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Why Trauma Bonds Makes For Soul-Snatching Sex But Not Long-Term Relationships

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We as a generation have become determined to unpack our trauma in order to create better lives for ourselves and our future families (however we choose to fulfill that role). No matter how obnoxious it may get, for better or worse, we’ve started to familiarize ourselves with terms such as gaslighting or trauma bond. The more we unpack, the more “come to Jesus” moments we may have about the state of our current relationships.


Eventually, this requires loving ourselves more than we love others – it means showing up for ourselves in the face of what appears to be love but is often a trauma bond. Though easier to spot in romantic relationships, they do also occur in friendships as well. My focus today will be the romantic kind because the intimate concoction of trauma conflated with sex and sometimes love is a bit more complicated to navigate.

I chatted with Shawnessa Devonish MA, LCPC, NCC Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor so that we could fully understand what a trauma bond might look like.

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The first thing obviously is for us to clearly define a trauma bond. Devonish matter of factly explains that “trauma bonds are developed when feelings of compatibility are sparked based off of suffering from both individuals. The connection is so enhanced that it intensifies intimacy.” She later adds, “Any traumatic [or] distressing experience can trigger the development of a trauma bond with others. In addition, a person’s susceptibility to becoming trapped in a trauma bond can be determined by childhood interactions and experiences.”

Dunno about you, but this is sorta what I envisioned the whole time I was tossing the word around. What I wasn’t aware of was the fact that a trauma bond can take an alternative form and the bond can also be built when the relationship is initiated with abusive red flags. When it does, it almost ends up looking like Stockholm syndrome. The abuse breaks the victim down and the abuser initially gives large doses of affection, but the longer the abuse goes on, the less the affection follows. The victim can grow dependent on this affection, and the sex can feel like a reward.

I, however, would like to focus on the former because I think this is often the type of trauma bond we’re often speaking of. The trauma bonds that have us in a chokehold because the sex and overall experience are so intense that it feels like the purest form of love in the midst of darkness.

Why Is Trauma Bond Sex So Damn Good?

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You might have guessed it but the one and only “feel-good hormone” is responsible for the intense, mind-blowing sex. Our expert goes into more detail stating, “Trauma bounds intensify the sexual experience because it increases dopamine (‘the feel-good hormone’) levels in our minds–they enhance the sexual act and motivate more sexual encounters.”

Despite the glaring fact that all you two may have in common is trauma and good sex, this connection is strong enough to omit indications of a pleasurable experience to your brain because “we as humans have an innate need for connection/companionship and that alone can become addictive to some. Specifically when a person becomes hyper-focused on maintaining those [feelings of ] pleasure, even if it is temporary and toxic. The craving for connection becomes so intense that it can prevent some people from thinking logically.”

She later adds, “This leaves the door open for potentially toxic relationship dynamics because people neglect to search for compatibility in other areas [careers, hobbies, etc]. Hence, people are at risk of being blinded by the manipulative, disrespectful, critical, and/or callous partner.” This in turn means the relationship dynamic is easily transformed into an abusive one. With that, I had to question whether this dynamic can ever actually be mutual, authentic love and the answer is yes, it can.

However, Devonish warns that because the relational dynamic isn’t the best, to begin with, it's likely a dysfunctional type of love. She provides the analogy of having a love for junk food. Furthermore, she says, “It is important that individuals refrain from allowing the ‘love’ to blind them to the point where they are making illogical and impulsive decisions pertaining to the unhealthy relationship.”

Trauma Bonds: Red Flags to Look Out for, According to Our Expert

1. Dissatisfaction Outside of Sexual Encounters

Is the partner providing you with satisfaction outside of sexual encounters? When you take a moment to review things, you may notice that your partner is inconsistent, disrespectful, controlling, or even critical. It is important to assess how you overall feel in the relationship and not solely base that assessment on sex.

2. All You Have in Common Is…Trauma

Do you and that person talk about anything else? Connecting with a person solely because of a common trauma experience can be risky since it can trigger flashbacks, nightmares, or even re-traumatize you. If you discover that you have nothing else to talk about, you may be in a trauma bonding situation.

3. Make Note of Narcissistic Traits

When it comes to trauma bonding in intimate relationships, it is important to assess manipulative and controlling behaviors from your partner. Some may be overlooking them due to their need to maintain that connection or even because of the sympathy they have for that person.

Can Trauma Bonds be Broken? 

Short answer: yes. But that doesn’t necessarily result in your being with this partner anymore. Nonetheless, here are a few expert-approved ways to do so:

  • Talk to professionals to gain an objective/realistic view of the dynamic. Trauma bonds are so intense that they prevent people from thinking logically. Reaching out to professionals (ex: therapists, healers) can be helpful because we educate and assist clients with seeing things from new lenses.
  • Look into EMDR Therapy. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a trauma treatment approach to therapy that assists clients with reprocessing trauma so that the experience is no longer physically or emotionally distressing to the client. During the EMDR process, clients can also develop insight that may encourage them to release themselves from the shackles of any trauma bonds.
  • Assess your options. In trauma bonding relationships, it may feel like your only option is to be with that partner. However, you are capable of leaving. Work on developing a plan of action. You can also reach out to a professional or even the National Domestic Violence Hotlines to obtain some strategies and resources (if you are in an abusive relationship).

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your partner to determine if the bond you two have is deeper than the trauma you share and if it is in turn salvageable. Because so much of the criteria for what constitutes the bond being "salvageable" leaves little to no room for commonalities, you may find when you all go to do the work that there’s not much of a solid foundation to stand on, much less grow from.

In fact, I urge you and your partner to simultaneously seek out individual help while communicating your observations as you work to shift the nature of your relationship. One-on-one expert help will create a safe place for you to process hard truths on your own time, in your own space.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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