Sex After Trauma: How Masturbation Can Help You Heal

Your body is a good place to be.

Photo by iStock

As a sex educator, I’m constantly asked questions from people about their sex life: how to make it better, how to orgasm, how to overcome shame, how to zap their “lost” libido—the list could go on for days. And while I always try to offer tailored advice for each individual issue, my answer most often revolves around two very important things.

The first is that communication with your partner(s) is your best sex toy, enhancement, and pleasure inducer.

The second is that the most important sexual relationship you will ever have is with yourself.

I know it sounds cliché. I know that’s not what most people want to hear. People want a pill or a book or a new sex position or a different lube to be the answer to all their sexual problems. But that’s not the case.

We don’t grow up nurturing a sexual relationship with ourselves, and I strongly believe that we should. Instead, our society laments (mainly to women and LGBTQ people) that our bodies are shameful. That we need to cover up and hide ourselves because our nakedness is sexual—but only for cisgender men’s gaze. We’re taught to hide the fact that we masturbate or feel pleasure from sexual stimulation at all. Sex is about the man’s pleasure. Sex is about the man f*cking. There’s no room for mutuality in the way we learn about sex (which leads to many issues, namely consent being broken). But there’s also no room for relishing in individual pleasure, for embracing our own sexual being.

Masturbation plays a huge role in connecting with your sexual being. And it can be monumental in healing from all these forms of sexual trauma, shame, and guilt. It takes work to connect with your sexual being, and masturbation is just one component in that.

Here are five steps to building a deeper connection with your sexual self.

1. Nurturing masturbation

It was in a casual conversation with my roommate on a drive home from work when I first coined the term “nurturing masturbation” for myself. We were talking about all the different kinds of sexual healing we needed and were searching for. There’s the obvious healing that so many women and LGBTQ people need from sexual assault, but living in a rape culture means that sexual violence takes on many different forms. And more often than not, it’s veiled. Meaning we’re constantly processing, being hurt by, and healing from sexual violence in its many implicit and explicit forms.

Masturbation is so much more than just self-pleasure. It’s an act of reclaiming your body after trauma. It’s act of self-love. It’s an act of being present with your body and its needs. It’s an act of reclaiming your body from sexual shame. It’s a love letter to your sexual being. But I think we forget that sometimes: that masturbation is a powerful act we do by and for ourselves.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your masturbation practice. For example, it becomes something you do before bed, you turn on your favorite vibrator or whip out your favorite lube, in the same position, and just stimulate your clit until you come, and then fall asleep. While it’s absolutely 100 percent OK to masturbate for that release and to help you sleep, it’s also incredibly important to practice intentionality within your self-pleasure.

What I mean by being intentional and nurturing in your masturbation practice is setting aside more than 15 minutes for self-pleasure. Make a whole damn night of it. Take a long bubble bath while drinking red wine, then slowly massage your favorite oil into your skin after you dry off while listening to soothing music, light some candles in your room and really set the vibe, put all your sex toys on the bed and explore. Instead of just putting your vibrator on your clit right away, maybe you start with it on your nipples and then maybe you want to tie yourself up before rubbing lube on your vulva and making yourself come once through clitoral stimulation. But don’t stop there—use a dildo or your fingers afterwards and keep going. Slow down and nurture your body. Give your body the attention that you give your lovers. You deserve it.

Sometimes I even advise people to set an intention for their masturbation before they get started. Write it down and put it on your bedside table. It can be something like this: “I create an intentional to prioritize ______________ the next time I masturbate and embrace pleasure within __________________. Every day it gets easier for me to take baby steps towards __________________. I am enough and my body is a good place to be.”

2. Yes, no, maybe

The purpose of a yes, no, maybe list is to explore your desires. Even if you have a partner(s), you should do this by yourself to really allow yourself the freedom to answer these questions completely uninhibited from outside influence (i.e. wanting to please your partner(s)). You can find a plethora of lists online—everything from yes, no, maybe for polyamorous relationships to kinky lists to emotional needs to sexual desires.

I’m a nerd about sex, but I have a feeling that I’m not the only person that finds these lists incredibly fun to fill out. You get to categorize everything as either a “F*CK YES, I LOVE THIS,” “hmm, I might be into this in the right context, or sometimes I like this thing with certain people or with communication beforehand,” or “hell no, this is never something that gives me pleasure.” It’s a check-in with your sexual being and how best you can fulfill your sexual needs. I suggest doing this every six months to a year because our sexuality has ebbs and flows, shifts and changes—much like every aspect of our lives.

This is my favorite when it comes to a comprehensive list and this is my favorite queer-centered list.  

3. Pleasure Mapping

Photo by Sydney Schavietello & Corinne Kai

Every body experiences pleasure differently. A scratch along your back might give you an electric shock along your skin—while someone else might feel a slight tingly sensation with the same exact touch. I want you to get hyperspecific about where and how pleasure lives and manifests in your body. Use this graphic above to literally map out what is pleasurable and where on your body. Maybe you love getting bitten on your inner thigh but don’t like that anywhere else. Or maybe you love having your ass slapped but that sensation doesn’t feel good anywhere else on your body.

All of that is uniquely you. All of that informs and makes up your sexual being. Allowing your sexual self to truly flourish means getting to know exactly how you love to experience sexual pleasure.

4. Take sexy selfies (for yourself)

Self-love comes in many forms and the selfie is one of them. Selfies are an invitation to see yourself without the gaze of another. To witness your own being thru your creative lens. To bear witness to your sensuality and sexiness without the context of a lover. So turn on some soft lighting, put on something that makes you feel sexy (maybe that’s wearing nothing at all), and snap away! Indulge in your body and what feels good. Take photos in the morning light. Take photos before you go to bed. Take photos while you masturbate and after you masturbate. Take photos completely naked. Take photos in your favorite lingerie or briefs.

These photos are for no one other than yourself. Knowing that will allow you to truly embrace all your sexiness. This isn’t for Instagram or a sext for your girlfriend. These sexy selfies are for you alone—an affirmation that your sexual being is powerful.

5. Write a love letter to your genitals

I know this one sounds little awkward. It’s not as fun as snapping selfies or turning on your vibrator for pleasure, but the cathartic release that comes from this letter is like no other form of healing. Give yourself time in a quiet and peaceful space to sit down and write. Turn off all devices and allow yourself to focus in on this letter. You can simply start it by writing “Dear vulva/vagina/penis/etc” or you can name your genitals if you prefer. Then write them a love letter. Write what you love most about your genitals—the pleasure they give you, how they look, how they remind you to take care of your body. Allow the words to flow naturally, you’ll know when the letter is done. And then just keep it as a reminder for yourself that your body is a good place to be.

Healing takes on so many different forms and some of these may work really well for you, some might not be for you. That’s OK. Take what works, leave what doesn’t. The most important thing is that you’re prioritizing your sexual relationship with yourself.