sexual assault

Rediscovering my Sexuality After Sexual Assault

I was raped when I was 12. I lived ashamed; terrified it would happen again. I didn’t tell anyone. I kept my secret, letting the pain and trauma fester inside me. My story is not uncommon.

According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women have been raped at some point in their life and only 12 percent of sexual abuse against minors gets reported to the police. The numbers get worse for women of color and LGBTQ people.

Dr. Kathleen Young, PhD., a clinical psychologist that specializes in trauma, says that the trauma of rape causes a disruption in development. This reflects my experience; I took my anguish out on myself in incredibly unhealthy ways. I self-harmed and convinced myself that I was disgusting and unlovable. That old adage that no one will love you until you love yourself rang true. I didn’t love myself and couldn’t see how anyone would ever be able to. It didn’t matter that the rapist was the one who had hurt me. I was, essentially, my own worst enemy and it stayed that way for several years, while I continued to live in denial about what happened to me.

It wasn’t until I was 16 and a friend confessed a similar trauma that I began learning to accept what happened. The realization that I wasn’t alone in my pain and that I hadn’t asked to get raped had a tremendous impact on my self-esteem.

As monumental and freeing as it was to finally be able to live openly with my rape, damage and self-sabotage had a tremendous head start on my brain. I didn’t realize how much I would have to work through or to what extent the pain had spread through my life. It was everywhere: in how I viewed myself, how I viewed others, and my relationships with other people.

For a long time, I suspected I was different from other kids my age and not just because of what happened to me. I lived with a deep anxiety that people would look at me and be able to tell I wasn’t like them. I became acutely aware of everything I did in public and spoke carefully to portray the image of someone young and happy and straight.

I didn’t realize until much later that my views of sex weren’t healthy. My only experience with it was my assault, so I viewed sex as violent, dirty, and cruel. I overheard kids in my classes talk about it like it was this fun, incredible experience and I wondered how both could be true.

I covered up both my uneasiness with boys and sex by creating outrageous fantasies I laughed with my friends over. I told crude jokes about boys I pretended to find attractive while my mind remained in cloudy confusion. This continued through high school and into my first year of college, when I finally found myself in an environment where I felt comfortable to be myself for the first time.

Coming out as bisexual seemed to change everything in my life. I don’t know if my transformation was as apparent on the outside, but my mind felt like a totally different place. I felt more at ease, like I was on the right path to becoming whoever I was supposed to be. It was a beginning.

While my mind felt like a different place, my actions weren’t much different from before. I continued to let an emotionally abusive and manipulative ex-boyfriend remain in my life. Another replaced him as soon as he was gone. My first girlfriend also turned out to be a drain on my emotions. I felt compelled to say yes whenever they wanted to have sex, even if I really didn’t want it. I was so hungry for a connection of some kind, for love, that I didn’t want to say no; sometimes I didn’t think I could say no if I wanted them to care for me. I was still equating sex with love and love with self esteem.

The small amount of progress I’d made in my relationship with sex after coming out unraveled and only got worse after I was assaulted again while in college—an experience that is, unfortunately, also very common.

Due to medical and financial reasons, I dropped out of college a few weeks later with only a semester left to go, moving back in with my dad. My dad lived miles out of town and, unable to have a driver’s license because of my illness, I felt very isolated. The only people I saw were my dad and grandma and I kept from them that anything was wrong. I had trouble finding a job, missed my old life and my friends, and wanted to stop hurting. So I did, falling into a numb sort of depression that lasted the better part of a year.

A lot of work was involved in pulling myself from my funk. I moved in with my mom and got a crappy job at an amusement park where I was overworked to the point of making my chronic illness worse, finished my final semester of college online, and graduated. My second girlfriend was somewhat better than my past relationships at respecting my personal boundaries and mental health—but only somewhat.

I reached a point in my life where I could finally admit that, even after I’d come out as queer, I’d been falling into the heteronormative trap of elevating men in my life. I could admit that I wasn’t sexually or romantically attracted to men and never had been. I was a lesbian. This revelation didn’t throw me nearly as much as coming out as bisexual because I’d finally accepted who I’ve always been. I felt a calmness come into my life and unconsciously took a break from dating. Sometimes I’d lament to my best friend that I was going to be single forever and die alone but most of the time I was quite happy being unattached.

I needed the time to myself to get to know who I was as an adult, as a lesbian, as a survivor.

Eventually, I met a wonderful woman and quickly fell in love with her. She was everything I not only wanted but also needed in a partner—respectful, considerate, loving, gracious, caring. These words merely scratch the surface of describing what an amazing person she is.

For the first time, I have a healthy sex life with a partner that is as considerate of my needs as I want to be of hers. I feel relaxed and calm when we’re together and can’t wait to spend my life with her. It’s been a long journey getting to this point. My experiences will always be muddied by my past. I want to say that’s OK, but it isn’t. No one should ever have to go through what I did. But I have learned to live with my past in a much healthier way, discovering a little more of myself each day. My past might not be OK but I certainly will be.

Featured image by Jessica Felicio

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