How Sex Toys Can Help Manage PTSD — A Pleasure Guide by Sara Radin
Sometimes our self-pleasure can be disrupted by forces that feel totally beyond our control. For many, this includes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that’s known to cause severe anxiety and depression. Moreover, sufferers can also experience triggers, which lead to flashbacks in which they relive what once might’ve been a painful or traumatic experience.
PTSD and Sexual Interaction
According to Mal Harrison, a clinical sexologist and the Director for the Center for Erotic Intelligence, “Sufferers of PTSD can lose interest in activities that would otherwise bring them pleasure.”
Beyond this, PTSD can disturb the way someone experiences desire or sexual interaction. According to Dr. Liz Powell, a sex-positive psychologist, “For a lot of folks who have these symptoms, the thought of someone touching them in an intimate feels very intrusive and dangerous.” With this, it can often feel like engaging with people in a way that is intimate is going to cause you to fall apart, she says.
Can PTSD affect your (sexual) relationship?
Mal Harrison argues that those who experience PTSD can exhibit mistrust in their relationships, which prevents deeper intimacy and connection in their sex lives. “It often takes a PTSD sufferer longer to feel safe and trusting with their partners.”
Harrison explains, “Furthermore, if we’re living in a constant state of high anxiety and stress, or losing sleep from insomnia, chances are, we won’t have the energy, mental focus, or positive attitude of self-love needed for good sex.”
The Side Effects of PTSD on Sex
In Mal Harrison’s practice, she has worked with people who experience mental disorders like PTSD, which can cause them to have a negative internal dialogue that often leads to sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction, painful sex, or the inability to orgasm.
“It can be extremely difficult to engage with sufferers of PTSD, due to the fact that sex requires some form of surrender, which is the scariest thing in the world for someone with PTSD.” It’s no wonder our mental health and personal pleasure are connected; in order to feel fully present in our bodies and sexual experiences, it’s helpful to have a clear head.
Using Sex Toys to Manage PTSD
If someone is still feeling uncomfortable being intimate with others, sex toys can allow them to explore their own bodies and develop deeper intimacy within themselves, which can ultimately help them feel more comfortable engaging in partner sex.
“It could be a way for you to help get yourself out of your head when you’re having sex with other people,” says Dr. Liz Powell. In this way, sex toys can take us out of our reality, and decrease feelings of depression or anxiety, while allowing us to enter a state of physical pleasure and connection to the self. Moreover, the mind-body connection is a huge benefit for people with PTSD as “it gives them a sense of agency and control over their bodies, opposite of the experience that left them feeling out of control,” according to Powell.
In these ways, sex toys can often help people who have experienced trauma, whether it’s sexual or not, find ways to reconnect with themselves and their bodies and ultimately find pleasure. “Toys can allow them to start chipping away at the wall between themselves and what it is that they’re feeling,” offers Powell.
As each person prefers different kinds of sensations, Powell recommends trying out several different toys and kinds of stimulation to see what feels good in your body (and you can always give our very own Le Wand Vibrator a spin) “This is one of those opportunities for deeper exploration and a way of getting back in touch with yourself and figuring out what feels good,” she says.
Beyond this, Powell argues that not many therapists are not great at speaking with their clients about sex, and this can make it challenging for people to feel comfortable addressing the ways their mental health impacts their sex lives. In this case, she still recommends bringing it up to your therapist and if they can’t give you what you need, there are a tone of resources out there to help you find sex-positive therapists. This includes the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, and the Open List.
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