Dating is hard enough as it is, but being a sexual assault survivor adds a whole new layer of difficulties.
My trauma left me scared to be intimate with a man again. Sex became terrifying for the first time in my life. I have always been a sexually empowered woman, so this new nervousness shook me thoroughly. In the beginning, I was sure I’d never be able to do it again.
I found myself questioning the motives of every man around me. How was I ever going to trust again?
I waited a couple months to even attempt it. Then one night I got fed up with my PTSD ruining my life. I had the urgent thought that if I didn’t get back on the horse soon, I would put it off forever. Luckily I had been in an on and off again relationship with someone I loved. The trust was still lingering somewhere under the fears of PTSD. I was terrified, but found the courage somewhere down deep.
And I chose the word courage because that’s what is needed for a survivor to be intimate again.
I took it very slowly and did everything I could to stay in the moment. However, PTSD doesn’t let you have control sometimes. Anything can be a trigger, and sex is obviously a huge one.
I cried for a solid fifteen minutes after. He held me and I truly hope he knew it wasn’t him.
I tell this story for two reasons.
First, I want survivors to know they’re not alone in their fear. I want them to know it’s okay to be a mess if you need to. The right one will understand. I also want them to know I am proud of them for facing their fears.
Second, I want partners of sexual assault survivors to know how important it is to be patient. You can’t even fathom the fear and anxiety the first time holds. You must be slow and lead with love. Let your partner take the initiative. Be vocal about their comfort level in every moment. A simple, “Is this okay?” makes a world of difference. Be ready to stop at any moment if it becomes too much.
There is also a thing called touch aversion. This is where even being touched is triggering. Make sure to check if it’s okay to touch them if they’re panicking or crying. Sometimes a hug isn’t the answer. Just be present and wait for them to come to you.
Never, ever, ever, shame them for their actions. We are coping in the only way we know how. It will get better, but the beginning is rough. If you love them, please be patient.
I am a year out from being raped and I can promise you it gets easier. Time heals a lot of wounds. The act of sex is completely separate from the heinous act of rape. However, PTSD can blur those lines and a lover can suddenly take on the face of your attacker. Do not be ashamed of this, it is the effects of trauma on your brain. It’s terrifying but it does pass.
I can happily report that I’m dating now. It took a year, but sex has become a fun magical thing for me again. Now my challenge has become opening up to new men. I never know when the right time is to share my story. It doesn’t help that there are some shitty people out there.
The first guy I told said to me, “Call me when you get over that.”
The second guy got way over protective and weird about it. He just didn’t know how to talk to me and this was really discouraging. Needless to say, it didn’t last.
The third guy slowly ghosted me after I told him.
Clearly, I had some bad luck in the beginning. But again, it got better.
The next guy I told just reassured me he would always respect my boundaries and said I could trust him. Not all guys will turn away when you share.
I still struggle to find the right timing, but I think it’s all about comfort. When you feel comfortable and see an opportunity, don’t be afraid to share. Think of it as a couple minutes of discomfort to avoid weeks of anxiety. The sooner you tell them, the sooner you’ll know if they’ll be patient and understanding about your needs.
The key is open communication with your partner. If you know you have certain triggers, share them! Avoid an awkward scary situation by telling them what to avoid. Set clear boundaries and be patient with yourself and with them. Your partner doesn’t know when they’re triggering you and certainly didn’t mean to. Trust in love and remember there are good people in this world. You just need to kiss a few frogs first.
I hope sharing my story and struggles can help you feel seen with your own. I think all we want in this world is to not feel alone. I’m here to say: I’m with you. I see you and your beautiful resilience. Keep that hope alive and know you are so worth the effort.