Reclaiming Your Sexuality / Masturbation Frustration
Masturbation: Did just reading that word make you cringe? Touching oneself is a subject that everyone is afraid to talk about, even though the act of pleasuring oneself is perfectly natural. Many women feel it is normal for men to have one person sex, but never try to do so themselves. On top of that, if you are someone who has been sexually abused, the thought of any sexual act may make you feel sick to your stomach. Continue on to find out the importance of touching oneself to everyone, especially anyone who has been sexually abused.
This is not an article about how to masturbate- there are many other places to find out this information if needed. The problem is not how to do it, but how to take the steps to get ready to pleasure yourself in the first place. If you have been sexually abused, you may be afraid to venture into a sexual situation with someone else because of your past experiences, but you feel lonely or want to try dating. How can you overcome all of your fears and let someone else into your personal space if you are not comfortable yourself with your own sexuality?
If you avoid any contact with sexual areas on your body after being abused and even the thought of those areas makes you feel sick, your reaction makes sense. Those areas are private, and once they have been violated you naturally want to protect them and keep them safe, even from yourself! However, this instinct will become a problem if you try to enter into a sexual relationship, because your body will still feel like it is being violated by the other person. Mentally you may be ready to let someone in, but instinctively your body does not forget what it has experienced.
Therefore, a good way to ease some of your body’s anxiety is to become comfortable with it yourself. What is most important about the experience is that you find out which places are most vulnerable, and try to relax enough to touch those areas. The areas may not even be sexual ones, but places on your body that bring bad memories or feelings. First, you need to create a situation in which you can relax. For example, it may help to put on comforting music or sit in a place where you feel good. If a certain place (for example your bed) makes you feel more anxious, do not sit there. Also make sure you are alone, and no one will walk in while you are trying to relax.
Next, start to feel your body with all of its clothes on. For a beginner, even touching a finger may bring anxiety; start slowly, and find an easy place to begin. A toe is a good place to start- massage the toe, then work your way through the foot and ankle, really feeling every inch of your foot and claiming it as your own. Even now, are there places on your body that make you feel uncomfortable when you touch them? An arm, or a place on your leg? If so, you can stop here and simply work on touching that area. Give yourself an arm or leg massage, place your hand on the area…anything that involves contact that feels comfortable for you. The more you touch this area, the easier it will become. Feel free to talk out loud if that helps, and do not try to block your memories. Instead, let them in and try to realize that you had no control of the situation and it was not your fault. Tell yourself that you are safe and that you will do everything you can to keep your body protected.
Once you have reached the point where you feel fine touching yourself everywhere with all of your clothes on, slowly start to remove your clothes and see if this brings up any discomfort. Are there certain pieces of clothing that remind you of the abuse? Even a sock can have a great deal of significance, and can bring back a flood of bad memories. Do this undressing very carefully, trying to be as aware as possible of your feelings. If you get stuck at one point during the undressing, repeat the steps you did with your clothes on, asking yourself why the piece of clothing is important and what makes you feel uncomfortable about it. Feel free to stop here if you feel really uncomfortable, and try to repeat the undressing as many times as possible to become more relaxed.
If you do manage to get all of your clothes off without feeling too uncomfortable, repeat what you did with your clothes on. Feel every part of your body- not just the areas involved with sex. In fact, starting with an area like the arms or legs may be beneficial (unless those areas bring back bad memories). Slowly and softly work your way towards the parts of your body that make you feel uncomfortable, and do not try to block out your feelings as you get closer. By blocking your feelings you are numbing yourself to sexual touch, and that is the exact opposite of what you are trying to do. It is better to only make it to an arm comfortably than to make it to an area and not feel anything. Instead, try to feel as much as possible about the touch, and focus on it completely.
If you are still okay at this point, move towards any areas you know were involved in the abuse. This is going to be very hard, especially because your body’s natural instinct is to stop feeling anything involving those areas in order to function. Do not let yourself become numb, and if you do then stop touching yourself immediately. It is not a race; it is about accepting and becoming comfortable with you. Getting to these areas may take many tries, and may bring up images and feelings that are unpleasant. Don’t give up; it may seem silly, but there is nothing more crucial in a sexual relationship than feeling comfortable with you, and this is impossible without being able to touch yourself.
At this point, you can try to have one person sex or at least get as far as you feel comfortable. If you really do not like the idea of pleasuring yourself, it is not by any means a requirement. As mentioned earlier, it is not the climax that is important, it is the mental attitude of being comfortable enough with yourself to function, and to have a sexual relationship with someone else if you want. Because sexual abuse can stay in your mind and body for many years, it will take time to reach this comfort level.
For the very advanced person, reenacting the abusive experience can help you take back your body and ease some of the anxiety about the abuse. Our recommendation is to only attempt this step if you have a person that you can call if you become overwhelmed. This could be a friend, a lover, a therapist. It’s important to make sure that you have the support systems in place as you venture into new territory. You don’t have to be alone. The reason this step can be helpful is that in reality you are in control. It’s just you. Be careful, as more than anything acting this situation out may make you feel incredibly uncomfortable in the beginning. Do not be violent with yourself or hurt yourself in any way, just use the experience as a starting point to take back control of your body. Start slowly, at the earliest part you can remember, and then act out the situation but in the way that leads to pleasure and not pain. The goal of this assignment is to help put you in touch with the concept that the abuse was in the past. By recreating the past, you are also rewriting the ending. You are in control of the outcome.
Take your time, but remember that it is not fair to you or the other person if you enter a sexual relationship without first accepting your own body and sexuality. You risk emotional detachment, transferring the feelings you have for your abuser to the other person, and further damaging yourself. If you feel yourself getting numb with your partner, verbalize your feelings- this is your right! Take the first step by learning to love your own body, then let someone else love it too.
This tip was developed specifically as part of our sexual trauma treatment program at Sex Therapy in Philadelphia / the Center for Growth.