The Radical Intimacy Podcast

Episode S01E07: 

Thriving After Sexual Trauma with Dr. Holly Richmond 

There are plenty of misconceptions out there about what constitutes a sexual transgression, but the truth is that your experience doesn’t need to be violent for it to be a violation. The term sexual trauma is deliberately broad and all-encompassing and includes any non-consensual act. Yet, for many survivors, it takes them years before they can recognize that their experiences were a violation. Today on the show, we get together with Dr. Holly Richmond to help us take a closer look at sexual trauma and unpack how our minds and bodies react to these experiences. Holly is a somatic psychotherapist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, as well as a certified sex therapist. She is also the author of Reclaiming Pleasure: A Sex-Positive Guide for Moving Past Sexual Trauma and Living a Passionate Life. In our conversation with Holly, we discuss her work as a therapist, why so many of her patients have taken years to recognize and seek help for their trauma, and the reasons behind why so much of sexual trauma is tied up with feelings of shame and low self-worth. We also dive into the dissonance between our mind and body after experiencing sexual trauma, and how survivors can begin to move from a state of surviving to thriving. Today’s conversation is both hugely informative and deeply empathic. It sheds valuable light on the experiences of so many individuals and ultimately shares an empowering message of self-actualization, sex positivity, and pleasure!


Key Points From This Episode:


●      The definition of sexual trauma and the importance of having an all-encompassing term.

●      Why sexual trauma isn’t necessarily violent, but always non-consensual and violating.

●      The role that shame and low self-worth play in repeated instances of sexual trauma.

●      Why it takes many survivors years before they recognize and seek help for sexual trauma.

●      The dissonance between mind and body after a traumatic event.

●      How society has conditioned us to ignore our trauma in order to stay productive.

●      Some of the initial steps that survivors can take in addressing their trauma.

●      The four types of trauma response: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

●      A definition of the lesser-known response fawn, and why it’s described as 'freeze with a smile on your face'.

●      The distinction between surviving and thriving, and the role that pleasure plays in thriving.

●      The role of eroticism and sexual fantasy and how that can be nourishing and healthy.

●      How Holly’s book addresses issues around sexual fantasy, trauma, and integration.

●      Holly’s advice on how to find a sex-positive therapist.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Dr. Holly Richmond

Holly Richmond on LinkedIn

Reclaiming Pleasure: A Sex-Positive Guide for Moving Past Sexual Trauma and Living a Passionate Life

The American Association of Sexuality, Educators, Counselors, and Therapists

Zoë Kors’ Links:

Zoë’s Website

Zoë’s Book: Radical Intimacy

The Radical Intimacy Podcast

Coral: Sexual Wellness App




[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: You are listening to the Radical Intimacy Podcast with a sex and intimacy coach, Zoë Kors. 


[00:00:14] ZK: Have you ever wondered if you have experienced sexual trauma? Can you recall a sexual encounter in which you felt uncomfortable or unsafe? Have you ever found yourself wondering how you got yourself into a situation that you had to strategize how to get out of? The truth is, if you can answer yes, you might be a survivor of sexual trauma. In recent years, there’s been a growing awareness of the prevalence of trauma. The work of Gabor Maté Bessel van der Kolk, among others, has expanded our understanding of both the nature of trauma and the impact it has on our mental and physical wellbeing. Peter Levine is the founder of a trauma treatment modality called somatic experiencing. He tells us that trauma can be defined as an unresolved response of the autonomic nervous system. It’s that response to an event that determines if we have been traumatized, not necessarily the event itself. Events affect each of us very differently. 


I called in my colleague, Dr. Holly Richmond to talk more about this. Holly is a somatic psychotherapist, licensed marriage and family therapist, and certified sex therapist. She focuses on client’s cognitive processes, as well as mind-body health. She works with women, men, couples and gender diverse individuals on relationship and sexuality issues, offering sex therapy and sexual health coaching nationally, and internationally. Some of the things she specializes in are low libido, sexual dysfunction, compulsive sexuality, which is often called addiction, desire discrepancies in couples, recovery from sexual assault, and abuse and alternative, non-traditional sexual expression. 


She recently published a book, Reclaiming Pleasure: A Sex Positive Guide for Moving Past Sexual Trauma and Living a Passionate Life. I’m a big admirer of Dr. Holly Richmond. She is a champion of pleasure and eros as necessary components of recovery and integrated sexual wellness. 




[00:02:32] ZK: Dr. Holly Richmond.  


[00:02:34] HR: Zoë Kors, it’s so happy to be with you. 


[00:02:38] ZK: Such a pleasure to have you on the podcast. 


[00:02:41] HR: Thank you. Thank you and congratulations. 


[00:02:44] ZK: Thank you very much. I’m a great admirer of your work and your book. I think your work is so incredibly needed, so let’s dive in. Can you define for us exactly what constitutes sexual trauma? 


[00:03:01] HR: Yes. It’s one or more sexual violations that caused significant distress. It’s anything sexual in nature that is nonconsensual. When we use this term sexual trauma, it’s a broad term for again, anything nonconsensual. That can be rape, can be sexual assault, can be sexual abuse, gender harassment, anything that falls under this window is sexual trauma. The reason I like sexual trauma is, for some people, for some survivors, having words to define what happened to them is really important. Their story will include, “I was raped” or “I was sexually abused.” For other survivors, saying those specific words, it’s just a little too much, so they’re more comfortable saying, “I’m a survivor of sexual trauma.” So there’s less details there. But it’s an all-encompassing broad term. 


[00:03:55] ZK: Right, a very broad term, a big umbrella. It’s not to minimize, we don’t use sexual trauma as a broad term in order to sort of minimize the sort of foreign violent kind of manifestations of that. There’s a wide variety. 


[00:04:14] HR: Yes, yes. 


[00:04:16] ZK: Then we can dive in deeper with the proper support to help further define. One of the things that I come across often and even including with myself, is that once I sort of opened up the idea of trauma as being a sexual act that was nonconsensual, it allowed me to understand that some of my own experiences were traumatic. 


[00:04:41] HR: Absolutely. 


[00:04:42] ZK: That harmed me. And there was some healing and reconciling to do in those. I mean, I really don’t know too many people, particularly women, or people with vulvas who haven’t experienced some form of nonconsensual sex. 


[00:04:59] HR: Absolutely. Yeah, and it’s interesting, depending on where you’re getting your data from. One in six women, one in four women, one in every nine men, one in every 33 men have experienced rape. I’ve even seen one study that suggests one in every two women has experienced some form of nonconsensual act and I think that’s true. Let’s be even more clear, because what you said made me realize I missed something in that definition. Sexual trauma is only nonconsensual, it doesn’t have to be violent. Not necessarily violent, but always violating. 


[00:05:36] ZK: Right. That’s a great distinction. The difference between violent and violating. 


[00:05:42] HR: Yes, because most sexual trauma, people don’t walk away with bruises, or cuts, or anything that hurts. There’s no physical manifestation of the trauma, but boy, there are those internal wounds. If we keep wanting to think of sexual trauma in the way that the media portrays it to us, which is stranger rape, which really rarely – it just doesn’t happen that much. Then we want to put it in this box of violence, oh, and it should look like this. It just doesn’t. It’s perpetrated more than 85% of the time by someone known to the survivor, and it’s not violent, it’s violating. 


[00:06:14] ZK: Right. Fascinating. I also noticed that you mentioned men. Men can suffer sexual trauma and be violated. That’s something that we don’t normally think about. 


[00:06:29] HR: Yeah. I remember at Esther Perel’s conference two or two and a half years ago, a man walked up to me and said, “Thank you so much for saying that men can be raped.” Absolutely. Rape, the definition there, I encourage you all to read for more specifics, but rape is really anything that involves penetration of the genitals. Yeah. Of course, men can be raped.  


[00:06:52] ZK: Yes, of course. How do we know? How do we start? I know a lot of light bulbs are probably going off in listeners’ minds right now. How do we know if we’ve suffered sexual trauma? How do we sort of do the work?  


[00:07:10] HR: Let’s say the sexual trauma was 10 years ago, which please know, on average, that’s about how long it takes people to find their way into my office. Because, again, most sexual trauma, it’s not like there was this big violent experience, something happened, or there was a series of events. So many survivors suffer numerous sexual traumas, sexual abuse in childhood, and then sexual assault and then maybe some domestic violence. It’s just – because of lack of self-worth, and shame, and all these other places that were going. But you’ll know you experienced sexual trauma when you are in your body, those moments you’re in your body, and you’re remembering those moments, and something doesn’t feel right and you’re trying to minimize it. 


With most survivors, is this act of minimization. “Well, it wasn’t that bad. And wait, I went on like four dates with him, why did I do that?” Or “I sent her a text afterwards.” That must mean it wasn’t trauma. That’s not true. It’s not true. So it’s incongruous. There’s no integration between mind and body. If your mind and body are having an argument about what was traumatic, you’ve probably experienced something traumatic. 


[00:08:21] ZK: Right. The mind is a crazy thing, huh? 


[00:08:24] HR: It is, and it tries to talk us out of it. 


[00:08:28] ZK: Yeah. Is that survival instinct? Is that sort of like keep the equilibrium at all costs?  


[00:08:33] HR: I think so. And I think, too, that we live in a culture that’s so prioritizes, productivity, and hard work, and all of these things that if we need to stop and feel about our trauma, I don’t know many people who could just carry on at the normal pace that’s expected of so many of us right now. 


[00:08:51] ZK: Right. Even thinking about like one particular event, one situation that I was in that was, I realized much, much later like, “Wow! That was really traumatic.” I was happy and relieved to get him out the door, and considered calling the police, and didn’t and then just sort of moved on. But I’m sitting and thinking like, “Wow! I never really thought about how unsafe I felt, how endangered I felt in that, and violated to the extent that it went on.” I was able to sort of extract myself with minimal damage. But yeah, like, I don’t even know about how to deal with that now and so many years later, and without being derailed. It’s interesting to hear you talk about it and to think about this now. What are some of the first steps that we can take if we have identified that we have had sexual trauma that we have survived something? What are some of the first steps to take in dealing with it? Is there a way to not derail your whole life? 


[00:10:02] HR: Mm-hmm. Yeah, for sure. I’m going to go kind of bigger picture and then we’ll work back because the example you gave was beautiful. Your mind and body were not in alignment, right? You’re now realizing, “I was so afraid. My body was really afraid, but I tried to talk myself out of it and my mind and say it wasn’t a big deal. Now, I’m realizing it was a big deal.” The first way that we can let ourselves off the hook, that’s the language I give for it is really knowing that our body did the best job it could to take care of us and our mind did the best job to take care of us. The only reason anything happens to anyone is because there’s a perpetrator present. It doesn’t matter that you invited this man into your home, it doesn’t matter. This could have been the 10th date with him. You could have already slept with him. None of that matters. It doesn’t matter if you were sitting on your couch naked. None of that matters. The only reason that you would experience rape, or assault or any kind of violation is because there was a perpetrator present. 


We wanted to ask, you in that situation, I’m guessing of the four Fs of the trauma responses, fight, flight, freeze, fawn. I’m guessing you fawned. That’s how you got him out of there. 


[00:11:14] ZK: I did. That’s exactly right. And I did a lot of reasoning and negotiating with him. I imagined what he might need to hear to back off, so I definitely wasn’t fighting, and I wasn’t freezing and I wasn’t – what’s the other one? 


[00:11:36] HR: Yeah, fleeing because it’s your house. Do you want to tell about fawn or do you want me to explain fawn? 


[00:11:44] ZK: Yeah. I would for you, you are the expert and [inaudible 00:11:47] than I will. 


[00:11:48] HR: You’re an expert here too. Fawn is freeze with a smile on your face. Fawn is freeze that looks complacent. Fawn is just being – it’s freeze, but being nice. It’s that realization of the moment for so many people where they’re like, “I am going to have to reason with my perpetrator if I’m going to get out of this safely. If I don’t want to be harmed, I’m going to have to pretend that I like this person, I’m going to say, ‘Absolutely. Let’s get together again. Text me.’ I’m going to have to be as nice and complacent as I possibly be to keep myself safe.” And that’s a mindfuck, like that’s just a mindfuck. Then you’re three years later, and you’re like, “I was traumatized. But oh my gosh, I told the guy I wanted to see him again.” 


[00:12:37] ZK: Right, and the circumstances are no longer in existence. So you go back and look at the words that were said, or some of the actions that were taken, I mean, it’s like, you can put yourself on the witness stand, and cross examine yourself and wonder what on earth you were doing. Right?  


[00:12:56] HR: Right. The answer is you’re keeping yourself safe. 


[00:12:58] ZK: That’s right. 


[00:13:00] HR: That’s the only answer. 


[00:13:01] ZK: You were surviving. Yeah. How do we start to have some compassion for ourselves, and to let ourselves off the hook and to start to move forward and find a way to reconcile what’s happened to us? 


[00:13:21] HR: I think a large piece of that is starting to have some awareness around the internalized shame. Shame and sexual trauma, I mean, shame in any kind of trauma are very closely linked, but shame and sexual trauma are like just so closely woven together, for a lot of reasons, because we don’t talk about sex in our society. We don’t live in a society where we can openly talk about sexuality, without feeling judged or without taboos. If something sexual happens to us, it just goes inside so deeply inside that much quicker. If we can get to this place of putting the blame where it belongs, which is on our perpetrator, that slowly begins to dislodge the shame. And then there’s the process of trusting our bodies again.  


Again, in that moment, your body was taking care of you, it wasn’t betraying you. It’s really your friend. The language I use in the book is, for a lot of survivors, they feel like their body goes without them, so they have panic attacks, or they have chronic pain or they just feel very out of control in their body. But that’s because they were out of control of their body in the moment of their trauma. But the truth is, now, in the present moment, they are very much in control of their bodies. 


[00:14:34] ZK: So resourcing, resourcing individuals back into their bodies and reclaiming that control. The book is called Reclaiming Pleasure, I’ve spoken about it in that introduction, and we will put it in the show notes. But you talk about the difference between surviving and thriving. Can you say a little bit more about what it means to thrive and how we can get there? 


[00:15:01] HR: Surviving is what so many of us do. Those statistics we gave at the beginning. Surviving is getting through life. Thriving is living life. And people are like, “Okay. That’s to obtuse.” Thriving to me comes down to this concept of eroticism or eros, which translated means lifeforce, vitality, vivacity, desire, creativity, cocreation, right? It’s these things that really make us feel alive. When we’re surviving – most people I work with don’t necessarily feel alive. They literally feel like one foot in front of the other, one day after the next. Thriving is alignment, its flow, its attunement with yourself. It’s more easy connection with others, and really that sense of overall fulfillment. 


[00:15:54] ZK: Hmm, I love that. I often speak to people who are dealing with trauma, the aftermath of trauma, and I often hear the words, “I feel dead inside.” 


[00:16:06] HR: Yes. 


[00:16:07] ZK: Eros is the opposite of that, right? 


[00:16:11] HR: Yes. 


[00:16:12] ZK: And of course, the word erotic or eroticism comes from the Latin root Eros.  


[00:16:17] HR: Yes. 


[00:16:18] ZK: In that way, you’re talking about pleasure, right? 


[00:16:23] HR: Absolutely. I just want to say, yes, survivors will say, “I feel dead inside” aAnd they’ll also often say, “I don’t care if I ever have sex again.” And they do care, they do care. It’s just too scary to care. 


[00:16:38] ZK: Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about pleasure as a form of medicine? 


[00:16:43] HR: Ah, yes. Yes. 


[00:16:46] ZK: I mean, the title of the book is Reclaiming Pleasure. Pleasure really is a powerful destination, but also modality. 


[00:16:56] HR: It is. Well, I focused on pleasure here, because it’s really the missing piece in most conversations we have about sexuality, right? I think the tides are turning, and we’re getting better at talking about pleasure. But it used to be, people had sex. And for me, I see people are sex. There’s not this dual sense of sex and self. Like that sexual piece of us, that piece of pleasure, bodily pleasure is really inherent to how we move through the world. And I don’t want to scare anybody. It’s not all about sex in the book. I mean, pleasure with food, drink, friends, connection, purpose, like the pleasure has to be all encompassing. So I promise I start slow, and then we go to this sexuality piece. 


[00:17:39] ZK: I want to hear though, while you’re there, I want to back up because I hear you say, people are sex, they don’t just have sex. What does that mean exactly? 


[00:17:51] HR: It’s not compartmentalized. It’s not performative. It’s not something we do for another person. It’s not something we do out of obligation. It’s an integrated experience, meaning again, our mind and body are on the same page. There’s no shame. There’s no judgment. We can just be there. We can just be there. 


[00:18:10] ZK: And we come from sex, right? Everything of us has taken shape in a body as a result of two people having had sex. 


[00:18:18] HR: Right. 


[00:18:19] ZK: Right. So I mean, talk about life force. 


[00:18:22] HR: That’s it. It’s that. The connection is, it’s just so, so right there. 


[00:18:28] ZK: Yeah. Okay. Can you give us like a tactical, say, let’s take me for an example, okay? I have survived, and fortunately, my trauma wasn’t severe enough that I didn’t find a way to thrive. Like I’ve been surviving, but then I’ve also been thriving all of these years, largely because I’m a self-help junkie, who will always dive into the deep end and do the work, right? But here I am realizing that I had a moment, I had a really powerful moment that was really scary. I can now with your help identify that as sexual trauma. I want to dive in and do some work on this. I want to sort of heal, and reconcile and maybe even it’s a point of inquiry about whether or not there is work to do there. What do I need to kind of like complete that little episode if it can be completed? What are like tactical steps? Do I like sit on my meditation cushion and think about or relive that – I don’t even think about how it went down, and I don’t even know that I can recall all of the details. But I actually can recall a few details. I remember the car that he was in. I remember some of the sentences, word for word that I used to talk myself out of, or to talk him out of that situation. What do I do? Do I review all of that? 


[00:20:02] HR: If you and I were working together, yes. We would have a session around this. And Zoë, I love that you said, “Is this something that I need to address? Is this still bothering me?” That’s a wonderful question. It might be. It might not be. So let me just take you through the list of what we would do. But obviously, we don’t have time to do it all here on the podcast. First, I would ask you if you were comfortable telling me what happened to you. I would be interested in, “Zoë, was this sexual abuse?” Which is wasn’t because you were an adult, I think. Right? 


[00:20:36] ZK: Yes, I was an adult. 


[00:20:37] HR: Yeah. Was it harassment? Was it assault? Was it rape? Was it gender violence? You and I would sit and you would really be able to wrap your arms around what happened to you. You would have language for it. And then we would talk about whose fault it was. We would talk about blame. We would talk about how you’ve internalized shame, if at all. 


[00:21:00] HR: We can see each other, but our minds can’t. When you said whose fault is it, tears welled up. I feel tears. Which tells me that I’ve been taking responsibility for what happened. I don’t think I even realized it. Cognitively, I know that what he did was not right. But I definitely must blame myself for letting him into the house, for instance. 


[00:21:30] HR: Yeah, it does sound like there’s some work there. So then we move a little bit away from the trauma once we processed what happened. How have you internalized shame? How has it impacted your sexual health and your ability to be in relationships? And then you and I would work through the protocol that’s in the book, which is control, maintaining and relinquishing. We see what’s going on with control in your life. We’d see where you can access pleasure in your life and where you might need a little help there. We talk about how you’re connecting to your community, to your partner, to your friends, to your family. And then we talk about fantasy and how using eroticism combined with your fantasies with your sexual preferences, or just your imagination can help you towards this place of thriving. 


[00:22:19] ZK: I love that. It’s my favorite part of the book, actually. Yeah, really so powerful and I feel like it makes your work super special and unique. 


[00:22:30] HR: Thank you. Thank you. You know what’s interesting? This work is based on my dissertation from years and years ago. What I found in the dissertation for the recovery of sexual health after sexual assault was these three parameters, control, pleasure, connection. But in writing the book and after over a decade has passed, I’m like, “Man, we need to talk about fantasy.” Just because I’m so interested in eroticism now, too. Thank you for saying that that’s a hook for you. 


[00:22:57] ZK: Yeah. Let’s talk about fantasy for just a moment if we could. I think a lot of people hear fantasy, sexual fantasy, and they think like, that’s something I’m not supposed to do. Particularly when I’m engaging with a partner, like I’m not supposed to be. I’m supposed to be super present. I’m not supposed to have fantasies outside of my partnership. Can you give us an idea of what you mean by fantasy, sexual fantasy? And how do you set it in a way that is nourishing and healthy? 


[00:23:32] HR: Yes. And you ask a good question and it’s a common question. I’m just going to say it and then we can talk about it. 


[00:23:39] ZK: Yes, say it. 


[00:23:40] HR: You’re married, you’re not dead. You’re partnered, you’re not dead. Right? Like in what world do we partner with someone and be in a monogamous relationship, if that’s what we choose to do? Yet think this fantasy life, our creativity, this life force is just supposed to go whoop, shut down and everything’s about you. So unrealistic. It’s just – 


[00:24:00] ZK: Yes, I fully agree. It’s one of the things I think that people are often surprised to hear me say, and I’m surprised that they’re surprised to hear me say that I am a very strong advocate for self-pleasuring, even when you’re in a in a partnership, when you’re in relationship, each of those individuals. Self-pleasure practice is something that – and I’m down on a tangent, but I think it’s similar with fantasy, that the self-pleasure practice is something that you do for yourself. You brush your teeth, you shower, you cook your breakfast, you exercise and you masturbate. We do all these things to take care of ourselves and masturbation, self-pleasure is one of those things. Fantasy is not a form of infidelity.  


[00:24:48] HR: Correct. At least that’s how I see it. You will be – I’m sure you know in your client population, some people think it is and I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I’m just here to offer a position. It’s like saying, you’re in bed with your partner and you’re having a fantasy about your being ravaged or group sex. Taking that away from you would be like telling you, you go paint a canvas and no, don’t paint the tree because you should be painting the beach. It’s just – it’s all up here. It’s all consensual because it’s happening in our mind. We’re not doing anything to our partner, we’re not asking them to engage in it, unless that’s what we want to do, which great. Totally advocate for that as well. 


[00:25:29] ZK: Yeah. Okay. I’m going to change minds, by the way. 


[00:25:34] HR: Okay, good. 


[00:25:35] ZK: Can I say that? 


[00:25:37] HR: Yes. 


[00:25:38] ZK: I want everybody to be free and embodied. Maybe I’m here to just like eradicate the mind, and all the stories we tell ourselves that limit our essential nature of our sexual expression. I love your sort of examples of how fantasy can contribute to our sort of expansive wholeness, if I might. How can we – are you sort of advocating for people to explore their fantasy life sort of on their own time? 


[00:26:13] HR: I am. What I’m advocating for is for people to explore their fantasies with themselves first, just like I would advocate for a self-pleasure practice before engaging with a partner. Just so you know your body, all of the things that you and I talk about a lot. This self-exploration of fantasy, seeing what’s interesting there for you. Is it about voyeurism, exhibitionism? Is it power? Is it sensuality? I have so many people, women in particular, that say, “Oh, I don’t have any fantasies.” But then two minutes later, they’ll say, “Gosh! I wish my husband would just tell me I looked pretty today.” I’m like, “Okay. That’s your sexual fantasy. Let’s build that out. Let’s build that out.” 


It’s not about the fantasy. It’s not about the thing. It’s about the meaning, right? Do you want to have more power, for example? Or do you want to not have any power because all you do every day is make decisions in your life? Do you want to be adored because you don’t feel adored enough? Or do you want to adore someone else because you feel too adored and like the camera is always on you? There’s so much meaning in these fantasies. 


[00:27:21] ZK: Yeah, it reminds me a little bit of dream interpretation. Right? Looking for the underlying themes. And then I imagine, once you sort of identify like an underlying theme, what a fantasy might be really about, that could lead to sort of the creation of all kinds of other fantasies. 


[00:27:44] HR: Absolutely. And then at that point, you decide, do I want to share this with my partner? What do I want to do with this information? Do I want to write it? So many of my clients right now are writing erotica, for lack of a better word, just like – just for themselves, just to have some expression around this where they’ve never even previously given themselves a chance to think about it. 


[00:28:05] ZK: Yeah, that sounds super powerful and pretty delicious. I can imagine too that if it fits, it could fuel a new dynamic in a partnership as well. 


[00:28:17] HR: Absolutely. People have such fear around sharing fantasies, and I absolutely get it. But I can tell you more times than not in the sharing of the fantasies that enhances the relationship, rather than detracting from it. 


[00:28:32] ZK: Yeah. Holly, the obvious question, and maybe I’m just prompting you to give permission to people to have their fantasies and not judge them. But it feels – let me say it this way. In your practice, when you’re approaching this topic of fantasy with your clients, do you bump up against people judging themselves for what they’re fantasizing about, what turns them on? 


[00:28:58] HR: Oh my gosh, almost every time. It’s tricky with survivors, because a lot of times, the fantasies are pulled from the traumatic experiences. So they’ve got so much shame around first being a survivor, and then kind of replaying the fantasy from it in their sexual experiences. So an example would be someone that was spanked or choked during their actual trauma. But now when the person self-pleasures, they think about being slapped or they think about being choked, or they’re actually asking their partner to do it. But it’s not being done in an integrated way. It’s being done in a retraumatizing way. We just have to peel all those layers back, understand it and there’s no clear-cut answer there. For some people, let’s take the spanking for example. They would notice that they were self-pleasuring, and that fantasy of spanking came up. They would have to notice it. Mindfully put it in a box, put it to the side and not engage with it and continue thinking about or feeling about something that does feel good and not shame based. Where other people are like, that spanking fantasy is so strong, I really need to figure out how to work this into my self-pleasure protocol or work it into my sexuality. So at that point, it’s just my job to help them really release all shame around it and make it a healthy choice. 


[00:30:16] ZK: I love that. I love that. What I love so much is to hear you describe a situation where we can be at will with what we do with our thoughts, whether we engage them. Like to hear you say, I’m just going to put it over here and not engage with it. How powerful is that? 


[00:30:35] HR: It is and it’s not easy. So let me say to all of your listeners out there, this is not like, “Oh! Just put it in a box. Especially when it’s been your fantasy for 20 years and you realize, “Holy shit! This has been traumatic. I’ve been re traumatizing myself with this.” It’s practice putting it in a box. So that might look like, “I notice it, it’s half in the box. I can’t get back to my self-pleasure practice without it bleeding out of the box. I’m just going to have to stop today. I’m just going to have to stop, and breathe, and come back and try again.” 


[00:31:04] ZK: Yeah. And you know, listen, if you read Dr. Holly Richmond’s book and you start to dive in and do this kind of work, you may come to a point where you call in the professionals for support and seek the help of trauma-informed sex therapist to help you do some of this work and really support you in that process. 


[00:31:28] HR: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for that, Zoë. The book is not therapy. Zoë, I love that you said a trauma-informed sex therapist. A trauma informed therapist first and foremost, but if you don’t get a sex-positive therapist, I’m worried for you. Because they don’t know how to talk about sexuality, or they have certain views of sexuality, they could make the shame worse. So really finding someone – the words you’re looking for is sex positive, inclusive, nonjudgmental, and I know these are words, nonjudgmental, a lot of therapists use but probably that sex positive is a good one to look for when you’re looking for a therapist. 


[00:32:04] ZK: I don’t know that I’ve ever had a therapist put in their bio that they’re a judgmental therapist. This begs the question, how do you interview a therapist? How do you find a good therapist? I know that’s not an easy thing to answer exactly.  


[00:32:24] HR: The first is a little bit easy. Trust your gut. Let’s say you have psychology today opened, I just want to offer this resource, maybe Zoë, you can put it in the show notes, That’s the American Association of Sexuality, Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Everyone on AASECT is going to be sex positive. I said trust your gut, because you’re going to read the therapist’s bios and be like, “Boy! That person is starting to resonate with me.” So trust that, then ask for a consultation. I still do consultations, 10 to 15 minutes when a new client wants to interview me. Some are just like, “Nope. Let’s get the show on the road. Let’s get going.” I can’t say all therapists offer consultations. But if you need one, you ask for one. 


[00:33:11] ZK: Yeah. Same thing when my kids were born, I would interview pediatricians. 


[00:33:16] HR: Yes. 


[00:33:18] ZK: That’s a relationship, especially with a new parent, right?  


[00:33:21] HR: Oh my gosh. Absolutely. Yes. 


[00:33:24] ZK: Holly, what do you want people who have been traumatized to know about themselves and to know about sex? 


[00:33:32] HR: To know about themselves as, you did the right thing, you took care of yourself, you did the best you could. Really, you did the right thing. The reason I’m so sure you did the right thing is because you are here and you’re listening. And in this moment, I bet you are safe. If you look around yourself, I bet you’re safe and there’s elements of your life that’s working. This idea of yours that you’re broken, that you’re so different, that you can’t do anything right, all of these shame-based belief systems, I just want to challenge. This is not me saying that you should be having a ton of sex. This is me saying I want you to think about sex. And if you decide you’re asexual, that is a great choice. I’m happy with that. If you decide you’re polyamorous or anything, anything, those are all beautiful choices, but I just want you to think about sexuality. 


[00:34:23] ZK: Hmm, beautiful. Holly, I am going to ask you as I close every episode, borrowing from James Lipton and Inside the Actors Studio, I’m going to ask Bernard Pivot’s question, the French journalist. What is your favorite word? 


[00:34:42] HR: Ease. 


[00:34:45] ZK: Hmm, ease.  


[00:34:47] HR: Right now it’s ease. 


[00:34:49] ZK: Yeah. What is your least favorite word? 


[00:34:52] HR: Pity. 


[00:34:55] ZK: Oh, that’s a good one. What turns you on? 


[00:34:58] HR: Speed and power. 


[00:35:01] ZK: What sound do you love?  


[00:35:02] HR: Glasses clinking. 


[00:35:04] ZK: What sound do you hate?  


[00:35:06] HR: Fighting, loud voices fighting. 


[00:35:09] ZK: What’s your favorite curse word?  


[00:35:12] HR: Can it be a phrase? 


[00:35:13] ZK: Sure. 


[00:35:15] HR: Are you fucking kidding me? 


[00:35:20] ZK: What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? 


[00:35:23] HR: Formula One race car driver. 


[00:35:27] ZK: As if I didn’t love you enough. What profession would you not like to participate in? 


[00:35:33] HR: Teaching young children. 


[00:35:35] ZK: And if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?  


[00:35:41] HR: The bar is that way. 


[00:35:45] ZK: Dr. Holly Richmond, thank you so much for joining us today. 


[00:35:49] HR: Thank you, Zoë for having me. And again, congratulations on this podcast. You’re going to help and support so many people. I so appreciate the work you do in the world. 


[00:35:59] ZK: Thank you. The feeling is very mutual. 


[00:36:02] HR: Thank you. 




[00:36:04] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Radical Intimacy Podcast. We are committed to facilitating courageous conversation about things that are hard to talk about. To support what we do, please subscribe, review, and refer us to your friends. To connect with us directly, visit To learn more about Zoë, visit You can buy Zoë’s book, Radical Intimacy: Cultivate the Deeply Connected Relationships You Desire and Deserve, wherever you buy books. You are worthy of love and belonging. You are enough. We see you. We got you. We love you.