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Sex for One

Masturbation is one of the most-practiced but least-talked-about pleasures of life. Did you know that well over 80% of people (men and women) say they have masturbated? Considering how taboo it is to admit that, one can imagine that the true percentage is even higher.

Let's start with what masturbation isn't. It isn't evil. It isn't a sign of repressed sexuality. It isn't a "vice." It isn't a last resort that you turn to because you can't get "the real thing." It doesn't indicate mental illness or moral weakness. In fact, masturbation is just different from sex. The sensations are different, your method of stimulation may be different, and of course the psychological feeling of it is different (since you are not with someone else). It may be easier or more difficult to achieve orgasm through masturbation than during sex with a partner. Self-stimulation may be a satisfying substitute for sex; it may be a supplement to your sex life; or it may not fulfill all your needs. Anything goes.

There's no "wrong way" to do it, any more than there is a "wrong way" to feel happiness. It's your body-- that means it's yours to touch without shame or guilt. No one else can know exactly what feels good to you, so you get the benefit of having exactly the right stimulation. Some women (and men) use dildos for the feeling of penetration, and others prefer no penetration; some use vibrators (inside or out) for extra stimulation; some use nothing except their own fingers and hands; many simultaneously fantasize about anything they find sexually stimulating. Clothes on, clothes off, toys or not, what matters is that you feel sexual pleasure. Masturbation is a little nice thing you do for yourself, like buying an ice cream cone or taking an extra fifteen minutes to sit in the sun at your lunch break. And it doesn't cost anything!

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Declaration of Sexual Rights

Sexuality is an integral part of the personality of every human being. Its full development depends upon the satisfaction of basic human needs such as the desire for contact, intimacy, emotional expression, pleasure, tenderness and love. Sexuality is constructed through the interaction between the individual and social structures. Full development of sexuality is essential for individual, interpersonal, and societal well being. Sexual rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity, and equality of all human beings. Since health is a fundamental human right, so must sexual health be a basic human right. In order to assure that human beings and societies develop healthy sexuality, the following sexual rights must be recognized, promoted, respected, and defended by all societies through all means. Sexual health is the result of an environment that recognizes, respects, and exercises these sexual rights.

  1. The right to sexual freedom. Sexual freedom encompasses the possibility for individuals to express their full sexual potential. However, this excludes all forms of sexual coercion, exploitation and abuse at any time and situations in life.

  2. The right to sexual autonomy, sexual integrity, and safety of the sexual body. This right involves the ability to make autonomous decisions about one's sexual life within a context of one's own personal and social ethics. It also encompasses control and enjoyment of our own bodies free from torture, mutilation and violence of any sort.

  3. The right to sexual privacy. This involves the right for individual decisions and behaviors about intimacy as long as they do not intrude on the sexual rights of others.

  4. The right to sexual equity. This refers to freedom from all forms of discrimination regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, social class, religion, or physical and emotional disability.

  5. The right to sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure, including autoeroticism, is a source of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual well being.

  6. The right to emotional sexual expression. Sexual expression is more than erotic pleasure or sexual acts. Individuals have a right to express their sexuality through communication, touch, emotional expression and love.

  7. The right to sexually associate freely. This means the possibility to marry or not, to divorce, and to establish other types of responsible sexual associations.

  8. The right to make free and responsible reproductive choices. This encompasses the right to decide whether or not to have children, the number and spacing of children, and the right to full access to the means of fertility regulation.

  9. The right to sexual information based upon scientific inquiry. This right implies that sexual information should be generated through the process of unencumbered and yet scientifically ethical inquiry, and disseminated in appropriate ways at all societal levels.

  10. The right to comprehensive sexuality education. This is a lifelong process from birth throughout the life cycle and should involve all social institutions.

  11. The right to sexual health care. Sexual health care should be available for prevention and treatment of all sexual concerns, problems and disorders.

Sexual Rights are Fundamental and Universal Human Rights.

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Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, and questioning (GLBTTQ) people are a diverse group of people who have struggled with issues of sexuality and gender identity, and may therefore feel a sense of kinship. GLBTTQ people are diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, age, education, political affiliation, income, and the degree to which they identify with other GLBTTQ people.

One of the more challenging aspects of the GLBTTQ culture/community is the terminology. It is important to understand and/or be aware of the different terms, and the meaning and history behind them, in order to better understand GLBTTQ people and communities. For some people, the wide range of terms relating to gender and sexual identity is new territory, and can be overwhelming. However, it is important not to allow this sense of unfamiliarity dictate your ability to connect with people who identify as GLBTTQ. Rather, learn what you can and, when in doubt, ask questions!

Here are some of the more frequently used terms and their definitions:

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to one's sexual and romantic attraction. Those whose sexual orientation is to people of the opposite sex are called "heterosexual", those whose sexual orientation is to people of the same sex are called "homosexual" (or lesbian or gay), and those whose sexual orientation is to people of both sexes are called "bisexual." The term "sexual preference" is misleading because it implies that this attraction is a choice rather than an intrinsic personal characteristic. Sexual orientation is not necessarily the same as sexual behavior.


A lesbian is a woman whose primary sexual and romantic attractions are to other women. She may have sex with women currently or may have had sex with women in the past. A smaller number of lesbians may never have had sex with another woman for a whole host of reasons (age, societal pressures, lack of opportunity, fear of discrimination), but nonetheless realize that their sexual attraction is mainly to other women. Some lesbians have sex with men and some don't. It is important to note that some women who have sex with other women, sometimes exclusively, may not call themselves lesbians.


In Indigenous cultures, before the Europeans came to North America, “Two-Spirit” referred to an ancient teaching. Elders tell of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits: that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Two-Spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers and the medicine people, respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies.

Today, Two-Spirit people are Aboriginal people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, other gendered, and third/fourth gendered individuals who walk carefully between the worlds and between the genders. Since European colonization, the existence of the Two Spirit community has been systematically denied and culturally alienated from the Aboriginal identity. Two Spirit people bear witness to this activity in the form of racism, sexism and homophobia in the courts, the streets, the education system, the media, in their communities, and in other lesbian and gay organizations within the dominant Canadian society.


A gay man is a man whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is to other men. He may have sex with men currently or may have had sex with men in the past. A smaller number of gay men may never have had sex with another man for a whole host of reasons (age, societal pressures, lack of opportunity, fear of discrimination), but nonetheless realize that their sexual attraction is mainly to other men. Some gay men have sex with women and some don't. It is important to note that some men who have sex with other men, sometimes exclusively, may not call themselves gay.

"Gay" is also used as an inclusive term encompassing gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, and sometimes even transgender people. In the last 20 years, this has become less and less common and "gay" is usually used currently to refer only to gay men. The term is still often used in the broader sense in spoken shorthand, as in "The Gay Pride Parade is at the end of June."


Bisexual men and women have sexual and romantic attractions to both men and women. Depending upon the person, his or her attraction may be stronger to women or to men, or they may be approximately equal. A bisexual person may have had sex with people of both sexes, or only of one sex, or he or she may never have had sex at all. It is important to note that some people who have sex with both men and women do not consider themselves bisexual. Bisexuals are also referred to as "bi."


A heterosexual man or woman's primary sexual and romantic attraction is to people of the other sex. She or he may or may not have had sex with another person, but still realize that his/her sexual attraction is mainly to people of the other sex. Some people who consider themselves heterosexual have or have had sexual contact with people of the same sex. Heterosexual people are also referred to as "straight."

Gender Identity

At birth, we are assigned one of two genders, usually based on our visible genitals. For many people this gender assignment fits and feels comfortable and they never think about it further. Others do not feel as comfortable with their assigned gender, either because they find the two-gender system too limiting or because they feel more identification with the gender opposite that to which they were assigned at birth. People deal with this discomfort in many ways, sometimes only in personal ways, and sometimes in ways visible to others.


People who identify more strongly with the other gender than the one to which they were assigned (e.g., women who feel like men, or men who feel like women) are called "transgender." Some transgender people may "cross-dress" or "do drag" regularly or for fun (and many of these people are comfortable in their assigned gender). Other transgender people may take hormones of the opposite gender and/or have surgery in order to change their bodies to reflect how they feel inside. These people are also called "transsexual." Transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.

Female-to-male transsexuals are sometimes referred to as "FTMs" or "transsexual men," and male-to-female transsexuals as "MTFs" or "transsexual women." Pre-operative ("pre-op") transsexuals are preparing for sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) and may take hormones. Post-operative ("post-op") transsexuals have undergone SRS and continue to take hormones, often for the rest of their lives. Some transsexuals ("non-op") either do not want or cannot afford SRS, though they may still take hormones.


Homophobia involves harassing, prejudicial treatment of, or negative attitudes about lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, trans-identified, transgender, inter-sexed and/or two-spirited (LGBQTT) persons and those perceived to be of these sexual orientations or gender identities. Discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity are not acceptable at Positive Passions.

Homophobia includes a range of feelings and behaviours from discomfort and fear to disgust, hatred, and violence. It manifests itself in four different ways. Personal homophobia (or internalized homophobia) consists of personal beliefs and prejudices. Interpersonal homophobia (harassment and individual discrimination) involves individual behaviours based on those personal beliefs. Institutional homophobia includes the ways that governments, organizations, some religions, businesses, and other institutions discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Lastly, cultural homophobia (heterosexism) refers to societal values and "norms" that privilege heterosexuality over all other forms of gender expression and sexual orientation.

Homophobic behaviours include:

  • "Gay-bashing" or physical violence, including sexual violence

  • Making derogatory comments, innuendos, insults, slurs, jokes, or threats about sexual orientation or sexual practice

  • Silencing talk of sexual or gender diversity

  • Forcing people to "come out" or to "stay in the closet" (disclose or hide their sexual orientation)

  • Linking homosexuality with pedophilia (child abuse)

  • Accusing LGBQTT persons of "recruiting" others to join their sexual orientation

  • Defacing notices, posters, or property with homophobic graffiti

  • Rejecting friends or family members because of their sexual orientation or gender identity

  • Behaving as though sexual orientation is solely about sexual practice or is a "lifestyle choice"

  • Treating the sexual orientations or gender identities of LGBQTT persons as less than valid than those of heterosexuals

  • Behaving as though all LGBQTT persons have AIDS or are responsible for the spread of it


Heterosexism is the assumption that only heterosexual relationships are normal and that they should therefore be privileged. Heterosexism is about assumptions & building a community/society around them. Specifically, heterosexism is the assumption that everyone is heterosexual…& if they're not, they should be. It is the belief that heterosexuality is natural & universal -- that it's the bedrock of society, the blueprint for all interpersonal social relations, the norm. Heterosexism acts to enforce heterosexuality, thus leaving those who work within its grasp little choice but to assume that heterosexuality is the only sexuality.

Heterosexism makes heterosexuality compulsory. It does this through society's institutions, which, through their practices & attitudes, single out the heterosexual couple as the social norm. By defining the social norm through their practices & attitudes, our society's institutions add support to the belief that heterosexuality is the natural norm. It thus follows that anyone who falls outside of this norm becomes either invisible or relegated to the realm of the deviant. This is how heterosexism maintains the assumption that heterosexuality is the only sexuality.

Heterosexual privilege bestows unearned and unchallenged advantages and rewards on heterosexuals solely as a result of their sexual orientation. These benefits are not automatically granted to LGBTTQ persons. Heterosexual privilege includes the right to:

  • Show affection in public safely and comfortably, without fear of harassment or violence

  • Openly talk about one's partner and relationships to others without considering the consequences

  • Benefit from societal "normalcy": the assumption that heterosexual individuals and relationships are valid, healthy, and non-deviant

  • Assume that all people and relationships are heterosexual, unless otherwise known

  • Not face rejection from one's family and friends because of one's sexual orientation or gender identity

  • Easily access positive role models and media images for one's gender identity and sexual orientation

  • Not be asked to speak on behalf of all heterosexuals

  • Use gender specific pronouns when referring to one's spouse or partner without discomfort or fear of reprisal

  • Have automatic recognition of one's spouse as next-of-kin in emergencies

  • Easily select reading or viewing materials in which heterosexuality is the predominantly reflected orientation

  • Have families similar to one's own represented in children's literature

  • Raise children without fear that they will be rejected or harassed by peers because of their parents' sexual orientation or gender identities

  • Receive support and validation from a religious community

  • Not risk being denied employment, housing, or other services because of one's sexual orientation or gender identity

  • Not be seen as needing therapy to "cure" one's sexual orientation or gender expression

  • Marry (in many parts of the world)


Some GLBT people, particularly young people living in the coastal US, use the term "queer" to encompass the entire GLBT community. For these people, the term "queer" is positive and empowering. Other GLBT people find this term degrading.

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Swinging, sometimes referred to in North America as the swinging lifestyle, is non-monogamous sexual activity, treated much like any other social activity, that can be experienced as a couple. The phenomenon (or at least its wider discussion and practice) may be seen as part of the sexual revolution of recent decades, which has occurred after the upsurge in sexual activity possible due to safer sex practices that became prevalent during these same decades. Swinging has been called wife swapping in the past, but this term is now archaic, as it is androcentric and does not accurately describe the full range of sexual activities that swingers may take part in.

Typically, swinging activities occur when a married or otherwise committed couple engages with another couple, multiple couples, or a single individual. These acts can occur in the same room (often called same room swinging) though different or separate room swinging does occur. Sex on these occasions is often referred to as play.

While the vast majority of swingers are heterosexual couples, a major part of Lifestyle activities are bisexual in nature. A large portion of female swingers, while they may or may not identify as bisexual, are interested in female-female sexual contact. Male-male contact is very rare, and usually never allowed in at a Swing Club/Party. There are over 3,000 swinging clubs worldwide. Most major cities in North America and Western Europe have at least one swingers' club in a permanent location although they often keep a low profile to avoid negative attention. Swingers also meet through lifestyle magazines, personal ads, swinging house parties, and Internet sites.

Clubs can refer to a physical location or building. In this context, clubs are typically divided into "on-premise" clubs, where sexual activity may happen then and there at the club, and "off-premise" clubs where sexual activity is not allowed at the club, but may be arranged at a near-by location. "Clubs" also may refer to the group that organizes the Lifestyle-related events in a particular area.

Many swingers claim that the swinger lifestyle has improved their core relationships, as well as their intra-marital sexual relationships. They commonly say that it has helped them overcome insecurities regarding self image, age, fidelity, nudity, sexuality, sexual performance, anatomical proportions, and anatomical sizes and shapes. Often, swingers cite benefits, such as variety, community, and assurance of fidelity as reasons they participate.

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Polyamory is a descriptive term which contrasts with monogamy, for the practice or lifestyle of a person being open to more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time, with full knowledge and consent by others involved in their life. A polyamorous outlook thus rejects sexual or emotional exclusivity as a necessity within a long-term loving relationship. The term is sometimes socially abbreviated to poly, especially as a form of self-description, and also at times described as consensual non-monogamy. It is distinct from polygamy, being rooted in concepts such as choice and individuality, and the two in practice have little or no overlap. Due to its fluid nature, there is no clear agreement on exactly how broadly the term can be applied.

People who consider themselves open to or emotionally suited for a poly lifestyle may at times be single, or in monogamous relationships, or involved with more than one long term or loving relationship; as a result polyamory is usually taken as a description of a lifestyle or relational choice and philosophy, rather than their actual relationship status at a given moment. Such people may identify as polyamorous, or may characterize themselves by an alternative viewpoint, their lack of desire or need for monogamy.

Polyamorous relationships are of necessity highly varied and individualized, they are therefore (as an ideal) more commonly built upon values of trust, loyalty, negotiation, and compassion, as well as rejection of jealousy and possessiveness, rather than traditional culturally understood bonds which are seen as somewhat forcible and controlling. Such relationships are also often expected to be more fluid and changeable than the traditional 'dating and marriage' model of long-term relationships, and may not have a preconception as to duration.

The terms primary (or primary relationship[s]) and secondary (or secondary relationship[s]) are often used as a means to indicate a hierarchy of different relationships or the place of each relationship in the speaker's life. Thus a woman with a husband and another partner might refer to the husband as her "primary". (Of course, this is in addition to any other term of endearment). Some polyamorous people use this as an explicit hierarchy of relationships; others consider it insulting to the people involved, believing that a person's partners should be considered equally important. Another model, sometimes referred to as intimate network, includes relationships of varying significance to the people involved, but which are not explicitly labelled as primary or secondary; any hierarchy which exists may be fluid and vague, or nonexistent.

There is little scientific research into the durability of polyamorous relationships, but the research which does exists suggests that provided both partners are emotionally capable of the outlook required by polyamory, such relationships do not appear to show strong evidence of being less capable of duration than classical monogamous partnerships. Despite this, there is significant social discomfort and distrust about consensual non-monogamy lifestyles in general, in many societies where the social norm is a single partner.

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BDSM is any of a number of related patterns of human sexual behavior. The major sub-groupings are described in the abbreviation "BDSM" itself:

Many of the specific practices in BDSM are those which, if performed in neutral or nonsexual contexts, could be considered unpleasant, undesirable, or abusive. For example, pain, physical restraint and servitude are traditionally inflicted on persons against their will and to their detriment. In BDSM, however, these activities are engaged in with the mutual consent of the participants, and typically for mutual enjoyment. (Any "consent" may or may not amount to legal consent and represent a defense to criminal liability for any injuries caused.)

This emphasis on informed consent and safety is also known as “SSC” (safe, sane and consensual), though others prefer the term “RACK” (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink), believing that it places more emphasis on acknowledging the fact that all activities are potentially risky. There is discussion and dispute about the meaning or intent of the terms, but in essence, both terms refer to all participants acknowledging and accepting some level of risk.

  • BDSM may or may not involve sex of any kind.

  • BDSM may or may not involve sexual role playing.

  • How dominant or submissive a person may be in their regular life does not necessarily indicate which role they will play in a scene. Some might opine that there is roughly an inverse relationship.

  • Some BDSM players are polyamorous or sexually monogamous but engage in non-sexual play with others.

  • A couple may engage in BDSM sexuality with an otherwise non-D/S relationship dynamic.

On a physical level, BDSM "sensation play" often involves inflicting pain, even if without actual injury. This releases endorphins, creating a sensation somewhat like runner's high or the afterglow of orgasm, sometimes called "sub-space", which many find enjoyable. Some use the term "body stress" to describe this physiological sensation. More eloquently, the philosopher Edmund Burke defines this sensation of pleasure derived from pain by the word “sublime”. The regions of the brain that manages sexual stimuli and pain overlaps, resulting for some individuals to associate pain with sexual pleasure as the reaction neurological reactions is intertwined. BDSM may encompass the following practices:

BDSM activities are practiced by people of all sexualities. Many practice their BDSM activities exclusively in private, and do not share their predilections with others. Others socialize with other BDSM practitioners. The BDSM community can be regarded as a subculture within mainstream society. Being involved in BDSM or Dominant/submissive relationships on a regular basis is often referred to as being "in the lifestyle". Communities of BDSM “lifestylers” are prevalent in all parts of the world. Large cities and small town alike have organizations where lifestylers meet to learn, share and practice. These groups are often underground and can be hard to find, but as society becomes more and more accepting, the groups are coming out of the closets.

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The basic idea of sexual fetishism is sexual arousal and satisfaction through an inanimate object, the fetish.

In common speech, any fixation on a singular inanimate object, body part, body feature or sexual practice is called fetishism. In modern popular culture, "fetishism" is widely spread and has gained a much broader meaning. Usually it is used to name any sexual preference which is perceived as unusual: overweight, race and hair color are examples for physical features that popularly are considered fetishes (fat fetishism, racial fetish, redhead fetishism). Often, "fetish" is used in combination with BDSM or even to name sadomasochistic practices although basically these two orientations have nothing in common. The tendency to call more and more sexual preferences fetishism has long been target of parody.

There are many theories about the psychological how, when and why of fetishism, but only few facts. Many fetishists state that they have had fetishistic desires as long as they can remember. Some fetishists can trace back their desire to a specific event. Modern psychology assumes that fetishism either is being conditioned or imprinted or the result of a traumatic experience. But also physical factors like brain construction and heredity are considered possible explanations.

Fetishism is extremely varied and encompasses many types of objects. Though in theory each object can become a fetish, the common assumption that there is a fetishist for each and everything seems to be wrong: Most fetishes reported are either body parts, clothes or objects similar to clothes (e. g. jewels and casts). Fetishes that are not directly related to the human body seem to be extremely rare, if present at all. Commonly fetishized items appear to be shoes, lingerie, and specific materials such as satin, leather or fur. Sometimes, whole cultures can develop the fetish to such an extent that it is no longer perceived as a fetish, but merely as a normal sexual desire; for example the commonplace "fetishes" for lingerie and women lacking body hair.

Most of the material on fetishism is in reference to heterosexual men, with most of the objects fetishized being high-femme items such as lingerie, hosiery, and heels. Until recently there was little mention of women ever having fetishes. Given the male's more visual nature, the preferences of women fetishists are not necessarily a mirror image of those of male fetishists; just because many men are attracted to women in high heels does not necessarily mean there are many women attracted to men in construction boots.

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Sex and Survivors8

Many sexual abuse survivors struggle to have positive and enjoyable sex lives. It can be very hard to feel comfortable with and enjoy sex when you've been sexually abused. Even people who haven't been sexually abused sometimes struggle to feel comfortable with their sexuality and sex.

Sexual Abuse is not Sex

For many sexual abuse survivors, sex becomes linked with sexual abuse. As a result, some survivors will mistake unsatisfying and pleasure-less sex, or even sexually abusive behavior, for sex. This means that survivors can be vulnerable to being further abused. As a survivor, this is not your fault. You may not know: that you have the right to enjoy yourself sexually; what a mutually satisfying sexual experience is; what you want sexually, and that those needs deserve respect; and that you can say "no" and have that respected.

Abuse teaches the opposite - during abuse, your needs don't matter; you have to cater to someone else's sexual needs. Your sexual desires don't exist, and if they do exist they don't count. And of course you have no power to stop the abuse. Some survivors believe that's what sex is - unenjoyable and abusive - or that that is how it is with a man, or with a woman. They may also believe that's all they are good for, that they can't expect anything better, and that if sex isn't enjoyable it's their fault or the result of their own inadequacy - they are "damaged". These reactions and beliefs are outcomes of abuse and need to be challenged - because they are not true.

One of the hardest things for abuse survivors to do is separate sexual abuse from sex. I know you may know this intellectually, but it's worth repeating many times - sexual abuse is not sex. Even if you liked the attention, approached your abuser for attention, were aroused, or had an orgasm, it's still not sex and you are not responsible.

Placing responsibility on the abuser is one of the most important steps in separating the sexual abuse from your sexuality and sex life. That may involve feeling anger at your abuser, holding him/her responsible (in your own mind), grieving your victimization and powerlessness, and reassuring the hurt child inside you that it wasn't her/his fault.

When You Don’t Feel Safe with Sex

Sexual abuse robs survivors of their ability to feel safe in the world and with themselves. Internal safety is the extent to which you feel safe when the situation you are in is safe. Many survivors feel unsafe even when the person they are with or the situation they are in is safe. There is a difference between feeling safe and being safe. The first is a feeling and is affected by your past experiences with safety or lack of safety. The second is an actual fact about whether or not the people you are with or the situation you are in is safe.

It's so important for survivors to develop a sense of safety (internal safety) as well as to have ways to identify whether or not people and situations are safe (external safety). Both internal and external safety are needed for enjoyable consensual sex. Without internal safety, sex can feel very scary and triggering. Without external safety, the sex will not be safe, consensual, or pleasurable.

Some ways to develop internal safety:

  • Create a safe place for yourself inside your home - a comfortable place that you can call your own. No one should go into this space without your permission, it is yours.

  • Imagine what an ideal safe place would look like. It doesn't have to be reality based; you can create a fantasy safe place. Really let your imagination go with this; you can imagine anything you want. What would be there? What would you see, hear, smell, and be able to touch? How would you feel in this safe place? Spend time with this imaginary safe place on a regular basis to strengthen your internal experience of safety.

Some ways to develop external safety:

  • Explore your definition of external safety. What does it mean for a person or a situation to be safe? How do you know when you are safe? How do you know when people or situations are not safe? What contributes to your feeling safe, and what interferes with your ability to feel safe? What are your internal signs that tell you when someone or a situation is not safe?

  • Identify what helps you to feel safe with a sexual partner. Do you need to talk during sex? Do you need to talk about issues before having sex? Do you need to know that you can stop at any time? Do you need to practice saying "stop" or "no" during sex? Do you need to have opportunities to initiate sex?

Building a Comfort Level with Intimacy

For many survivors being intimate - emotionally or sexually - can be very scary. Many survivors dissociate from intimacy, yet they crave the closeness at the same time. Fear of intimacy is often rooted in fear of being vulnerable with another person and of being hurt by them.

Some suggestions to build a comfort level with intimacy:

  • Take little steps whenever you can to increase your intimacy with someone you trust and are safe with. This could mean sharing something personal, talking about your feelings, touching them, asking for a hug, holding eye contact, inviting them out, calling a friend, reaching out when you are upset, or staying present for as long as you can in their presence.

  • During sex, take it slow, stop when you need to, and breathe in and feel what you are feeling. Be aware of how you are feeling in your body. Take your time. Hold eye contact. Touch your partner. Stay connected with your partner. Talk about how you are feeling.

Being in Your Body

Because sexual abuse is an invasion and an attack on the body, many survivors feel cut off or distant from their bodies. They may view their bodies as being responsible for the abuse, or at very least intimately linked with the abuse. This negative association between your body and the abuse needs to be broken. Your body doesn't deserve to be thought of this way.

Many survivors hate their bodies, and feel betrayed by their body's response during abuse. Some survivors refer to their body as "the body", distancing themselves from their bodies in order to not feel pain. Being in touch with and living in your body are key to enjoying your sexuality and sex. But often that means going through a lot of body and emotional pain first. This happens because our bodies hold tension and feelings from the abuse as well as our responses to the abuse. This tension needs to be released so that you can feel your sexual feelings and enjoy them.

Some ways to become more in touch with or connected to your body:

  • Breathing exercises. For example, close your eyes, and focus your awareness on the natural rhythm of your breath as it moves in and out of your body. If you get distracted, keep bringing your focus back to your breath.

  • Body awareness exercises. For example lie down and become aware of what you notice in different areas of your body, such as tension, feelings, associations, visual images, and memories.

  • Relaxation exercises. For example, lie down and tense up one area of your body, holding your breath at the same time. Hold your breath for the count of ten, and then let your breath and tension go. Continue like this with all areas of your body.

  • Notice how you feel in your body when you are feeling sexual. This includes different kinds of sexual feelings - for example, when you feel attracted to someone, when you feel sensual, when you are aware of yourself as a sexual being, when you are sexually aroused, and when different areas of your body are sexually aroused. Breathe into those feelings and areas of your body. Spend time with those feelings on your own and with a partner. Learn to ride the waves of all your feelings, including sexual feelings.

Dealing with Triggers During Sex

Survivors are often triggered during sex or while anticipating sex because of its association with abuse. Working on separating the sexual abuse from your body and your sexuality will help you to become less triggered by sex. Focusing on being present in your body and in your immediate environment will also help you to remain rooted in the present.

Some suggestions for dealing with triggers during sex:

  • Identify that you are triggered. If you feel any of the following feelings during sex and it's not related to how your partner is treating you then you are probably triggered: scared, numb, dissociated, dirty, ashamed, ugly, self-hating, panicky, and very anxious.

  • Know that when you are triggered, you have a choice. You can decide to put the feelings or memories aside to be dealt with later, or you can deal with them at the time. Sometimes this doesn't feel like a choice, but there are ways to contain, separate from, and manage triggers so that you can put them aside and deal with them later. Ways to separate include self-talk, reminding yourself where you are and who you are with, letting yourself know that you are safe, asking for a safe hug, and doing whatever you need to do to feel present again. For instance, you can visualize placing the trigger away for another time by creating an image that represents the abuse and visualize putting that image in a safe place until you are ready to deal with it. You can talk about the trigger and then tell yourself that you want to put it aside for now and be in the present. You can focus on the present moment by looking around the room, noticing what you see, smell, hear, and touch.

  • You may choose to go into the trigger by being aware of how you feel, and what you see, hear, smell, and remember. You can let yourself go through the natural rhythm of the trigger. As with any feeling, triggers have their own rhythm of increasing feeling and tension, and then subsiding and decreasing in intensity.

  • It may be enough to acknowledge to yourself and/or your partner that you are triggered, and what it's connected to if you know, and then return to the present moment.

  • If a certain sexual act triggers you, a good guideline for minimizing the effect of that trigger is to approach the sexual act gently and slowly for a short period of time, and then stop for a while or completely, and come back to it later. Each time spend a little longer on the activity, building up your ability to stay present and to feel the feelings in your body.

Taking Charge of Your Own Sexual Enjoyment

Many survivors wait for others to initiate sexual contact with them or to ask them out on a date. They may fear initiating sexual contact or contact that could potentially become sexual. There are many reasons for this; you will need to discover your own. Some common reasons include: a fear of behaving like the abuser or being seen as behaving like a perpetrator; a fear of being rejected and vulnerable; a fear of standing out, being noticed, or being the center of attention; and a fear of being seen as sexually unattractive, undesirable, or unlovable.

Knowing why you are afraid to initiate sexual contact or to ask someone out on a date can help decrease that fear. Work on your specific issues. For example, find ways to feel better about yourself, your body, your sexuality, and your attractiveness and “lovableness”. You might want to set small attainable goals such as asking someone out to a movie without having to worry about initiating sex. You could practice touching people in a friendly, casual fashion - not just people you are attracted to, but rather working your way up to that. Practice asking someone out or initiating sex. This can help prepare you and give you the words you're searching for. Just talking about the problem with someone can help, too.

Many survivors feel they must accept whatever their partner does to them sexually, rather than take an active role in their sexual enjoyment. Knowing what you want, what turns you on, and asking for that is crucial to your sexual enjoyment. Only you can really know what feels good and exciting to you.

Many survivors have to overcome a great deal of shame and guilt about their sexuality and their bodies in order to feel comfortable asserting their sexual needs and desires. Most survivors have learned to do the opposite; they've learned to endure, be quiet, please others, and to not be powerful by asking for what they need.

You can become more assertive by discovering with yourself what you enjoy, talking with your partner about it, starting to ask for what you want in other areas of your life, and gradually asking for something that you want sexually. Some survivors find it easier to hold their partner's hand and guide them rather than talk about what they want. Some like to show their partner how they like it by doing it themselves in front of their partner, and then letting their partner take over. Whatever works for you is just fine.

The Myth That Sexual Abuse Causes Survivors' Sexual Orientation

Because same-sex abuse is considered to be the same as lesbian and gay sex, ma

Many people believe that same-sex abuse causes survivors to be gay. On the flip side, when a survivor has been abused by a member of the other sex and the survivor identifies as gay, it's assumed that that, too, is the result of abuse. This can cause a lesbian or gay sexual abuse survivor to question her/his sexual identity. Many heterosexual survivors also struggle with questions about their sexuality because of the confusion and negative associations about sex that are created by sexual abuse.

It might help to try and remember if you had any sense of your sexual desires prior to the abuse. What gender(s) were you attracted to then? If you can't remember or you were abused very young, you may need to start paying attention to who you are attracted to now, who you feel most comfortable with emotionally and sexually, and who you fantasize about. You may need to see or read about positive images of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual sex to help you discover what feels right for you.

The challenge is to find ways to connect deep inside yourself and unearth your own truth - your own sexual desires, fantasies, passion, and emotional and sexual attractions. Working on separating the abuse from your sexuality will help clear some of the confusion. If you are gay and fear that your sexual orientation was caused by the abuse, you may want to learn more about gay sexuality from a positive perspective - for example read some gay-positive books, look at lesbian and gay websites, and talk to a gay help line or a gay-positive therapist.

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1Adapted in part from “Sex for One” by Kim Allen (http://www.io.com/~wwwomen/sexuality/sexforone.html).

2Source: World Association for Sexology (http://www.tc.umn.edu/~colem001/was/wdeclara.htm). Adopted in Hong Kong at the 14th World Congress of Sexology, August 26, 1999.

3Sources: McGill University Queer Equity (http://www.mcgill.ca/queerequity/heterosexism/), Seattle & King County Public Health (http://www.metrokc.gov/health/glbt/definitions.htm), The Heterosexism Enquirer at Memorial University of Newfoundland (http://www.mun.ca/the/themain.html), Two-Spirit People of the First Nations (http://www.2spirits.com/).

4Adapted from “Swinging”, in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swinging).

5Adapted from “Polyamory”, in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyamory).

6Adapted from “BDSM”, in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BDSM).

7Adapted from “Sexual Fetishism”, in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_fetishism).

8Source: “Sexual Abuse Survivors and Sex”, K. Munro, 2001. Retrieved from http://www.kalimunro.com/article_sexualabuse_and_sex.html