How I went from sexual trauma to the best sex of my life

by

I saw a tweet this morning about how depression and anxiety can be so difficult to describe and explain because the chemicals correlated to depressive episodes actually impact the part of the brain that allows us to describes and explains stuff. Talk about a catch-22.

Recently I had started reading a book about PTSD called “The Body Keeps the Score” and it goes into extreme detail behind the workings of the brain and the neuroscience of post traumatic stress disorder. Scientists are able to accurately pinpoint what areas of the brain are stimulated and what areas shut off during an episode or while experiencing a trigger. It is fascinating to me.  

The reason I keep turning this topic over in my head is because a lot of times my husband, who is very practical and tactical and logical, asks to know exactly what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it when I am having a down day and I usually find that I cannot offer any sort of helpful response. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I just simply can’t.

Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about this?

To find out that this is not only normal, but can be scientifically verified, feels like some sort of a validation. I deeply sighed and said thank you, when I read this. And then I asked the question I’ve asked a thousand time before as I navigate these roads of mental health – why doesn’t anyone ever talk about this? Why don’t we have better language, better awareness, better skills for sharing this?

So here I am, sharing, talking and trying to raise awareness. Not just for myself, but for all of you who are on this path with me. I’m about to get real honest here, and I do plan on expanding on some of the below topics in separate blogs, but a year ago I was diagnosed with chronic depression (which I knew) and PTSD (which I did not know).

Some of the things described to me regarding the PTSD diagnosis made sense, but I still really had a difficult time identifying with that label. Everything I knew about PTSD was about people that suffered vivid, paralyzing flashbacks, there was a blur between what happened then and what is happening now, auditory triggers and lots of things that I simply had never experienced. Then I found out there is a whole other side of PTSD, the side where you go numb. Your brain literally shuts off emotional and physiological responses or thoughts or memories regarding a certain thing.

That’s me.

It took me years to even understand what happened to me

You see, I was raped when I was younger. It took me years to even realize and come to terms with what I had experienced had actually been rape. It took me even longer to realize that I had unhealthy and harmful sexual relationships with almost every partner I had been with.

This all came to light because I started putting in the work of healing and I am now married to a loving, kind, supportive and wonderful partner. I knew something wasn’t right with our sex life. It became very clear to me that my brain did not associate sex to love. It was excruciatingly frustrating to be so in love with someone and have such an ideal marriage, but not be able to have a healthy sex life.

I was tired of robbing myself of that joy of intimacy and I certainly didn’t want to deny my husband this part of our marriage. I also didn’t want to “act” with him. It is easy for me to slip into a character and perform the acts of lovemaking, but nothing else in our marriage is ingenuine or based on falsehoods, and I didn’t want this to be either. So I got to work. It has been hard and astonishingly slow and like with many traumas, there are many setbacks you have to work through.

I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I just went numb.

This is very difficult for me to talk about, but the truth is that after I met and fell in love with my husband, I just stopped thinking about sex. I didn’t fanaticize about it, I didn’t ever want it and when we did have sex I thought about non-sexual things like winning an Oscar. My brain just couldn’t go there – not with a good person. Not when love was supposed to be involved. Not if I was going to feel safe. I had t gotten really good at pretending and acting my way through it, but I felt that I and my husband both deserved so much more.

I read several books that gave practical exercises to try with your partner and some with yourself and we did every single one, but I realized that these were designed specifically for people who struggled with intimacy. There are those that don’t even like being touched or gazed at lovingly. This was not a challenge for Pat and I.

In fact, it seemed like my brain drew a hard line somewhere in the sand. Touch, intimacy, caressing, that was all fine, but as soon as an orgasm became the goal and for me particularly, as soon as my breasts were touched, the switch flipped and my mind and heart would go dark. If they didn’t go dark, I’d get angry. Really angry. I’d feel possessive and protective of my body, as if my husband was stealing something from me, taking something precious that was mine.

How do you re-train the brain to think positively about sex after trauma?

So the question became, how do we cross that line together and how do I give my brain new associations, new positive thoughts about sex? There are many successful and powerful options out there like tapping therapy and this was a great starting point for me, but here are a couple more unusual discoveries that we made.

Laughing

Talking and laughing during sex took a lot of pressure and pre-determined expectations off. It took something that my brain thought was very a serious issue and turned it into playtime. Having the freedom to be silly with one another was crucial to evolving my thought patterns.

Communication

I can tell my husband anything. And I do mean anything. When we are being intimate, if I need to stop or if I get emotional or scared or if I have a weird memory pop in my head, I tell him and he holds me. I don’t hold it in. I do not force myself to go on. I share the experience with him and he meets me exactly where I am. This was extremely uncomfortable at first, but became such a vital component to not only my healing, but his understanding of me and where I’m coming from.

 

Affirmations

I use these as a way to plant a narrative in my head to counter programmed or default thoughts. I started saying things out lout to myself like, “Sex is good and pure. Sex with my husband is safe. Sex is a gift from god.” I should mention, that the reason my sexual trauma is so complex is because there is also religious trauma and medical trauma involved in my personal history. Basically, I’m a triple threat. And everything starts with the root of thought. Finding ways to replace old, unhealthy thoughts that do not serve me or my goals, is key to building a foundation for the new sex life I knew I wanted to experience.

Music

This one was happened upon by accident. Normally when we make love we put on Bossanova music or something equivalent to elevator music. One day, my husband just left on a playlist that I had made him listen to earlier and Eminem came on. I don’t even listen to rap normally or like it, but there was an energy to his voice, a passion that awakened something in my brain. For the first time I felt emotional responses happening within me that I thought died and were lost in the darkness years ago. I felt powerful, confident, unleashed and I was so excited I almost wrote Eminem a letter!

Ironically enough, I listened to an episode of The Spark podcast on the Calm App with Beth Behrs just days after discovering this for myself and found out she has a podcast called Harmonics with Beth Behrs. It’s all about how she uses music as almost a form of therapy to help her process anxiety and depression. So it confirmed to me that there really is something to this.

We Rose Up Slowly by Roy Lichtensteinsettings. 

I’m talking about this because no one talked to me about it

Is our sex life now perfect? No, it is not. But it is waaaaaayyyyy better. We have really great sex now and I am able to enjoy it and enjoy myself. We are still working on spontaneity, for example, but I know it will come in time.

For the first time in my life, I have hope and confidence that my sex life can be totally healthy and fulfilling and that is not something I was able to say a few years ago. I want to talk about this because no one talked to me about it. I want to talk about this because I believe it is really important we do something different in how we educate young girls about their bodies and about their rights and experiences.

I want to talk about it because I wish someone had talked to me about it. I wish someone had instilled in me that it is absolutely within my power to say no and to walk away. I wish someone had told me that it isn’t true that you’ll go to hell of you have sex or that sex is only for the man or to have babies.

 

I want to talk about it because it needs to be talked about

I was so heartened by my healing experience that at one time I debated becoming a sex therapist. In truth, I don’t know that I want to get clinical, I just want to get honest and real and freaking share what this has meant for not just my life, but the lives of women all over the world.

My name is Melissa. I am a survivor of rape. I am a survivor of sexual trauma. I have a healthy sex life now and it was really hard to get here, but I got here and I want to talk about it so that you don’t have to go through what I did alone or go through it at all.

Written by Melissa Farley

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