Sex After Sexual Assault

How I Started Having Positive Experiences Again

TW: explicit discussion of sex, sexual assault and rape.

After I was raped, I interacted with the world of sex, dating and relationships very differently. Dating and sex is about much more than just getting to know people and interacting with those you’re attracted to, now. Sex has developed, been fabricated in representations and been simultaneously romanticised, glamourised and somehow demonised and entire industries have been constructed from its foundations, profiting from the complexities of it.

Without previous abuse, mistreatment and confusion regarding your own previous experiences, entering the world of sex and dating can be overwhelming and complicated for anyone, even when it’s exciting. So, when factors of previous abuse are weighed on top, the difficulties are not only reinforced, but blown out of proportion, and at times consuming.

I was raped by a former partner. The full story used to be here on my blog, but I deleted it for reasons I’m not sure even exist. If you’re one of these master jacker computer-whisperers, you can probably still find it.

The short version is, I was raped and sexually assaulted numerous times over the course of about a year by my ex-boyfriend, we broke up, and then a lengthy police investigation occurred which unfortunately got dropped.

Getting hurt on purpose by someone I cared about, who I thought returned that care, left me dysfunctional as a sexual being.

My body felt interrupted and uncared for. I didn’t trust my natural thought processes regarding other people, assuming I was naïve to trust them, and I felt as though I was walking around with a post-it note that had ‘sexual issues’ written on it.

Getting back into dating again felt like the pinnacle moment where I’d tried to be a functional member of society again.

But when you’ve been sexually assaulted by a boyfriend and jump back into dating again, it can feel like returning to the scene of a crime. I would think desperate, unhealthy thoughts like ‘this is dangerous. If I was raped in a field, would I return there and enable it again?’

Looking back now, it’s three years on and I’ve had time to process, and not move on, but shuffle forward a bit. I know these thoughts were unhealthy and damaging. And they were stopping me from living a normal life that despite everything, I was still equipped to live.

The first time I had sex after the relationship ended, I was after the first person I could find to just sleep with me, solely to make it so the last sex I had wasn’t something I didn’t ask for. It’s like an intensified version of the ‘palette cleansing’/’post break-up sex’ you search for when you leave someone.

I rushed myself into having sex again before I was ready, and this resulted in more pain and discomfort on top of what I’d already been through. This was reinforced by people around me. They had their best interest in mind, but it was ultimately damaging. Friends treated my breakup like the usual run-of-mill teenage split, and encouraged me to ‘get back out there’, to ‘have a few shots and go talk to that guy’, but how could I place trust with a man again after what happened the last time?

For some of us who escape sexually abusive relationships, sexual behaviour can be tainted by past experiences through things like not being able to say ‘no’ confidently, having casual sex when that’s not usually your preference, or discomfort and present trauma during intercourse.

When I first started dating properly again and found myself a shiny new boyfriend who didn’t frighten me, I had sex where for the first time in a year, I’d actually wanted to.

It started normally. In his bed. With him.

Kissing, then touching.

Then awkward stacked positioning like an elaborate scaffolding.

And then, sex. Consensual sex.

Finally.

But as soon as anything secured, I’d flashed back to another time in the past where things hadn’t been so steady, and more frightening.

It was horrible.

I had a panic attack, and my boyfriend-of-the-time immediately stopped and tried to comfort me, though he panicked a lot along with me (understandably).

I hadn’t been honest with him about the trauma I’d undergone so soon before dating him. I hadn’t gone through my own boundaries with him, or any triggers likely to show up from our relationship. In hindsight, I know this was wrong of me. I owed it to him to be honest about my discomfort, and I more importantly owed it to myself. 

It’s entirely understandable that a person’s perception of their sex life can become tangled by trauma. But that doesn’t have to continue being the case if you put the time into attempting to heal, being honest with yourself and partners about your woes and boundaries and putting a few extra steps in place.

It’s frustrating and upsetting that these steps need to be taken, and you will often find yourself (like I did) comparing yourself to those without trauma who don’t have to put these measures in place to have sexual relationships – but it’s worth it.

The relationship following my abusive one was problematic in its own right, but it’s because I forced myself into false normalcy by pressuring myself to be in a relationship again. Following this, I took the steps I always should have, and was able to have normal sexual relationships again.

And with that, here are some tips from me on how to start dating and having a positive sex life again after sexual assault.

How to Heal and Have a Positive Sex Life After Sexual Assault

CW: Please note that these tips are based off my own personal experience and the advice of professionals – I understand that your individual experience may differ greatly from mine, as much as it may be very similar. Please take your own personal experiences and preferences into consideration and understand that these tips are probably not ‘one size fits all’. I can only write based off my own experiences.

Get Support

I think the most important thing to remember when you’re in this position, is that there’s no shame in asking for help. There’s such a disappointingly significant shame stigma surrounding sexual assault and victims speaking about it aloud. Fortunately, much of that has changed in the era of #MeToo, but we still have a long way to go.

It’s important to have people you trust who will comfort, protect or love you on board with you. If you can, talk to your parents. Your teacher. Maybe your employer. A friend. Your partner. If you have someone you feel safe with and can have a free-of-judgement discussion with, tell them how you’re feeling. If you need further options, there will be some links later on in this blog post for more specific support resources.  

Identify Your Personal Goals, and More Importantly, Your Boundaries

The most important part of anything I’m spouting in this, is that you are in control. If you’re not ready to pursue relationships or have sex with another person yet, you don’t have to be. Don’t force yourself into situations you’re not ready to pursue because you think it’s what’s expected. Listen to yourself and understand what your personal goals are. Do you want a relationship? Great! Do you want to just have casual sex? Great! Want to spend some time single or maybe even stay single because it works for you? That is also great!

If you are going to pursue sexual relationship(s) again after experiencing sexual assault, my main advice would be to understand what your boundaries are and voice them. I don’t think you owe it to anyone to share your whole story, but making your boundaries and concerns clear to a sexual partner allows you to keep some control and manage your sex life in a way that’s comfortable to you.

Improve Your Relationship Between Your Mind and Your Body

This is something you may do alone, with someone else, or perhaps you’ll need professional support like CBT or psychotherapy to help you along the way. Whichever method works for you, ending the disassociation between your mind and your body and understanding that the two works best as a team, is incredibly effective for your mental health. A happy brain makes a happy sex life.

Create Positive Sensual Experiences on Your Own

Creating positive sensual experiences for when it’s just you and yourself can be incredibly healing for the mind. As strange as it might sound, it can be empowering for sexual assault survivors to heal trauma through getting to know their own bodies and taking control of them again. I read something recently in a feminist magazine, about how important masturbation really is for gaining and maintaining a positive sense of self. In our patriarchal system, women are brought up from a worryingly young age to believe that sexual experiences are for two people, and that we get our pleasure from men. When we take time to build positive sensual experiences on our own, we allow ourselves to understand the secret fact no-one wants us to know: that we don’t need another person to allow ourselves pleasure. It can be passed from you, to you.

Work on Your Self (While Single, If You Have That Opportunity)

Following on from creating positive sensual experiences on your own, it’s also important to just spend time with yourself. Date yourself. Work out what you like and allow yourself to indulge in it. Take yourself to the cinema, treat yourself to a Subway and sit in the park and eat it (something I’ve done on many occasions). It’s important to get to know who you are, so you can take that into new relationships, should you decide to embark on any.

Resources for Support:

The Counselling Directory

Rape Crisis

The Survivors Trust

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Beth Ashley
Beth Ashley

Writer/wronger. Provides words about mental health and feminism and runs this very blog. Copywriter for Godaddy and editor of Paperfox Literary Magazine.

Find me on: Web | Instagram

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