These Sex 'Toys' Have Been Designed For Women Who Find Sex Traumatic Or Painful

Courtesy of Sexual Healing.
After sexual assault, it can be incredibly difficult for survivors to reclaim their bodies and experience sex in the same way they did before. There is medical, psychological and emotional help available to survivors, but there is a dearth of services and treatment designed specifically to help them enjoy sex and intimacy again.
Initiatives do exist to help survivors in this area, such as the London-based Café V, run by the My Body Back project, which helps women learn to love their bodies and see the joy in sex again; and there are specialised sex shops, such as the female-run Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London, which works with the NHS to recommend toys for women with sexual difficulties. However, there are few widely available options for survivors looking to get back in touch with their body and re-explore their sexuality in the comfort of their own homes.
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Around 85,000 women are raped and nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year, according to Rape Crisis, but just 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police, so the number of survivors potentially needing this kind of support after sexual assault is substantial.
Dutch designer Nienke Helder spotted this gap in the market and, drawing on her own experience, has created a range to help women reclaim their bodies and enjoy sex again after sexual assault. (She prefers to describe them as "therapy tools" or "sensory objects" rather than "sex toys" because they're predominantly meant for self-exploration and regaining a sense of security around one's sexuality and sensuality, she tells Refinery29.)
The range, Sexual Healing, contains four main objects – a mirror, a brush, a stone-shaped breath sensor and a pelvic floor sensor – and has received support from medical specialists, she explained. It has been 1.5 years in the making and was inspired by her own experiences of painful sex. Helder says it took doctors years to find out what was wrong with her vagina and she underwent numerous unpleasant and painful examinations and treatments.
"In a sort of desperate attempt to overcome this problem, I started having a lot of one-night stands, each time hoping that this was the time I could overcome the issue. Obviously this only made it worse, and sadly not all those people were very respectful, which lead to a few bad experiences."
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Helder describes the current approach to treating survivors of sexual assault as clinical and focussed mostly on the physical aspects of sex, rather than the psychological aspects of trauma. "The treatment almost always happens in a therapy or doctor's office, even though sex is something so personal. Specialists – the psychologists, obstetrician-gynaecologists, pelvic floor therapists, sexologists – have their own approach, but don’t always collaborate on the treatment so lots of sides of the problem don’t get covered."
To redress this, Helder created a range of tools that encourage survivors to focus on both the physical and the psychological side of the issue in a personal space, such as the bedroom, "to explore their bodies and find a sense of safety and pleasure".
While they're still in the prototype stage at the moment, Helder is working towards developing them for the market. She has just returned from a visit to a sexual health company in California for support with product development and is seeking out the right people who support her vision, rather than being motivated by commercial gain.
Her aim, ultimately, is to open up the conversation about sexual health after trauma by raising awareness of the issue, and to help survivors enjoy the physical side of sex again. "Hopefully my objects help women to explore how their bodies work and why, and give them insights in how to find pleasure in their sex life again."

The tools

Mirror

Looking at your vulva with a mirror helps you to get to know your body and can improve body positivity, says Helder. The mirror also works in the dark, allowing you to only see what is immediately in front of the mirror, without showing your whole body, so it's considerate of people who have a problem with seeing themselves naked, she explains.
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Brush

Getting used to touch after a traumatic experience can take time and the brush is designed to make users feel comfortable with non-human touch but also functions as an invitation to make your partner part of the process, Helder says. "It’s often very difficult to talk about your sexual problems or trauma and it can be hard to start a conversation, but giving someone an object can help open a line of communication." The brush also aims to help survivors re-explore their sexual preferences.

Pelvic sensor

Tension in the pelvic floor can make penetration painful or impossible, so it's important to learn how to relax, Helder says. The Sexual Healing pelvic sensor gives a simple form of biofeedback by vibrating when you apply too much pressure, letting users know when they're particularly tense.

Breathing sensor

Breathing deep into your abdomen helps to relax both your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. This sensor measures users' breathing and lights up when they become too tense.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.
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