About eight years ago, a man who I trusted implicitly and considered to be a friend of mine raped me. My mind, body and libido responded to the trauma in unexpected ways that I’m still learning to work through on a daily basis as I work to remedy the unseen damage through an often frustrating and painful course of trial and error.

After speaking to fellow survivors, it’s become clear to me that we’ve all journeyed down different paths in order to salvage a sense of control over our minds and to reclaim ownership over our bodies. When it comes to coping with sexual trauma, every individual experience is different.

As a survivor who spent a couple of years in deep denial about the assault and subsequent years trying to figure out how the violence of the experience had affected me mentally, sexually, and physically, I’ve discovered that there isn’t one exhaustive cure. Surviving means figuring out your limits and respecting them, but it can sometimes also mean pushing, often painfully, through self-imposed boundaries and experimenting with your comfort zone.

These seven tips may not be for everyone, but they’re methods that I found to be indispensable in helping to make sex a fun, positive experience again.

Take as Much Space as You Need

Prior to my attack, I prided myself on being sex positive and adventurous. I had no problem sleeping with people that I had little interest in pursuing a romantic relationship with so long as we trusted each other, understood the limitations of our time together and practiced safe sex.

After my attack, I tried to continue enjoying my sex life with the same sense of abandon that I used to, but it didn’t work. In fact, I felt so out of control of my own body that every attempt to enjoy sex repulsed me or triggered some form of intense anxiety that I didn’t understand because I was in such denial about the assault. After a few failed attempts, I simply stopped having sex - for almost two years. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my body’s way of giving me enough space so that I could process and heal in private.

Enjoy Your Own Body

During this healing process, I found it essential and empowering to close myself off from potential partners and concentrate on reclaiming my body for myself. I bought myself beautiful lingerie and enjoyed the sensation of items that I felt sexy in (but which may not have been tantalizing for anyone else). I invested in sex toys that could reacquaint me with pleasure. I explored all of my fantasies. Some of them were frightening, others sumptuous; all were surprising. This was vital for correcting what had been wronged. My sex life was for nobody else but me.

Don't Be Afraid to Liberate Your Sexuality

While many people might find solace in entering a trusting, monogamous relationship with a person who can help them explore their sexuality in a safe and patient environment, others can find that to be too big of a step to take at this stage. Making yourself open to consensual sexual experiences and being in complete control of them can be liberating as a coping method. It can also help to restore your faith and trust in sexual contact and relationships.

Be safe when picking potential partners and adopt some form of buddy system with a trusted pal on speed dial so that you can call them ASAP if the experience turns out to be negative, unpleasant, or triggering. Having a good friend, or even a couple of friends, with whom can enjoy a safe and consensual sexual relationship without any of the pressures of a romantic commitment usually works out better than simply picking up strangers for a one-night stand (which can make you feel vulnerable or anxious). Set and understand your boundaries, and stick to them.

Discover the Joys of Lube

Personally, I had never even considered using lube during sex before my sexual assault. I associated it with acts that I don’t feel comfortable with (my ass does not work like that, honey!). But, as it turns out, using lube has probably been the greatest revelation for my sex life. Even if I’m totally invested in the moment or turned on more than I can bear, I can still find that my body can unwillingly tighten up at showtime. Lube isn’t just amazing at helping to create a luxuriant, silky glide, it can also help loosen you up overall. Many brands sell products that not only soak you to softness but also provide breathtakingly exquisite stimulation in the process.

Be Vocal About What You Need

Whether you’re having sex with a long term partner, a buddy, or a fun fling, you should never be afraid to speak up about what you’re enjoying and what you’re not. Take control over your body, your pleasure, and the moment by telling your lover what to do and where to do it. Tell them to stop if something feels wrong. Being demanding and domineering during sex can be insanely sexy for the person you’re doing it with. Most importantly, it gives you the chance to direct the experience in a way that’s healthy, positive and pleasurable.

Don't Apologize

The process of recovering from a sexually traumatic experience can be longer than we expect. Although we may think that we’re completely over it, sometimes the smallest thing can trigger a response that can restrict our enjoyment or desire for sex.

Personally, I’ve had entire months where I’ve not been comfortable enough to want sex, which must be tough on my long-term partner who has been nothing but patient and supportive for the full five years that we’ve been a monogamous couple. At the start of our relationship, I’d find myself apologizing for turning down sex. That made me feel awful. By apologizing we’re accepting responsibility for something that is beyond our control; after all, nobody is entitled to receive sex any more than they’re expected to provide it on demand. You have the freedom and the power to say no. If they care about you then they’ll respect and understand the nuances of the word without requiring your desire for absolution from it.

Negotiate Pleasure

This is especially important for those in a monogamous, long-term relationship with someone. While your right to say no is a powerful and empowering thing, it can be healthy for a relationship to negotiate some other fun that you can be an alternative to penetration. This isn’t for everyone, of course. Some people might be turned off by the entire alphabet of sexual activity. For others, it can open the doors to exploring their comfort zones and to enjoying the provision of pleasure for someone else without immediate gratification for yourself. Be generous. Be creative. Follow your instincts and you’ll be one step closer to understanding and achieving your own comfortable pleasure on a regular basis.