Dear Aunt Vadge, 

My girlfriend was sexually abused and is a little wary of men and touch still. But she is very insistent on a normal sex life. Do you know of any ways I can help and/or make myself and sex less intimidating?

Yours,
Worried
Age: 17
Country/Area: USA

_____

Dear Worried,

Thank you very much for your email. It’s a really great question that many of us have to ask when it comes to our partners – how can we help? Men and women alike are sexually abused in tragic numbers, so dealing with the aftermath can be challenging.

I would recommend that you start off by taking penetrative sex completely off the table until further notice. This is because the idea of having a ‘normal sex life’ is just not a thing – for any of us. There is no such thing as a normal sex life. The sex life we have with ourselves and with our chosen lovers is a very unique one, and very specific to the two people involved. Get rid of any ideas you might have had about what should be happening, and start from scratch.

To make yourself less intimidating, don’t try to have sex with your girlfriend. What your challenge is right now is not sex, but trust. Good sex comes from trusting your partner, so here are a few ideas on how to foster a true, deep trust that connects you both in a way that is much greater than just the sum of your body parts.

Spend time together learning about each other’s bodies. It can sound really trite, as if snuggling, making out, oral sex or massaging each other is somehow inferior to ‘real’ sex, but that is missing the point. We build trust and warmth with each other through touch, care, and kindness. Lots of people have sexual hang-ups, and the only real way to get past them is by creating a truly safe space in which to explore.

You may also need to not touch her breasts or vagina in a sexual way either, but instead focus on the rest of her body and making her feel nice. Spend two hours rubbing her feet – talk to them, give them names, tell her a story. Make her laugh. Make her feel like you even love her feet. Feeling loved for all of ourselves – especially women who are taught that their sexuality and beauty is their only currency in life – is truly magical. Play games with each others bodies. Lie naked spooning. Hang out naked. A lot. Just be naked. Play video games nude, roll around in bed nude. Eat a chicken sandwich off her stomach and laugh until your sides hurt.

My favourite game
A game I love playing just about any time is a scoring game (Scrabble, cards, even black-red or rock-scissors-paper), but each win means you get to ask the other person to do something for you for 30 seconds or one minute – with a timer. Anything you like. My boyfriend and I love to play this. He likes blow jobs and attention to his balls and butt, and I always want him to kiss my neck and my inner thighs and generally give me goose bumps. We like different things, but this is a surefire way to A) not have to do anything for a long time and B) find out what each other really likes. Over the period of the game, it slowly turns you both on, but in a very slow and gentle, warm loving way. It’s not about sex. It’s purely about enjoyment.

You can get really specific – ‘please lick the arch of my foot and nibble my toes’ or ‘massage my head’ or ‘listen to my heart beat’. We always start by stripping each other bit by bit – ‘take off your shirt’, ‘get rid of those horrible socks’ and so on, until we’re both nude. This game isn’t about being sexual; it can just be fun and funny, because there is no other time where you have the opportunity to play like that, without the expectation that it will be for a longer period of time (like a sexual occasion that has a certain expected sequence of events) and without the expectation that it will fit into any of your preconceived ideas about what people do and don’t like, and what ‘sex’ should look like.

Feeling comfortable being naked with another person is a really great way to build trust, because there are no defences then. Just acceptance. Add a bit of healthy game-playing competition and short, lovely touch experiences, and you have yourself a rollicking good connecting time.

Everyone wants to be able to have good sex when they want it, but the truth is, that isn’t what is happening in real life. In real life, we’re all a bit crazy, fucked-up, shy, awkward, and weird with our own pet hangups. So long as we’re all on the same page there, we can look at each other as the freaky weirdos we all actually are without pretending that we’re all ok all the time. When you think about your girlfriend in that way, it allows you to really see her as someone who has an individual (and unknown) set of conditions that must be met before she will feel ok, even just for that moment. The trick is learning what that is. Jumping into penis-in-vagina sex is not going to be it, I can almost guarantee you.

Learning to trust another human being with our bodies is hard even without abuse. Our bodies are the buffer to our hearts, and if you can cajole and caress and build trust with the heart, the body will respond in kind.

There will be tears. There will be shame. There will be fear. But start off by learning how to be yourselves with each other, be naked, talk, and laugh. It’s the only way. Sex is about connecting, so connect. Even if you don’t get to put your penis in her vagina anytime soon, you will understand how another person works, a bit better at least, and that’s pretty cool. Learning how to touch another person is really fun if you stop thinking what you see in the movies is how it’s done.

Your girlfriend – as with any of us, actually – may benefit greatly by seeing a psychologist who can help guide her through to the other side of her trauma, and help her to be whole. You can’t do that for her, and she will need help. We are just not equipped by ourselves to conquer trauma, and at 17, neither of you have any idea how to help, so don’t try to do this by yourselves. Reclaiming her body will be a process she goes through, and goes through again, and goes through again.

You sound like you really care about your girlfriend, and that’s the best place to start. Forget whatever you think you know about sex and relationships – none of us know anything, and we all have to learn every person from scratch because we are all different creatures. Learn as much as you can.

Ask for help when you need it – you aren’t supposed to be able to deal with everything, so don’t forget that you can go and talk to someone too, and learn how to take care of yourself. Having a traumatised person in your life can be really hard sometimes, so if it gets tricky, ask someone you trust or a professional for some help and advice. There is plenty out there – you are not the first people to find yourselves in this situation.

Don’t treat her like a victim; treat her like the strong, beautiful young woman that she is. She won’t disappoint.

Write anytime.

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge

 

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