Overcoming Sexual Trauma

Sexual violence is a violation of our right to make choices about our bodies, and can change our relationship to our own sexuality.

It is normal to have a range of symptoms after trauma. Common ones include:

  • Avoiding sex or approaching it as an obligation
  • Lack of desire, difficulty becoming aroused or feeling sensations
  • Feeling distant, alienated, fearful, angry or disgusted by touch
  • Experiencing genital pain, and erectile, ejaculatory or orgasmic difficulties
  • Engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors
  • Being triggered by particular kinds of touch, words, or scenarios

The Sexual Abuse Mindset

Many of these effects are a result of a mindset of false beliefs that develop when the assault or abuse is confused with sex. While sexual activity was a part of the assault or abuse, it was not healthy sex because it was not consensual, and the perpetrator used sexual activity to gain power over you.

Many people choose not to report sexual assault, or not see a mental health professional to process the experience. While these are understandable choices, they do not relieve psychological distress long-term. All unfinished psychological business eventually catches up with us.

I highly suggest people seek treatment as soon as possible. Suffering and distress are substantially reduced with early treatment, which can also help prevent the use of illicit substances, suicidal ideation, and difficulty functioning at work, school, and home.


There are three highly effective, trauma-focused treatments: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged-Exposure Therapy (PE), and Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). Each of these is different, but helps the individual to work through traumatic experience(s) and move forward in their life.

Trauma-focused therapy can:

  • Calm and soothe you
  • Increase your access to inner strengths and outside resources
  • Help you process memories
  • Challenge you to reconnect with people and activities you have avoided
  • Make sense of what happened and how it has affected you
  • Increase a personal sense of confidence and competence
  • Enhance relationships and increase positive and stable moods
  • Reduce or eliminate symptoms of PTSD

After experiencing sexual violence, you may want to have sex as before, only in certain ways, or not at all. When you have sex, it should be because you choose to, not because you feel you should.

Waiting to return to having sex doesn’t mean missing out on intimacy. There are many other ways to be intimate and to experience pleasure.

The Healing Process

Step by step, you can begin connecting with your body again. First, notice physical sensations, needs and desires. When you are hungry, eat foods you love. When your body wants to move, do physical activities that give you pleasure. Second, think about what kinds of touch feel good, bad, or trigger a negative response. Start being more aware of touch: how shower water feels on your skin, what it feels like to hug or hold hands. Don’t think of any of this as sexual yet.

From here, you could start to explore erotic materials you enjoy. If you are ready, masturbate. Talk with your partner about your abuse experiences and what that might mean for intimacy. A good partner will respect your boundaries, desires, and discomforts.

Trauma is complicated and can take time and effort to heal. A therapist trained to treat sexual trauma will help you process what you’re experiencing and offer vital support as you heal.