[Warning: The following post may be very triggering for some people. Proceed cautiously. If you are a survivor of sexual assault or intimate partner violence in need of assistance, please see these resources for help.]
As I share my journey with friends, especially female friends, I am constantly struck by how many of them share stories of rape, molestation and other sexual assault. I am humbled by their willingness to confide in me and saddened by how frequently these accounts are revealed.
Other friends have experienced less physical trauma, but have been shamed and shut down by parents, schools and society. One friend told me about her wish to share her feel-good secret with her nursery school classmates and the punishment she received as a result. To this day, she associates sexual pleasure with sinful behavior and is living in a happy (yet sexless) marriage. These wounds run deep and are carried with us throughout our lives.
My own story centers around two similar, but unrelated, incidents. The first occurred during my freshman year of high school. Through a weird set of circumstances, I met Glenn who lived in the adjacent neighborhood and invited me back to his house to hang out. Upon arrival at his house, we went to his bedroom and we started to make out. I was excited at first since I really hadn’t had much experience with boys and appreciated the interest and attention, but it soon escalated rather quickly. Before I knew it, he was reaching under my shirt, unhooking my bra and sucking my breasts.
I felt very uncomfortable, but, for some reason, didn’t say anything; I was frozen, unable to find my voice and speak my mind. Instead, I simply lay there. Thankfully, he was unable to figure out my side-zip pants, so it didn’t proceed any further than it might have. I thought he liked me, but he ended up talking trash about me behind my back and I was left feeling humiliated, shamed, guilty and stupid. I spent that fall berating myself for my bad behavior and was hysterically crying for atonement at Yom Kippur services.
Several years later, I once again answered the siren call of male attention from a college crush, Scott. Desperate to believe he returned my feelings, I naively accepted his invitation to come to his apartment at 2:00 AM on a Saturday night. I foolishly thought that this was the beginning of a dating relationship, rather than the booty call it was; nothing more. One minute we were kissing; the next we had our clothes off. He was only the second man with whom I had sex. Not sure of so many things, I let things proceed much more quickly and much further than I should have, or more importantly, than I wanted. It wasn’t quite rape, but I really didn’t want to be having sex with him and yet I was. I didn’t or couldn’t find my voice to say no.
In my attempt to normalize things in my mind, we had sex a few times after that. I think I even made him dinner once. But even though I wasn’t sexually assaulted at gunpoint, I, too, bear the sexual scars of such encounters. Soon after the incident, I spiraled into a deep depression that included a failed suicide attempt. I felt significant remorse and an unrelenting shame.
I was angry at myself and felt used and defiled. And, while I obviously moved on from the experience and Scott, it continued to haunt me – not only through the depression, but also as a self-imposed celibacy restricting all (including self-pleasure) – yet again punishing myself for my “bad” behavior.
These incidents stayed with me for a very long time; much longer than I realized. In fact, I had an intense revulsion to sexual touch, especially on my breasts, which lasted almost two decades. I was unaware that I was actually, physically, pulling myself away from Viktor’s touch and often disassociating myself during sexual encounters, all likely a result of these negative experiences.
Such stories stay with us and shape the sexual (or asexual) beings we become. They are not our destinies, but they do take time and effort to overcome and heal and we have to be willing to confront our stories, face our fears and take back what was lost. As I continue on this journey of sexual awakening and sexual healing, I am regaining my sense of self, finding my voice and owning my sexuality!