Using Sex Toys to Heal from Trauma: A Guide for Survivors

Categories Sarah Brynn Holliday

Content note: This post contains general, non-specific mentions of trauma.

This post contains affiliate links.

Sex toys can be powerful tools for survivors to use to access pleasure and explore our bodies and sexualities again after experiencing trauma. Devastatingly, for far too many of us, sex and pleasure are left out of traditional narratives that tell survivors how we should heal from trauma and what we should prioritize in our healing processes.

For me, integrating sex toy education and trauma education isn’t just part of my workIt’s personal. In addition to therapy, reading and research about PTSD, and building community with other survivors, sex toys have been a core component of my healing process.

I had no idea sex toys could help me heal until I stumbled upon them. I’m incredibly glad I did, but survivors shouldn’t have to navigate exploring sexuality after trauma alone. Education about sex toys, pleasure, and masturbation shouldn’t be an afterthought or a luxury, but something accessible and available for everyone. So let’s get to it!

I want this guide to be as as comprehensive as possible without being too overwhelming, so it’s divided into three sections. Check out Where Do I Even Start? if you’re looking for introductory information, Sexual Wellness Products if you’d like to learn about tools specifically designed for survivors and other people who may experience pain during sex, and Sex Toys if you’re curious about my recommendations for sex toys that can be particularly well-suited for survivors.

Please note: I am not a medical provider. This guide is based on my own experience and knowledge as a survivor, a sex toy industry professional, and as someone who found sex toys to be a critical part of their healing journey.

Where Do I Even Start?

It can be hard to know where to begin if you’re a first-time sex toy explorer or if you’re returning to using sex toys again after experiencing trauma. The industry looks massive—with thousands upon thousands of toys on the market, it’s completely understandable why even choosing a product category can seem like a strenuous task. Here are my tips and tricks to help you get your feet wet and zero in on what toys might work for you.

  • Read up on sex toy safety. Some sex toys and lubes are not body-safe and can be toxic. Trust me: I know “toxic toys” sounds scary, but thankfully it’s quite easy to find body-safe sex toys and lube—and it’s getting easier every day to find affordable options. Just make sure you steer clear of unsafe materials. Dangerous Lilly’s Toxic Toy Guide and Big Lube Guide are chock-full of all the information you need to know about sex toy safety.
  • Research sex toy companies. Some sex toy companies are amazing and really care about their customers. They lift up colleagues in the industry and support survivors. Unfortunately, some others don’t. As a survivor, it’s personally important to me to avoid companies that harm survivors—whether that’s through manufacturing toxic toys, working with abusers, or other actions that restrict sexual freedom and healing. If good company ethics are on your “must-have” list too, it’s worth doing a Google or Twitter search to learn more about who is making your products. If you’re ever unsure, feel free to email me.
  • Consider the benefits sex toys could bring to your healing process. Before you begin exploring with sex toys, it can be helpful to affirm why this oft-ignored healing tool can be beneficial and what you want to get out of the experience. Sex toys offer an opportunity for survivors to reclaim, relearn, or simply explore pleasure on our own terms outside of the lens of what other people have done to our bodies. Sex toys are also unique because they don’t have to require human touch on genitals, which can be triggering for some survivors who sometimes associate skin-to-skin contact with traumatic experiences (myself included).
  • Map your pleasure by thinking about what kind of stimulation and sensations you might like. For example: Do you prefer direct or broad clitoral stimulation? Do you want to target your prostate, or do you want a toy that simulates a rimming sensation? What texture and squish-level would you prefer for insertable toys? Do you want a vibrator that prioritizes patterns over speeds, or speeds over patterns? Do you want a toy that vibrates your penis and/or one that you penetrate? It’s okay if you don’t have the answers right now, but ruminating over these questions may be able to help you narrow down toy categories.
  • Repurpose a Yes/No/Maybe List for personal use. A Yes/No/Maybe List is a tool to negotiate sexual activities. It’s typically used among partners, but it’s also an excellent resource for trauma survivors to think deeply about boundaries around personal touch. My friend Bex created a fantastic Yes/No/Maybe List that I always suggest filling out.
  • Shop with companies that support survivors. Once you’re ready to browse selections of body-safe sex toys, I highly recommend shopping with retailers like SheVibe or Spectrum Boutique. I am including affiliate links to SheVibe and Spectrum throughout this guide, but I would recommend them even if we didn’t have a working relationship. Both of these companies—and the people who run them—are generous, compassionate, and caring.

Sexual Wellness Products

Within the expansive world of sex toys, there are certain products specifically designed to help people who experience pain during sex. These products are also great tools for survivors, especially survivors of sexual violence who may find pleasurable penetration difficult. Of course, sex doesn’t have to involve penetration and penetration doesn’t equal sex, but for survivors who want to explore it, there are tools out there to help.

  • Wearable buffers can help you customize how deep penetration goes. The Ohnut, a relatively new product on the market, is revolutionizing how people—either solo or with their partner(s)—experience penetrative sex. The Ohnut is compromised of four separate, stackable rings that are worn at the base of a penis or dildo. For survivors who find deeper penetration painful or may be triggered by it, wearables like the Ohnut can help you find exactly what feels good and where your boundaries and limits are.
  • Dilators can help you grow accustomed to the feeling of penetration. Dilators are often used by people with vaginismus, people undergoing treatment for gynecological cancers, and people who have had gender affirming surgery, but they can also be used by trauma survivors who want to experience pleasurable penetration but currently find it very painful. Blush Novelties offers a beautiful, affordable set of smooth silicone dilators.
  • Good lube can really help. Good, body-safe lube isn’t just for survivors or people who experience painful sex, but it is definitely a core component of making exploring sex toys a pleasurable experience. My tried-and-true lube recommendations are Good Clean Love Almost Naked, Sutil Rich, and Sliquid Satin.

Sex Toys

I could give product recommendations for hours, but that would be really unhelpful and overwhelming! Instead, my intention here is to offer an introduction to sex toys by separating them into a few major categories and explain why some particular product selections may be specifically helpful for survivors.

  • Look for anal toys that start small and slow with the opportunity to move on to larger toys if desired. b-Vibe’s Anal Training & Education Kit is a good place to start. The kit features three differently-sized butt plugs, a lubricant applicator, an enema, and more. It’s true that there are other anal kits out there at more accessible price points, but I especially like b-Vibe’s because it comes with their Complete Guide to Anal Play, a comprehensive info booklet all about how to introduce anal toys. For survivors who have trauma around anal play, coupling beginner-level toys with the non-judgmental, inclusive education b-Vibe provides is an excellent way to start exploring.
  • Consider picking up an affordable bullet vibrator that is discreet and travels well. Blush’s Exposed Nocturnal bullet vibe is rumbly, powerful, and easy to tuck away in a backpack, suitcase, or even a wallet or clutch. In addition to being an affordable option ($32!) for people who want to test the waters of more direct, pinpoint stimulation, it’s a discreet option for survivors who may be uncomfortable traveling with larger toys that could get flagged in an airport search. (This may seem like a minor detail, but it really is important: it could potentially be triggering to have intimate items and sex toys searched in public.)
  • If one of the reasons you’re interested in trying sex toys is because human touch on your genitals can be triggering, try a wand vibrator. With their long handles and broad heads, wand vibrators are useful tools to help separate physical contact between your hands and your vulva or penis. The gold standard is the Magic Wand. If you like the sound of wands but aren’t so sure if broad stimulation is your thing, or if you’re looking for a more affordable option, the PalmPower Recharge is a good middle-ground: I’d place the size of the vibrating head squarely in-between the size of a bullet vibrator and the Magic Wand, but it’s still large enough to avoid any physical contact.
  • Search for dual-density dildos, which are softer and squishier than single-density toys. If you want to explore penetration without dealing with rigid insertable toys, dual-density dildos offer another option. They’re softer and more comfortable than traditional single-density toys, which has personally been a lifesaver for me in my healing process. The VixSkin Mustang is a mainstay of dual-density toys. Check out Uberrime’s Bella if you’d like a girthier option.
  • Invest in a versatile dual-stimulation toy that moves with your body. Dual-stimulation, or “rabbit” toys, aren’t hard to find—but it is hard to find internal/external toys that are flexible enough to adapt to many different bodies and genitals. Most rabbit vibrators are fairly rigid and inflexible, meaning the external arm that is supposed to reach the clitoris often falls short or ends up poking the user uncomfortably, which can lead to survivors having painful sexual experiences. The We-Vibe Nova, though, solves that problem. With a bendable eternal arm that moves and flexes with your body, the Nova adapts to a wide range of bodies. It’s on the pricier end, but I do believe it’s a worthwhile investment.

This is by no means a full list of every tip, sexual wellness product, or sex toy that can help survivors heal from trauma, but my hope is that it provides a launchpad for further exploration.

As always, I’m more than happy to provide personal sex toy shopping consultations for survivors and those who support them. If you’re interested, or have any questions about this guide, please reach out!

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This post was originally published on Formidable Femme.

Sarah Brynn Holliday (they/she) is a sexuality writer, speaker, and sex toy company consultant based in Salem, Massachusetts. Sarah is the Spooky-Femme-in-Chief at Formidable Femme where they primarily write about healing, pleasure, and sex after trauma and pushing for ethical, equitable business practice within the sex toy industry. Sarah was recently featured on MTV News and has spoken at numerous colleges across the U.S., including Cornell University. She’s thrilled to be part of Smutathon this year!

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