Because trauma affects you physically and emotionally, it inevitably impacts your conscious and unconscious desire for closeness and connection. Traumatic events of both a sexual and nonsexual nature can have a devastating impact on a couple’s sexual intimacy. After rape, female victims often distrust and avoid intimate relationships and may struggle with difficulties in arousal or psychical response. (Mills and Turnbull, 2004). Avoidance of sexual activity, finding sex boring or burdensome, reduced desire and performance difficulties have been associated with war exposure and combat trauma ( Matsakis,1996). The grief from losing a child as well as traumatic life events like cancer, miscarriage, auto accidents and natural disasters impact intimate relating and sexual connection (De Silva, 2001).
Most partners don’t realize that it is common for one or both partners to experience a lack of desire, sexual performance problems or avoidance of intimacy after trauma. Feeling shame and blame, they often fear that the lack of responsiveness in themselves or their partner is an indication of lack of love or permanent dysfunction. They assume that they alone are struggling sexually so they avoid speaking about it – even to each other!
What Should Partners Know? It is important for partners to realize that what they are experiencing is a common sequel to a life threatening experience. The trauma symptoms of hyperarousal, intrusion, avoidance and numbing disrupt the psychological and physical safety and trust people need to be intimate.
It is difficult, for example, to feel sexual if you or your partner is frightened or hypervigilant to sound and touch. Partners suffering from nightmares and traumatic memories can be too exhausted to be sexual or too preoccupied to relax and connect. The numbing and constriction which keeps a person from feeling in the aftermath of a trauma can also keep them avoiding intimacy because it stirs up feelings – and all feelings have become unsafe.
How Does Knowing Help?Accepting all of these responses as understandable does not mean you must surrender to them. It means that you must put them in perspective and address them if you plan together to reclaim your intimacy.
First Steps in Reclaiming Intimacy
“More than Friends”