Finding peace within the body can be a lifelong struggle. Messages surround us on a daily basis that seeks to dismantle our sense of self and safety. We may feel shame around pleasure or trepidation around exploring sensation and our physical desires.

Even with the progress that has been made with body positivity movements, there are still so many layers of guilt and fear around sex and being fully in our flesh.

Add to this the trauma of assault and we can only begin to imagine how many additional barriers we may be facing in reclaiming our sense of self and bodily autonomy.

As someone who works closely with survivors, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to feel at peace within one’s body after that same body had its power taken away. As a survivor of interpersonal violence myself, I understand how memories and feelings can rise up in moments where we would otherwise be happy and safe.

Knowing how to navigate these complex experiences is something I am passionate about exploring and sharing.

Masturbation Is Self-Love

One of the ways that many survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence come back into their bodies is through self-love and masturbation. Experiencing sexual pleasure that you can completely control and check-in with is an incredibly freeing and healing practice for many.

Masturbation helps us learn and relearn our boundaries and preferences. It can help us realize that we hold within ourselves everything we need for a satisfying intimate life- no other participants are necessary.

While exploring masturbation, survivors may come to see sex toys, in their many manifestations, as an additional tool in becoming comfortable once again with their sexual selves. Toys allow us more options for trying different approaches to pleasure, giving us new ways to allow our bodies to feel once again.

Having a tool for exploration that is separate from our physical selves can also be empowering- especially when touching triggering places with our own hands may be difficult. Even the act of buying a toy- selecting something that is intended for our personal pleasure- can be an action of courage and reclamations in and of itself.

Read: What to Do When You're Triggered During Sex

Choosing a Sex Toy After Trauma

Choosing a sex toy after trauma means rethinking how we want to interact with sexual contact. Things we enjoyed before may no longer be pleasurable and new activities may suddenly become our go-to.

Sex toys give us complete and total control over the speed, depth, and time we spend on a given activity; allowing us the space to check in and reconnect with what feels good and stop when things become uncomfortable.

Doing this as a solo activity means that we don’t have to worry about offending a partner or feeling concerned about voicing our needs.

When it comes to choosing the "right" sex toy, remember the decision is entirely up to you. If it feels better to start with something simple, consider a gentle wand vibrator, which can also be used to massage sore muscles and ease tension. If you're not ready to bring sex toys near your genitals, you could even try a breast massager.

We may additionally find that our needs are best met by slowly reintroducing activities, such as penetration, with toys. Sexual trauma, for some vulva-owners, can lead to vaginismus, a condition where the vaginal muscles spasm and clamp shut. You doctor or therapist may recommend dilators as a way to slowly help reintroduce penetration, or Kegel exercisers to help you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

As a side note, it's important to remember that sex does not equal penetration. Penetration can be one aspect of sex, but it does not have to be. There are so many ways to experience and enjoy sexual pleasure! Find what feels right for you.

The same can be said for sex toys. There is no "right" kind of sex toy to choose after experiencing trauma. It's all about find the sex toy that feels good to you. If you try a toy and find it doesn't work for you, don't get discouraged, there are so many kinds of toys out there! Keep trying! You'll find one (or many) that provide all the feels you're looking for.

Read: Sex After Sexual Assault: How to Find Joy After Trauma

Take it Slow

Healing after trauma is never a fast or easy process- but it is always worth the effort. Finding a new sense of normal and peace is possible. By utilizing tools, such as masturbation and sex toys, survivors can define what sexuality and bodily agency look like for them.