, without being teased or shamed for it.
  • We don't ever have to do anything we don't want to do sexually.
  • We will take a break or stop sexual activity whenever either of us requests it.
  • It's okay to say how we are feeling or what we are needing at ANY TIME.
  • We agree to be responsive to each other's needs for improving physical comfort.
  • What we do sexually is private and not to be discussed with others outside our relationship unless we give permission to discuss it.
  • We are ultimately responsible for our own sexual fulfillment and orgasm.
  • Our sexual thoughts and fantasies are our own and we don't have to share them with each other unless we want to reveal them.
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  • We don't have to disclose the details of a previous sexual relationship unless that information is important to our present partner's physical health or safety.
  • We can initiate or decline sex without incurring a negative reaction from our partner.
  • We each agree to be sexually faithful unless we have a clear, prior understanding that it's okay to have sex outside the relationship (this includes virtual sex, such as phone or internet sex).
  • We will support each other in minimizing risk and using protection to decrease the possibility of disease and/or unwanted pregnancy.
  • We will notify each other immediately if we have or suspect we have a sexually transmitted infection.
  • We will support each other in handling any negative consequences that may result from our sexual interactions.

Once you and your partner have agreed on your complete set of guidelines in your sexual relationship, you should also discuss what the potential consequences will be for breaking one of the guidelines.

Automatic Reactions to Touch

Even once you have set up guidelines to make sexual activity feel safer for you, you may experience automatic reactions to touch, such as a flashback, a panic attack, a sense of sadness, a sense of fear, dissociation, nausea, pain, or freezing. These reactions are unwanted and upsetting to both you and your partner, and fortunately, with time and healing they will minimize in frequency and severity.

In order to gain control of your body and mind during an automatic reaction, you want to ensure that you stop all sexual activity. Take time to make yourself aware of and acknowledge that you are having an automatic reaction. Try to consider what triggered it.

Once you have made yourself aware that you are experiencing an automatic reaction, take some time to calm yourself and make yourself feel safe again. Pay attention to your breathing, and try to take slow, deep breaths.

Take some time to bring your mind and body back to the present by reorienting yourself in your surroundings. Remind yourself that you are no longer living the sexual assault or abuse. Using your different senses, make yourself aware of your current environment. What do you see? What do you hear? Touch some of the objects around you to ground yourself to the present.

After you have overcome an automatic reaction, take some time to rest and recover. These reactions are overwhelming for both your body and mind. When you are ready, take some time to think about the trigger of your automatic reaction, and if there is some way you could alter the situation somehow so that the trigger does not happen or does not affect you in the same way. For example, perhaps changing the set up of the room would be helpful, or asking your partner not to do the activity that you believe may have set off your flashback. Also, if you are being triggered while being intimate with a partner, discuss with your partner what you would like her/him to do when you have an automatic reaction (e.g. stop what they are doing, hold you, talk to you, sit with you, etc.) Ask your partner to watch for signs that you are having an automatic reaction, and to stop sexual activity immediately when you have one.

Relearning Touch

Many survivors find that because of their sexual assault or abuse they experience sexual touch or certain sexual activities as negative and unpleasant. Through specific therapeutic exercises you can learn to enjoy and feel safe during sexual touch. There are exercises that you can do on your own, and also those that you can do with a partner. A series of relearning touch exercises are described in Chapter 10 of Wendy Maltz's book The Sexual Healing Journey.

If you are in a partnership at the time that you want to actively begin healing sexually, it is important that you work together. It is essential that you feel safe and comfortable with your partner, and that your partner always respects your limits and is prepared to follow your lead throughout this process. Partners who act in ways that mimic sexual assault or abuse, such as touching without consent, ignoring how you feel, behaving in impulsive or hurtful ways, will prevent you from healing. Building emotional trust and a sense of safety in a relationship are important prerequisites to enjoying sexual intimacy.