I was sexually assaulted. Now sex with my boyfriend is triggering panic attacks. What can I do?

Stella Harris
Profile Picture of Stella Harris

Stella Harris is an erotica writer, BDSM educator, and sex & intimacy coach. She teaches for a variety of sex-positive organizations in Portland, Oregon in addition to leading and organizing her own public classes and offering private instruction. Publication highlights include several anthologies by Cleis Press and a series of tantalizing and informative articles on kinkly.com. Through her writing and teaching she explores the complex world of love and lust and strives to help people explore their kinks safely and free of shame. You can learn more about Stella on her website, www.stellaharris.net

 Full Bio
Q:

I've always been sexually confident in myself - up until now. My boyfriend and I enjoy sex immensely. We're not massively into BSDM, but every once in a while he'll use a pair of handcuffs, a gag, or a blindfold on me. I'm not into it, but at the same time I don't hate it either. So, I go along with it because it excites him and I enjoy satisfying him.

Recently, I was sexually assaulted at work. And what's worse, two weeks after that, a trusted family member touched me and tried (very hard) to have sex with me. Before August, my boyfriend and I had settled on having sex three to four times per week. Now, I find myself needing sex several times a day to be satisfied - sometimes up to six times per day. My boyfriend can't keep up with me. I know he worries about me because of the way he looks at me sometimes.

About three weeks ago, he started some foreplay like he always does before sex. That night, he handcuffed and blindfolded me. I was getting very panicky while he was restraining me, but I figured that I would relax. Instead, it got worse when he blindfolded me. By the time he was inside me, I was having a panic attack. I started screaming because it felt like I was being raped again. I'm in therapy now and I'm getting better, but I'm still struggling. Is there any way I can venture into allowing my boyfriend to restrain and blindfold me without it feeling like rape?

A:

I’m so sorry you’ve gone through these awful experiences, and I’m very glad to hear that you’re already in therapy and that you’re continuing to reach out for support.

I hope that the therapist you’re seeing is sex and kink positive. If not, the AASECT provider list is a great place to start looking for someone new. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom also maintains a list of kink aware professionals. Even Tristan Taormino maintains a list of professionals, with links to additional resources on the same page.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I was reading your question was that in regards to kink - blindfolds, restraints, and gags - you say that you’re not into it.

Sometimes we do things because our partners enjoy them. That’s not always a bad thing. Knowing about a desire that our partner has can create enthusiastic willingness on our part to participate. If that’s how you feel about kink, great.

However, if you’re doing it to please your partner in a way that doesn’t feel awesome to you, I encourage you to take a break from the kink aspects of your sex life. Take some time to examine what you want and enjoy for yourself. Then, renegotiate with your partner around what activities you’ll engage in together.

When it comes to getting over trauma, that’s a lot trickier and it can take time - especially when engaging in activities that trigger panic. Please be gentle with yourself and know that you’re not on anyone's schedule but your own when it comes to taking time to heal.

For more specific advice, I reached out to my colleague Angie Gunn, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in sexual trauma. Here’s what she had to say:

"This is a really complex question because, based on the limited information provided, it sounds like the sexual assault experiences have had a significant impact on you. This can be categorized as a trauma experience, something which overwhelms your system's ability to cope. When trauma happens, your body alters its response system to mobilize against a threat, triggering hyperarousal (fight or flight) or dissociation (freeze or float). However, those responses can persist, even once the threat has subsided. Engaging in an act that is reflective of the original trauma (ie: sex) can be a particularly strong cue for that response system. From what you've shared, it sounds like at times you seek high sensory input, lots of sexual activity, as a method of managing the hyperarousal response. Additionally, you've continued to explore restraints and the use of bondage in sex. The panic you're experiencing seems to indicate a rejection of the use of sex as coping, bringing awareness to an area of sensitivity and uncertainty following the trauma experience.

"Over time, there is a lot of hope and possibility related to finding healing and alleviating reactivity. This is great work to do with your therapist. In the meantime, if you continue to seek to engage in restraints or kink, implementing some alternative methods for calming your body and managing the distress in the moment can be helpful. First, practice using mindfulness to gain awareness of the subtle shifts in your body. As you notice changes in your heart rate, breathing pattern, tension, temperature change etc. practice breathing deeply, relaxing your body, and giving your body positive sensory feedback (ie: gentle touch, massage, etc.). While tracking your body, repeat mantras related to safety, comfort,and connectivity with your partner. Ideally, it can be helpful to communicate clearly with your partner what you need, in the moment, and provide them concrete feedback about what you need or what. Providing you the ability to make choices, set boundaries, and describe how your body feels can be really empowering as you seek healing and change."

I hope that you continue to heal your trauma and explore your sexuality, and that you’ll reach out again to let us know how you’re doing.

Have a question? Ask Stella here.

View all questions from Stella.

Connect with us

Kinkly on Pinterest
Kinkly on Pinterest
Tweat cdn.kinkly.com
"Kinkly" on Twitter


'@kinkly'
Sign up for Kinkly's Free Newsletter!

Get Kinkly in Your Inbox

PARTNERSthat turn us on