How To Love And Enjoy Your Own Body Again, Especially After Sexual Trauma

love appreciate body after traumaNo matter who you are, feeling confident and attractive in today’s world can be a huge challenge. Images, voices and messages from mainstream media hold us up to impossible standards of looks and beauty.  Sexual confidence can disappear if we get unrealistic ideas in our heads about what it takes to be deemed attractive.

For those with a history of sexual abuse – or really any trauma  — finding self-acceptance and enjoying feeling sexy can be even more challenging. Let’s consider what happens when we add those unrealistic ideals to frustration and pain of past abuse or trauma, which often triggers negative or anxious feelings around feeling attractive. After trauma, most survivors struggle mightily to feel safe in their own skin, let alone able to enjoy their sexuality.

So much of what we see in the news, culture and life works against self-compassionYet self-compassion and self-acceptance are vital to being able to enjoy feeling attractive and to have healthy relationships! Healthy relationships include the ability to have a healthy sex life – one you want and enjoy.

Meeting author and educator Emily Nagoski at a conference highlighted for me the need for better information about healing the trauma of sexual abuse. I believe everyone needs to better understand the difference between sex and abuse. We also need to be more aware of the impact of abuse and assault on survivors, so we can better support their deep desire to heal.

I want to help trauma survivors gain a better understanding of their past trauma, and find more compassion towards themselves as they work towards healing and healthy relationships. Know that pleasurable, consensual, meaningful sex (without shame!) is a healthy part of life, no matter what you find to be pleasurable.

Consensual, Meaningful Sex After Trauma Is Possible

Every person, regardless of their history, deserves a life with healthy relationships and sex that they enjoy.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if each of us—regardless of gender—just felt confident, beautiful or handsome and sexy—just the way we are?

What if we could manage the voices and pressure — especially from mainstream media or from people important to us — that told us we needed to be, look or act a certain way?

Imagine the impact of powerful self-acceptance and self-love – just as you are. A sense of acceptance, peace and joy with our self-image is ours to reclaim. We can bring that confidence into all of our relationships.

I want to help you forge this path.

Whether you’re a trauma survivor or not:

  1. You can feel confident, attractive, sexy and worthy.
  2. You can have and enjoy healthy, satisfying, connected relationships with meaningful, pleasurable sex!

A positive sense of self and healthy sex are closely connected. It’s incredibly hard to experience the second without the first! The good news is, you are the one who can make feeling confident, worthy, attractive and sexy possible.

Feeling Confident, Beautiful, Sexy and Worthy

Sex educator and author Emily Nagoski talks about the impact of what she calls the “Bikini Industrial Society.” It’s a source of false beliefs that everyone has to look “perfect” in a bikini to be beautiful. That is so not the case!

In one of her presentations, Emily displays  50 pictures of different people with different body shapes. She asks each person in the room to say, “She is beautiful.” And then turn that message onto themselves.  The exercise was moving and empowering.

Others are helping us see the value of affirming the beauty in people as they are.   The Dove Real Beauty Pledge and other body positive campaigns are bringing a fresh perspective to media. It’s a start — but these ideas aren’t yet widespread enough to change the landscape. It’s one thing to appreciate that other people are beautiful in their unique, interesting and real shapes and sizes. It can be so much harder to do this for ourselves.

Changing How We Think About Beauty

What if we recognized beauty in a person’s confidence, intelligence or kindness? What if we appreciated our bodies simply for the amazing forms they are? Mindfulness can help us marvel at all the ways our physical bodies allow us to engage with the world. Think about how our feelings toward our bodies might change if  we took time to appreciate all the unique ways they allow joy and sensation.  Think about what it feels like to walk or run, or hold a baby, or feel a crisp cool day or the warm sun. What if we experienced more of the wonder of being alive in so many ways within our bodies—instead of just what they look like?

Health At Every Size

I believe you can be healthy and beautiful at any size. Nobody has to be a size 2. Nobody has to have six-pack abs or thigh gaps to feel valued. You can accept the body you have today, and invite yourself to explore better self-care, beginning where you are. This is one reason why I support the work of the Health at Every Size community.

Health at Every Size® principles help us advance social justice, create an inclusive and respectful community, and support people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves.

Over 13,000 people have taken the ‘Health at Every Size’ Pledge! Check it out.

The Beliefs You Bring With You Allow You To Enjoy Connected, Pleasurable Sex

Remember, the beliefs you have about yourself as a person are the same beliefs you bring to relationships and to sex. So if you don’t believe you’re attractive or worthy, how can you accept love and kindness in a relationship? How can enjoy a meaningful, joyful sex life?

Start with this video from Emily Nagoski, The Keys to a Happier, Healthier Sex Life.

And then read her book, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life in which she shows how, scientifically, “Stress, mood, trust, and body image are not peripheral factors in a woman’s sexual wellbeing; they are central to it.”

Your wellbeing — including sexual wellbeing — starts by being kind to yourself — no matter what. You are born to enjoy love. You deserve respect and kindness. Though trauma may block your view at the moment, the incredible beauty of you is still there. You can begin healing by giving yourself permission to hold space for yourself and all you’ve been through —- and welcome the person you see.

Healing means asking false self-beliefs to step aside, to be replaced with the truth—that you are beautiful, unique and worthy.

You can accept and love yourself just as you are.

You can accept and love your partner just as they are.

You can be present and confident, and enjoy sex with your partner  just the way you are.

More Resources

Health At Every Size:

‘You’re normal!’ is science’s battle cry in the fight for sexual liberation, Van Badham

Nothing is wrong with your sex drive, Emily Nagoski

The truth about desire, Emily Nagoski

The World Cup of Women’s Sexual Desire, Emily Nagoski

Do You Understand Female Sexual Desire? Pamela Madsen

About the Author

Robyn E. Brickel, M.A., LMFT Robyn E. Brickel, MA, LMFT is the director and lead therapist at Brickel and Associates, LLC in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, which she founded in 1999. She specializes in the therapeutic treatment of individuals (adolescents and adults), couples, families and groups. Robyn E. Brickel offers treatment and psychoeducational services for many life issues and transitions, such as: A history of trauma and/or abuse, including Dissociation; Addictions, as well as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) issues; Body Image issues and Eating Disorders; Self-Harming behaviors, including Emotional intensity and instability; Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders; Challenged family systems; Chronic illness; Co-dependency; Dysfunctional relationships; Life transitions; Loss and bereavement; Relationship distress; Self esteem; GLBTQ and sexual identity issues/struggles; Stress reduction. She is an LMFT, as well as a trained trauma & addictions therapist who has helped countless clients make and maintain positive changes in their lives. To learn more about Robyn E. Brickel, visit her website.

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