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This Month, Dr. Carol Queen Unpacks Why Healing Without Verbalizing Your Trauma, Isn’t A Thing

by Dr. Carol Queen

Q: I’ve been having trouble connecting to myself sexually because of past sexual trauma. Porn, in particular, is a trigger for me. I have a therapist but don’t want to talk about it. Do I have to? 

A: You don’t have to talk about it, no. But if your full question is more like, “Will working with a therapist help me get over the effects of sexual trauma if I don’t address it in therapy?” your reticence around opening up is not a plus. It’s not even neutral. If you are seeing a professional without a background in sexual trauma or from whom you get the impression that around sexual matters, you and they are a bad fit, that’s one thing. And it’s likely that elements of the therapeutic process will give you some relief around issues that touch on trauma, because therapy can help you buildup resilience and coping skills in general. Those are good things when it comes to handling what life throws your way. 

However, if your therapist is competent and trustworthy, staying silent about core issues just doesn’t serve you. At worst, it wastes your (and the therapist’s) time and reinforces for you the notion that what happened to you and your reactions are literally unspeakable. That message is traumatizing and stands in the way of your healing process. Since you say you’re having issues “connecting to yourself sexually,” at least part of you clearly wants to move in the direction of healing. And being able to communicate about sexual issues removes them from that “unspeakable”space; it helps you find and express your boundaries, and your desire around pleasure. These are valuable skills whether you ever get sexual with another person or keep your sexuality held close and only expressed with yourself.If the issue you want to stay silent about is specifically porn and its triggering role, my thoughts are essentially the same. It could be deeply useful to unpack the reasons porn seems especially triggering—not so much because I think you ought to get comfortable with porn(plenty of people don’t watch it; it’s neither normative nor required). But if you find you most especially fear being exposed to porn, or find that trigger is worse than others, it implies that porn is a door to your trauma response—and it might be worth learning if it can be closed! It may even be that your challenges connecting to yourself involve the need to avoid porn—since so many people experience porn as an arousal instigator and masturbation companion, and maybe you once did, too. If that’s the case, your connection with porn (and maybe arousal and masturbation) has been impaired by your trauma experience; but there are paths besides porn to erotic engagement, and possibly even a path back to enjoying porn—if you want to. Again—not required!

One more angle I’d like to mention—it might be that addressing your strongest and most immediate trigger just feels like it’s too much. It may be that there are other elements of your experience that you could start with instead and get to your response to porn later in the therapeutic process. You can request that your therapist not focus on this yet and pull other threads in its place. Remind yourself, though: If an issue is this tender for you, it needs healing attention.

Opening up about trauma generally isn’t easy, especially at first, but it is worthwhile. Talking about it with a trained therapist can change its controlling, triggering role in your life and help prevent, or reverse, the process of taking on shame because of your experiences.

Carol Queen’s latest book (written with Shar Rednour) is The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone

 Photo credit: SHVETS Production

 This article originally appeared in BUST’s Fall 2022 print edition. Subscribe here!

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