If you have experienced violence, sexual assault or abuse, then you are a survivor. Or maybe it was an accident, an injury an illness or a surgery. It could be a childhood experience or something that happened as an adult. It may have been ongoing or a one-time thing. It may have been at the hands of someone you knew casually, someone who was supposed to love you the most, or perhaps it was a stranger.

Survivors often thrive despite their emotional or physical scars. They can be very proactive people. Even so, one common obstacle many survivors face is sex and relationship issues.

We may have trouble finding or establishing a relationship. As survivors, we can sometimes feel like our histories are too complex or painful to subject others to. Or perhaps we will feel rejection if we share what we have experienced. It can be hard to know when to disclose your history with a new partner. Or sometimes, the more trust and love we experience with another, the safer we are to face our traumatic experiences and, as a result unexpected feelings come bubbling up to the surface.

Once in a sexual relationship you may feel disconnected, foggy or alienated from your own body. Or perhaps you have feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, anger, grief, fear or distrust. Those are also normal feelings for a survivor. Others experience a low sex drive, lack of desire or lack of physical response. If you share these experiences, you are not alone. The good news is, it's still possible to find joy in your body. Here are some things that might help. (For those who've experienced physical trauma, check out Illness? Injury? How to Get Back in the Sexual Saddle.)

Occupy Your Body

To have hot, satisfying, mind-blowing, connected sex you must be present in your body. Work to become more engaged with your mind, body and breathing, and tune in with yourself and your lover. This will take practice.

Learning to be present can be frustrating and scary sometimes, especially if tuning out has been a survival skill for you. So, take little steps. Start by turning off the television or whatever distractions provide an escape from your thoughts, body and self. Ride a bike, do yoga, stretch, learn martial arts, eat well, walk your dog, take a shower, get a massage or masturbate. Take deep breaths, tune in and listen to your body. Do one thing every day just for your physical self.

Be Selfish

It's OK to take time and retreat into yourself. Sometimes it can be very healing to sleep, watch movies, read, bathe or walk alone. Just be conscious of those who love you. Let them know you want some alone time and that you are OK. This will help them to trust you and let go of their sense of worry.

Affection for Affection's Sake

Affection is powerful. It releases happy neurochemicals in our brains. Affection with someone you love creates trust and bonds. To have affection with friends, family or your lover can help lift you out of depression. With lovers, it is important to establish that not every bout of affection should or will lead to sex. Holding hands, petting, hugging and cuddling are all forms of healing.

Redefine Sex

Sex is not penetration; that's just one of many sex acts. Sex is something bigger and more profound. It is how you play with your lover in everyday ways.

Find fun ways to interact and communicate with your partner. For example, you could make an effort to eat breakfast together, go on walks, dance, sleep in a tent on the lawn for no reason, read erotica to each other, play Scrabble with extra letters and only sexy words, or cook food the two of you love.

Sex can also be verbal expressions, love notes, holding hands, cuddling, spooning, massage, eye contact, foreplay, flirting or anything that you find comforting and/or playful. These seemingly unrelated acts really do add up to living more fully in your skin, which often means more orgasms for both of you. (For more tips, check out 9 Simple Things to Do Right Now for Better Sex.)

Check Back In to Sex

The fact that you recognize that you are checking out is half the battle.

During sex, try to get grounded in your body. Breathe and listen to your breath before, during and after sex play. Flex your pelvic muscles rhythmically as you breathe. Watch for subtle responses in your lover’s body, like their breath, sounds and movements. Respond to them. Try sharing a little eye contact.

These things may seem small, but for many survivors, they're very difficult. Try not to get too frustrated with yourself when you're struggling. Just don’t give up. Being present in your body is a practice that gets easier the more you do it.

Advocate for Yourself

If you need counseling, seek it. If you need medical care, go find it. If you need help of any kind, ask for it. There are organizations and individuals in your life who want to help you. Accept that as a fact.

There are often free services available for survivors but these organizations can be overwhelmed with requests. Don’t let that stop you. If you call an organization and they don’t call back, keep calling. There are good people in the world who care about you but you will almost always be your own best advocate.

Embrace Your History

You may decide to disclose your history to some people; with others you will feel it’s none of their business. Some people will be able to accept your history and some will not. Just remember that it’s your history; you never have to disclose any of it to anyone for any reason. You hold that power. (For more about how attitudes around sexual violence need to change, check out 10 Myths About Rape/Sexual Violence)

Remember This

Please remember: You survived. Anyone who truly deserves you will love and accept you as you are, even if it is difficult for them to accept the fact that you have experienced trauma. By definition, you are a bad ass. That doesn't mean that learning to live in your body will be easy but if your history proves anything, it's that you are resilient. Don't give up.

Great Books for Survivors

Awakening Your Sexuality: A Guide for Recovering Women



Courage to Heal Workbook: For Women and Men Survivors of Sexual Abuse



Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma



Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life



Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body



Health Care without Shame: A Handbook for the Sexually Diverse and Their Care Givers