Everybody has their own process when it comes to healing after trauma. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, some gentle suggestions on how to begin healing might help.
Reverend Pleasure breaks the healing process down into a couple parts: reclaiming your body, redefining pleasure, and sex after trauma. “This is a very body-centered approach,” she says. “This is not the only approach. But it's one that has worked for me.”
1. Reclaiming our bodies
After trauma, our bodies, our homes, have been violated and we may feel out of control. Reverend Pleasure lists ten ways we can begin the journey of reclaiming our bodies and finding agency again. One strategy is abstinence and celibacy as an “intentional practice that allows you to take your time to rediscover who you are, what it is you like, and how you feel.”
Another strategy she mentions is “hypersexual behavior” as a way to lean into the fact that it’s okay to have multiple sexual partners. You can do this in a safe way that makes you feel liberated. Masturbation can be a third strategy that allows you to explore yourself and “to figure out on your own what brings you pleasure.” Yoga, meditation, EMDR (eye movement, desentization, and reprocessing) therapy are other strategies she suggests. Whatever works best for you, is the right thing.
2. Redefining Pleasure
Redefining pleasure is the second phase toward healing. Reverend Pleasure says we can get into a “guilt cycle” post-assault about things “we find pleasurable that also happened to be the things that were done to us when we were assaulted.” Redefining pleasure can help us break this cycle. She suggests paying attention to what brings you pleasure outside of sexual activity, whether that’s petting your dog, finding a lipstick you love, just drinking water, etc. Redefining pleasure in this way can help you reclaim the feeling in general.
3. Sex After Trauma
The final phase James-Portis discusses is reintegrating pleasure into your sex life. Her partner comes on camera to help her talk about this and some strategies for partners of survivors, the emphasis being on communication and having a “consent conversation.” Setting some boundaries can be a good place to start. For partners of survivors, simply asking “What do you like, what don’t you like, what can I touch, what can’t I touch,” helps. If you’re in a loving relationship where trust and comfort is established, with time, your boundaries may change or broaden. Hopefully you’re able to maintain a comfortable level of communication throughout to keep redefining how sex feels for you and what you like and don’t like.
To reiterate, all, some, or none of these strategies to heal after trauma may be right for you. Everyone heals at their own pace, and in their own ways. Reverend Pleasure ends on a note about the importance of just taking care of ourselves and of other people.
If you or a loved one have experienced trauma and need additional resources, or someone to talk to, you can find help at RAINN.