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The Complicated Relationship I Have With Sex as a Sexual Abuse Survivor


Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I was sexually abused. It doesn’t define me, but it does impact how I view the world around me. Most recently I’ve realized that it affects my sexual relationships. I have trouble going into a hookup without thinking about my abuser. I watch pornography that reminds me of the abuse. I masturbate to flashbacks.

This is something I hold a great deal of shame around. I intellectually know it wasn’t my fault. Even when I initiated before the abuse, I was not at fault. I think I recreate the pain in order to gain some sort of control over the situation. More shamefully, I’m afraid it’s the only thing that will “turn me on.”

When I experienced the abuse, the person hurting me sometimes made me feel good. This is what I remember when I’m having sex with somebody else. I can’t get my mind off past experiences, no matter how hard I try to stay in the present moment. I even “get off” by calling the person I’m hooking up with by the name of my abuser. They usually think it’s odd, and I’ve never received a call or text to follow up for a second encounter after this happens.

I try to understand why my brain continues to do this to me. Is it because I am so accustomed to the abuse? Is it because I want control? Or is it because I’m just as sick as the person who hurt me?

My post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms show up on a regular basis, even when I’m not actively having sex. I have flashbacks to the abuse, nightmares about it happening to somebody I love and am hypervigilant to every change in my environment.

So the question arises, how do I begin to heal from this? Will I ever be able to have a healthy sexual relationship? What defines “healthy?”

I need to believe I am deserving of whatever “healthy” is. I must remember I am not what happened to me. I am a product of what happened to me, but I am not the cause. Even if deep down in my heart I believe I’m at fault, I must remind myself I was not.

I believe “healthy” relationships depend on each individual’s self-acceptance and willingness to heal. I know I have both of these things, and will be able to make as full of a recovery from my experiences as I can.

These are the steps I am going to take in order to heal my relationship with myself:

1. Talk about it in therapy.

Processing this alone would be torturous, and I’m lucky enough to have a team of people who support me no matter what. I know I don’t have all of the answers to life, but having somebody guide me along the way is always helpful.

2. Practice in platonic relationships.

Practicing open communication is crucial to a healthy sexual relationship. I can practice this with my friends and loved ones. I am one who lies by omission. I don’t tell people what’s going on with me because I’m afraid of the outcome. Instead, if I practice sharing openly, I can create deeper relationships that are more fulfilling.

3. Take things slow.

I rush into sex because part of me believes it’s all I’m worth. By taking things slow in a relationship I am able to see I have many other qualities that are just as (if not more) important than sex.

I know I have the capacity to heal from what happened to me. I need to continue to reach out in order to know I’m not alone in this journey. I want to move forward with an open mind to new experiences. I want to find worth in ways that aren’t related to sex.

Unsplash photo via Velizar Ivanov