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Am I Gay/Queer Because of Sexual Trauma?

Editor’s Note: This column addresses rape, childhood sexual abuse, PTSD, and sexual orientation as a symptom of trauma.

I’m in my late teens and have identified as gay/queer for the last few years. I have dated/hooked up with a few non-binary folks and trans guys, but they’ve all had vaginas.

Recently I’ve been questioning my orientation. It’s more complicated than simply saying, “Oh hey, I like this (cis) guy, cool.” I was sexually abused as a child. Because of that I have PTSD and an anxiety disorder that makes the idea of being intimate with someone with a penis terrifying — even if I have romantic feelings for them.

I hate the idea that I’m gay because I was raped, but I don’t know if my identifying as gay instead of bisexual or pansexual is because of that. I also sometimes wonder if it’s just my own internalized homophobia (from growing up in a pretty conservative family) and secretly wishing that I was straight.

Do you think it’s worth trying to explore my sexuality further and trying to overcome this fear of intimacy with someone who has a penis? Do you think that’s even possible?

— Hoping to Heal

Dear Hoping,

I’m so sorry that you were forced to endure those experiences and that you’ve been left to foot the bill for someone else’s inexcusable behavior. I strongly suggest you work with a good therapist who can help you navigate the symptoms of your PTSD and anxiety disorder and create a safe environment for you to continue to untangle these questions about your sexuality.

It’s natural to have your connection to penises be a negative one given that, that was a part of your abuser’s anatomy. The things that trigger traumatic reactions are often environmental and can be as simple as a sound, a smell, or a time of year. A significant body part used to inflict harm on you certainly can trigger a negative response in you, and understandably so.

On the other hand, the notion that your sexual identity is a symptom of your abuse is stickier to me…continue reading…

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I’ve Had Enough With Vaginismus

Content Note: Sexual trauma addressed in this week’s column.

Hi Yana,

I really appreciate your column and the work that you do. I have a really embarrassing sex problem. I was sexually abused throughout various parts of my life, starting in my childhood and going into my twenties. I have vaginismus, but with therapy and dilation, it’s slowly but surely gotten better. I’m seeing someone new who I really like, and the vaginismus is coming back. I feel very safe and cared for with this person, so it’s both perplexing and embarrassing. I feel like I can never escape the sexual abuse of my past and move on to have healthy sexual relationships. Help!

— Reaching for Relief

Dear RR,

First, it’s crucial for you to hear, know, and reaffirm to yourself that neither the sexual abuse inflicted on you nor the resultant vaginismus is your fault. While it’s extremely common for sexual abuse survivors to feel shame and embarrassment as a result of their abuse and/or its aftereffects — in your case, vaginismus — these feelings of shame and embarrassment are misattributions of responsibility for the abuse onto you rather than rightfully onto your abuser/s. Again, neither the abuse or vaginismus are your fault.

I can only imagine how painful and frustrating it is to have to manage the aftereffects of these traumas inflicted on you in this new relationship with someone so great.

Vaginismus — the unexpected tightening of the PC muscles/vaginal canal during sexual penetration resulting in physical pain and discomfort — is an especially upsetting and fickle symptom of trauma as its root causes are often both physical and mental/emotional. It sounds like you’re doing all of the right things by digging down to these two roots via therapy and dilation.

Whether we have a trauma history or not — and so many of us do — our bodies aren’t always going to cooperate with our minds during sex…continue reading…

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Why Can’t I Have Sex Without Drinking?

Editor’s Note: Sexual trauma is addressed in this week’s column.

Hi Yana,

I can’t seem to want to have sex unless I’m drunk.

This has always kind of been the case, except for when I was a teenager, and horny all the time (and not drinking). Then when I got to college, there were many instances where all my friends would be going on about how much they “needed” sex, and I could never relate. It was only when I got drunk that I would feel the same sort of uncontrollable desires.

Whenever I date someone, there’s that beginning period where we’re wooing each other, so we go out all the time (and drink) and I can’t seem to get enough (so we have a lot of sex). Now I’m in a relationship with someone I really care about, we’re about seven months in, and I just never want to have sex.

My significant other has noticed and thinks I’m not really attracted to them [Editor’s Note: The letter writer requested the use of they/them pronouns for the partner]. That’s not the case. It’s more like, I can’t “let go” and enjoy myself if I’m sober. I have too much racing through my mind, or I’m frustrated because I can’t orgasm, or I’m frustrated because I can’t make them orgasm.

Our short term solution has been to just not have sex until we both feel like it, but the problem is that I literally don’t even think about sex unless they bring it up. They’re okay with it for now, but I’m worried the lack of physical intimacy is going to eventually drive them away.

I don’t know if it’s the birth control I take (I’ve been on it for a few years), if a past trauma is for some reason rearing its ugly head now (I was raped in college and assaulted once as a child), but I feel like something is wrong with me!

— Confused with a Low Libido

Dear CLL,

This sounds like a really hard place to be in and I’m grateful that you’re verbalizing it. As my readers know, consent is extremely important to me.

It’s one thing if someone enjoys a drink before sexual activity with an established partner they know and trust and have built familiar consent practices with. It’s another if someone feels like the only way to experience sex is to get to the point of intoxication, a state of mind that renders clear consent impossible. This jeopardizes the safety of you both — you as the intoxicated one and your partner as the person attempting to honor your boundaries and make you feel good rather than unsafe.

The human brain and body are quite amazing machines. When someone has experienced sexual trauma as you have, our brains and bodies can put up barricades to potentially triggering situations like sex to protect us. But sometimes these barriers can also block up other things we would like to enjoy — like sex with our partners!…continue reading…