The Joy of Sex with a Survivor

Photo Credit: Margaret Bellafiore

Photo Credit: Margaret Bellafiore

The title is sarcastic in cast that isn’t obvious. I guess I should say that this doesn’t speak for all survivors all of the time – or even how I always feel or have felt.

But, it was how I lived for years to decades when sex was almost never joy.

Since I hate trigger warnings I won’t do one. They are suspect to me since they are used most on writing about sexual assault and child abuse and not on say terrorism, murder, theft or other crimes and violence. Does that protect survivors of trauma or just make people reading skip stories with trigger warnings? Why are only some topics trigger warning worthy? Why aren’t these stories just considered essay, life, news or blog?

I can’t trigger proof life. News doesn’t trigger but a color or smell or time of day might. I can’t trigger proof life and I think survivors can decide if and what they want to read and when based on title and the first few lines.

But, since we are all different and some survivors respect and appreciate trigger warnings let me say that if I did trigger warnings – one would go here  (hint, hint).

I’m breaking my no preamble rule. This is honest, raw and vulnerable. On purpose. It’s from a time when I honestly believed healthy sex was out of my reach in this life. Like an Olympic gold for figure skating or being a math genius.

I was wrong but that’s another story.

It was awful to feel forever broken when it came to sexuality and libido and pleasure. And the woman I was for years and years and years – her experiences – my experiences – well they matter as much as the me who finally enjoys sex now.

So in case you KNOW and are convinced you can never again feel safe, during sex, I want you to know someone else has felt the same way.

I don’t believe people pushing hope if I feel like they don’t get where I’m coming from. I can listen, love them and respect them even but I don’t necessarily believe them if I can’t relate.

Part of the reason I’m a writer and an advocate and don’t have a “brand” I’m selling or pushing or promoting is because if I did, I’d probably be too chicken to write stuff like this. But writing the truth is important and healing for me and others. This I know. Honest writing is social change.

Just freakin’ tell the truth, at least to and about myself, I remind myself of this over and over again when I get afraid. It’s the writing that helps me most so it’s the writing I want to create.

I can start with me.  Old typewriter

The Joy of Sex with a Survivor

Don’t approach me from behind.

Don’t surprise me.

Don’t come at me when I’m asleep.

Or half asleep.

Or trying to fall asleep –

or just waking up.

Or drunk.

But a little tipsy is good, a one or two beer buzz is perfect.


Don’t pant too much when you’re in the middle of making love.

Or close your eyes too long –

or open them too much.

Don’t groan in an angry tone

or play too rough.


But don’t be passive aggressive either or it feels like I’m being molested.

No poke poke approach, please.

If you want to have sex – own it and be clear.

Adult to adult sex.

Say you desire me.

Show me

so I believe I’m me

and you’re you

and we are here and now together.


Be verbal so I don’t have a flashback.

So I can hear your voice.

Stay present even though I can’t promise to do the same.

Don’t masturbate on me without my consent.

Or near me.

That’s a recipe for flashbacks fast.


Don’t stop if I cry.

But you better notice and care.

Except too much which will ruin the mood – don’t make it all about my crying, o.k.?

I cry all of the time. And might for a long time.


There’s no such thing as too much foreplay.

I might like foreplay more than sex.

I might like the idea of sex with you more than actually being with you.

Or flirting and talk sexy without following up.


If I don’t orgasm it’s not your technique.

Or if it is, I won’t know

so we can both blame me.

Whatever it is – it’s probably me – that’s my default belief.


If it seems like I hate you a little even as we’re still in the sheets, it might be true.

If it seems like I had an orgasm but you aren’t quite sure, don’t ask.

You don’t want to know the answer or I don’t want  you to know the answer.

Or both.


I’m not into quickies. They can feel violent. Not intimate enough.

Though sometimes your intimacy smothers me like a plastic bag over the head and I can’t breathe.

Sometimes I just want to romp and roll in the hay and fuck –

but you can’t approach me like that.

I’ll let you know when – and only then.


Don’t even fantasize about my face and anal sex at the same time.

I don’t love your dick as much as you do

because sometimes it reminds me of others

who have been less kind with theirs.

I’m sorry about that.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love you.

But sex can remind me of another time or someone else.


I know how bad that sometimes makes you feel.

It’s not your fault, or mine,

and I feel bad about that too.

It sucks to be you-with-me sometimes

and me-with-you

even though we both wish it weren’t true.


I’m trying to try on love in bed,

to feel myself in the skin and open to you

at the same time…


The joy of sex with a survivor can be challenging,

hard in the ways no one wants it to be.

The worst can come at first, later, occasionally or forever.

Makes it hard to be

spontaneous, romantic and connected


Sometimes the kindest thing I can do is to say,

“I’m not in the mood.”

To keep you from coming to bed with a bomb,

ticking in my skin and psyche

even though it detonated long ago

it still threatens.


Trauma is the thief of happiness,

the perp got off

with our happiness, left us

to lie in naked skin with the remnants of violence.

This bed we have to sleep in wasn’t made by us.


This pain, I don’t want you near or in.

And yet there’s an itchy blanket between us

that I’m using to try to cover myself with.

Rage and grief rising up in me,

which aren’t yours to deal with

and yet must I share those too if I am to reveal

myself to you? Opening up seems like hurting

you and yet –

can we be close unless opening all of the way

is what

I do?

Have fun. Feel free to initiate though.

The joy of sex with a survivor is not

easy, simple, fun or natural.

How can I honestly tell you to “Relax,”

“Have fun,” and “Feel free to initiate”

knowing who I am?

You Matter Mantras

  • Trauma sucks. You don't.
  • Write to express not to impress.
  • It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
  • Breathing isn't optional.

You Are Invited Too & To:


  1. I don’t have memories of being abused, but I used to have body memories (not being able to even open my legs for a doctor’s exam) but a lot of this still sounds like me. I adore my husband, but he can’t seem like all he wants is sex, he can’t seem like he’s totally turned on by my body. It disgusts me when he does because then I feel like an object.

    • Dear Sarah:
      Thank you for sharing. Another woman also said that though she is not a survivor she feels a lot of these things. I think there are so many things that can make it hard to feel at ease, safe and comfortable whether at a doctor’s office or with our partners in bed when there is love. I think it’s o.k. to say, “Wait” or “stop” or to change things up whenever we feel like an object (for any reason) and I say that knowing it’s not easy. I’m glad for these conversations even though they aren’t easy. Thank you for writing. Cissy

  2. I’m 40 years old and a virgin. I’ve had intimate moments but never intercourse. My first time touching a man was at age 6 and he forced me to put my hands on him. He did something else on another occasion but my brain won’t allow me to remember beyond a certain point. There were other boys and men throughout my childhood, who put their hands on me and I couldn’t defend myself. I always told myself that I just want sex with one man, the man I marry, because then I will know he loves me and it will be safe and good. And I’m a Christian so my faith requires abstinence, which is a good thing. But in my experience, men don’t love without sex and they don’t want to hear about my past. They want me to get over it because “they are different” and I should feel safe. Ten years ago, one bf got angry because I got defensive and shoved him away hard when he threw me down on a futon and jumped on top of me. He said I treated him like he was a predator. He was a good man but in that moment, he felt like a predator and I reacted in both fear and anger. I begged for forgiveness. He loved me but he never understood and I ended the relationship. A couple years ago, I tried a relationship again and was very up front from the beginning. He was understanding at first but he ultimately decided one night that the best approach would be to continue touching me after I said “no” so that I would see it would all be okay if I just pushed through the anxiety. I couldn’t even use my voice at that point; I was just frozen. It wasn’t okay and when I finally found my voice and made that clear, he belittled me, criticized my body and told me I was wasting his time. So many lines in this piece resonate deep within me. I don’t believe anymore that I am meant to be loved in that way or that I will ever experience safe sex. And I don’t mean sex with a condom. I will never settle for anything less than safe sex but I’m not even brave enough to go on a date anymore. I already have a dog, a cat and a bunch of chickens. One day I’ll have a horse and maybe by then, I won’t grieve anymore for the innocence that was stolen, the hope that has died and the love I never got to share.

    • Dear Sara:
      What a heartbreaking message. Thank you for writing. Part of me wants to argue, “Don’t give up on love or what you want and need.” But even more, I just want to honor and witness and say I’m sorry for the experiences you’ve had, for the traumas you have lived through and for the aftermath. It can be so hard to date, under any circumstances, but to not be seen or heard or respected and when you are in pain. I winced reading your comment feeling for you. I love the power in you saying you will never settle for anything less than safe sex. THAT is brave. THAT is strong. THAT is important. I hope you honor yourself for that. And I’m sorry you are afraid – and for so many reasons.
      I can share that I honestly believed into my 40’s that sex, healthy and present and positive, was impossible for me. I’m glad I was wrong but I just didn’t believe it sooner. It was always difficult or bad or extremely strained and that’s not easy to say. but despite a lot of evidence that it was and might always be bad – it has not stayed that way. I know the shame that can come though so thank you for sharing as much as you did. Cissy

      • Thank you for hearing me, Cissy. It’s taken me a very long time to start coming to terms with the brokenness inside and right now, everything inside is coated with broken glass. The shame is overwhelming sometimes. I feel like the recovery process is just too painful and there is no light (hope) at the end of the tunnel to keep me moving forward through it. Writing what I did was difficult and I cried the whole way through but it kind of broke open something inside, in a good albeit painful way. One day, maybe I will have your perspective. Thank you for writing and being so honest in your journey.

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