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Coping With Past Sexual Trauma While Exploring Kink



The following is a guest post by Aryka. The topics discussed in this blog post, along with the resources shared, may be upsetting to those who have experienced sexual violence or other types of trauma.  If you find yourself needing someone to talk to after reading this post, contact the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network hotline to be connected with resources in your area.

With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I think it’s important to talk about some ways in which negative experiences from the past can come into play as people begin to dabble into the world of kink.

sexual assault awareness ribbon

It’s estimated that 237,868 people experience sexual assault every year in the US, and this is in addition to those who have been abused or assaulted in their pasts.  This means that many people who are exploring their sexuality are simultaneously coping with the effects of past sexual trauma.   These past experiences can sometimes bubble to the surface during sexual or kinky play with a partner, most often in the form of being triggered–a type of coping and survival mechanism that the brain and body can develop in response to trauma.  Some people may find BDSM or kink practices triggering, though others may find them to be healing.

The things that can trigger a traumatic memory or body response are different for every person and are oftentimes seemingly harmless.  Something as simple as a light touch on the lower back or the texture of a certain fabric could trigger a trauma survivor, and the reactions to these triggers look different for everyone.  A person who has been triggered will often experience a flashback or panic attack.  They may lash out physically or verbally, cry or scream, stiffen their bodies or attempt to protect themselves by curling into a ball.  Many people who’ve experienced sexual abuse in the past will dissociate when they are triggered, meaning that they become unresponsive and seem mentally ‘checked-out’.

If a person experiences a trigger during sexual or kink play unexpectedly, it can be very scary and confusing for both themselves and their partner.  A close friend of mine shared a story with me about a time when she and her husband were having fun engaging in bondage and impact play, but all of a sudden something felt wrong to her.  She began to panic and lash out at her husband, screaming at him to get away from her.  Her husband was understandably confused, as one moment things were going great and the next moment she was terrified.  He ended the scene immediately, and once he was able to help her calm down and come back to the present they were able to talk about her traumatic experiences and make a plan for what to do if it were to ever happen again.

If you or your partner have experienced sexual abuse or any other type of trauma in your pasts, it is important to think and talk about what ways this might come up in your play together before engaging in any new sexual or BDSM practices.  Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Think about your own triggers.  Are there any specific sights, sounds, tastes, smells, or touches you know of that will send you into a flashback state?  Keep track of those that you’ve experienced in the past, and if any new ones come up add those to the list.  It’s helpful to be able to identify what specifically can send you into a triggered state.
  2. Communicate your triggers to your partner.  Let them know what it looks like when you’ve been triggered and how you typically cope with it.  It’s very important that you feel safe talking to your partner about this and that you trust them with your disclosure.  If you’re not feeling safe enough with your partner yet to talk about your triggers or to hear theirs, it may not be the right time to start exploring kink or BDSM play with them.
  3. Create a plan with your partner for dealing with triggers.  What do you want to happen if one of you notices the other being triggered during a scene?  Should play end immediately, or would you prefer to check in with each other first?  How can they help you feel safe and present (also known as grounding) if you have a flashback?  What type of aftercare would they most prefer from you if they are triggered during a scene?   Write these plans down, if possible, and update them as needed.
  4. Seek support.  Partners can be incredible support systems for one another when it comes to traumatic histories, but it’s important that survivors and their loved ones also have other outlets for help when needed.  From hotlines or online discussion boards to individual counseling or in-person support groups, there are many options for survivors and their loved ones to reach out for help.  There are also kink-friendly professionals that you can reach out to if you’d like to talk openly about the ways your trauma history is impacting your sexual explorations.

While the thought of exploring kink or BDSM play as a survivor of sexual abuse (or with a partner who has a history of traumatic experiences) may be scary, it is certainly possible to move forward in a safe and healthy way by planning ahead and creating a strong sense of safety and trust within your relationship.  For more information about coping with the effects of sexual trauma, visit Pandora’s Project or contact your local rape crisis center.

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