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Wellness

Conversations With My Sex Therapist: What Constitutes Trauma?

In order to learn how to reconnect with her body and orgasm during sex, one woman recounts her experience starting sex therapy

By Emma-Louise Boynton

8 May 2021
I

t’s 8pm my time, 8am Aleks’ time. My new sex therapist is based in Australia, so while snow was still gently forming sludgy heaps of ice outside my window (we started our sessions just after Christmas), behind Aleks sunlight was pouring in, ensconcing her in a halo-like glow that felt fitting for the woman who was going to solve all my problems.

We were speaking over WhatsApp, which suited me just fine. I felt grateful for this digital barrier as I geared up to pour forth, with unsparing detail, my myriad issues around sex and intimacy. Chief among them was my inability to orgasm. It was a problem, she assured me during our initial consultation, that numerous women face.

“Everytime I’m in a bar and a friend mentions to someone I’m a sex therapist, I’m met with the same reaction from women: ‘OMG, I can’t cum! What do I do?’. I can’t believe how many women are having such shit sex,” she’d said.

Now we’re in session number one and I’m explaining to Aleks all the times I too have had bad sex. The purpose of this first session, she explains, is to delve into my sexual history and paint for her a picture of how I got to where I am today. I needed little coaxing as I proceeded to relay how I lost my virginity, the role peer-pressure played in all my formative memories of sex, that time a man whispered “you’re so boring” into my ear when i said ‘no’ to him in bed. And then I landed on one particular experience, which I felt embarrassed to say had haunted me for over a decade. Not because the sex was so bad, but because I had no idea what happened.

I told Aleks about one particularly drunken night around Christmas when I was 17. I stayed at a squat with my best friend following a party hosted by a group of guys. They were much older than we were and all artists. The romance.

I woke up the following morning with a pounding headache and wandered downstairs to the smoke-filled living room, where several of the boy-man artists were still chain-smoking on the stained sofa, having not yet gone to bed from the night before.

“Haha, you had sex with Alex,” one of them leered at me.

“What are you talking about?” I responded, shocked.

“You had sex with Alex.”

“No, I didn’t”.

“Um, yes you did.”

I was confused. I had no memory of having sex with Alex, the mute painter who had sat creepily on the fringes of the party all night, watching on as the rest of us talked and danced. He was twice my age and we’d exchanged fewer than three words in total. I would never have had sex with him.

I went upstairs to find my best friend and asked her what had happened, flinching at a solitary flashback in which I was kissing someone. In a night that was otherwise a blur, I remembered a single kiss. Not with Alex, though, I was sure.

“Rachel, what happened last night? Everyone downstairs is saying I had sex with Alex, but I don’t remember it. I wouldn’t have had sex with Alex. When would that even have happened?”

Propped up on her elbow she rubbed her forehead, only half present.

“I don’t know. I remember Luke and I coming into the room upstairs and you were passed out on the bed. Alex looked as though he was trying to undress you, so we carried you out of the bedroom and put you on the sofa in the corridor. I’m sorry, I was so drunk, I don’t really remember what happened next.”

“But I woke up in the bed, not on the sofa.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

Rachel reached for a glass of water left on the side table, ignoring the thin film of dust that had formed on the liquid’s surface.

Photograph by Isobel Van Dyke

‘I had peeled back the lid on my sexual past and revealed in just over an hour all the ways I think I know I’m broken. The question is: can this attractive Australian with an open smile and voice like honey fix me?’

I felt confused and embarrassed, unsure what had happened and desperate to escape the suffocatingly stale air that filled the squat. I went back downstairs and grabbed my coat.

Back at home in my parents’ house I sat in the shower and cried, allowing the hot water to scald my skin and, I hoped, burn off whatever remnants still lingered there from the night before.

As I sat there relaying this story to Aleks, I said how embarrassed I felt that something which happened so long ago and of which I had so little actual recollection could still affect me. That this ill-informed memory still flickered across my mind with alarming frequency, making me wince. So many worse things have happened to other people, I said to her, how dare I be impacted by something so comparatively innocuous?

“That’s not the point,” Aleks responded. “Our experiences are subjective and how we process trauma relative.”

Trauma. I flinched at the mention of this loaded term.

Trauma, Aleks explained, doesn’t just occur when something “horrific” happens to someone. Anything can cause trauma – your dog dying when you were little, falling off a swing and breaking a bone, we don’t always get to pick how things affect us but the first step toward dealing with the impact is acknowledging the trauma.

“Your formative sexual experiences were,” she continued, “pretty horrible sounding. Uncomfortable at best, assaultive at worst. I’m not surprised you have issues around enjoying sex, so couched is it in negative connotations.”

Our first session was coming to a close.

“But I feel like I’m broken,” I said. “Like I have a defect.” Which is basically what the previous guy I was sleeping with said when I assured him it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t make me orgasm, and explained it was in my head.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “This has never happened to me before, I can always make a girl cum. This is on you.”

“Fuck him!” Aleks shrieked in response. “Do you know how many women experience this? Fuck that guy and his projections. You’re not broken. But we do have a lot of work to do.”

Our first session ended with my feeling as if we’d just begun. I had peeled back the lid on my sexual past and revealed in just over an hour all the ways I think I know I’m broken. The question is: can this attractive Australian with an open smile and voice like honey fix me?

We shall see.

The Short Stack

In her first hour in sex therapy, our writer explored a “horrific’ sexual encounter she has no memory of. Feeling broken, she ends the session questioning whether her therapist can fix her.

By Emma-Louise Boynton

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