Mental Health Media

The Potential for Healing in Sex

I want to begin by acknowledging that sex and sexuality can look different for everyone.  I write from a place of acknowledgement: I am a queer cis-gendered Latinx male therapist and by no means am an expert on everyone’s sexuality.  I firmly believe you are the only expert in what sex is and looks like for you. My intention for this article is that it will provide validation and spark curiosity of queerness and sex along someone’s healing journey. This also does not apply (in any way) to abusive and violating sexual interactions. This applies to sex and sexuality in the context of mutual trust and respect for agency, needs, wants, and choices. Even as I write this, as a therapist and as a human, I notice a discomfort and anxiety writing about healing in sex and sexuality.  However, this discomfort shows me why it’s so important to write this article and make space for healing. As you read this, I encourage you to check in with yourself and notice what comes up for you.  If possible, take a moment to pause, honor, listen, and follow what feels true and right for you.

I believe there can be no discourse on queerness and sexuality in healing without an acknowledgement of the socio-political systems that pervade the physical, psychological, energetic, and spiritual traumas/violations of an individual.  As queer individuals (or anybody who does not fit the heteronormative framework), we often grow up in environments with subtle (and not so subtle) messages that who we are is shameful. That we must be different, or at least perform to be someone different, for approval, worthiness, survival, and acceptance. That our sex and sexuality should be silenced. This may lead to internalized homophobia: a “person’s direction of negative social attitudes towards the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and resultant internal conflicts and poor self-regard.”[1]

My personal healing journey and the healing I have witnessed as a therapist has shown me that while internalized homophobia can lead to a disregard of self, healing and reclaiming of self can happen in sex within the context of mutual trust, respect, and agency. Trusting, consensual, intentional, and mindful sex can be an opportunity to reclaim self, sex, and sexuality. While the relationship between sex and healing is tender and complicated—for example, I believe we must be mindful to not retraumatize ourselves through playing out emotional wounds and traumas through sex—I believe there is a deep potential for healing in sex. There is wisdom in learning and knowing the difference between harmful and healing sex within yourself. Ultimately, only you know what’s right for you. It can be helpful to seek out support or a therapist than can collaboratively guide you in discovering this wisdom and rediscovering your sexuality.

There is a difference between what our sexuality is (not referring to sexual orientation) and the sexuality that was imposed on us. It is a process to untangle the sexuality that feels right and true and the sexuality that is imposed. It requires differentiating between what feels good to us rather than what we think is supposed to feel good for us or for whom we believe we must perform our sexuality. People who have learned to disregard themselves through either family dynamics, traumas, or internalized homophobia often have difficulty expressing wants and needs during sex.

To practice awareness to differentiate healing and harmful sexuality for ourselves, let us reflect and look inward to explore where these feelings may be coming from. We can check in with ourselves and feel if this sexuality is intertwined with any trauma or violation. Let us practice self-compassion as best we can for whatever is revealed to us in this moment. Let us notice if something feels good. Let us notice when something does not feel good. Let us observe what feelings and sensations occur within the body when we want to use our power and utilize our voice about what does and does not feel good. Let us observe what feelings and sensations in the body come up for us when we want to express what does and does not feel good but feel like we can’t. It is my hope that our voices can be respected by the other person or people involved. If not, this may be an opportunity to ask ourselves if sex is something we want to engage in with this person or people. After all, “trust is a crucial part of the intimacy that yields pleasure for ourselves and others.”[2] How powerful and healing is it to be able to practice this discernment?

Through practicing what feels right and true for my body and myself, the potential for healing through sex became clearer and more aligned. How healing is it to be able to use our voice, power, and choice during sex and have these honored? To feel and express what feels good and what doesn’t? To have agency over your own body and the power that results in your agency being honored? To engage in sex with folx who are also deeply committed to the mutual healing that can be facilitated in sex?

When our sexuality has been constantly silenced by people around us and by society as a whole, it is important to be mindful about what sex can mean for an individual. It is important to acknowledge how our relationship with sex can be dynamic and continuously changing. There is value in the acknowledgement that engaging in sex despite our traumas and emotional wounds does not always mean it is retraumatizing. It is essential to be mindful of how our emotional wounds can make our relationship with sex unclear—it is okay to listen to that too. It is equally important to look inward to practice honesty, radical acceptance, and compassion about what our relationship to sex is in this moment in order to be able to distinguish whether we are engaging with sex from a place of woundedness or a place of agency and empowerment. It is healing to practice compassion and gentleness with ourselves and know that we are not perfect. That this practice is a continual process, in which choices that may not feel empowering can also lead to more insight, growth, and awareness of ourselves. Therein lays the potential for healing in sex.

Again and again. You make mistakes. You mistake mutual attraction for love. You make poor romantic and sexual relationship choices. You break your heart open. Again and again…to cross the threshold from loneliness to solitude. To learn that love is abundant but compatibility is rare. To learn there is a difference between hedonism that enables dissociation and disconnection versus joy and pleasure that enables presence and intimacy.[3]

Below is a helpful exercise to support you in sinking back into and checking in with your body for guidance:

“Check Your Body’s Checkpoints” by Resmaa Menakem

Your body has internal checkpoints—physical sensations that activate when something feels unfair, frightening, dangerous, or otherwise not right. These are signals from your soul nerve. They might alert you to something real, something perceived, something possible, or something imagined. (To your body, these are all identical.)

These signals might include a tingle at the back of your neck, a sinking feeling in your belly, a tightness in your shoulders, or some other unpleasant sensation. You’ll know these sensations when you experience them. These checkpoints are your body’s early warning signals. They alert you when you are headed for a fight, flee, or freeze response.

If you’re paying attention, when one of these signals goes off, you can stop what you’re doing and take steps to settle your body. This helps you avoid a fight, flee, or freeze response. It also gives you a chance to change the dynamic of the situation by leaving it, stepping back, or saying something like, “You know what? I’d like to do this differently.”

Whenever one of your body’s checkpoints signals you, investigate it. What do you experience? Where do you experience it? What emotions, thoughts, or images are arising with it?

Then ask yourself, “What is this sensation telling me? What is it urging me to do? What movements do I need to make? What action needs to be completed? How can I respond from my deepest integrity—the best parts of myself?” The answer to this last question will point a way forward.

With practice, you’’ get more familiar with your body’s checkpoints. Over time, you’ll learn to recognize each signal as soon as it activates, and you’ll know what it’s telling you.[4]

[1] Meyer IH, Dean L. Internalized homophobia, intimacy, and sexual behavior among gay and bisexual men. In: Herek GM, editor. Stigma and sexual orientation: Understanding prejudice against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 1998. pp. 160–186

[2] Brown, A.M. (2019) Pleasure Activism: The politics of feeling good. AK press

[3] Swadhinm, A (2019). Pleasure After Childhood Sexual Abuse. In A.B. Pleasure Activism (1st ed., pp. 304-05). AK Press.

[4] Menakem, R. (2017). My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press

I am a bilingual Queer Latinx Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#118466) located in Los Angeles, California. I have a passion for mental health and social justice. I received my Bachelors degree from UC San Diego and my Masters degree from CSU Long Beach.

I believe in the voice, power, and inherent wisdom of each individual. As such, I seek to support you along your healing from a social justice and non-hierarchical lens where I am not an expert on you, but a collaborative guide to help you look inward with curiosity and compassion to reclaim your own power.

Some areas of focus in my practice include trauma, intergenerational trauma, sexual abuse, sexuality, attachment, QTPOC experiences, racial identity & micro aggressions, life transitions, depression, and anxiety.