Graduating CHOICEr: Navigating Mental Health, Sexual Traumas, and Working in SRHR with Daphne

Graduating CHOICEr: Navigating Mental Health, Sexual Traumas, and Working in SRHR with Daphne

May 6, 2024

Graduating CHOICEr: Navigating Mental Health, Sexual Traumas, and Working in SRHR with Daphne

Trigger Warning: This interview contains discussions of sexual violence, assault, and rape.


Can you share with us how your journey with Choice has intertwined with your exploration of mental health and sexuality? 

I started CHOICE about five years ago, which coincided with when I began to seek mental health providers for my own mental health due to some events a few years earlier. Initially, I thought I could handle everything on my own, but I realized I might need professional help. CHOICE has been closely linked with my journey towards mental health and self-knowledge, since I was motivated to join CHOICE as a youth advocate, after a bad experience with sexual violence in a relationship. This made me want to advocate for comprehensive sexuality education to change societal pressures and myths, especially around first sexual experiences. 


During my time at CHOICE, I developed PTSD, realizing that some past experiences were not my fault and could be classified as rape. Managing PTSD brought new challenges; it was very bodily for me, meaning I became hypersensitive to physical touch, which often triggered panic attacks. During that time, part of managing my PTSD involved EMDR therapy, which helped lessen the trauma's impact but required me to relearn my relationship with my body and rebuild trust. This condition lasted about two years and pushed me towards a journey of self-acceptance and learning to establish boundaries, which has been significant both personally and professionally within CHOICE. There, I was provided with a safe space to explore setting boundaries with colleagues and within professional contexts.  


And, my experience has also been intertwined with Choice’s sex-positive approach, emphasizing bodily autonomy and literacy—concepts I wasn’t taught when young. Now, I’m still learning these aspects, which, despite the underlying reasons being unfortunate, has also been a fun process of rediscovering myself, there’s a positive underlining! 


How do you see a sex-positive and pleasure-based approach contributing to better mental health outcomes? 

It really connects to what I was saying, is that I think many of us do not learn body literacy. So many of us do not know what the sensations are that you're feeling when you're feeling certain emotions, or how to deal with it.  


You can become better friends with your bodies, especially through self-love. Or for some people, it's even that they find it helpful and encouraging that a partner loves their body and seeing the pleasure it comes for that partner can also be a confidence boost. If you have a partner, it can also happen around consent, not just saying no, but only going for an enthusiastic yes. It's this new thing on TikToks!  


But I think for many of us, self-love can really help. Sex can be a door to understanding yourself better. And I also experienced that finding out your sexual orientation can reduce a lot of mental health stress, at least for my personal situation. It caused me some distress during the journey, but ultimately, knowing and feeling happy about it opened up so much space for me. I’m still working on feeling proud, but it’s very liberating. 


What strategies or practices do you recommend for individuals looking to cultivate a healthier relationship with their bodies through sex and sexuality? 

Reading has been helpful. Books like "The Body Keeps the Score" delve into how trauma can manifest in the body. Another good one is "Come As You Are," which is very feminist and focuses on women's sexuality. 


A lot of us carry our context with us, which affects how we perceive and experience our sexuality, especially those with a trauma background. For example, I had a tough time recently due to stress from changing jobs, and it impacted my sexual wellness. My therapist helped me see that it wasn’t about me or my body, but rather the stress I was under. And I was just really saying to myself, ‘oh, why is it not working? I want to do more’. I think, especially coming from a trauma background, you sometimes are still a little harder on yourself. 


Being kind to oneself is crucial. It involves understanding that sometimes external stressors affect us, and it’s not a reflection of our personal failings. Self-exploration without judgment is also key, as recommended in "Come As You Are," which suggests using a mirror to look at your vulva. 


Understanding your own body is also crucial, and that includes acknowledging what feels good. Also, practicing self-compassion is important. We often come from environments that are not the most sex positive. Self-kindness and acceptance are crucial, particularly around areas like orgasms, which can sometimes feel like a performance. 


 I 100 % agree with you!  

Yes, and it's also important to try to remove the pressure from both self-love and partnered experiences. I find it beneficial to discuss fantasies with my partner. Even if I can't engage in every sexual act due to personal reasons, discussing fantasies can be fulfilling and fun. For those without a partner, exploring your own fantasies can be also engaging. 


There are many resources available now, like certain Instagram pages and TikToks, where people share and discuss these topics openly. Finding a community where you feel understood and supported is key!  


Moving on, can you share a personal anecdote or experience that illustrates the intersectionality of mental health, sexuality, and sexual and reproductive health and rights in your work?  

Much of my engagement in this field is personal. For instance, when discussing terms like gender-based violence, or sexual violence, which are crucial to have a conversation around, it often becomes a bit clinical, especially if you engage in language negotiations, Its all terms, terms, terms... Every now and then, the personal impact of these discussions hits you. Many activists, including myself, are drawn to this work due to personal experiences, which are often not positive. This personal connection is essential; it keeps the work grounded and relatable, especially for young people as well. Because I do think that luckily, we are the generation that talks about this and is aware of this. 


But it makes the work deeply personal. For example, introductions at workshops often reveal how common experiences like gender-based violence are among us. I feel like it’s also very particular to our field (in SRHR) to have so many personal connections.  


Being aware that discussions can trigger emotional responses is important to conduct sensitive and effective advocacy and trauma informed facilitation. In that sense, you conduct facilitation assuming at least one of the people in your group has had a traumatic experience. It also means that certain ways of doing facilitation might not work. For example, calling out on somebody can be tricky for some people because they're suddenly put on the spot. And that can really interfere with your learning attitude, because, if you're always in fight or flight mode, you won't have a learning attitude.  


On another note, I think it is interesting, in a way, that we ask activists to share so much about themselves. Or it feels sometimes that only when you have shared your most painful moments, then you are a true and authentic activist. It probably stems from the fact that when you can trigger somebody's heart a little bit, your story comes across more. But you do not know if they have aftercare, if they have a partner that they can go to, if there's psychological services that they can access. Or if that experience of sharing with you might have triggered a lot more. 


I hope that for the young people we talked to during my time at choice, we made it a more empowering experience, letting them share their stories and priorities without having them re-live their traumas. I heard this sentence in a training once, ‘Sharing your scars, but not your open wounds’ when talking about activism, and it really resonated with me, and the way we should move forward.  



Daphne's journey shows us the impact, and interlinkages of personal experience and work experience, youth leadership and advocacy, reminding us of the importance of sensitivity and support in discussions of trauma and resilience. As she is getting started on a new chapter, her legacy at CHOICE serves as an example of hope, self-growth and compassion with others. Wishing you all the best, Daph!