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One of the least talked about aspects of experiencing traumatic events is the effect it can have on our capacity for intimacy.

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Any trauma we have experienced (which could be sexual trauma but can also be anything we found traumatic and overwhelming as a child or adult) is likely to impact on our ability to connect with another human being on an intimate level, whether that be sexual or emotional. In order to have healthy intimacy we have to take the risk of being fully present and ‘seen’ by someone else, which we might not have felt safe enough to do for a long time because of defences we put in place to protect ourselves.

People who have experienced trauma are likely to experience increased emotional distress such as anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts, which makes staying in the present moment really difficult; and the more trauma we’ve experienced the more extensive and noticeable this will be. In addition to this sexual intimacy often involves an act of penetration; of something being ‘done’ to us; which is likely to be triggering if you’ve experienced any form of trauma.

So when we try to be intimate in our closest relationships this can bring a variety of problems; from zoning out and feeling detached from our bodies; to feeling panicky and ‘cornered’ and having to push through these feelings; to being unable to perform normally in some way, for example experiencing vaginismus, or erectile dysfunction, which are common responses to sexual trauma. And because we’re not attuned and present enough to feel all the good feelings of sexual intimacy such as responsiveness to intimate lovingness and a warm embrace, we’re understandably likely to focus on the triggering state it puts us into, so that eventually it starts to feel hopeless, pointless, bad or even disgusting.

Counselling near me
Counselling near me

In order to cope with these feelings we might find ourselves drinking or taking drugs to numb us out before sexual intimacy, or forcing ourselves to go through with it to please our partner, or putting on a ‘show’ of acting like we’re enjoying it, or avoiding sex altogether. This might not be conscious for you but if you start noticing how you feel when it comes to having sex you’re likely to recognise one of these coping mechanisms.


If we’re unable to be as intimate and present as we’d like in our sexual relationships it’s also unlikely we will have the capacity to discuss the problems with our partner either, as this also involves intimacy and vulnerability, and there’s likely to be shame and humiliation involved in expressing our feelings about sex. And so the cycle is sadly likely to continue if it’s not discussed, and can have many harmful consequences for our relationships.

The good news is that this can be worked through if you have a strong connection with each other, and are prepared to start talking and doing the work required. This can be facilitated by one or both of you starting working with a therapist, but can also be worked on alone if you’re both prepared to put some awareness into it and start the conversation. The number one most effective way to being more present in relationships is by practicing mindfulness or meditation. Just learning to slow down and pay attention is a good skill to have in any area of life, but it’s a particularly rewarding way of creating a stronger sense of love and connection with your partner.

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