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Can You Explore a Healthy ‘Kink’ Sexual Dynamic if You Have PTSD?

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I recently heard someone say that kink is no place for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because “they need to go to therapy and deal with that.” It’s unfortunate how many people will subscribe to this way of thinking because the fact of the matter is that it can’t just be “dealt with;” it’s chronic. But before we dive into why you shouldn’t shy away from kink because of your diagnosis, I want to make sure we’re on the same page about what you’re exploring and what a healthy kink dynamic is.

• What is PTSD?

One reason people love to dig into their astrology and carry on about their Meyers-Briggs results is the simple satisfaction of unraveling their own mystery. Knowing more about your sexuality and uncovering new parts of your identity can be complicated, confusing or even terrifying. It doesn’t have to be that way; give yourself some grace. At 32 years old, I am hardly the oldest person I know who is just now discovering parts of their sexual identity that they never fully knew existed.

While kinks are generally defined as your personal preferences regarding your intimacy with others or just yourself, I believe that they can also be one more aspect of your identity. For example, some people identify themselves as submissive or enjoy relinquishing control to another person consensually. While some kinks can be an all-out identifier, others are as simple as an admiration of feet and the desire to “worship” them. A common misconception is that all kinks are sexual. Many kinks aren’t sexual at all, and there’s seemingly an infinite amount of ways to work them into your life and your partnerships.

It can be scary to couple your mental health with your desire to fulfill your fantasies.

If you’re starting to explore your kinks, you might be confused about where some of your more unconventional concepts and fantasies came from. Maybe they go completely against what you would want in an uncontrolled real-life scenario. Some may even be closely related to traumatic experiences in your life. The beauty of kink is that you are always in control, even if your preference is to feel out of control. For some people, exploring these fantasies in a controlled environment is both empowering and therapeutic.

When you’re in a “kink dynamic,” you’re in a living agreement with your romantic partner(s) or your more casual play partner(s) about how you will interact with one another when it comes to enacting your fantasies.

A healthy kink dynamic or partnership involves months, if not years, of research, communication and clear boundary setting. For those of us who are new to kink, “playing” refers to the acting out of your fantasies. These play sessions are also referred to as “scenes.”

You should know that all play, regardless of what goes down, can be triggering to your play partner, too, even if they didn’t realize it was at the time. That’s one of the many reasons kinksters incorporate safewords and aftercare. Safewords are words or sometimes gestures that signal to stop or pause a scene immediately. Aftercare is just as it sounds: caring for your partner and yourself after enacting a fantasy. This can be anything that makes you feel good and brings you back to reality. Some aftercare examples include cuddling, sharing snacks, watching TV, and calling the next few days to check in on one another.

So, are you ready to start exploring your kinks?

At some point in your life, someone probably told you, “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” This holds a lot of weight. However, loving yourself isn’t always synonymous with processing your trauma. In any relationship, romantic or otherwise, having love for yourself translates as recognizing the kind of care and grace that you will accept, the kind of treatment from others that you will not tolerate, and to an extent, the energy you will reflect into the relationship. The chances of you processing all of your trauma before meeting someone you love or just want to explore your kinks with are slim; this is “normal” and OK. Remember, love is patient and kind, and chances are that the person you’re trying to explore your kinks with also has unprocessed trauma. Does that mean you shouldn’t get together? No. It means that you should be actively working towards processing your trauma in an attempt to better love yourself and those around you. Why? Because your trauma can manifest into behaviors that affect your everyday life, your overall journey, and the people around you.

But what if you have a chronic condition like PTSD?

Are you unfit for relationships or a healthy kink dynamic? Absolutely not. In the United States, 10% of women and 4% of men will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Everyone has their limits regarding sex and kink. It’s up to you and your partner to discuss your boundaries, respect those boundaries, and set a plan for what you both can do to ensure that each of you is taken care of if someone goes wrong or your PTSD is triggered.

There are people out there who will be intimidated by your trauma because you’ve experienced something that they can’t even fathom. Many can manage their PTSD to some extent, but few of us will ever be able to say, “I no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder.”

If you’re afraid of caring for someone through a PTSD episode, that’s OK, and you’re certainly not alone. Considering the number of people diagnosed with PTSD or undiagnosed PTSD, I would recommend that everyone also educate themselves on helping others while you are actively working through your own trauma. We live in unprecedented times, and there will be many more people diagnosed with PTSD in the years to come.

If you are reading this and have been diagnosed with PTSD, please know that you can be in a healthy relationship and even a healthy kink dynamic.

In fact, when you begin your research into the realm of kink, you will find that the most basic kink literature discusses how kinks can be a wonderful and safe way to process trauma. Communication is vital for keeping your partner(s) informed on your current state and what can be done to prevent an episode.

If you have done your research and can communicate your desires, boundaries and needs, and a partner still rejects you because of your PTSD, it is not because of you. It is because they are unable to respect your boundaries. At the end of the day, you dodged a partner that would have been unfit for a dynamic with a healthy communicative individual.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Originally published: November 4, 2020
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