Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma by Staci Haines is a guide for survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) to reclaim healthy sexuality. Ms. Haines teaches readers how to identify triggers and work through them experientially so that they have the sex life they want. As a somatic practitioner, she works from the belief that trauma memories are stored in the body so by engaging the body in healing, those memories can be reprocessed and worked through.
Healing Sex does devote some space to theory but mainly focuses on practical application. There are chapters devoted to consent, accurate information about sex, different types of sex, and healing practices. Each chapter ends with Sex Guide Exercises so that the reader can put the information into practice immediately.
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About the author:
Staci Haines is a somatic practitioner, long time social activist and current executive director at Generative Somatics. She has worked with CSA survivors for more than 18 years and teaches others to serve this population. She is also one of the founders of Generation Five, a non-profit dedicated to ending childhood sexual abuse.
What we love:
Ms. Haines takes a sex positive and non-victim blaming stance throughout the book. She emphasizes that readers are not responsible for the actions of their abusers and walks them through practical exercises aimed at reclaiming healthy sexuality.
After the introduction, the writing in Healing Sex is easy to understand and follow. I found myself highlighting on almost every page. I especially appreciated that she explained common responses among survivors, like dissociation or sexual compulsion, in a non-judgemental fashion. I think readers who have experienced CSA will feel understood and safe as they gain insight then move towards empowerment. Ms. Haines also included a fair amount of basic sexual information because, as she points out, survivors often learned everything they understand about sex from their abuse.
Throughout the book, Ms. Haines includes quotes from CSA survivors. They discuss their abuse experiences and how those impact them in their current sex lives. I absolutely loved that the survivor’s voices were included. They could be especially triggering for some clients though so keep that in mind when choosing who to recommend it to.
What we didn’t:
The assumption in Healing Sex is that because the assault happened to the body, it can be healed there. While I think her exercises have the potential to be very powerful, I would have liked more acknowledgement of psychological scars that need different kinds of attention. Therapy was mentioned a few times in the book, always in a positive light, but there wasn’t a space where she told readers about symptoms that indicated they needed professional help. There were also a few exercises, like one that was similar to a 2 chair experiment, that I think are better done with a therapist,at least in the beginning.
I think this book is a great resource for any therapist working with survivors of CSA and many of their clients as a supplement to therapy. As a therapist, I learned several new exercises and concepts that I will be incorporating into my practice immediately. For clients who are ready to engage in somatic work or who are focused on reclaiming healthy sexuality, it is a wonderful guide. I think I would be most comfortable with a client continuing therapy while working through the book so they have a safe place to process their reactions and new insights but many survivors could experience growth working through it on their own.
I absolutely would not recommend Healing Sex to a client who isn’t currently stable. Readers are asked to identify triggers, purposefully bring them on, and sit with them. Those exercises can be healing but might be too much for someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, self-harm or a lack of healthy coping skills.
For my own clients that I will be recommending Healing Sex to, I plan to give the following suggestions:
- Read no more than one chapter per day. Give yourself time to process the new information you learn about sex, yourself, and your abuse.
- Pause as often as you need. There is no rush on healing. Take your time to work through the book but keep coming back to it.
- Skip over sections that feel like too much right now or are outside of your goals but use the parts that help you.
- Continue working through non-sexual parts of the abuse as they come up for you.
Many therapists enjoy recommending books to their clients to supplement the work they are doing together. We also use books to help ourselves grow as people and practitioners. Remember though that books are never a replacement for real human connection or for therapy when it’s needed. If you find yourself needing a therapist, a great place to start is Psychology Today. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.