A series about how everything else matters when it comes to sex
I love sex. Like with most people, sex has always been a source of pleasure, joy and excitement for me. There’s no denying the thrill of bodies. But is this the only story? Though sex should ideally be joyful, this isn’t always the reality. Here’s my story. A few weeks ago, I had sex with my partner as usual. We had a little bit of wine, lit candles, lay new sheets. Everything was great!
But once we were done and comfortably resting against each other, something strange happened: I found myself suddenly struck by sadness. And I don’t mean a slight pang of sadness, it was a deep, debilitating sadness that I couldn’t explain to myself or my partner.. A frightening numbness entered my body and didn’t leave for a few days. I didn’t want to get out of bed the next morning. “Was it something I did?” My partner asked, deeply concerned. “Did I do something that made you uncomfortable?” I shook my head. It wasn’t him. I had no answers. And it wasn’t even discomfort that I felt, but a vast, overwhelming sadness that settled in my flesh and bones.
I went over that evening in my head multiple times, looking for answers. Was there anything different? Out of place? And then I realized: the delicious red wine. I don’t usually drink, and rarely before sex. But it didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time- It was just one glass, and I love wine. I was only pleasantly buzzed, which helped me relax. So then what was the problem? Things get a little dark here. So do stop reading if that could upset you.
A year ago, I got sexually assaulted by a friend I trusted when I was drunk. Realizing how drunk I was, he took advantage of me. The next morning I had little memory of anything, but the gnawing sensation of trauma lingered. The days after that were slow and painful. It took me a long time to feel like my body belonged to me again, to feel like I was deserving of love, care and sexual pleasure.
Though things got better, I still get flashbacks. And having alcohol continues to bring back those memories strongly. Especially if I have afterwards. Even if I limit my alcohol, stay in my senses and practice affirmative consent, it can still dredge up bad feelings. So this was what went wrong. The thick smell of alcohol. The taste of it. The fizz on my tongue. The slight burn in my belly. And then the aftermath. The violation.
The body has a powerful memory.
And this is why mental health is so important. Your mental health and body are always closely tied together. So pay attention to your body and what it is telling you. Listen to how your mind feels- blank? Numb? Sad? You are not broken if you experience these emotions during or after sex. Especially for survivors of trauma, such emotions do occur. And it is okay. All it means is that you need to care for yourself more intensely and understand what you need, and what you don’t need during sex.
Seek therapy if you can and need it. And of course, please, please, communicate with your partner. It is alright to have a few shadowy corners inside, and it helps to talk about them in safe spaces. Pleasure is always possible, even after trauma and pain. So take care of your mind, your body, your memories and your self.
I have told my partner that I don’t want to combine alcohol and sex ever again, and he understands. You are allowed to love yourself, and draw boundaries around the things that don’t make you feel loved. So go ahead, nourish your mind, process your experiences and be kind to your body. And have better sex.