Vacation From Sex: Working through Trauma
Vacation From Sex
Survivors of sexual abuse who are trying to heal from their trauma should taking a vacation from sex. This break from sex allows survivors to step back and process some of their emotions and feelings about sex. It can also help survivors rediscover their sexuality in a new and healthier way. If you are a survivor or sexual abuse, consider the following statements to determine if you should take a vacation from sex. If any of these statements are true for you, taking a break from sex could be beneficial to your sexual healing and healing from your trauma overall:
- I have sex when I don’t want to.
- Sometimes I pretend to be interested in sex or pretend that I enjoy sex.
- Using drugs or alcohol helps me enjoy sex.
- I make myself unavailable for sex by filling my schedule either with work, hobbies, or activities with family or friends.
- I have faked an illness before to avoid having sex.
- Dissociation or feeling numb is a common experience for me during sex.
- Memories of my sexual abuse often occur when I have sex.
- I feel obligated to have sex with my partner.
- When having sex I just want get it over with.
- It is difficult for me to orgasm during sex (when medical problems have been ruled out as the cause).
- Physical or emotional abuse is often present in my sexual relationships.
- I experience humiliation or humiliate others during sex.
- I’m not always fully awake when I have sex.
- My partner’s sexual needs scare me or make me angry.
- I oversexualize my interactions with other people.
- My sexual fantasies include sexual abuse or physical abuse.
- Some of my sexual behaviors are compulsive (compulsive masturbation, compulsive porn watching, compulsive phone sex, etc.).
- I wish that sex did not have to be a part of intimate relationships.
- I engage in high risk sex (having frequent casual sex, having unprotected sex, having sex with strangers, visiting a prostitute, prostituting myself, etc.).
- I am embarassed, eshamed and / or regretful about my sexual behaviors
- Many of my sexual activities are secretive.
- I seem to be involved sexually with many people at one time or many people in a row.
- I have cheated on my partner (s).
- Sex is more enjoyable for me in a casual relationships and more difficult in an intimate relationship (I shut down, I lose my sex drive etc).
- I’ve demanded sex or forced another person to have sex with me.
- My sexual relationships have been based on lies and false pretenses.
- I feel depressed, hopeless, angry or lost during or just after sex.
What Does a Vacation From Sex Really Mean? A vacation from sex means to take a temporary break from all or certain sexual activities. The exact specifications like length of time for example, are dependent upon the survivor taking the vacation. The steps below will help you explore and define your vacation from sex. While there will be differences among survivors as far as the parameters of their vacation, the purpose of the vacation for many survivors will be the same. The purpose of taking this break is to foster healing sexually and to reclaim your sexuality. Finally the pressure to have sex will be off the table and you will be able to experience some much needed space from sex. You will be able to focus on developing a healthier sexuality and a more intimate understanding of yourself and your partner as sexual beings. You will also learn that sex is not just about mechanics but rather is a more inclusive mind body experience.
Planning Your Vacation. You must always do some level of planning when you take a vacation. You have to plan the length of your vacation and think about what activities you would like to do. You must also consider the purpose of your vacation. Do you need a relaxing trip or do you want to see and do a lot? Finally you must consider the costs and determine what you can afford. The same considerations apply when you are planning a vacation from sex. Consider the factors below as you begin to plan your vacation.
1) Length of time: To experience the benefits of a vacation from sex you will need at least three months. Make sure to set aside at least three months for your vacation. Understand however that you may find yourself needing much longer than three months. Often you will not know that you need to extend your vacation until you are actually taking the vacation. Keep in mind that it is normal to extend the length of your vacation from sex if you find yourself needing more time. Needing more time does not mean you are “failing” at your vacation. There is no failing, only giving yourself more time and permission to heal. Recognizing that you need more time to reclaim your sexuality is actually a strength, as it shows you are in touch with your body and your sexual experiences. Like other survivors, this many be the first time in your life that you are in touch with your body and your sexual experiences! This is an enormous accomplishment and should be recognized as such. If you are in a relationship you will need to negotiate with your partner about the length of your vacation from sex. You may need to make some compromises depending on your partner’s needs and level of understanding. Explain to your partner the purpose and importance of this vacation. Emphasize the fact that for both of you to experience the benefits of the vacation from sex, you will need at least three months. It can often be hard to determine and negotiate with your partner about the appropriate length of time for your vacation. Consider seeing a therapist to help you identify a healthy amount of time for your vacation from sex.
Activities: Some survivors need to take a break from all sexual activity including cuddling or kissing. Other survivors take a break from intercourse and other activities that involve genital stimulation but still engage in sexual touching like cuddling and kissing. Another option is to take a break from sex with others but allow for masturbation. Some survivors may only choose to take a break from specific sexual activities that are triggering for them. You should also take a break from other people, places or things that remind you of your trauma. To determine what activities you would like to include and exclude on your vacation, make a list.
For a sexual or intimate activity to make the cut to the “include” list, 5 requirements must be met:
1. You have clear boundaries. This means you are able to engage in the activity without it leading to an escalation in other sexual activities. This also means that your partner is able to respect the boundaries you have with this activity. If he/she cannot respect your boundaries then the activity must be placed on the exclude list.
2. You are present. This means you are 100% in your body while engaging in this activity. If you are dissociating, fantasizing or experiencing intrusive thoughts or images while engaging in this activity you are not 100% present.
3. You are comfortable. This means you are comfortable both physically and emotionally.
4. You are active. This means you are in control and are setting the terms, rather than passively going along with whatever seems to be happening in the moment. You are engaging in the activity because you desire so, not because you feel obligated or pressured.
5. You feel positive during and after the activity. This means if at any point you are feeling guilty, ashamed, sad, angry, empty, alone, etc. then the activity does not meet the cut. Don’t be confused between feeling uncomfortable with something that just happened because of where you are in your healing process versus feeling uncomfortable because the way in which you are engaging in the activity is unhealthy. You may need to talk to a friend or a therapist to help you determine whether this uncomfortable feeling is healthy for you or is part of the problem.
Activities that do not meet the “include” list should be placed on the “exclude” list. There is an extensive list of possibilities for each list. You should have at least 15 activities on your include list and 15 on your exclude list. If you are specific and consider a broad range of activities you will find this task easier. For instance do not simply write “kissing” on your include list. Make the distinction for yourself between your need versus your partners need, for instance like kissing when you want to. There is a difference between types of kisses. You should consider the differences between a kiss on the cheek before your partner heads to work versus kissing with tongue in bed. Also consider different types of touching on different types of body parts. For instance there might be a difference for you between a light touch on your back versus a kneading knuckle on your back. Again, also consider who needs or wants the touch. Is it okay for your partner to touch your back when he/she wants to? Or is it only okay for your partner to touch you on the back when you want him/her to? Generating your activity lists may seem tedious but it is well worth the time spent. These lists will serve as an important guide and reference for you during your vacation.
3) Purpose: Before beginning your vacation you need to determine the purpose of the vacation from sex. What are your hopes and goals? Listed below are possible goals for your vacation from sex. These goals are only a few examples of the many possible goals you might have for your vacation from sex. Reflect on each goal. Write down any other goals that are not listed that you would like to accomplish during your break from sex. Then list the top ten most important goals for you. Rank them in order of importance. Then decide which goals are most important for you to focus on during your vacation from sex.
- Be in control of the way I express my sexuality
- Experience feeling safe sexually.
- Be more assertive sexually.
- Determine my emotional needs.
- Understand my sexual needs and desires.
- Learn how to communicate my needs more effectively
- Become able to set healthy sexual boundaries.
- Learn to enjoy touch.
- Realize that touch does not have to lead to sex.
- Learn to enjoy sexual sensations.
- Be comfortable with my sexual urges.
- Realize that I do not have to act on my sexual urges.
- Develop a more positive body image.
- Get in touch with emotions related to my sexual abuse.
- Confront memories about my sexual abuse.
- Familiarize myself with my triggers.
- Better understand my negative automatic reactions towards sex.
- Learn to approach sex in a healthier way.
- Define the kind of intimate relationship I want.
- Rebuild my relationship with partner.
- Learn to establish friendships before sexual intimacy.
- Be more honest with my partner about my sexual needs, desires and boundaries.
- Treat my partner as an equal rather than a sexual object.
4). Cost: Like any vacation you should consider the cost. To make an informed decision about your vacation you need to ask yourself if you can “afford” a vacation from sex right now. A vacation from sex is not simply avoiding sex. Real work is involved in a vacation from sex if you want to experience the benefits. If you are doing real emotional work and healing around your sexual trauma you will likely feel emotionally drained sometimes. Realize that these feelings will impact the relationships you have with others and your ability to perform at work. There are however may things you can do to reduce this impact such as taking time off from work, going to therapy and engaging in various self-care activities. It is important to consider the financial costs of your vacation from sex such as therapy, support groups and books. Also consider the costs to your relationship. Ask yourself if you think your relationship can endure a vacation from sex. How will this vacation from sex impact your partner and your relationship dynamic? If you do not believe your relationship can last through a vacation from sex you must deal with the fact that your relationship may end. Also, as you do emotional work around your sexual trauma and begin to heal you might find yourself wanting to come out your family and friends if you have not already done so. The stakes can be very high in coming out to your family and friends, especially if the perpetrator was a part of your family or was a friend. Understand that a real cost of healing may be that you become estranged from your family or lose a few friends. Only you can decide if you can afford a vacation from sex and if the costs are worth the potential gains.
The Next Steps. You’ve realized that you could benefit from a vacation from sex. You have considered the specifics of your vacation such as the length of time, activities, purpose and costs. After taking some time to process what a vacation from sex will be like, you decide you want pursue this vacation despite some of the challenges. Realize that this is one step in a long healing process. However taking a vacation from sex to process your trauma and develop a healthier sexuality is a very big step. Applaud yourself for taking this courageous step. Do something to treat yourself and celebrate your decision to take a vacation from sex. Before you begin your vacation from sex you will need to get your partner on board with the vacation and familiarize yourself with various exercises you can engage in during your vacation to help you meet your goals.