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keeping the kisses sweet

advice for survivors

first and foremost, don't do anything physical with someone you don't trust. there's such an idea in our society that first dates should end with at least a goodnight kiss, if not sex. the bottom line is, you aren't obligated to do anything. if you have any doubts, don't take chances, but if you feel it's right, and they feel it's right, then it most likely is.

talk about your limits before you're in a sexual situation. tell your lover how far you are comfortable with going, and don't go any further unless you've both decided it's a good thing to do. also, talk about ways of expressing affection which may be uncomfortable for you; having your lover sneak up behind you to surprise you, kissing roughly in play, pinning you down, etc. remember, many physical gestures which may be meant very playfully by your lover can frighten you into an emotional upset.

never be afraid to ask your lover to stop doing something. many of the survivors i have talked to (and myself included) have expressed worries about being "annoying" or "frustrating" when they ask their partner to please stop, but all of the lovers i have talked to have very solemnly expressed the desire to know what is going on, no matter when or how many times it happens. remember, just like sex isn't everything for you, sex also isn't everything for your lover.

regarding flashbacks, nightmares, memories and so forth, don't be afraid to tell your lover about what is going on with you if you want to. i know it is a difficult subject to talk about, but we all have to get to the point, eventually, where we can communicate with our lovers about our feelings, without any shame or guilt involved.

create a peaceful atmosphere: play your favorite music, light candles, burn incense. avoid anything that will make you remember your attack, if possible. also, avoid trying to be romantic at parties and in other crowded places unless you are feeling secure enough that you are certain you can handle the crowds. the level of noise and activity can become very overwhelming and can frequently cause flashbacks on unstable days.

work on being comfortable with your lover. cuddle, hold hands, kiss lightly, brush each other's hair, spend plenty of time together. it will help you build trust and establish familiarity with your lover, and this way more intense physical contact won't be as much of a shock.

notice things about your lover that make them different from your attacker. the color of their eyes, the shape of their hands, etc. look for distinguishing characteristics that can help you know who your lover is if a flashback should surface during intimacy; this will reduce panic and hopefully add comfort to the situation.

keep a good perspective on how you feel about what you're doing sexually. don't ignore your gut reactions; they're usually your most reliable. if you feel yourself starting to slip into numbness, stop immediately and explain to your partner what is going on. talk things over, if you can.

don't try to rush things. keep a good window of time open to be together (this is another place where talking is very helpful) in order to avoid feeling panicky or rushed.

advice for lovers of survivors

listen to your partner. give them a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, and an open mind. remember, your lover needs to be heard and respected in order to heal. it can also greatly help you understand where your lover is coming from.

provide opportunities for your lover to spend time alone. even though your reaction to their trauma may be to spend as much time with them as possible, survivors also need time alone to sort through things. ask them how much time they want to spend together while they sort through the sexual healing process.

find an outlet for yourself. sometimes it can be difficult to share your thoughts and feelings on the violation with your lover. most crisis lines will offer support for partners of survivors. call your local crisis line for more information.

be accepting and non-blaming, avoid judgements about their experience, know that these are your own issues that you have to work through. even if you sometimes feel like there was something they could have done differently, or another way they could have behaved, avoid telling them about it. the only thing that it will do is make your lover feel at fault.

be open to feelings, and share your emotions with them. it is very important to share your feelings about the violation with each other. tell your partner how it makes you feel that they have been hurt, but if anger is an emotion you feel related to your partner's experience, always be cautious about expressing it. by all means, expressing your feelings is of utmost importance for your relationship to be a strong one, but it is also important to consider where your lover is in their own healing process. they may feel as if you are blaming them for the violation, or your anger may frighten them.

don't rush the process. when the two of you are moving into being sexual together, it may take time. although this can be frustrating, you need to remember that your lover is working through a lot of difficult things. remember that if your partner is reluctant about sexuality it isn't about you, it's about their attacker. it isn't about what you do, it's about what their attacker did.

read body language, try to be conscious of what your partner is feeling. during intimacy it is sometimes easy to forget everything but your own feelings, but you have to concentrate on your lover's feelings as well. don't try to fix them, but be as gentle as they need you to be. ask permission to touch them, be aware of whether or not they are enjoying what you are doing. if it seems like they are uncomfortable, flashing back, or zoning out, stop what you are doing and ask if they need to talk about anything.

don't try to fix them. remember that there are some things your partner has to work through on their own, and that no amount of your help, no matter how much you love them, will fix what has happened. even if you have a wonderful night of intimacy on monday, on tuesday the flashbacks may be back in full force. be supportive of their healing process, but don't try to control it.

be patient with mood swings. it is important not to have expectations of the way your lover is going to feel, because during a difficult day moods can change from depressed to ecstatic to bored to terrified in the space of ten minutes, and for seemingly no reason at all. sometimes, exploring relationships after violation is one of the most difficult challenges a survivor can face, and the emotional weight can take its toll. try to calm your lover down, talk to them, ask what is going on with their emotions.

set and respect sexual boundaries. sit down together and talk about limits. remember, it is important for you to set your own boundaries as well. so even if your lover is comfortable with having sexual intercourse, for example, and you just feel like it would be too much emotionally, say so. respect them and they will respect you. avoid pressuring your partner into anything.

nonsexual ways you can spend time together

here i have compiled a list of soothing activities lovers can do together that aren't necessarily sexual. for me, being sexual has always been a bit of a challenge early on in relationships, and i hear this from many other survivors as well. doing things like this together helps build trust, establish a strong friendship, and can also work wonders on difficult days.

watch the sunset, the stars, or the sunrise together.
find an open field or a rooftop or a suitable front porch, wrap yourselves up in a blanket, and sit together for a few hours. enjoy being close to one another, having conversation or just watching the world around you in silence, sharing body heat and getting to know each other better.

take showers or bubble baths together, or go skinny-dipping.
spending time naked together will help you get used to each other's bodies so that it won't be overwhelming in a sexual situation, and if you can make it work so that the situation is primarily non-sexual, it can often help the survivor to become much more comfortable with the idea of sensuality.

give each other back massages.
again, this kind of physical contact helps build trust and comfortability between a survivor and their lover, and it can also be an extremely relaxing activity, a great reliever of stress and fatigue.

whisper to each other.
sharing special secrets and inside jokes with each other can help increase intimacy without any danger of uncomfortability.

cook for each other, go grocery shopping.
doing mundane activities together can really help bring two people closer together. run errands, make coffee, do laundry. use times like these as a way to spend casual time together, talking and laughing. not only does it help to distract from traumatic memories and etc., it's also great to have the company of someone you care about.

hold hands, look into each other's eyes.
if talking isn't an easy thing, just sit together, hold hands, and communicate with your eyes. try to look into each other's hearts, feel what your lover is feeling. sometimes sitting in silence with your lover can say more than words ever could.

sleep together.
not sex, just sleeping. sleeping together is an amazing step toward fully trusting someone for most survivors. it might be a good thing to work toward; spend time taking naps together, or spending the night at one another's houses without having sex in mind. drink tea together, maybe read to each other, fall asleep together, and wake up together.

go for a long walk.
especially if a survivor is feeling panicky, walks can help a lot. there are a lot of distractions outside. make sure you don't go anywhere too loud or full of people. stroll along under trees or in parks. hold hands if that feels like an okay thing to do.

do art projects together.
if the violation is something you talk openly about, try doing a healing piece of artwork together. it can be a poem you cooperate to write, a painting, a sculpture, anything. expressing yourselves is vitally important.

hold each other.
find a comfortable place (a bed, a sofa, a secluded lawn) and just hold each other close, without kissing or talking, just being together, breathing, listening.

give random gifts.
pick each other flowers, write poems, bring home lucky pennies and scraps of ribbon, little things that mean something to you. giving gifts is a great way to remind your lover that you care about them even in times of difficulty.

read to each other.
share your favorite books and poems with one another. put aside a couple of hours and take turns reading chapters or passages from your favorite pieces of literature.

remember your dreams and tell your lover about them.
another activity that can build trust and intimacy, sharing dreams with one another can provide insight into what you are both going through emotionally. call your lover when you wake up and share dreams with them. offer interpretation, share ideas.

tell each other your most sacred secrets and fears.
remember to share parts of yourself with your lover. it is easy to withdraw emotionally, but important to know that it is essential to share truths about yourself with them. share happy memories and old nightmares, hopes and aspirations, fears and goals.

talk about how it makes you feel to be together.
tell your lover what you like about your relationship. talk through the frustrating parts. make decisions about how much time to spend together, what you need to work through, and so forth. communication is invaluable.

make sacrifices for each other.
it is important to remember that you should be ready to change plans occasionally for your lover's sake; if she feels like she needs to see you, if he wants to talk about something. understand how important a role your lover fills in your life, and be ready to sacrifice some things to keep the bonds between you strong.