In his seminal book “The Body Keeps the Score,” trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk states “the ability to feel relaxed in one’s body requires the emotional experience of safety.”
The emotional experience of safety and the embodied experience of relaxation are also critical to experiencing attachment and connection.
Humans long for intimacy and are wired to connect. Most individuals desire to experience a meaningful partnership and that includes feeling secure, understood and loved.
Sex provides the opportunity to express those feelings with connection, touch, joy, pleasure, satisfaction, and playfulness.
Experiencing this involves letting go, feeling secure while taking risks, being in the moment with all your senses while trusting, accepting and sharing.
Yet, for women and men who have experienced trauma, being on guard, and sometimes, checking out and dissociating, is what has allowed then to survive. The idea of “relinquishing control and getting lost in the moment”, can be terrifying. Rather than associate physical intimacy with pleasure and connection, sex can trigger feelings of shame, disgust, aversion and pain.
Most people are aware that sexual assault, violence or abuse would affect sex. but what is less well understood is how so many different types of traumatic experiences and the way people respond to them, can affect individuals and their relationships, emotionally and physically, and are also very relevant to the treatment of individuals and couples seeking help with their sex lives.
In this 25 minute lecture, presented at the March 2022 conference of ISSWSH (The International Society for the Study of Women’s Health) I discuss the importance of trauma informed sex and couple’s therapy.