June 13, 2013

12 Things No One Told Me About Sex After Rape

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What is the issue?

There is a strange sort of unspoken theory that once a woman has been raped, sex is no longer a viable option for her. Sex has been replaced by trauma, fear, pain, and anxiety. I’m not saying this is never the case. Every survivor’s story and experience is different, but too often the assumption is that if you have been raped, you are sexually broken and forever unfixable. That sort of discourse is not healthy or empowering or even sympathetic. What I want to say is what I wish I had been told: rape is not a form of sex, it is a form of assault. Sex feels good. Assault is traumatizing. It is possible for sex to exist after rape because they are different experiences, just like it’s possible for you to still enjoy going out to eat even if you got food poisoning once. You might never go back to that restaurant again, but it doesn’t mean you will get food poisoning every time you go out.

Admittedly, I don’t know what sex before rape is like. I lost my virginity to rape at 14. People are willing to give a lot of guidance on what a survivor is supposed to do after her rape. Do not change clothes. Do not shower. Have someone you trust take you to the hospital. Report it immediately to law enforcement. Reach out to loved ones, find a therapist, become an advocate for other survivors. But it’s been 10 years and these are the things nobody told me about sex after rape:

1. Nobody tells you that you’ll feel guilty the first time you have a crush on a guy after your rape. Aren’t you supposed to hate men now? I mean, ugh, penises are evil and one ruined your life. You shouldn’t even be thinking about boys. That’s what got you in trouble in the first place. (Oh, hey rape culture, how’d you get here?)

2. Nobody tells you that you’ll be called a tease when you draw the line at making out. Even though you’re pretty proud of yourself for this minor victory on your path to regaining any confidence in expressing your sexuality, some people will think you’re a prude because you won’t take off your pants.

3. Nobody tells you that the first time you do take off your pants in front of a potential partner you’ll cry almost immediately and put them back on, leaving without an explanation. You’ll feel embarrassed and stupid and you’ll wonder if you’re ever going to be capable of intimacy ever again.

4. Nobody tells you that masturbation is a healing practice (OK, maybe your therapist suggested it once or twice) and that realizing you’re capable of sexual satisfaction after rape is an incredible, powerful feeling. Sometimes it takes a while to feel wholly reunited with your body in this way, and you’re allowed to take all the time you need. Sexual exploration is a journey, not a destination.

5. Nobody tells you that your PTSD symptoms will be scoffed at. Your boundaries will be called “arbitrary” and you will be accused of “wielding sex as a weapon” and “putting yourself on a pedestal.” Someone should tell you that people who say these things are the worst type of people to be around. They have no right to make you feel ashamed, but they will. If they have the potential to get angry about the choices you make about what you do with your body, they are not worth your time or energy or thought or love. But nobody tells you that.

6. Nobody tells you that the ‘rape talk’ will be a thing that has to happen before any romantic relationship gets too serious. Nobody lets you know that immature men will freak out and refer to your rape as “baggage” when they cut things off. And unfortunately, nobody mentions that some men will hold your hand and weep with you when you tell them, because they can’t believe anyone would be capable of hurting you.

7. Nobody tells you that there are men who are patient and kind. Some men will listen and support you and they will read and research and seek to understand. They will ask you what you like and what you don’t like, they will be explicit about their concerns, and they will treat you with respect and dignity.

8. Nobody tells you that the first few times you try sex again it might not go well. You might have a panic attack or a flashback, and you might scream or shake or cry or throw up or all of the above. What they should tell you is that the right partner will stroke your back or make you tea or hold your hair back for you. He’ll leave if he’s asked and he’ll keep his phone on him so you can talk if you need to.

9. Nobody tells you that the first time you successfully, enjoyably have sex again is empowering, and freeing, and overwhelming. Even if it only lasts two minutes, it will feel like an enormous victory. You will be happy in a way you weren’t sure you would be happy again.

10. Nobody tells you that it doesn’t work that way every time. PTSD isn’t cured by one blissful experience, and anxiety is a bitch. Sometimes you will burrow down deep in your comforter and wish you could just be NORMAL and have NORMAL sex like a NORMAL person. And it is frustrating. But you will remember that one bad experience does not negate your ability to have future good experiences. And you will drink your tea and feel better.

11. Nobody tells you that people are capable of loving you after you’ve been raped, and that you are capable of loving back. You are allowed to give yourself to someone completely. Likewise, you are allowed to hold back. You are allowed to be fearful but you are also allowed to trust again. Your healing process is your own and regardless of how you get there, know that as long as you are taking care of yourself, nobody has any right to tell you differently.

12. Nobody tells you that just because he’s the first boy you slept with since your rape doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with him. You don’t “owe” anyone else your love or happiness or body. You can be thankful and appreciative and comfortable, but if he’s not “the one,” don’t settle just because he treated you better than your rapist.

You’re going to have good days and bad days. You’re going to have good sex and bad sex. But you’re still alive, and I just thought maybe someone should tell you. TC mark

CJ Hale

CJ Hale is a high school teacher and proponent of speaking one’s mind. Her work is featured under various pen names …

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