Lesbiaing with AE: Dating When You’re Having Flashbacks of Past Abuse

My two sisters and I were abused by my uncle when I was young. I remember that it happened, and remember seeing a therapist about it, but I do not really have clear memories of the abuse like one of my sisters does. I recently had a body memory of being touched by my uncle during a hookup. It was really scary, and now I’m worried that more flashbacks/memories will happen the next time I’m having sex.

– Recently Remembered


I’m so sorry to hear about your past abuse.

I’ve had friends and lovers who were abused in their youth, and who struggled with the issue you just experienced. Studies show that 1 in 5 girls are sexually abused as children – and the overwhelming majority of childhood sexual abuse survivors knew their abuser.

It sucks that this happened to you.

I’m not trying to minimize it, but I am sure you can go on to have a super fun sex life again. You’re probably not going to be traumatized with these repressed memories every time you have sex, but it is good to think about what you’ll do if this happens again… because it probably will.

If you feel comfortable acknowledging what’s happening in the moment, do it. Sure, saying, “I’m having a flashback from when my uncle sexually abused me” will bring the sex to a halt. But ignoring what you’re feeling isn’t going to do either of you any favors. The woman you’re sleeping with will probably understand that you’re zoned out, but not have any idea why (and this could lead to all kinds of misunderstandings). Plus you will be experiencing the unwanted memories on your own and strengthening the association between the type of sex you want to be having and the abuse you suffered in the past.

If you’re not comfortable explaining your past (say, it’s a hookup and you just don’t want to get into it) but you no longer want to be touched, ask her to stop. Or tell her that you don’t want to be touched right now but you really want to top her (if in fact you do). You gave her consent when you hopped into bed, and you can take it back if you no longer want to be touched (without explaining what or why if you truly don’t feel safe doing so).

You’re probably not going to be traumatized with these repressed memories every time you have sex, but it is good to think about what you’ll do if this happens again… because it probably will.

In a long-term relationship it might work to have some type of stop word that conveys clearly that you’re having an abuse flashback, you want the sex to stop, and you want to cuddle (or be distracted with television, get a soothing back massage, whatever would make you feel better in the moment).

I’d suggest you work on healing from this not just when you’re having sex and get triggered, but actively with a therapist. Some women have found cognitive therapy super helpful – this stye of therapy gives you a new way to think about the abuse, sex, and relationships. It can also help you move forward to have good friends you can turn to (maybe your sisters, too) – someone you’re not having sex with who can support you when you are having a difficult day.


If you can identify triggers that bring up the bad memories (like being touched in a certain way or certain smells, textures, music), you can reduce the likelihood of future memories ruining your night by avoiding those triggers.

Be patient with yourself right now. If this is the first time you’ve remembered the abuse, you might feel extra sensitive for a little while. It’s okay if you don’t want to have sex for a bit. It’s okay if you do want to have sex, or if you think you’re up for it but get overwhelmed and need to stop. You’re gonna be working on this for a while (probably years, tbh) and putting pressure on yourself to be “ready for sex” is not going to help you relax and enjoy having sex.

By working through what happened in a safe space, you can make sense of the painful memories as an adult, process what happened, and move forward so you can show up in your relationships and enjoy a fulfilling sex life. Please take care of yourself along the way.

Do you have a burning question for Lindsey? Email our Editor and write “Q for Lindsey” in the subject line at memoree@afterellen.com 

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