Recovering from sexual trauma

Disclaimer: This article is part of the Spectrum’s special addition on sexual assault awareness. As a result, this article covers content that may be triggering to some readers including sexual assault and consent. Please read at your own discretion. 

One out of six women have been victims of sexual assault according to, a sexual assault crisis and awareness organization. Many women continue to experience trauma and trauma responses after these encounters. 

In an Interview with Goop, Dr. Lori Botto, a psychologist, professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory, talks about sexual trauma and its affects on sex for her female patients going forward. 

“In the case of sex-related PTSD (or trauma), it is an unwanted sexual encounter that is the trigger for these symptoms. In the clients I see, many of them have experienced sexual trauma in the form of a non-consensual encounter with someone they know (e.g., date rape), and childhood sexual abuse (often by a known family member, babysitter, or neighbor),” Dr. Lori Botto said. 

Dr. Botto said that it is common for women to experience anxiety symptoms during sex after experiencing assault. These anxiety symptoms can manifest in panic attacks, dissociation and more. This trauma can even lead some women from abstaining from sexual encounters all together. 

It can be difficult for women to feel pleasure in sexual situations even before sexual assaults so the impact of trauma can be a large problem for women.

“Although the effects of a sexual trauma can be lasting for some women, it is important to remember that many women heal from the effects of an unwanted sexual encounter. Women are incredibly resilient, and many are able to recover from the trauma completely with no long-term or ongoing difficulties,” Dr. Botto said.

In an interview with CAASE, a sexual explotation awarness and education resource, LeChae Mottley, a trauma therapist, talks about the changes in sexual libido after assault.

“It really depends on the survivor. Sexual challenges are generally on a spectrum. On one end, folks may find themselves increasing sexual activity and on the other end some may have a deep aversion to sex,” Mottley said in her interview. “And of course, most will likely be somewhere in between.” 

Many face the inability to become sexually aroused after expirencing trauma while others often experience hypersexuality. 

Mottley stressed the importance of understanding triggers and needs of victims of sexual assault and having an open communication where survivors can disclose these concerns.

There are many different resources for those experiencing issues with sex after trauma and specifically, seeking therapy, is a good resource for working through these issues according to Mottley. Outside of therapy, working with sexual partners after trauma is important for many individuals’ healing journey. 

Modern Intimacy, a sexual education resource stresses knowledge as an important power after facing trauma. Having information on the effects that intercourse and sexual activities have on your body and how your mind reacts to that can be incredibly important for survivors. 

Women specifically experience a pleasure gap when it comes to sex in today’s patriarical society, so striving for pleasure over perfection is something Modern Intimacy recommends. By prioritizing pleasure and intimacy between partners, sexual safety is at the fore front, even if the encounter does not end with an orgasm.

Sexual trauma can be devastating for future sexual encounters but there are many resources for survivors. Understanding sex and how it affects the body and mind is a key skill in aiding healing after sexual assault, along with open communication between partners.

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