Why a Dry Spell Was What I Needed to Heal From Sexual Trauma

Feb 21, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. ET
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It probably seems counterintuitive to be thankful for a dry spell from sex, but for me, it’s true. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy sex. I do (though there have been a few points in life when my depression made me feel pretty indifferently toward sex). I’m in a healthy long-term relationship, but that hasn’t always been the case. In the past, I’ve dated people I felt obligated to have sex with — people who didn’t treat me very well emotionally. They were coercive and manipulative, and I didn’t realize it until years later, after I had some distance and gained emotional maturity.

When I was 12, I was raped. It happened again when I was 22. Both experiences left me anguished, eroding my self-esteem and completely damaging my relationship with sex. I had trouble taking care of myself and putting my own needs first, which is detrimental to the average person, but is even worse for someone who is both mentally and chronically ill like myself.

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I was single for a long time before I met my girlfriend when I was 26. Dating was difficult in the first place, being queer in a small town and having people not understand my needs as a chronically ill and disabled person. The trouble I had meeting women was probably a blessing in disguise because it gave me the time I needed to recover, to cope with what I’d gone through.

I was never much for one-night stands or casual sex because of my tendency to get attached and equating someone having sex with me to them loving me. So by the time my girlfriend and I had sex for the first time, it had been a long time for me since I’d last had sex with someone. That dry spell was probably the best thing I could have done for myself. Looking back at my early 20s, I see a very damaged person who had to figure out a way to forgive herself, to love the person she was.

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Eventually, I became that person — someone capable of realizing the love I need to give myself. That was something I never could have done in a relationship or while having sex because of the way I was at the time. I would have continued to put my partner’s needs before my own. As my own worst enemy, I would have stunted my own growth.

I know not everyone needs to stop having sex in order to grow as a person. Not everyone needs to stop dating to heal. Each person has different emotional, romantic and sexual needs that can change over time. Sex with my girlfriend is the best and healthiest sex I’ve ever had, and I really enjoy it, but time has taught me I don’t need sex to be happy. Instead, I need stability, companionship, transparency and someone who loves me the way I deserve to be loved. For the first time, I have that.

My chronic illness and other issues sometimes keep us from having sex as much as we might like, but it doesn’t negatively impact our relationship. There are so many ways to be intimate with someone that have nothing to do with sex. Whenever I’m going through an illness flare-up, I feel like the dry spell helps to really put the things that are most important in our relationship into perspective — our growth as a couple and as individuals.

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While sex dry spells might be looked down upon by a lot of people as indicative of problems in a relationship, I don’t see them that way. To me, dry spells are renewal. Sex will still be there when the dry spell ends. Progress might not be.

By Kelley O'Brien

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