Sexual violence can impact all the relationships in your life – whether that is with your parents, your friends or your partner. It might feel like they don’t understand you anymore or it might be difficult to trust others. Maybe people who are important to you don’t believe what has happened or are friends with the person who hurt you.
The thought of telling people in your life about what happened can be really scary, and you do not need to tell anyone about what has happened if it doesn’t feel right. If you do want to disclose to people close to you, it’s OK to go slowly and disclose little bits at a pace that feels right for you. You are in control of what you tell people, but sometimes a little bit of understanding can help people in your life to know what support you need from them. You are allowed to ask for what you need: maybe you want to talk about how you feel, or maybe you need them to distract you and make you feel normal. You are allowed to set boundaries about what you want to talk about, and with who.
When you have experienced sexual violence, it can impact how you feel about sex. You might not want to have sex anymore, or you might find that you want to have sex with more people or in ways that don’t feel healthy for you. If you haven’t had sex before, it might impact the way that you feel about being sexual with someone for the first time. Alternatively, you might find that what has happened doesn’t impact on your relationship with sex in a big way. All of these are normal responses, there is no right or wrong way to feel.
Illustration credit: https://www.instagram.com/frizzkidart/?hl=en
One survivor tells us how she feels about sex in her relationship:
How many times have I cried about sex? Cried because we’ve not had sex in 4 months and 27 days (yes, I’m counting), which means it’s only a matter of days until my boyfriend leaves me forever because women are sex machines and if men don’t get sex when they want it then they’ll just up and leave. How many times have I spent 45 minutes psyching myself up to get under the sheets, turn off the lights, not think about the rolls I have on my tummy and instigate sex? How many times have I felt like my body and mind are not enough for my partner and just being present and intimate is beautiful?
Why do I believe that having sex and satisfying my partner's sexual need is the most important thing in his life? It does not matter that I support him emotionally, I care for him, feed him, laugh at his terrible jokes, hold him while he sleeps. It does not matter that I remember he likes to sleep closest to the door, that he never unrolls his socks before he washes them, that he doesn’t know the difference between a fiddle and a violin.
It makes me feel so sad that there’s this voice inside my head that can convince me that, despite everything he loves about me, he obviously wants to leave because we don’t have ‘enough’ sex. He is kind and understanding and my life would be incomplete without him. He never complains when I scream and cry and wipe my bogies on his shirt (which I know he hates but tolerates anyway). When I leave my hair in the shower and the drain gets blocked he does not complain.
My mind is torn. Riddled with guilt. Why do I not want to have sex every single night in lingerie and 5-inch heels? With 7,000 dildos? Why can I not satisfy my man like every other woman does every single day, because surely I'm the only person who feels like this?
It’s difficult to balance life. I try every day to tell myself ‘I was sexually and emotionally abused by a man I thought I loved and that’s ok. This does not affect me. I am strong. I am over this. He will not longer control my life like he did when I was a child.’ But when I tell myself this every day: 'It's been 10 years, I’ve been through counselling, I’ve dealt with all of this,' then I begin to put a lot of pressure on myself. Pressure to be fixed and to be better. And then if I don’t want to have sex, well I’ve failed again. Those feelings of arousal are shame and fear to me. Even though I am looking into the eyes and lying in the arms of a man who is 1,000 times the man my abuser will ever be, I cannot push him out of my head. Finding the balance between living my life and not letting the man who abused me define me but also forgiving myself for moments of weakness and vulnerability is the hardest thing to balance in my life. There are aspects of this I have grown and flourished in, but there are also aspects that appear to fail completely
Communication is key! You are allowed to tell your partner if you don’t want to have sex or if there are specific types of touch that are triggering for you. Your partner should never pressure you into doing things that you aren’t comfortable with. Alternatively, you can communicate with the person you are with that you do want to be having sex and what you want that to look like. Before having this conversation, it can be helpful to take some time out to think about how you feel about sex: this writing exercise is one way of doing this.
How do I feel about sex?
What kinds of touch feel good for me?
What kinds of touch feel wrong or triggering for me?
How can I communicate what feels right and wrong to my partner?
The Hey Gina podcast has some great thoughts on how you might want to approach this issue: