How Trauma Can Affect Sexual Intimacy

Recovering from trauma means learning to process and gain control over a number of symptoms related to avoidance, hyperarousal, and memories the experience.  However, there are also several other after effects that trauma survivors often must struggle though.  These can include isolation from friends and family, feelings of anger and/or helplessness, difficulty having healthy relationships, and the decrease of actual and interest in physical and emotional intimacy.   This blog will focus on the decrease in intimacy that can follow a traumatic experience.  If these issues relating to sexual intimacy are not appropriately addressed, relationships can be damaged and even end.

For the individual who experienced trauma, there can be an intense emotional shift that makes the idea of physical and/or emotional intimacy unappealing.  Participating in your own intense trauma-focused therapy will be important to help you move though this difficulty, as well as the other symptoms mentioned above.  In addition to working on yourself, make sure to always communicate with your partner in a very honest fashion.  Oftentimes, partners can blame themselves for the shift you are feeling towards sexual intimacy.  Clarifying for them your own struggles will be important for the quality of your relationship.  Communication will also help you and your partner continue to feel connected in a different type of way and hopefully prevent any level of distancing that could otherwise develop between the two of you.

For the partner of the trauma survivor, remember that healing takes time and that there is hope.  This shift in your relationship will not be permanent.  Support is the biggest thing you can offer to your partner.  Your partner must heal in their own way, and although you want to help, you cannot ‘fix it’ for them.  Listening to your partner, empathizing, and reassuring them are some of the most powerful things you can offer.  Remember to not take your partner’s current state personally and do not assume that you are hindering your partner’s progress by wanting to be involved in this process.  Allowing your partner the time they need, while ensuring that your needs and wants are communicated is essential.  Your own level of self-care is just as important during this time as it is for your partner.  Don’t forget about yourself as they go through this difficult process.  Your own therapy might also be useful to help remind yourself of that. 

Remember that there is hope, for recovering from trauma and regaining a strong and meaningful sexual relationship.  Trauma recovery is difficult, but there was something that drew you and your partner together.  It will just take meaningful effort by both parties to work through and heal from the pain of trauma.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD