Content: Discussion of sexual abuse and sexual violence, emotional and psychological triggers, flashbacks, and kink communication tools.
Hello, My beauties. This past week on #fetchat, we had a phenomenal discussion about emotional triggers in BDSM. It’s a hard subject (that’s what she said). For this week’s Beyond #fetchat post, I want to talk about my own experience with triggers. And how kink communication practices can benefit folks who struggle with intrusive memories.
Let’s start with the word “triggers.”
For the purposes of this post, triggers are things that evoke intense memories of a past experience. I have lived with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder for the entirety of my adult life.
I also served as a therapist before becoming disabled. Hearing the word “trigger” used to imply oversensitivity and weakness is infuriating.
Early in my recovery, triggering events came often. Day-to-day life was like walking blindfolded and barefoot across a floor strewn with broken glass. A simple phrase or smell brought overwhelming flashbacks that made daily functioning impossible. Though healing hurt, it was preferable to living in silence.
Enter, Mr. Crispy, the love of my life.
I met him early on in my recovery. He was kind, funny, and handsome. He also didn’t run screaming when I told him I was only one year into a grueling therapeutic process to reclaim my life.
It was rough going in the beginning. Physical intimacy was hard. I’ll never forget the first time Mr. Crispy’s hand grazed my neck. One moment we were kissing in the kitchen, wrapped up in each other, giddy, even. And the next, I’m on the other side of the room trying to breathe through a flashback.
He has always contended that I’m his hero (ugh, because he’s the sweetest). But navigating a landscape haunted by old ghosts was hard for both of us.
Which brings me to the first time we had sex.
We’d taken our time getting to know one another. I was learning intimacy for the first time. Being emotionally open to another person while being so physically vulnerable was a new experience.
Sure, I’d had plenty of sex. Fun sex. Kinky sex. Sleepy sex. Morning sex. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy getting naked with other folks. My challenge was nurturing my own pleasure and asking for what I needed.
My therapist had suggested waiting six months before we had sex.
Big nope. The better I felt, the more I craved the kind of closeness I’d never experienced. Mr. Crispy made being present while we kissed and touched incredible. It was thrilling.
I’d crawl into his lap, and we’d kiss for hours. No destination in mind, just lips gliding together, bodies brushing against each other. The first time I came from grinding on his thigh, fully clothed, was a revelation.
After two months of making out in his car or on my couch, we decided it was time to try penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex.
This was before my kinkster awakening.
The kink-communication practices we’ve since incorporated into our sex life weren’t in place. We didn’t talk through what we each needed and wanted to happen. Neither of us had chosen a safeword. And it didn’t occur to either of us to talk about hard and soft limits.
If we had, I think things would have happened differently.
One of the abusers I had been exposed to as a kid had been a chatty asshole. I love dirty talk now. I’m a sucker for it. But fourteen years ago, I hadn’t yet learned how to separate the abusive and manipulative language this man had used from healthy, consensual word-play.
So, when Mr. Crispy whispered, “you’re so tight,” after I’d sunk down onto his cock, I froze. I started weeping uncontrollably because I was immersed in a horrific flashback.
I’ll always be grateful for Mr. Crispy’s tenderness and care.
He guided me off him, reassured me that I was safe, and helped me return to the present. The life-line he offered me at that moment was precisely what I needed. It’s funny, I don’t think he knows how special he is and how unique his behavior was at that moment.
It shouldn’t be unique, though. Mr. Crispy’s actions should be the expected standard for every lover, from casual hookups to long-term relationships.
Experiencing a trigger during any sexual encounter can be devastating.
The initial jolt of memory, whether it evolves into a full-blown flashback or not, is frightening. And then there’s the guilt that the survivor may experience for “ruining the moment.”
At the time, I felt like my brokenness had destroyed our first time. I was so lucky I had a partner who was able to re-frame the experience as one of growth and closeness.
Learning I could trust him to listen to my truth and offer compassion was a huge step forward in our relationship.
Kink-communication, from safe words and scene planning to in-scene check-ins and debriefing, are tools that every relationship can benefit from. Especially if you or a partner (or partners) are survivors of sexual violence.
Past abuse doesn’t have to define you. Speaking your truth and asserting your needs is empowering. Open, honest talk before, during, and after sex doesn’t diminish the experience, it adds a dimension of safety.
And that safety allows intimacy and joy to flourish.
Be well, be wonderful, and above all, be you.