Raven Ishak
April 25, 2019 6:00 am
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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Getting into a new relationship is complicated. It’s definitely exciting, but there’s also usually a lot to unpack and learn about one another. Add traumatic experiences like sexual assault into the mix, and communication and sex can become challenging. While it may seem easier than ever to discuss sexual assault with a new partner in the #MeToo age, having the conversation about your own experience can be quite the opposite. That’s why it’s incredibly important to figure out if, when, and how you’d like to bring this up with your new partner.

According to sex therapist and clinical director of Allura Sex Therapy Centre Diana Sadat, consider creating a few boundaries before you discuss your sexual assault with your new partner. “Telling a partner about your sexual assault history can be hard—sexual assault robs us of trust, security, and safety. The biggest boundary I tell my clients to put in place is the amount of what they share and will answer from their partners is theirs to share. When deciding to sit down with your S.O., you place the guidelines of what is shared, how much is shared, and if it’s a topic that can be brought up again—this is your story,” says Sadat.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to share your story with your new partner unless you want to. “Sometimes, you don’t have to [tell your story]. Unfortunately, we are obsessed in our society to share everything with our partner and if we don’t, we’re assumed to be bad partners, harming the relationship. This is not true. If the decision is not to share, you don’t have to—it isn’t anyone’s right to know your story,” says Sadat.

However, if you believe it’s time to bring it up with them, we’re here to help. We connected with a couple of experts to find out how to take this next important step in your relationship and make the process as easy and safe as possible.

When should you talk to them about it?

Whether you’ve been on a few serious dates or been in a relationship for a couple of weeks or months, experts agree that it’s a good idea to discuss your sexual assault history before you become intimate with your partner. “There’s an important balance to strike here because you want to make sure that your partner is deserving of your trust, but you also want to talk about it before being intimate with them. There are no hard and fast rules here, but whether or not you feel comfortable talking about your history with your partner can be a good gauge of whether or not you’re ready to be intimate with them,” says sex therapist Vanessa Marin.

But before you go down that rabbit hole, it might be an even better idea to ask yourself how you truly feel about the relationship and where you see it going. “If you know that you want to tell your partner eventually, check in with yourself [and ask if] you feel trust in the relationship. Has your partner shown you respect? Has your partner been supportive of other, harder experiences in yours or someone else’s life? Being vulnerable is scary for anyone, but even scarier for someone who has been sexually assaulted. So taking the risk to share that with a partner needs to have extra aspects of the relationship in place to have a healing experience rather than a damaging one,” says Sadat.

How should you bring it up?

While there might not be one exact way to talk about your experience, it’s always a good idea to consider a few factors, such as time, location, and tone. “This is definitely a conversation you want to have at a quiet, private place. You also want to make sure you have plenty of time to have this conversation. You can start by telling your partner, ‘I want to talk to you about something. It’s difficult for me to talk about, but it’s an important conversation that I would like to have,'” says Marin. Also, consider not making light of the situation to make your partner feel more “comfortable.” That’s not part of your job as a victim of sexual assault. Sadat suggests trying to avoid this at all costs. It can minimize the significance of the experience to your partner, and also to yourself.

Consider, too, that something may trigger you and push you to share your sexual assault story in the moment, rather than at a planned time. Don’t beat yourself up if something like this happens. If you feel safe enough to talk about it in the moment, go for it; just remember that there are no hard or fast rules when it comes to this. “Sometimes, there’s no planning. A trigger happens during sex and all of a sudden, emotions are high. If this feels like the right time [to talk about your sexual assault], this may be it and that’s okay,” says Sadat.

How should you explain your relationship with triggers and sex?

One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone will understand what you’ve been or are currently going through. Your experience with sexual abuse may be a learning curve for some people. “You may need to explain to your partner that people who have experienced sexual abuse in the past tend to have triggers around sex. A lot of people don’t understand this. It can help to have an article or two to show to your partner, to help them understand that this is a common experience for survivors. You can say something like, ‘I’ve had a really negative experience (or experiences) with sex, and sometimes my body reacts as if it’s still in the midst of that trauma.’ Explain to your partner any patterns you’ve already noticed. For example, if you know you can’t have intercourse in positions where you can’t make eye contact,” says Marin.

When you’re talking about your triggers, you want to be honest and open about how they affect you to develop a safe connection with your partner for future intimate moments. But don’t worry if you’re still rummaging through this process. As long as you and your S.O. have an open dialogue about the matter and they provide the support you need, then it’s something you can work on together. “When sharing a trigger, describe not only what it is but also what happens and the best way they can be there for you through it. You might not also fully know your triggers, or what may work at most times may not work at other times for your partner to support you. Let them know that whatever happens during a trigger, as much as it may feel it’s about them, they’re not doing anything wrong, even if you can’t let them know that at that time,” says Sadat.

How should you continue to communicate about this experience throughout your relationship?

Even though you’re planning on having this conversation with your partner, that doesn’t mean it will be the only conversation you’ll ever have. Just like other traumatic experiences, it’s important to be mindful and continue to have regular check-ins so you and your S.O. can develop a healthy, stable, and safe intimate relationship with one another. “Let your partner know from the beginning that it’s something that you’ll need to have repeated conversations about. It can help to make a regular date to check in about your sex life, even if things are going well between the two of you. It’s easier to discuss the impacts of sexual abuse when you’re not right in the midst of a trigger,” says Marin.

But why exactly is it important to continue to talk about it? Well, according to Sadat, needs can change over time. “Things will change with time, and certain significant events in life can alter the response you’ve had so far to it. Having children, in particular, can be one of those things,” she tells HG. “Know that this has to be something that needs to be a continuous conversation if you’ve chosen to share it, and things change and the needs you may have around it can also change. Create an open dialogue around concerns, issues, or anything that can come up for either partner around this but that ultimately, it comes back to what is needed for the person who’s experienced sexual assault.”

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