In its pure undamaged form, sexuality is one of our most basic expressions of joy, creativity and love. In its sinister form however, sexuality is used in the service of addiction or power. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four women and one in six men will be victims of sexual abuse by the time they are eighteen … so it is no surprise that many of us have a fraught or ambivalent relationship with the subject.
The great news is that as a culture we are coming into a new consciousness about the pervasiveness of trauma and the damage it causes to our need for love and intimacy — our inalienable rights as human beings. With a fearless, but extremely gentle look at how trauma affects us, and considerable help from people who understand what it does to the body, mind, and spirit, healing and true connection with our selves and others is possible.
One of the more destructive aspects of trauma is that it drives us from our bodies, our only true home. In some situations, the pain and injury experienced can be so brutal that the victim is forced into a black out. However in some instances, it is not uncommon to experience pleasure, which then forges an almost indelible connection between sex, domination and pain in the psyche. This can cause just as much devastation to the survivor and how s/he relates to herself and the world.
To make sense of the senseless, we can blame ourselves for the abuse. We may dissociate or “check out” in any situation that reminds us of the trauma. We believe we were too “sexy,” or “enticing,” and come to hate our bodies, making ourselves overweight or under weight, or wear clothes many sizes too large for our frames. Or, we can believe that we are not good for anything but sex, and use our sexuality as a means to get validation or attention, presenting a “hyper-sexualized” image. We can be sexually anorexic or compulsive and swing from one state to the other. In extreme cases of abuse, we can be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, or multiple personality disorder. In all cases, our sexuality is a reaction to the trauma, rather than an expression of our selves or of love.
In essence, unless we work through these traumas, the body and mind reacts to “triggers” as if the trauma is still happening, and we are hideously locked in the past.
If you are trying to believe what your body and emotions are trying to tell you, the book, The Courage to Heal, is an invaluable resource in grounding yourself before you venture out for real human help. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network has a 24-hour help line as well as listings of local counseling centers. If you have a drug or alcohol addiction that is preventing you from dealing with these issues, Alcoholics Anonymous has chapters in every major city. 12-step programs like Survivors of Incest Anonymous can also be an invaluable tool in taking a spiritual approach to healing and in helping you find local survivors who are also walking your path.
Books like The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide to Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Wendy Maltz, and Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma by Staci Haines, also offer solutions on how to relearn touch, deal with flashbacks, create physical boundaries, and have your needs met.
In a message of hope to victims everywhere, Staci stated in an interview, “One has to risk being trusting again — not as a good idea, but as a real act of vulnerability. A survivor has to re-learn skills that trauma destroys, like recognizing what they need, allowing a full range of sensations and emotions, boundaries, consent — the ability to say yes, no and maybe — and combining intimacy with sex…I find survivors of sexual trauma, of trauma, really, who are engaged in healing some of the most courageous people I know. “