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Q:

Help! Old traumas are creeping into my formerly awesome sex life!

A:

People lose their interest in sexuality (or general horniness, to use the term we all know) for many reasons. Some may be medical and others psychological. In this instance, it feels like it's veering toward the psychological. When it comes to those suffering with past traumatic events, it's important to understand several things about how it can impact desire.

Firstly, as a certified sex coach (and therapist in training) - I can say that is it necessary for all people to consider and reframe their ideas of what sexuality even means for them. Most heterosexual cis-gendered couples view “sex” as PIV (penis in vagina) intercourse, with some foreplay thrown in for good measure. Reframing our understanding of sexuality to encompass all sexual acts, and that it doesn’t need to be penis-centricm can be very liberating and beautiful for both partners.

Sex is not all about penises. People can have wonderful sexually fulfilling experiences without penises at all. The vast majority of people with clitorises and cis-women require external clitoral stimulation in order to experience orgasm. This is rarely what happens in PIV intercourse.

Another concept to internalize: Sex is not all about orgasms. It’s about pleasure. It can be helpful for people to take the pressure off of orgasms in order to open the door to explore what feels good and to try new things to awaken sexual desire. It’s OK to want more and it’s OK to need more.

Now, let’s get into the meat of this. It’s crucial that we understand the Dual Control Model and the way it exists within the Sexual Response Cycle. This model brings in the idea of sexual “accelerators” and “brakes.” These exist in all of us and govern sexual response in a non-linear, overlapping way. The model was first laid out by sexuallity researchers, Janssen and Bancroft. The Dual Control Model will give anyone who is feeling “less sexual” (or “more sexual’) a better understanding of what is going on in their beautiful, complex brains and bodies.

Accelerators move you forward in the sexual response cycle, while brakes slow you down. The accelerators are “turn ons” while the brakes are “turn offs” - and nothing stomps on those brakes quite like some simmering anger. Why is this important? Because suppressed emotions (such as anger and sadness) related to one’s past trauma can have profound impacts on our sexuality and desire.

While the model is non-gender specific, it can be especially impactful on female sexuality and desire. Our desire for sex is born from the physical, psychological, and relational events in our lives (both past and present). Many things can impact it. For some women (especially heterosexual cis-women), understanding your “brakes” (the things that make your brain say, “Nope, I am not down for this right now!) can be quite sensitive. Trauma makes for sensitive brakes.

Every person is unique, as are their ways of coping with trauma. It’s not always that we suffer right away from these traumatic incidents - in fact, some people don’t experience “side effects” at all. Humans are very resilient beings. But, for most of us, we need to process and cope with emotions in order to release them.

Trauma keeps us in a state of Fight, Flight, or Freeze. This means the traumatized person is in a heightened awareness state - a non-relaxed state wherein they don’t feel completely safe and may have trouble staying the moment during sex (or maybe they don’t want sex at all).

As Bessel Van der Kolk explains in The Body Keeps The Score (a must read for all people dealing with trauma), your body holds onto the trauma in your life if it isn’t properly processed. The body remembers it and stores it. Trauma that appears later in life is often the accumulation of one’s past built up. It can begin to rear its ugly head long after the events and start (rather abruptly in some cases) affecting your life somatically (in the body) and emotionally.

If someone finds their desire is stifled by unresolved anger, the best thing they can do for themselves is to go to ASSECT (if they’re US-based) or COSRT (if they’re UK-based, like me) and find a qualified psychosexual therapist to begin the journey through their anger and re-invite sexuality in their lives.

Lastly, if someone is in their mid-forties, they could benefit from seeing a medical doctor to test their hormone levels. Cis-female people usually begin permi-menopause in their 40s. This can have a significant impact on sexual desire, as well as physical arousal. It’s worth having hormone tests done to determine if this is a contributing factor to a dormant libido.

I hope this information helps anyone who is feeling frustrated and confused. You are not alone and there IS a way back to your sexual desire. Our libidos ebb and flow over time. They are never static.

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