Healing Sex

Do you think most porn stars [or prostitutes or strippers or lesbians or bisexual women or people who do s/m or non-monogamous people] were sexually abused?" I get that question a lot. The implication is that there must be some dark, dysfunctional, violent reason why "these people" do what they do or are who they are. My answer is simple: In the United States, there are more women who've experienced some form of trauma around sex—childhood sexual abuse, incest, rape, coercion, sexual harassment—than there are women who have not. (And there are plenty of men who've been abused as well.) Are there sex workers, queers, and leatherfolk who've been sexually abused? Yes, but the percentage of these folks who've been assaulted is no higher than that of lawyers, bank tellers, or teachers. With people whose sexual identities and practices fall outside the norm, it's often assumed that they are acting out their past trauma, which gives us only one model of a sexually active sex-abuse survivor: She or he is kinky, self-destructive, or just fucked-up.

Every two minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted. Over 60 million adults in the United States are survivors of child sexual abuse; according to estimates, one in six boys and one in three girls are abused before they turn 18. Add to that the figures on adult sexual assault—one out of six women and three out of a hundred men are victims of rape or attempted rape—and you'd conclude that the number of people impacted by sexual abuse is outrageous. While the amount of discussion, visibility, and activism around these issues has increased dramatically, there is still a dominant image of survivors as victims of terrible pain who need to work through the emotional and psychological issues. There seems to be one piece of the puzzle missing, one thing not spoken about: sexual healing. There are very few resources for people who want to explore healing their sexual selves and lives.

Staci Haines is the author of the bestselling book The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How to Have an Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse. For nearly 20 years she has been organizing around and educating people about sexual abuse and how to recover from it through Somatics, a holistic approach through work on the mind, body, and spirit.

"During trauma there are predictable and intelligent automatic responses aimed at our survival," Haines told me. "These live on in the body, long after the experience is over. The body generalizes the experience and its reaction as a means to increase the chances of survival. Then we end up with symptoms and 'habits' from trauma that are automatic, hard to consciously control, and do not let us have the life and sexuality we want." Haines has developed techniques to retrain the body and mind to have more choices and reactions, which she shares in her book, lectures, and private practice, and now on a new DVD called Healing Sex: The Complete Guide to Sexual Wholeness ($42.95, healingsexthemovie.com).

"Healing trauma, rather than avoiding or managing it, is possible through a holistic approach," says Haines. "Many people try to 'understand' what happened to them, or 'put it behind them,' but to truly feel at home and safe inside yourself again takes healing the experience from your body, mind, and emotions." The DVD features an interactive workshop led by Haines, testimonials from actual abuse survivors, and staged, documentary-style dramatic vignettes of women, men, and couples facing their own sexual abuse and attempting to heal. Haines gave actors character histories, based on the thousands of real people, including her clients, that she has talked to over the years; then the scenes were all improvised.

With a cast that's truly diverse—in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, and sexual orientation—this film makes the most intensely private and complex issues public. It also features male sex-abuse survivors, a reality seldom portrayed in media. We see survivors' memories being triggered during sex, and observe them in the process of healing after trauma, and relearning and reclaiming pleasure. We watch people struggle to understand one another and walk a path of healing together. The video resonates with real human voices and experiences, and gives viewers actual tools to begin to change their lives. Haines manages to bring together the language, mission, and strategies of two communities that don't generally talk to one another: the survivor world and the sex-positive world. Smart, compassionate, fiercely articulate, and engaging, she is our guide, teacher, and healer, the center of the film's universe, and a remarkable visionary.

Healing Sex is co-produced and distributed by S.I.R. Video (sirvideo.com), a lesbian-owned independent porn company that's never ventured into non-explicit territory (the film is very PG). "We have a mission to educate as well as entertain. Yes, this is a departure from our other movies. We have taken a step back to help change the very groundwork of sex," says S.I.R. co-owner Jackie Strano. Her partner, Shar Rednour, agrees: "People have flat-out said to me, 'I can't handle any more victim shit.' When they hear rape or incest, people want to distance themselves from the very thought. What's so amazing about Staci and her message is that she acknowledges bad stuff can happen to you and you are still a sexual being, someone who wants or needs love, intimacy, and to be able to feel yourself and the world. Sexual trauma does not take away your right to be sexual."

The production was entirely self-funded and a portion of proceeds from sales will go to Generation Five (generationfive.org), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to end the sexual abuse of children within five generations (Haines is founder and executive director).

"I hope that people can find themselves in the film, that something that is generally hidden and isolated—people's sexual healing or struggles with sex—gets seen and revealed as normal," says Haines. "I want viewers to get a live experience or sense that they are more powerful than what happened to them. Sex and pleasure are good and do not need to be defined by sexual abuse for the rest of their lives." The last words that appear on the screen in the film are simple yet will speak volumes to survivors and their loved ones: "Healing & Pleasure Are Possible."

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