After Sexual Assault: Navigating Dating and Intimacy

By , 18, Staff Writer
April 28, 2023

Experiencing sexual violence can be physically and emotionally tolling. You might feel isolated, ashamed or scared. Trusting someone else or being vulnerable again may feel challenging.

Intimacy after having gone through a traumatic event can feel impossible but it isn’t. It can, however, take time and patience to become trusting once again.

As April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, comes to a close, I wanted to highlight an important part of healing after experiencing sexual violence. I’ve come across information about what to do immediately after sexual assault but not as much about re-entering the world of dating, relationships and sex.

In this article, I’ll share some tips for those who wish to start dating or be intimate—sexually or otherwise—after experiencing sexual violence.

Be Patient With Yourself

After sexual violence, you may not be ready to date or be sexually active for a while and you may feel frustrated. But give yourself time. Instead of feeling pressure to start dating or being intimate right away, you can spend some time getting to know yourself better.

If you’re unsure about dating or exploring intimacy—physical and/or emotional—you can work on trusting again through building connections with friends and family. Emotional intimacy can be felt in any type of relationship, not only with romantic partners.

It’s also OK to spend time with potential partners without romantically or sexually connecting with them right away.

You may feel social pressure, but this shouldn’t be the reason for you to start dating or be sexually active again. Your timeline is just that—yours. Remember, you are healing and know yourself best. If you feel ready, that’s OK. But if you don’t, that’s also OK! You may shift how you feel over time, so pay attention to your instincts.

Healing Isn’t Linear

Even if you do start to become intimate—physically and/or emotionally—with someone and something happens that upsets or reminds you of your assault, this is normal. Sometimes when someone has been through a traumatic event, they can be “triggered” later on, meaning that they can have memories of their trauma, feel frightened or feel like they are re-experiencing the trauma. Simple acts of intimacy may trigger you and you may experience a change in mood even during intimacy you thought you were ready for. But your body and mind are healing and it’s a good idea to pay attention to what they need.

Healing is not linear, meaning it doesn’t follow a set order of steps. It looks different for everyone. Your triggers may not be the same as someone else’s. There is no textbook definition of how you should react. You may also not have post-traumatic responses after experiencing sexual violence.

There is no one correct way to feel or behave after experiencing sexual violence.

Communicate Your Boundaries

Being intimate is about connecting with someone else. When you do meet someone and want to potentially pursue a relationship, it can be helpful, if you’re ready, to share what you need so that you’re comfortable. Whether your relationship with a partner is romantic, sexual or both, you can tell them what may upset you, convey how you may react if triggered and figure out the best way to communicate about this in an ongoing way.

It’s always important to discuss consent and set boundaries. This may feel awkward. But sex and healthy relationships should be about having respect for one another. Check out our communication tool for some tips.

You Are Not Alone

There are many good resources for survivors of sexual violence, including love is respect and RAINN. You may seek professional help like therapy. It can be beneficial to talk to a professional about how to navigate your own healing process.

You’re also not alone. Knowing that can help when you may feel isolated.

Ultimately, intimacy is supposed to be fun and comforting. You deserve to reclaim that and enjoy yourself, in a way that feels right for you.

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