Trigger warning: abusive relationships
It was a normal life. Lots of ups and downs when she was a kid, but nothing really out of the ordinary. Of course, there were the messages from our culture that tell women we’re not good enough and that we should keep stuff to ourselves. And people in her family didn’t talk openly about s e x, but that wasn’t different. She learned about s e x from her older sister. And her mom had a book about human anatomy on the top shelf of the bookcase in the den. When her friends came over for a slumber party someone always climbed up and got it so that they could all look at the pictures. They found a flashlight and scrambled under a sleeping bag. It was stuffy and crowded as they tried to catch a look.
She grew up feeling that s e x was a mysterious thing - both enticing and dangerous. Like the way she felt when her mom talked about how her neighbor had “ruptured her spleen” when she fell off a horse. She knew it was serious but didn’t have any idea why. Sounded embarrassing so she never asked questions. Just scary and unknown.
As she grew up, she became more aware of s e x but not more comfortable. She learned the hard way what guys wanted - at parties in basements with the same friends. There was the time her Boyfriend-Of-The-Week pressured her into going down on him in the laundry room. Within an instant, he came in her mouth. Later, someone gave her an apple to take the taste away.. Was the act consensual? Not really. But consent wasn’t part of her vocabulary back then.
What she did know was that it was better to go with the flow in every part of her life. Her family was fine but it felt like she was pretty much invisible. She never felt really seen or listened to.
When she got to college, there were lovers. I guess that’s what you’d call them. Guys. People who wanted some of that. Sadly, s e x was never what she’d imagined - a loving connection. Instead, her relationships had an abusive quality to them. They weren’t about her authentic pleasure and true consent. Getting their needs met was the priority. Was it rape? Maybe not technically. Most of the time, she’d said some kind of “yes”. More like she didn’t deny them. Of course, she never called them out when she felt abused. They liked it, which was okay enough. Not liking it was her fault, wasn't it? She’d become a pleaser in the bedroom and in her life. Worked better that way.
And now 10 years later, with a son and a marriage to a great man who taught third graders for a living, she was done with all that. She couldn’t fake it anymore, which was good. Sometimes the ghosts of the past made their visits. The way she’d allowed herself to be used. The way she'd pretended to enjoy it even when she was barely in her body. The faces and sounds of men who wanted to think she was so. turned. on. Their abuse. Her self betrayal. So true for her. So true for many women.
Now, she didn’t have to do that anymore. He loved her even when she didn’t give him s e x. What a relief - like a whole body exhale.
She did her healing work which was amazing - individual therapy, guided plant medicine experiences, acupuncture, even past life regression and hypnosis. She meditated and did sound healing.
She wanted to connect with her husband. She loved him. But the ghosts of times past kept circling, robbing them both of the pleasure they desired and deserved.
I talked about this on my Facebook Live this week. You can listen (or re-listen) to the recording here: Feeling traumatized about former sexual experiences (in big and little ways) is an epidemic in our society.
As hard as it is to accept, when you (or your partner) has a history of abusive relationships or significant sexual assault (and who doesn’t on some level), it’s going to impact your current intimate life. No matter how much you hate that (and I get you that it’s so unfair this stuff has happened) it’s pretty much guaranteed. How you approach this as a partner will determine if things get better for both of you, or if you continue to feel disconnected.
Here are 4 things you can do to make it better starting right now if you’re the partner of someone who’s been hurt in the past:
3:34 TIP #1: Don’t make it about you
I know it’s difficult to hear about bad experiences that your partner may have had in the past. Those experiences might be about other people or they may be about you. Whatever’s happened is your partner’s to process. If it’s about you, then you have amends to make, but generally it’s their thing - not yours. Your job is to listen to them and to be compassionate. That’s all.
5:39 TIP #2 Realize the impact
You obviously can’t actually feel what your partner is feeling, but make your best effort to believe them when they tell you how they feel. They may want to tell you about how their body feels, how they feel sexually and emotionally - even energetically. Do your best to empathize with the experience.
6:23 TIP #3 Take your time
Don’t rush the process of hearing them. It’s likely to take many days, weeks, months or even years for your partner to start letting go of the layers of hurt, personal pain and even shame that they feel. When you rush them into intimacy (or conversation) that feels good to you but not to them, you’re actually making things worse for both of you.
7:13 TIP #4 Help your partner focus on sensation
Focusing on the 5 senses in a triggered moment is the best first thing to do. Encourage them to connect to their breath and to open their eyes and notice something pleasurable to them that’s in the room. Encourage them to stroke their palm or forearm. By being in the moment with awareness of sensation right now, they’ll be more present and less likely to shut down. This’ll help you both get past the past - together.
Use these 4 simple tips to help your person feel better about things that trigger them from the past.
Nice and easy. You got this.
PS: Want some support communicating about this stuff? Go get The Intimacy Workshop. It’s a very simple online course that’s designed to help you talk about the good, the bad (and the sexy) without shame. Only $49. Here’s the link: https://www.howtofixmysexlife.com/workshop.html