Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
Do you have a hunch that some past trauma is impacting your ability to have connected and fulfilling sex?You’re not alone! No matter how recent or long ago you experienced a trauma, until it is fully processed you may experience it impacting many areas of your life, and particular with your sex life.Trauma is, unfortunately, one thing that's very hard to get past without professional help. Getting past trauma, though, can allow you to take your sex life back or even find it in the first place. There are many different types of trauma but for the purposes of this blog post I will be focusing on sexual trauma.
What is Trauma?
There's a myth that only soldiers fighting in a war can experience trauma, and especially that only soldiers can be diagnosed with PTSD.
The first thing I want to be very clear on is that you, and no one else, get to determine if events in your life have been traumatic. I see so many people further hurt after traumatic experiences due to people in their lives, even close friends and family, telling them that their experiences, "weren't that bad" or "at least it didn't go farther" or "get over it." If something was traumatic for you, then no one gets to tell you otherwise.
I define trauma as any experience, or persistent experiences, that leave us with an ingrained negative belief about ourselves. Coming from sexual trauma this might sound like, "I'm worthless," "I'm not good enough," "I am weak/powerless," or "I should have known better," to name a few. These negative beliefs attach themselves to traumatic experiences and don't go away until those traumatic experiences are processed in a healthy way. This might be six months or fifty years.
When it comes to trauma, the old adage, "Time heals all wounds" is simply not true. Due to chemicals released in the brain and circumstances following trauma, traumatic memories do not get processed and filed away like normal memories. This means that they float around on the surface and are easily triggered by day to day events or in our specific case, sexual intimacy. So, let's take a look at how trauma can impact sex.
Trauma Wounds Can Block Healthy Sexuality
The short answer is that trauma impacts sex in a myriad of ways. Let's break it down and look at some of the primary ones. Again, if it feels like any of this is happening to you, there might be trauma involved.
Trauma impacts everyone differently but two common responses to sexual trauma are (1) complete avoidance of sex, or overwhelming negative about yourself or the act itself during sex, and (2) Using sex as a primary interaction or way of connecting with people.
If we look at these from our perspective of negative beliefs, it's easy to understand where these reactions are coming from. The first derives from a powerful feeling of being unsafe. Sex is a supremely vulnerable act, and when your safety is taken away it feels unthinkable to engage in it. Even with these feelings, some people feel they have a responsibility or expectation to be sexual with their partners. This leads to intense negative feelings during sex and can lead to dissociation. This can also lead to negative feelings about a partner who is doing the real or perceived pushing of expectation. On a less intense level, someone might avoid sex because they feel like they're not good enough to be wanted by their partner, wouldn't know what to do or be good at it, or feel like they're gross, making it extremely hard to feel sexy and aroused. This can even make any physical affection with a partner feel scary because it might lead to or create pressure for sex.
At the other end of the spectrum, some people respond to sexual trauma with highly increased and sometimes risky sexual interaction. While this may be the other end of the spectrum in terms of action, the action is still being driven by negative beliefs about self. In this case, it likely sounds like, "I'm only valued for my body." We all need to feel valued, so this puts people in a difficult spot.
Taking Your Life Back With EMDR Therapy
There are several trauma therapies out there, but the most efficacious and evidenced based practice is EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR uses eye movements to activate our brain's natural processing systems work through trauma in the safe environment of a therapy session. EMDR was originally developed using eye movements (hence the name), but these days therapists can also use sounds and physical stimulation to create the same effect. It's all up to your preference. What this bi-lateral stimulation does is connect up your trauma memories to the processing part of your brain, allowing you to actively process trauma and finally move past it. The amazing thing about EMDR is that once you've gotten through processing, it's done.
Memories don't unprocess themselves. Once you're through processing, you'll work with your therapist to install new positive beliefs about yourself in place of the negative ones, and plan for how you might deal with triggering situations in the future so you can move forward in life feeling confident that you can take back your sex life, or just your life in general!
These positive beliefs might sound like:
I have many clients contact me during our COVID-19 lockdown stating that they really want to do EMDR but thought that they would be unable to, due to therapists operating through telehealth. I can say that our therapists are happy to engage in electronic EMDR with you and technology has provided several ways to make that happen. If working through your trauma and taking back your sex life sounds like a positive, there's no better time than the present!
Considering EMDR for Sexual Trauma Therapy in Plymouth, MN?
EMDR for sexual trauma might be a good fit for you. Our sex therapists want to help you address sexual concerns here in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state with online therapy in Minnesota. Get started by following these simple steps:
Other Mental Health Services in Minnesota
In addition to sex therapy, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include couples therapy & marriage counseling, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled sex therapist! Your sex life can be amazing. Sex therapy can be a part of that process for you.