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How Do I Approach Intimacy After Sexual Trauma?

If you’ve experienced sexual trauma, call The National Sexual Assault line at 1-800-656-4673 for support.

Sexual assault disrupts your life. This blog will offer self-help and therapeutic options to work through sexual trauma both individually or with your partner(s).

Sex and Assault

It’s essential to distinguish sex from assault. For this article, we’ll use these definitions:

  • Sex: Any consensual action performed to provide sexual pleasure
  • Assault: Non-consensual activities performed on a person to assert power

Sex and assault may involve the same systems, but they’re entirely different. The confusion between these two concepts can make it more difficult to heal from the trauma caused by assault.

Effects of Trauma

When you’ve gone through sexual assault, you can disconnect from your body. You might become physically aroused but feel mentally averse to any contact. The mind-body disconnection can create psychological distress. You might become frustrated with the way your body reacts to touch. You can experience panic or intrusive flashbacks. It can take time to even hold hands or cuddle.

Self-Help Tools for Intimacy After Sexual Trauma

Sexual trauma can disrupt your feelings of safety. It is important to reclaim your autonomy. The following tools help you control what kind of sex you’re having and when.


Masturbation can help you work through trauma’s after-effects. Create a relaxing ambiance. If you feel uncomfortable looking at yourself, get under a blanket. Clothing is optional. Let your hands gently explore your body. You don’t need to focus on your genitals, just whatever body part feels good. You can start, stop, pause, or pace yourself however you need. As you discover what you like, it can help you feel more empowered in your body.

Want-Will-Won’t List

After a sexual trauma, your desires in partnered sex might shift. You may not be okay with previously-alright activities. To best navigate these changes, you and your partner(s) can create want-will-won’t lists.

You create three columns. In the first column, put sexual activities you’re enthusiastic about doing. In the middle column, you write activities you wouldn’t actively pursue but would do if your partner(s) desired it. Your last column includes your hard nos. Compare your list with your partner(s)’ list to create a guideline for sex.

Safe Words

In partnered sex, you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your partner(s). You should use safe words to increase safety and trust. These words shouldn’t be phrases you regularly use in sexual scenarios. One word should mean good to go. One word should mean that limits are being reached. Another word should mean that all sex should cease immediately. Many people use the safewords “green,” “yellow,” and “red.”

Trauma Therapies

While self-help can move you forward in many ways, it’s important to address your trauma in therapy, too. Ideally, you’d engage in trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Therapists practicing these modalities can help decrease trauma symptoms. They can assist you in reprocessing sexual traumas, creating a healthy distance from the incident. You can learn skills to cope with your experience and move forward.

If you’ve experienced sexual trauma, you might feel frightened of initiating sexual intimacy with yourself or others. You might feel disconnected from your body. This article offered self-help tools for building intimacy: masturbation, want-will-won’t lists, and safe words. It also suggested trauma-focused therapy as an effective medical intervention. You deserve to feel confident in your sexuality. The Guest House can assist you in working through your trauma. We offer inpatient and outpatient programs to meet your needs. Please call (855) 483-7800.