Editor's Note: This article was originally written by Sally Valentine, PhD.
Sexual Wounds can affect our Relationships
When people come in for counseling around sexual issues they often don't realize that their history may have a lot to do with how they feel about themselves sexually in their current relationship. There are many ways in which people are sexually wounded or sexually traumatized. Some are more obvious, like childhood sexual abuse by a family member or friend of the family or a stranger. Not only sexual abuse, but, also physical, emotional and spiritual abuse can affect sexuality in years to come. It is the broken boundaries, verbal, and non-verbal, the betrayal of a trusted authority figure, the lack of safety, and the broken trust that can be so wounding.
Other sexual wounds that are overlooked, minimized, or rationalized are times of shaming, judging, and/or criticism by family, peers, teachers, or other role models. Below are other ways to consider when exploring sexual concerns that may arise and how these events may be barriers to healthy sexuality:
- Poor body image
- Negative messages about sexuality
- Lack of information about sexuality
- Negative relationship histories
- Medical conditions (ie. disease or surgeries) especially affecting genitalia and/or breasts, but could be any part of the body
- Medical conditions affecting sexual function
- Medications affecting sexual function
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STD's)
- Confusion around sexual orientation/gender
- Lack of acceptance (by self or others) of sexual orientation or gender
This may not be a complete list but, when sorting out what is at the core of sexual concerns, sexual wounding/trauma may be a factor. Also, let me quickly add that for some who may have experienced one or several of the above situations, they may have not been negatively affected by these events. Some people do process and integrate these events without experiencing negative sexual consequences.
When people are exploring what has gotten in the way of experiencing healthy and whole sexuality, we rule out what has or hasn't occurred in their life's history. My definition of "sexual healing" refers to overcoming sexual wounds or traumas and embracing the fullness of healthy sexuality. It is a process.
The first step is establishing individuals' sense of safety, trust, and validation for their experiences. This usually occurs over time. Trust is a huge factor as to how readily one or a couple is likely to open up to the range of feelings and emotions that are attached to any of the past events. Keep in mind that the type, extent, and personal experience of the event may affect each person differently and may require different approaches to their concerns.
Intense psychotherapy may be appropriate to assist in healing deeper trauma, as well as other modalities such as hypnotherapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), sex therapy, or group therapy with a focus on sexual trauma. I use all of the above methods (not at the same time), depending on each individual case.
When sexual trauma is absent and the person or couple recognize where the origin of their concern came from, then sexual education and an opportunity to express them selves honestly may be what is most healing for them. Developing healthy sexual communication, for an individual or couple can facilitate moving into a deeper level of intimacy and increase their sexual self esteem. Teaching couples how to better communicate their sexual wants and needs helps insure that they get more of what they ideally want.
There are also workshops and programs, that individuals and couples can take, such as tantra workshops and personal growth programs, that can assist in increasing sexual, emotional, and spiritual intimacy. Meditation, yoga, and one's own spiritual practice have been proven to increase relaxation, and a sense of feeling grounded, centered, and balance which can greatly enhance a relationship.
Over the years, I have found couples courageously address these sexual issues and concerns and move into a compassionate, accepting, and loving relationship