Help! How do I heal and allow myself to open up sexually again after a troubling past?

Trigger Warning: This submission discusses sensitive topics related to sexual assault and may contain content that could be distressing or triggering for some readers.

Q: I was raped by my brother-in-law 35 years ago and find that I cannot relax enough to even allow myself to be kissed or held even before anything sexual begins. I find myself hating the thought of sex and yet I love hanging out with my male friends when we go for motorbike rides. I have men attracted to me but I turn cold when things could heat up. My brother-in-law has never admitted what he did 35 years ago and I only bought this out 3 years ago. His wife (my sister) has turned against me because I don’t think she wants to know the truth. How do I get the justice I am chasing and begin to heal so that I can have a relationship again? I am 62 years old and don’t know how to get around to being free. I have support from my eldest sister and friends but that doesn’t seem enough when the perpetrator is walking around smugly and thinking he has got away with it. I feel like he has destroyed me and my life.

My heart goes out to you! Thank you for your question and for sharing the traumatic experience you went through, including the subsequent impact on you. I know is not easy to be vulnerable and talk about it. I share your anger and your frustration for the injustice of the effect on your life, whilst there appears to be no consequence for anyone else. 

If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend seeing someone who specialises in trauma such as this to work through the unresolved feelings you have. There are exercises including a reparative fantasy or repetition with agency that use those feelings to take you from overwhelming frustration and anger to feeling more empowered about the experience. 

It is absolutely understandable that it is hard for you to relax and enjoy even the physical touch or kiss of a male. It is a wonderful way that our bodies take care of us when there has been trauma however, it often prevents us from enjoying sexual experiences. 

I would love to help you re-discover the pleasure of sexual touch, to begin to relax enough to allow yourself to again feel erotic sensations. But this starts with you alone and bringing yourself to pleasure first. Put aside an afternoon or an hour for yourself and start with exercises I like to do with clients including re-claiming your body, de-compartmentalising sexuality and empowering your erotic self-expression. 

It may take a while before you feel confident enough to try any physical touch that is sexual and you may need to spend a few afternoons re-claiming your body. Once you do feel ready to open yourself to pleasure there are wonderful exercises for you including touching for your own pleasure and full-body pleasure mapping that will again allow you to experience the wonderful joy of sexual pleasure and erotic play. 


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Sexual Harassment, Assault or Workplace issues: DISCLAIMER: If you are concerned about violence or misconduct impacting you, your family, friends or workplace, the numbers below may help. National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service — 1800 737 732, Mensline Australia — 1300 789 978, Relationships Australia — 1300 364 277, BeyondBlue — 1300 224 636; Suicide Call Back Service — 1300 659 467; Headspace — 1800 650 890; Kids Helpline — 1800 551 800; Lifeline Australia — 13 11 14 for confidential support, advice and referral that will help you explore your options.
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