Paths to Healing Sexual Trauma and Sexual Shut Down

Trigger Warning: This article contains references about sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

I was 25 when I finally got into therapy for sexual assault. By then, I had been molested by my father, raped by a college classmate and then raped yet again by a coworker. For years I had tried to shrug it all off with the help of plenty of drugs and alcohol. But getting clean and sober yanked away the denial and that’s when the proverbial shit hit the fan.

Many nights, I cried until I thought I would vomit. And I always slept with the lights on, despite the fact that I burrowed under the covers like a gopher hiding from predators.

As I learned firsthand, healing from sexual assault is a rugged journey into the depths of despair, mixed with equal doses of self-loathing. I was angry, then grief-stricken, then too exhausted and numb to feel anything. But soon enough I would be seething with rage again. Then the tears would return and the whole emotional roller coaster would begin anew.

Gradually, I began to experience tiny flickers of the healing I had been promised in therapy. All the remembering and grieving and journaling finally moved me closer to something utterly unfamiliar to me: Me.

I began to love me. I didn’t really know what that looked like, let alone felt like, but I learned that self-care and healthy boundaries were a necessary component. So I did the work and waited for the miracle.

At first, the transformation showed up in ways that might not be all that impressive, to others who are less damaged than I was. The first fruits of my transformation, showed up in my laughter.

Because my father began molesting me when I was six years old, I didn’t know that my laughter was stopping at my tummy. But one day, I laughed all the way to my toes. For me, it was a novel and incredibly delicious experience. Likewise, my orgasms from self-pleasuring, began to bring me pleasures I had never dreamed possible.

I was like a flower, unfolding and reaching for the sun’s warmth and the promise of rebirth.

And it came. My miracle showed up. But it didn’t arrive because of hoping. I created my own miracle by refusing to quit when I felt like I might not be able to keep going. I kept going anyway.

If you are reading this, you may be more than curious. You might also have some hurt that is currently cheating you from the joys and pleasures that are your birthright. And if that’s you, I want you to know that you CAN move past the hurt and experience your own miracle.

If you want to heal from sexual trauma, therapy is essential.

I’ve tried a lot of different types of therapy and healing modalities. Over time, I’ve learned what really works. I highly recommend a combination of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and IFS (Internal Family Systems). Both are highly effective in treating trauma.

Standard talk therapy (known as CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is NOT as effective at treating trauma. But don’t take my word for it. You can read more about the best treatments for trauma in Bessel van der Kolk’s bestselling The Body Keeps the Score.

While I benefited immeasurably from EMDR and IFS, I didn’t stop there. I had to go a step further to truly reclaim and rebirth my sexual joy.

I needed tools for staying safe in the sexual arena. I know from experience, that even consensual sex, can lead to shutting down. I know this, because it used to happen to me quite frequently. I would be enjoying completely consensual sexual activity with someone of my choosing and then bam! Something my partner said or did, would suddenly knock me into my past and I would crumple like the wounded child still living inside of me.

That’s one reason I pursued certifications in sex education and sexology. Learning the ins and outs of sex, imbued me with sexual confidence. But I didn’t find that helpful when I was triggered around sexual trauma. I had to find my own way forward. And I did. I developed The Exquisite Partnership Formula for asserting a firm “no” while inviting even more heart connection. It has helped me to preserve romantic relationships that matter to me, while making sure I am fully present to my needs at all times.

I recently spoke about my healing journey from sexual trauma and anaorgasmia (being incapable of achieving an orgasm), with my friend and colleague, Heather Montgomery. Heather is also a sexual assault survivor and she shared how she reclaimed her sexual sovereignty, too. I think you will enjoy our conversation. You might even find it inspiring.

Here’s to healing what hurts. Here’s to the joy that is our shared birthright.

Listen to the podcast here.

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