Please note: This is not a comprehensive resource and does not substitute for counselling or therapy. If you are a survivor of sexual assault and are experiencing PTSD or having a difficult time with physical intimacy, please seek a kind ear and the expertise of the folks at Klinic Community Health Care’s Sexual Assault Crisis Program at (204) 784-4049.
Sexual assault can turn our lives upside down – in the obvious and immediate ways, but also in ways we won’t be able to know until later on in our lives.
Some days we might feel strong and resilient and others our anger and frustration will fuel our fight for a world where this doesn’t happen. There might be days where we cry for no reason or are triggered by things that don’t seem to make any sense. There will be many days where we don’t think of it at all; we’ll laugh with our friends and family, and by all accounts live a totally normal life. As survivors, one thing that almost always changed is our relationship with our sexuality and sex itself.
One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime; half of these assaults happen to girls who are 16 and under, and the vast majority of assaults occur before women are 30. There are already so many barriers when it comes to sex—body image, performance anxiety, shame, etc.—but baggage triggered by sex itself is something different altogether.
There are many different triggers: it might be a smell, touch, sound, or a certain place, act, or sensation that causes a flashback. You might feel like you’re undesirable, or “damaged goods,” or that no one will want you once they find out. You might want to have sex right away, or you might wait years. Reclaiming your sexuality may be empowering and something that brings about healing.
These are some things that have helped me to establish a healthy sex life and sense of sexual self after a couple of different sexual assaults, and might also help you.
Don’t just “get it over with.”
After a short recovery period from my first sexual assault, I went on a bit of a sex bender. I felt like I just needed to sleep with anyone to prove I still could, and so that the last sexual contact I had with someone was not abusive. I had sexual experiences that were not true to myself, which ended up being much more harmful than healing.
Have sex the way you want to, when you feel ready.
Whether you have casual sex or not, it’s a good idea to totally trust the person you sleep with the first time after your assault. To be able to know that they’ll honour your boundaries and allow you to feel safe with them is going to be crucial to you having a positive experience.
Be in control.
Have a safe word that you are both committed to using, honour the position you’re in and the environment you’re in – be in total control of what’s going on. Move at the pace you feel like and be vocal about your comfort with it.
I was assaulted at my assailant’s house, so being at my own place was crucial. If you were assaulted at home, being somewhere else might feel comforting. Have an idea of how the encounter will go down.
Don’t feel pressure to disclose.
If you want to let your partner or partners know that you were assaulted, that’s great! It can help them understand your reactions and maybe be gentler, slower, and more patient with you. It’s also your choice whether to tell them or not, and some people prefer to keep it to themselves. Do what feels authentic.
Don’t judge your desires.
Sex after sexual assault will be different – undoubtedly. For many reasons, what you once liked might turn you off or what you never liked might turn you on. Our sexual preferences can change and evolve over time, so our different desires might not even be due to our assault.
I began to enjoy some very different things post-assault. Some therapists have suggested I enjoy rougher sex because I am trying to choose when and where these things happen to me. Some suggest I just like it because it feels good to me. Whatever it is, I’m not judging it. It was hard to find something that felt good, authentic, and exciting after my sexual assault, so I’m going with it until it no longer arouses me, and I suggest you do the same.
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