This Is What Sex Is Like After Sexual Assault



sexedweek

Health

“He did not take my body and my consent away from me. I still
have that. I am still alive.”

Posted on April 23, 2017, 13:01 GMT

We recently
asked members of the
BuzzFeed Community to share how sexual assault impacted
their sex lives, and what advice they have for other
survivors.

Note: The following stories contain sometimes graphic
descriptions of sexual assault, as well as mentions of
self-harm and suicide.

The advice here is not meant to be a substitute for
professional help. You can reach out to someone at the
National Sexual Assault Hotline for free, 24/7 by calling
1-800-656-HOPE. You can also visit RAINN.org for more resources.

And, above all, we believe you.

1. “Your body is yours and it is
beautiful, and it can feel like your own again. You did
nothing wrong.”

instagram.com

“I am a survivor of sexual violence. It will soon be the
10-year anniversary of when I was raped at 17 by my
then-boyfriend and his best friend. I am writing this as
a form of healing because although I would love to sit
and write to you about how I had a specific cure that
made me feel better, or a ‘lightbult’ moment, I do
not.

This is healing, and it is a long process. I am still not
healed and I may never be. I have sought countless advice
from therapists, meditation experts, doctors, blogs, and
rape counselors. Unfortunately, what has worked for me is
time. I will not forget what happened to me, but it is
part of my life and I am learning to have a positive
relationship with it. If I had to give anyone any advice,
it would be that there is no normal way to heal, so
give yourself a break.
Your body is yours and it is
beautiful, and it can feel like your own again. You did
nothing wrong.”

—Lizzie, 27

2. “I don’t even like hugs from my
friends or family.”

“I was sexually assaulted when I was 13 by one of my
classmates who was also a good friend of mine. Ever since
then, I haven’t been comfortable with conversations about sex
or anything related.
I’ve managed to shut everyone out
and I have become really uncomfortable with talking about
myself, because this person has made me feel so disgusted
with myself.

It’s been six years but it still affects me every single day.
It’s near impossible for me to have any contact with anyone.
I don’t even like hugs from my friends or family. It’s taken
a toll on me, but more recently I’ve been learning to get
past it so it doesn’t tear me apart any more than it already
has.”

—Cameron

3. “I need the ability to take time
away from typically ‘romantic’ things (hand holding, kissing,
touching) if my PTSD is acting particularly nasty.”

Wundervisuals / Getty Images

“I’m a queer trans guy. I was sexually abused and
assaulted multiple times over the course of about three
years. As a result, I have PTSD. I get nightmares, night
terrors, I can’t sleep, and it’s hard to have a
relationship. That being said, I’ve been with my
girlfriend for almost a year. We were best friends before
we started dating. She was the first person I opened up
to about being abused. Her support has been a large part
of my recovery.

As for romantic and sexual aspects of relationships,
personally, I’m up-front about my past with potential
partners. I let them know exactly what I need. I need
a bigger focus on consent. I need to be able to take
things more slowly than what my partner may be used
to.
I need the ability to take time away from
typically ‘romantic’ things (hand holding, kissing,
touching) if my PTSD is acting particularly nasty.
Sometimes, I have to ask my girlfriend to not even say ‘I
love you’ because that can trigger my flashbacks.
Sometimes, I have to go away for a bit so I can have the
space to be angry, and have control over that anger.”

—Anonymous

4. “I still can’t bottom because of the
experience.”

“I was sexually assaulted back in 2013 by a guy I randomly
met at Wendy’s. I was a customer and he was an employee. I
had just gotten my own apartment and was excited to invite
people over. I gave him my number and he contacted me a few
days later asking if we could ‘Netflix and chill’ and get to
know each other. Being naive, I said yes.

He pressured me into bottoming, which I was uncomfortable
with.
I told him to pull out and stop but he finished.
Then he said he had somewhere to be. He took my phone, too. I
ended up going to my ex’s dorm and ended up at hospital that
night and had a rape kit done once I realized what had
happened. I was scared and angry for the next few months.
Thankfully I made him use a condom and am STD free. But I
still can’t bottom because of the experience.”

—S.C.

5. “Every time I lay there afterwards
wondering if it was the right thing and contemplate if I
actually wanted it or if I just did it to please the other
person.”

G_ / Getty Images

“When I was 15 I was raped in my sleep (while on a very
sedating anti-psychotic) by my boyfriend at the time. It
was very traumatic, being slapped awake by the police and
having nothing on but Friday’s underwear (it was Tuesday)
around my ankles and feeling nothing but a burning pain
in my vagina and anus. I dealt with being blamed (by my
parents who didn’t understand) for years.

To this day, it’s very difficult to sleep next to another
person. I’ve lost the ability to value my body and have a
tendency to let others just do what they want. The
scary and sick thing about it is that my body reacts and
the other person thinks that I’m consenting because I’m
physically aroused.
But emotionally and mentally it’s
another thing entirely.

Every time I lay there afterwards wondering if it was the
right thing and contemplate if I actually wanted it or if
I just did it to please the other person. Most of the
time, I realize I just wanted to please them. I feel no
passion during sex with men. That’s why I prefer the
company of a female, it’s more comfortable and safer to
me. I would like to have my own children one day but fear
that my lack of ability to connect will stop me.”

—Anonymous

6. “Be unapologetic about your
sexuality, and slowly win it back.”

“I was sexually abused when I was 7 and it forced me to
encounter my libido years before I normally would. I
masturbated and orgasmed not knowing what they were and I
always thought I was physically ill. Middle school rolled
around and I eventually discovered what both were, but by
that time I had already developed an intense shame regarding
my sexuality.

I attempted suicide once, and had my second attempt days away
when my mom saw the cuts. I was pushed into therapy and I
distinctly remember telling the therapists that I wouldn’t
tell them anything by force. And that’s what gave me my power
back. It was small, but I began learning how to say no to
anything I didn’t want to do or didn’t agree with.

The next tool I used to get better was masturbation. What was
once an instinctual urge that made me feel disgusting was now
something that made me feel empowered. I could make myself
feel good, without anyone else taking that control away from
me. It was my body, I could touch it, and no one else had
that privilege unless I gave it to them.
I read fan
fictions that triggered me until the reaction slowly
decreased. Self-imposed exposure therapy, if you will.

My advice to any survivors is to do anything that gives you
your power back. Do the things you love, no matter how silly
or trivial, simply because you enjoy them. Be unapologetic
about your sexuality, and slowly win it back. Look at your
body and think of how many amazing things it does for you.
Give yourself permission to feel ashamed and lonely and
isolated. And then slowly build your own ladder to climb out
of that hole. You might fall back in, and that’s okay. But
continually reminding yourself that you love you is most
important. Because no one can take that away from you.”

—Anonymous

7. “You are constantly worried about
whether or not retracting consent will be respected, or if
you’re going to have a breakdown midway.”

Teksomolika / Getty Images

“Sex after assault is strange. On the one hand it can be
empowering to enthusiastically consent with another
person and take back your own sexuality and freedom, but
at the same time you are constantly worried about whether
or not retracting consent will be respected, or if you’re
going to have a breakdown midway.

Relationships are harder. It’s much harder to think about
deeply trusting someone emotionally after your trust in
people has been destroyed. I don’t want another person
to be collateral in the fucked up place that is my brain
and my post-assault issues.

—Katie

8. “I’ve only been in therapy for five
months, but it has changed my life.”

“I was assaulted by my stepdad of five years — a man who had
raised me through my teens, who I genuinely considered a
father figure. The impact that event had on my life was
enormous. I felt disgusting. I developed depression and
anxiety. I developed an alcohol problem to cope and adopted a
‘high-risk’ lifestyle. Basically I was trying to take back
my sexuality and what he had taken from me by seeking
attention from anyone.
It ended my four-year
relationship.

It took two years of this behavior for me to finally realize
I had a problem. I told myself it was ok, I was tough, other
assault and rape victims have it much worse. I didn’t
identify as a survivor or as a victim until I entered therapy
at the end of a three-week party binge.

I’ve only been in therapy for five months, but it has changed
my life. I smile now. I feel like when men want to talk to
me or be nice to me, maybe they don’t want to hurt me.

They could be genuinely nice. I have my first crush in over
two years. I’ve allowed someone in and not pushed them away.
I am still working up the courage to tell my mom and my
family, but I’ve learned that this is my story now, and I can
tell it on my own terms, in my own time, and how I damn well
please. The recovery is still in progress but I can for once
see the light at the end of the tunnel and know at some point
this event will no longer define my existence. It will merely
be a point on a map.”

—Anonymous

9. “Simply sharing the story is a part
of reclaiming myself as a man and moving me toward the man I
want to be someday.”

Chalabala / Getty Images

“My older cousin sexually assaulted me when I was about
8. I never told my family; only a couple of my friends
know. We were both males and it scared me. I’ve
recently come to terms with being homosexual, but from
what I went through with that assault, I fought and
denied it for so long
— 24 years to be exact —
because I connected it with what he did to me and how I
felt about my sexual orientation.

Throughout my life I have struggled with anxiety,
depression, and feelings of shame, numbness, or isolation
stemming from the assaults. I’ve decided to take my life
back by coming out to most my friends, but haven’t worked
up to telling my parents. I journal a lot in order to
organize and work through my feelings more clearly.
Surrounding myself with friends who understand and
support me is what’s helping me overcome my abuse. Simply
sharing the story is a part of reclaiming myself as a man
and moving me toward the man I want to be someday.”

—Anonymous

10. “My sexual assault affected my sex
life like a slow-burning fire.”

“My sexual assault affected my sex life like a slow-burning
fire. Immediately after it happened, I felt completely fine.
I started dating my long-term boyfriend at 19 and we had sex
all the time. I was extremely comfortable with my sexuality.
But a little over a year later, I would freeze up in the
middle of getting intimate with him. It’s like my vagina
would dry up on the spot. I began feeling like sex was no
longer a give and take, it was only a give give give — all of
it going to his needs. Having sex felt like being used; it
felt like conceding to a reality I didn’t want in the
slightest. I began to withdraw from him, and, even worse,
I would still agree to have sex even though it felt like the
rape all over again, just because I felt like I was doing him
a favor.

He always told me that he never wanted to have sex with me if
I didn’t enjoy it, too. He was, and is, an incredible man,
but I just couldn’t come to terms with the forced intimacy
anymore. I recently ended it with him after two-and-a-half
years, and the guilt that consumes me is sometimes too much
to bear. I don’t know if sex will ever feel like a
consensual act again.

I finally feel that every sexual assault story is still
valid, no matter the level of violence or the amount of
trauma that occurs afterwards. Every woman’s story matters.”

—Amber

11. “I was left sexually dysfunctional
after the abuse, but I found a patient and caring partner who
always asked permission and respected my boundaries.”

Teraphim / Getty Images

“When I was in 8th grade I began dating an upperclassman
that I knew through a mutual friend. We continued dating
on and off until my junior year of high school. He ended
up abusing me emotionally and mentally quite severely,
but there was also physical and sexual abuse (and the
threat of more) throughout the entire relationship.
Afterwards, I was left with absolutely no self-esteem or
self-worth to speak of.

I have tried very hard to start a fresh chapter of my
life but I have still suffered from nightmares and
anxiety for years. When I found out the abuser had moved
back into our hometown I didn’t even want to go visit my
parents anymore because the last thing I want is to see
him. Even knowing he is in the same state makes me
uncomfortable.

My advice for others who have been sexually assaulted
would be to talk about it with someone. If you are
still in danger, you need to tell someone NOW.
Don’t
worry about what others may think or about getting in
trouble.

I was left sexually dysfunctional after the abuse, but I
found a patient and caring partner who always asked
permission and respected my boundaries. It was extremely
important that I felt absolutely safe with my partner.
After awhile, I began enjoying sex again. I won’t say
I don’t have bad days occasionally, but you have to
remember that it is OK to have a bad day. It doesn’t mean
tomorrow won’t be lovely.

—Anonymous

12. “I’ve never really been able to get
my body to relax during sex.”

“Through my freshman year of college, I was in a
long-distance relationship. It started out good, as they
typically do, but it slowly, then quickly devolved into an
abusive one. It was mostly an emotionally abusive one, but
components of sexual and physical abuse began to manifest. He
stopped hearing me when I said I didn’t want to, or got
terrifyingly angry because ‘I never used to be like this,’
and eventually, I just learned to shut up and take it.
Eventually, I got enough courage to get out, and my wonderful
supportive friends kept me safe and took care of me during
the following months.

I’m doing better now, thanks to therapy, distance, and
friends, but physical and sexual intimacy has never been the
same. I have to go through a laundry list of things that
might happen with any potential partner if they accidentally
do something, what to do if I have a panic attack, and how
it’s not their fault
— I just haven’t completely
recovered from that trauma yet.

I always feel so guilty. I can tell that partners tend to
treat me like something incredibly fragile. And I’ve never
really been able to get my body to relax during sex. I also
tend to make people jump through a lot more hoops than I used
to, and rarely spend the night unless I completely trust the
person, because I don’t trust my ability to protect myself
anymore.”

—Anonymous

13. “A few years ago I started
burlesque. I took my body back in a sexually healthy way, and
I have never been happier.”

Waynerd / Getty Images

“My sexual assault happened during my freshman year of
college. I had just come out as a gay man and was head
over heels for this guy (we had known each other for a
couple years). One night he texted me and told me to come
over. I went to his friend’s house with him and they
started drinking. I told him I wasn’t feeling comfortable
and I would just have a water. He backed off a bit, but
started pressuring me to drink again, saying things like,
‘If you don’t wanna get drunk why are you here?’ and
‘If you cared about me, you wouldn’t say no.’ I
just wanted to hang out with him.

Cut to a few hours later. We are making out. He tries to
go farther. I said no, I didn’t want to. He started
pressuring me again. Saying things like ‘Just blow me. We
can make out and blow each other.’ Seemed harmless
enough. More making out happens and he starts trying to
initiate sex. I had never been a bottom before, and
explicitly said no, I didn’t want this. He kept going,
saying, ‘If you love me as much as you say you do, you’ll
do this to make me happy.’ He kept pushing. Things blur
together after that. He had started to hold me down and
continued to have sex with me.

I hated myself for a long time and turned towards
reckless sex with others.
A few years ago I started
burlesque. I took my body back in a sexually healthy way,
and I have never been happier. I preform regularly and
the troupe I work with is all about body positivity,
knowing your own worth, and empowering yourself. I love
it. Now I feel confident enough to tell this story, to
tell others, and to speak out for those who have been
assaulted and haven’t found their own voices yet.

You are never a victim, and you were never in the wrong.”

—John

14. “I had a random flashback and was
overcome by a flood of emotion and ended up bursting into
tears”

“When I was 17, my boyfriend at the time (now ex for obvious
reasons) sexually assaulted me. We were in bed together, I
had dozed off and woke up to his hands down my pants. In the
moment I froze and didn’t know what to do. I had always
thought I would be the girl to confront the situation, but
you never know how you will react in the moment.

Now two years later, I recently brought a guy back to my
house after a night out. We didn’t actually have sex, but
while we were in bed together it just so happens that we were
in the same position as the same night that my ex had
sexually assaulted me.
I had a random flashback and was
overcome by a flood of emotion and ended up bursting into
tears. I had to kick the guy out and called a friend over who
spent a very long time calming and comforting me. I haven’t
thought of my ex in a long while, but it just goes to show
that things like this can still impact you even years later.”

—Anonymous

15. “Being with her has helped me heal
from the assault in a way that no medication or counseling
ever could.”

Oneinchpunch / Getty Images

“Over the course of six months, I met and fell head over
heels for my now girlfriend. When we first started
becoming intimate, I would panic and dissociate, but she
would hold me and talk me through it.
She is always
patient with me. Being with her has helped me heal from
the assault in a way that no medication or counseling
ever could. When we have sex, I trust that she will
listen and respect me. And I trust her enough to try
new things.

I’ve been with her about a year and panic attacks still
happen from time to time. But I’m more comfortable in my
sexuality than I ever have been. It’s been almost three
years since the assault, and I know I have much more
healing to do — ignoring it and pretending it never
happened is usually much easier to do. I have a hard time
remembering that I’m a survivor, not a victim. I look
back at that night and wish I had the will to say no or
to push him off me. But I didn’t. And that has to be
okay.”

—Michelle

16. “I can communicate with my partner
now. When trauma rears it’s head during sex, I say
something.”

“My father is a pedophile. When I was 13, I found his stash
of kiddie porn. I absorbed all of it through sobs. My parents
got divorced shortly after.

I avoided sex until I was 18 when a woman at a party forced
herself on me. I dissociated until she was done with my body.
Then I dated her for a year. I thought this is what sex
was. Pain, obligation, assaulting, empty.

I sought counseling at age 24 when I started having daily
panic attacks. After two years of weekly sessions (thank you
Canadian universal health care) I was able to reclaim my
sexuality and be angry but forgiving of my past. I can
communicate with my partner now. When trauma rears it’s head
during sex, I say something. It works. I know how to love
fucking again. I’m so grateful.”

—Juliet

17. “Seeing what my body was capable of
in a way that wasn’t sexual gave me something else to focus
on and made me fall in love with my body in ways that
eventually carried over to loving my body in the bedroom,
too.”

Oneinchpunch / Getty Images

“For me, the first step I had to take was to leave. It’s
difficult to leave an abusive relationship and even more
so when you have children together. But after six years
of forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do, purposely
having a hissy fit so I didn’t have any choice but to
have sex with him if I wanted to get any sleep, accusing
me of cheating, and using intimidation tactics to get me
into bed, I was done.

My journey into rediscovering my own body began with
me admitting to myself that he repeatedly raped me
throughout our relationship.
Because I ‘gave in,’ I
never considered what he was doing to me as rape until I
saw a psychiatrist, and therefore didn’t see it for how
serious it was until we’d been separated for about a
year.

I will also say that I started to masturbate
regularly.
TMI, maybe, but it really helped me see
sex and my own sexuality in a way that wasn’t shadowed by
what he did, but as the one way I felt good that was
completely reliant on myself. That’s an incredibly
empowering view, and it made me feel more like I was in
control of how good I felt and less like he had the power
to make me feel awful.

I also started doing yoga regularly; seeing what my body
was capable of (which is a whole lot, I’ve discovered!)
in a way that wasn’t sexual gave me something else to
focus on and made me fall in love with my body in ways
that eventually carried over to loving my body in the
bedroom, too.”

—Aisha

18. “He did not take my body and my
consent away from me. I still have that. I am still
alive.”

“I’m almost 19 years old. I am a pansexual, nonbinary,
biological female. I was assaulted by my ex-boyfriend, who
would go on to assault me three more times after that. One of
the assaults occurred on my 17th birthday. Every year on my
birthday I am too depressed to celebrate because my body was
violated on that day. This disgusting boy took away my right
as a human being to give consent of my own body.

After the relationship ended, I rekindled a relationship with
another ex. I felt unclean and that he would be unclean if he
touched me. Sex was a no go for many, many months. And even
when we did, he couldn’t touch me in certain places or I
would start crying. I tried taking showers to get the feeling
of my attacker’s hands off of me. When that didn’t work I
tried self harming. Cutting, burning, punching, anything to
distract me from the feeling of him. I reported him to the
police and nothing was done. I felt worthless. I couldn’t
even get justice for myself. I developed an addiction to
prescription medication to try and numb what I was feeling.

It took me countless nights of popping pills, slicing my skin
open, and crying to realize that it was not my fault at all.
I was in a situation that I couldn’t control. My body is
still mine. He in fact did not take my body and my consent
away from me. I still have that. I am still alive.

To every person out there who has been a victim of sexual
assault: I believe you.
It was not your fault. In time
you will realize that. In time you will come out stronger
than ever before. You may not be able to ever forget or get
over it 100%, but you can and will get through it. I believe
in you.”

—Tyler

19. “It’s not like wanting cake while
you’re on a diet, it’s more like realizing you don’t like
cake anymore.”

Nemanjamiscevic / Getty Images

“I was sexually assaulted by a male friend a year ago.
I’m pansexual, kinky and polyamorous: sex feels
particularly important to me because my sexual identity
is relatively unusual.
When you don’t grow up
thinking about sex and relationships the way your peers
do – when you get older and you’re still coming out and
explaining and defending your relationships over and over
– sex can become very central to your identity. In my
case, it was also particularly central to my social life,
as I tend to mix with other kinky, poly people.

I was always aware that being assaulted wasn’t my fault,
but on a subconscious level, I couldn’t shake the feeling
that it somehow was. That, since a friend had assaulted
me, it came down to my poor choice of friends. That maybe
my debauched lifestyle meant it was inevitable I mixed
with messed-up people. I don’t think any of that.

After the assault, I tried to get back to a normal sex
life as fast as possible, but it just hasn’t happened:
I’ve not felt any desire to have sex or take part in
any BDSM.
It’s not like wanting cake while you’re on
a diet, it’s more like realizing you don’t like cake
anymore. It’s confusing, and feeling cut off from the
identity that’s shaped so much of my adult life is
terrible. The fact that some of my peers — my open-minded
peers with all their frank talk about sex! — judged me
negatively for what happened has also made me less keen
to associate with the labels and groups I’ve always
identified with.

The single most significant thing that helped me was
reporting the assault through a scheme offered by Rape
Crisis centers, called Information Sharing.
It’s a
way of passing information about an attacker to the
police without giving the police your name. Your
statement can’t be used to prosecute the crime alone, but
it helps them to build evidence against repeat offenders.
In my case, the guy wasn’t a repeat offender, but it was
still helpful. I told a Rape Crisis staff member what had
happened and she wrote a statement, and when she repeated
it back to me it was agonizingly clear where the blame
lay. I’m so grateful for that.”

—Beth

20. “The best thing you can do for
yourself is to get some help and confront the shit out of
that little voice in your head.”

“After an emotionally abusive and manipulative two-year
relationship that resulted in numerous sexual assaults when I
was in college, I was left feeling broken. I had no sex
drive, no self-esteem, and was absolutely terrified at the
idea of having sex again.
Every relationship afterwards
had been short because I was unable to stomach any intimate
physical interactions due to the overwhelming panic, guilt,
and shame that would follow. I began to just avoid any
intimacy altogether.

It wasn’t until four years later when I met a guy I deeply
cared about that it occurred to me that I couldn’t just numb
myself and avoid the problem.
His support and patience
made me realize that I deserved better and that I never
really dealt with the anxiety and fear; instead, I just
buried it away and avoided setting it off.

I finally sought help at an Anxiety and Behavior Health
Clinic that was available at my school. They diagnosed me
with a mild form of PTSD and I spent eight months in therapy
working to not avoid anxiety, but confront it. The little
steps you take make a difference, but the biggest thing for
me was realizing that what had happened to me was not my
fault. I had no reason to feel ashamed or guilty, because I
had done nothing wrong. Once that clicked in my brain it was
much easier to build myself back up again. What I want
other sexual assault victims to know, is that you should
never avoid that anxiety.
Remember that every story is
different, and things happen on a spectrum. Just because I
wasn’t held up at gunpoint doesn’t mean I wasn’t raped.

And the best thing you can do for yourself is to get some
help and confront the shit out of that little voice in your
head. And remember that you are never ever alone.”

—Anonymous

21. “Just last week I was able to hug a
guy friend without tensing up, I was so proud of
myself!”

Instagram: @pleasurepie / Via instagram.com

“I was raped on my 17th birthday by a friend’s older
brother, and sexually assaulted three months later by my
ex-boyfriend’s step brother. To say that these events
gave me intimacy issues would be an understatement.

It’s hard for me to give hugs, cuddle, kiss people, etc.
It kills me inside too because I see that the guys I’m
with want me to cuddle with them and I want to so badly
as well, but I just can’t get past that mental hurdle to
trust them enough. It’s caused the end of my past two
relationships.

Thankfully, I’ve finally found a therapist who is helping
me with the intimacy issues and slowly but surely I’m
making progress! Just last week I was able to hug a guy
friend without tensing up, I was so proud of myself!”

—Sierra

22. “I was convinced I was a lesbian
when I am really bisexual, because the thought of sex with
men repulsed me.”

“As a teenager, I was molested over a period of a few years.
Because of this, I had come to be afraid of men to the
point where I couldn’t be touched.

I was convinced I was a lesbian when I am really bisexual,
because the thought of sex with men repulsed me. I was still
attracted to men, I was just afraid of them. Getting past my
fear was partly letting time heal, partly talking about it,
partly finding a man I can trust, and partly learning to
defend myself. Molestation and rape are not the same thing,
but molestation is still worth talking about.”

—Anonymous

23. “Start out slow, like texting and
talking over the phone to the person you’re interested
in.”

Peopleimages / Getty Images

“I was a victim of sexual abuse as a kid, from the ages
of 9 to 11. I was never raped, but molested and groomed.
Now that I’m almost 19, I have not been able to form any
relationships, and I now have a phobia of sex, PTSD, and
manic depression. For the longest time, I felt guilty and
weak because I didn’t consider what happened to me
‘bad enough’ to have PTSD.

A couple of things that helped me a lot include finding
songs that I can relate to and sometimes just having a
good cry to to kind of let go (Warrior by Demi
Lovato gets me every time). When I am in the middle of an
anxiety/panic attack, I try to control my breathing and
say to myself over and over, ‘I am safe, I am going to be
okay, this will pass.’ It’s tough, but I’m in the process
of learning that intimacy is a natural thing.

Learn how to be patient with yourself. Start out slow,
like texting and talking over the phone to the person
you’re interested in. If that’s too much, let yourself
know it’s okay to take a step back and recognize that
you’ll get there someday.
Also find a sort of
community of people that you can openly talk to. I
personally found one on Tumblr. And most importantly
remember: We’re all going to be okay.”

—Anonymous

24. “I find that since my assault
happened in a relationship, I tend to push for sex in my
current relationship.

“In Year 9 I had a boyfriend who I lost my virginity to. He
ended up raping me. I was asleep when it started and
pretended to stay asleep until he was done, and then went to
sleep. I never pressed charges, and every time I went to
leave him he would threaten to commit suicide. During one
argument, we both got physical, I shoved him and he ended up
throwing me back against the bed by my throat. I was with him
for almost two years before it finally ended.

I now find that since my assault happened in a relationship,
I tend to push for sex in my current relationship. I’m
always the one to instigate and I think it’s because I try to
protect myself from being hurt again, so I am open sexually
to everything, even if I don’t really want to be.

—Chloe

25. “As stupid as it sounds, I watched
SVU a lot. That show has so many episodes, I was pretty much
able to hear Olivia Benson reassure me about every specific
worry I had.”

NBC

“Twelve years ago, when I was 21, I passed out drunk at a
party, and woke up naked and sore next to a guy who I
thought was my friend. I remembered parts of what had
happened and when I confronted him about it, he said
nothing happened and I just ditched my clothes in the
middle of the night, because I was hot. About a month
later, I had a miscarriage. I’ve known I was a lesbian
since I was 13, and that was the only time I’ve ever been
with a man.

My best advice for being able to enjoy sex again is
just to not second guess yourself and to speak up when
you don’t like something.
I wasted a lot of time
blaming myself for being drunk, not fighting back hard
enough, etc. I attempted to go down on him at one point,
thinking that he would leave me alone if he finished, but
it didn’t work. I called the suicide hotline a couple of
times over that detail. I made things worse for myself by
pretending to be okay with things that I definitely
wasn’t. I probably ruined my longest relationship that
way.

Also, as stupid as it sounds, I watched SVU a lot. That
show has so many episodes, I was pretty much able to hear
Olivia Benson reassure me about every specific worry I
had.”

—Anonymous

26. “The fear that I feel when I’m in a
sexual situation is paralyzing, however the only thing that
bothers me more than my fear is the ignorance around sexual
assault.”

“When I was about 7 years old, I started being sexually
assaulted by someone I was very close to and trusted very
much. These incidents lasted about a year-and-a-half, and
spanned from asking to see me do sexually explicit activities
to actually being felt and molested. I had no idea that what
was happening to me was wrong until my mom found out what was
going on.

As for impacting my sex life, I’ve often felt compelled to
rush things and take charge of situations that are out of my
element so that I have some control over who is in my life.
I’m now a 16-year-old lesbian who walks fast in public places
and avoids eye contact with my male peers. I often have
panic attacks mid-make-out sessions with my girlfriend.

And as I watch as all my friends lose their virginity and
enjoy their blooming sex lives, mine is clouded by fear,
repressed memories, and a frustrated woman.

The fear that I feel when I’m in a sexual situation is
paralyzing, however, the only thing that bothers me more than
my fear is the ignorance around sexual assault. I’m not
gay because I was assaulted. I’m gay because I fucking
am.
I wasn’t assaulted because I dress provocatively, I
was assaulted because assault isn’t about sex, it’s about
power. And to everyone who says what you’re going through
isn’t that big, I promise that all your feelings are valid
even if you don’t understand them.”

—Anonymous

27. “I’ve always wondered whether my
asexuality is due to the abuse from that one dude back when I
was 6.”

Instagram: @stitchculture / Via instagram.com

“I’ve always wondered whether my asexuality is due to the
abuse from that one dude back when I was 6. But I’ve come
to realize, even if it is due to the abuse, it doesn’t
make my asexuality less valid. If I do ever decide to
settle down with someone, I know it will be someone who
respects my boundaries and is okay with being sexless.
I don’t feel the need or desire to be ‘fixed,’ because
I am not broken!
Whether I am innately asexual or was
driven to it due to the abuse, I have a full and vibrant
life without sex and don’t need to focus my life on
trying to change that. The media may tell me it’s weird
to not have hookups or causal sex or even sex while in a
committed relationship, but I know I can live without
them and feel just as fulfilled with my life.

I sometimes still worry that my hazy memory of the
incidents allow me to be more confident in my
(a)sexuality than others might be, but I want everyone to
know that regardless of the background of your
sexuality, you are valid and you are believed and you are
beautiful. You don’t need to explain yourself to
anyone.
I want everyone to know that asexuality is
real and nothing to be ashamed of. If you truly want to
work on regaining or gaining sexual desire, go for it on
your own terms with only what you feel comfortable with.
Don’t push yourself if you truly don’t have any desire to
engage in sexual behaviors though. Your asexuality is
valid.”

—Anonymous

28. “I sometimes find it easier to
orgasm when, in my head, I picture fake scenarios/fake
people/celebrities, rather than what is happening to my body
right now.”

“About four years ago I was in an abusive relationship,
emotional and physical, and it still affects me to this day.

I have now been with my current boyfriend (we’ll call him
Hugh) almost two years, and he is the most kind, gentle,
understanding, and loving man I could imagine. But even so,
being intimate can sometimes be incredibly hard for me. Even
today, I sometimes find it easier to orgasm when, in my head,
I picture fake scenarios/fake people/celebrities, rather than
what is happening to my body right now with Hugh — a remnant,
I think, of thinking of other things (anything else) while I
was having (often forced, unwanted) sex with my ex.

I also sometimes prefer to ‘do it myself’ than to have sex
with Hugh
— not because I don’t want to with him, but
because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will never
hurt myself in any way. I will only do what feels good,
nothing more, nothing less.

Sometimes, now, I don’t even like when Hugh looks at me when
we have sex. And there have been many times when I’ve cried
afterwards, just because of the shame that still hits me when
I have sex — a reminder of my past relationship, when
shame was the main feeling. I still feel shame, even now,
despite the rational part of my mind knowing sex is healthy
and good and lovely if it’s with the right person. I also
find that I am overly eager to please — again, a remnant from
my manipulative ex, who wanted me to do whatever he wanted,
no matter if I wanted to or not.”

—Isabel

29. “I buy underwear that makes me feel
sexy because I finally want to feel sexy again.”

Wundervisuals / Getty Images

“I was sexually assaulted by someone I met at a party my
sophomore year of college. I was in an emotionally
abusive relationship at the time, and my boyfriend was
the opposite of supportive. He pressured me into doing
sexual things before I was ready and lashed out at me
when I would get upset, have flashbacks, or become
withdrawn after. I was a virgin when I was raped, and
my boyfriend and I never had sex, although we did
everything else.

Two and a half years later, after loads of therapy,
personal growth, and ending my toxic relationship, I am
starting to feel like myself again. But, the idea of
having sex with anyone still scares the hell out of me —
the idea of sex is still intimately intertwined with the
night I was sexually assaulted. That feeling is
compounded by a crazy fear of intimacy and letting people
in.

However, I’m ready to start taking steps and getting
myself back out there again, and I already feel empowered
and a little more comfortable, which means the world at
this point. I bought a vibrator and I LOVE it! I
buy underwear that makes me feel sexy because I finally
want to feel sexy again. I focused on me — I traveled,
rediscovered things I love, found new hobbies, and made
new friends, all while working through the traumatic
experience. Finally, after becoming more comfortable with
just being me again, I have begun to reclaim my own
sexual power and it feels great. I tried before now,
but I just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t my time, and that was
okay.

—Anonymous

30. “I’m pretty sure that’s the reason
why I have vaginismus now.”

“I’m a 21-year-old woman in college. When I was 18, I told my
boyfriend that we’d have sex on prom night. Problem is, I
wasn’t attracted to him and I didn’t understand how you
needed to be aroused for sex to feel good. When he first
penetrated me, I almost screamed because of how much it hurt.
I told him to stop, but he guilt-tripped me and said we
needed to keep going. I felt trapped and said fine, but I
wasn’t happy about it. It continued to be painful, but
because I wanted to be ‘a good girlfriend,’ I didn’t say
anything.

I’m pretty sure that’s the reason why I have vaginismus now.
I can feel attraction, but as soon as someone tries to
stick their dick in me, I can’t do it anymore.

—Emma

31. “I loved the heavy emphasis on
communication and consent in the BDSM community.”

Xebeche / Getty Images

“After my sexual assault my freshman year of college, I
pushed it to the back of my mind and tried not to think
about it, but it still affected my sex life whether I
wanted it to or not. I gave up on my ‘purity pledge’ and
started going to clubs to make out with guys. After my
first serious boyfriend, the floodgates opened, and once
I was having sex I couldn’t be stopped (unless he said no
of course — it’s just a figure of speech to say that
my libido was insatiable). I quickly found myself into
kinky sex, and after we broke up, I explored it more
freely.

I loved the heavy emphasis on communication and consent
in the BDSM community. Being a submissive is often
misunderstood as giving up all your power to another
person, but really being submissive is the most empowered
I’ve ever felt
, which was really important while I
was finally going through therapy to deal with my sexual
assault and following issues. As a submissive you get to
call the shots. What you like and don’t like. You say a
safe word and the whole room stops. Your Dom stops and
checks up on you and takes care of you. If you’re playing
in a dungeon, the monitor checks up on you. I feel so
safe, which has healed a lot of wounds.

Even crazier is that I’m into CNC (consensual
non-consent)! Playing pretend with my partner who I love
and trust with my life (literally!) makes me feel safe,
and getting to kind of relive what happened to me but
know I’m safe and can stop any time has been very
cathartic.

—Anonymous

32. “Rediscovering my sexuality felt
like release. It was the last aspect of my life that my
rapist got to define and I took that back, too.”

“When I was in college I dated a man who, looking back, grew
more sexually abusive as our relationship went on. He was my
first sexual partner and he was pretty subtle about it when
we were together, I just didn’t see it. After we broke up, I
moved and changed my phone number, but he somehow found my
apartment and twice broke in to violently rape me at
gunpoint.

Later, a friend and I started talking and eventually worked
into a friends-with-benefits situation. It was perfect to
help get my confidence back, because I wasn’t worried about
pleasing the love of my life, just a friend who could walk
away anytime with no hard feelings or broken hearts.
Sometimes the sex was outstanding and the exploration was
exciting, other times things could be going well and I’d
suddenly become terrified and stop everything or I wouldn’t
even be able to start. He was patient, respectful, and if he
was frustrated he never showed it. But he also treated me
like a woman; he didn’t treat me like I was broken or
fragile or naive, which was huge.

I’ve always been afraid that my rape would define me. I have
told very few people about it (although not reporting him is
still my biggest regret). Rediscovering my sexuality felt
like release. It was the last aspect of my life that my
rapist got to define and I took that back, too. I’m not sure
my friend will ever understand how big a gift he gave me.”

—Anonymous

33. “Sometimes, my boyfriend wants to
give me a hug or kiss and even if I’m not actually
opposed to it, I find myself saying no because I
can.”

instagram.com

“I was abused by a family friend — husband of my
babysitter. It’s given me many strange triggers that I
never understood until much later, like seeing movie
credits and the grey fuzzy screen at the end when it
shuts off. That white noise comforts most people, but to
me? Complete terror and sickness.

I was lucky enough to find a partner who understands
my fear and caution when it comes to sex.
I struggle
with it, but I know it’s okay. I have the right to be
scared and cautious.

One of the most empowering things for me is to say no. It
doesn’t really matter what it’s for. Sometimes, my
boyfriend wants to give me a hug or kiss and even if I’m
not actually opposed to it, I find myself saying
no because I can. When he immediately stops
whatever it is, I feel a sense of relief because I
know my ‘no’ matters.
It’s such a habit that
sometimes I don’t even know I do it until after the word
comes out.”

—Anonymous

34. “I now understand that what I choose
to do sexually and my abuse are two different things. I now
have a choice.”

“I was sexually abused for most of my childhood. I knew about
genitals and pornography before I knew what actual sex was.
At age 15, my abuse ended. I was so messed up emotionally
from everything that I thought masturbation/urges were
wrong.
I cursed myself for having urges and being
curious, because I blurred the lines between the abuse and
what was normal; I thought I was just as bad as him.

I wore a purity ring in high school and stayed a virgin for
all four years, something I’m still proud of. I’ve been
intimate with two guys, two guys I had strong feelings for,
and it was never easy. It took a lot of patience and healing,
but I now understand that what I choose to do sexually and my
abuse are two different things. I now have a choice.”

—Lindsey

35. “I have been with my new boyfriend
for nearly three years now and I still haven’t been able to
have sex with him.”

Instagram: @radicalbuttons / Via instagram.com

“I am 22-year-old gay male and I was raped by my high
school boyfriend for the first time when I was 15. He
manipulated me into staying with him until I was 18 by
convincing me I was worthless and crushing my self-esteem
to the point where I felt like nobody loved me. When I
went to university, I finally realized the poisonous
nature of our relationship and I broke all ties with him,
but not without consequences.

I have been with my new boyfriend for nearly three years
now and I still haven’t been able to have sex with him.
However, what’s even harder is that I still have an
enormous amount of trouble actually revealing my true
feelings and telling people, even those I trust the most,
what I really want (whether it be about large decisions
or even trivial things like deciding what to eat) as I
was manipulated into believing what I wanted or how I
felt didn’t matter for three years.

It’s been a long, revealing, and transformative journey,
but my closest friends have made an enormous amount of
difference in my life. I wasn’t ever given the
opportunity to be counseled or educated about being a
sexual assault victim, because I’m a male.
I’m still
not 100% better and I’m not sure I ever will be, however,
I wouldn’t change what happened to me as I wouldn’t be
the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through that. I
am currently studying to be a youth counselor, and my
ambition is to educate and help young people.
I would
encourage all young victims of sexual assault, including
(especially) the males to seek some form of counseling,
as doing it as part of my course was the most rewarding
experience in terms of my personal growth and healing. I
only wish I had the ability to do it when I was 15.”

—Phillip

36. “I’m much more closed off, and a lot
of people who don’t know what happened think that it’s just
because I settled down and got married, but it’s not.”

“Prior to my assault, intimacy was an area of life where I
found a lot of joy and release from stress. I flirted a lot,
loved nice lingerie, and was in touch with my sexuality.
Since having been assaulted, I became much more reserved.
I sometimes still blame myself for the assault because I
was such a flirt.
I was the kind of girl who wrote my
number on bar napkins and slipped it to the cutest guy
playing in the band. I flirted platonically with both men and
women.

Now, it’s hard to do any of that without feeling like it
could be used against me. Now, I’m much more closed off, and
a lot of people who don’t know what happened think that it’s
just because I settled down and got married, but it’s not.
I feel like I lost a lot of myself. I can still find joy
in intimacy, but it is also an area of extreme stress in my
life, rather than an oasis from stress.

I’m still working on my issues every day. While I wish I
could be as fun loving and freewheeling as I used to be, and
while I wish I was still in college (I dropped out because of
PTSD), I don’t think I would go back and do it all over if I
could. Not having PTSD would be great, but my life also has a
lot of great things in it now that I can’t imagine being
possible if I hadn’t experienced a major shift in how I was
living my life. I have a superb husband and together we got a
really great home and a really great cat. Obviously, that’s
not to say I’m happy about having been raped — I would
totally light my rapist on fire if that was legal
— I’m
just saying that life has a way of working out if you just
keep going.”

—Vivienne

37. “There are people who have been
affected in different ways, such as me and many others who
experience trauma-induced hypersexuality.”

Instagram: @pleasurepie / Via instagram.com

“I am a victim of COCSA (child on child sexual assault).
I won’t go into details but to this day, because of it, I
am hypersexual. My sex drive is much higher than others,
I experience alarming sexual fantasies. I honestly
believe that if I am not sexually appealing, I am
worthless, and if I cannot have sex, I will die.

Obviously, that led to many risky scenarios involving
friends and strangers alike, and it took numerous scares
to realize this wasn’t something I should feel and that
it was connected to my past abuse (memories of which I
had repressed long before). I still do feel this way, but
I am learning how to better handle it through therapy and
a support network of people who understand.

Many know of assault victims who have trouble with being
sexual again due to their trauma, but I feel that it is
also important to show that there are people who have
been affected in different ways, such as me and many
others who experience trauma-induced hypersexuality.”

—Leo

38. “You are valid, you deserve love, it
was never your fault and never will be your fault. You
deserve to live your best life.”

“I’m a 19-year-old trans male. Sexual assault has made me
reclusive, almost repulsed by any relationship once sex was
involved. Sometimes just romance was enough to make me
shove away from the person and want myself dead.
I’ve
felt like a toy, and still feel like a toy, and the way it
has affected my perception of trust is depressing. I still
feel like I owe my partners sex for love, and my consent will
never matter so long as they’re pleased.

I suffer from PTSD and frequent suicidal thoughts, both are
affected by some of that trauma. I know that I have many
years ahead of me, but I still can’t see the potential for
any relationship where I’m not being used for the only thing
my abusers think I’m good for: which is sex. It has still
taken me time to realize that my experiences are valid.

My best advice to survivors: Don’t let fucking anyone tell
you that you weren’t hurt or traumatized.
You are valid,
you deserve love, it was never your fault and never will be
your fault. You deserve to live your best life.”

—Damian

39. “To other rape survivors I’d like to
say: however you experience sex now is okay! Your body
belongs to you and that means that your sex life is valid,
however that may look.”

instagram.com

“I was in a sexually abusive relationship from about age
14 to age 17. This was my first love, first kiss, first
sexual experience, first everything — so to have
rape be my introduction to sex has really shaped my
relationship with sex ever since. I was also raped by my
best friend in college, and that was a huge setback in my
path toward trusting people again and forming healthy
relationships.

I have only had sex a handful of times since my high
school relationship, and I’ve since decided that it’s not
really for me. I felt really conflicted about this for a
while — would I have been asexual without these
experiences, or am I permanently shaped by them? Am I
damaged? Over time I came to realize that part of gaining
agency over my own body was allowing myself to have
whatever kind of sex I want, even if that means no sex at
all. So to other rape survivors I’d like to say: however
you experience sex now is okay! Your body belongs to you
and that means that your sex life is valid, however that
may look.”

—Anonymous

Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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