During sex, I remember painful, abusive memories from my past

My new partner is loving and caring – but negative thoughts keep intruding and I want them to stop

I’m a 25-year-old woman, dating a man who is very loving and understanding. Before him, I have been in two relationships, one of which ended in sexual abuse and the other in emotional abuse. The problem isn’t my present, it’s my past. Sometimes, during intercourse, memories of previous traumatic experiences come back to my mind and ruin the moment for us. Will I always feel the same?

There is no reason to be pessimistic. It is true that sexual abuse often leads to relationship problems, intrusive negative memories and difficulty feeling safe during sex, but healing is certainly possible. You are fortunate in having found a partner who seems willing to be part of your healing journey, so allow him to fully help you to feel sexually safe. If you find yourself wavering in your trust, suddenly losing desire, or starting to have flashbacks, let him know immediately and try to share the problem with him. Most importantly, explain to him that you need a great deal of control during lovemaking: control to set the pace, licence to take a break if necessary, and even the right to stop altogether. Without feeling in charge, you may feel scared or coerced, or even risk becoming retraumatised. But if you are free and able to set the time, pace and style – and have your partner’s full agreement and understanding of this – it is more likely that you will be able to become steadily more sexually comfortable and eventually capable of enjoying sex unreservedly.

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Alex Vidal