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What My Sexual Trauma Stole From Me

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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.

Sex seems to be one of those subjects that is taboo to discuss in public. Usually these discussions are reserved for hushed conversations between friends, the gynecologist’s office, a therapist’s office or between romantic partners. It’s one of the most basic needs we have as humans and yet it’s the most difficult one to get good information about.

• What is PTSD?

I firmly believe if we were less prudish and more practical about sex education from a young age, we could do a lot to minimize the damage caused by child sexual abuse and sexual assault. Age-appropriate sex ed, STI and pregnancy prevention and consent education should be primary parts of our educational curriculum. But they’re not, and that hurts us far more than we even realize it.

So what happens after someone has been assaulted or a child has been sexually abused? Aside from the myriad of mental, physical and emotional effects, one of the things that gets most disrupted is how a person responds to sex. For some, sex becomes a compulsion, something they need to feel any kind of self-worth. For others, like myself, sex becomes something to be avoided, something to detach from and something to be ashamed of.

Part of the issue is basic human anatomy. Children are born with the capacity to feel pleasure just like adults. Most children learn this by playing with themselves, which is a normal part of growing up. But when this is disrupted by abuse, and our bodies react the way they are supposed to, the messages of what is normal versus abnormal because blurred.

I’ve been in therapy for four and a half years, and while we have scratched the surface of this subject, we haven’t really focused on it until now. It has become something we are working on in earnest and quite frankly, it’s been one of the most difficult and humiliating aspects of my trauma therapy so far.

Even talking about it makes me devolve into that abused child, wanting to hide herself from her abuser. The idea of learning what I like and separating my body from both my abuser and my inappropriate mother who was hypersexual with me and made comments about my developing body all the time, feels impossible.

My whole body tenses up like a brick when it experiences pleasure, much like it did as a little girl, trying to prevent my stepgrandfather from gaining any access to my body. I feel trapped. I feel smothered. I feel intense pain. I feel ashamed. I feel humiliated. I feel broken. But most of all, I feel betrayed and angry. It’s not fair that something that should be so beautiful like sharing physical intimacy with your loved one should be so challenging because others decided to take it away from you.

I wonder how many others are out there feeling despondent over their inability to enjoy sex. I wonder how many feel the guilt of not being able to connect in this way with their loved one. I’ve felt everything from rage to self-loathing, and even pangs of wishing I could just disappear because it would be easier than doing this work. 

My therapist asked me flat-out if I would rather not have sex again. The answer is both yes and no. It would be a heck of a lot easier to just say no and not have to do this work because frankly it sucks and it’s fucking hard. But, the survivor in me, the one who has already worked this hard on my healing, the one who loves her husband and the one who doesn’t want her abusers to win, isn’t willing to give up so easily. I want to reclaim what’s rightfully mine: my sexuality.

If you struggle like me, you’re not alone. I wish there was some kind of magic wand that could make this easier or faster. All I can say is it’s important to have a therapist you can discuss these issues with no matter how humiliating it feels, and it’s important you include your loved one in the healing process. They deserve to know they didn’t do anything wrong. Our response isn’t a rejection of them. And it most certainly doesn’t reflect how much you care for or love them. Work on finding other ways of connecting intimately while you sort this out. It may even be one of the best opportunities you will ever experience in terms of opening up new lines of communication.

My wish for us all is to achieve pleasure without shame. We are worth it.

Original photo by author

Originally published: October 18, 2019
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