Let’s Get Real About Sex After Assault
Trigger warning: sexual assault, PTSD
A note to readers: I’ve chose to use both “victim” and “survivor” because many people who have experienced sexual assault identify differently.
Unless you live under a rock, you know about the #MeToo movement and the dozens of recently exposed sexual misconduct cases. Mass media has made a point of sharing victims’ stories and how important it is to come forward about sexual assault – no matter how long ago the attack was. Various hotlines, websites, and organizations meant to help victims recover from physical and emotional trauma have been advertised in light of recent cases.
Yet there is a serious lack of sharing of resources to answer the question:
WTF do I do about my sex life now???
Victims of sexual assault often have feelings of guilt and shame after an attack. Many survivors also experience post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) – about 70% of them, to be precise (Arnold). Many victims feel even worse if they don’t “get over it” quickly, but it’s important to know that “for 94% of survivors, symptoms last at least two weeks; for [50%] of them, they persist for years, even decades” (Arnold).
Sexual assault can destroy a person’s trust in the people around them, especially in romantic relationships. Dr. Ananda Amstadter, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that because “75 percent of victims are attacked by someone they know, every person they meet and every situation they’re in can feel dangerous.”
This sounds extremely daunting. As Sarah Ogden Trotta, contributing writer for Everyday Feminism and psychotherapist at ContactLifeline, puts it, “We have a shared social stereotype about sex as impossible after rape. We like to think of sexual assault survivors as broken and damaged and unable to ever function ‘normally’ in any way, especially sexually. Well, that’s fucked up, and it’s just objectively false.”
Trotta makes the point that “it’s true that sex is often more difficult after a sexual assault, but it’s entirely false that a survivor will not be capable of engaging in healthy sex.”
As a reader, you may be thinking, Okay, that’s great, but HOW?!?!?
Luckily, Trotta has some advice for that. The first step is to become comfortable in your own body again because “at the time of a sexual assault, a war was enacted upon a survivor’s body. This body becomes a relic of a battleground – a space where violence has permeated all boundaries, a space that becomes dangerous to inhabit.” She suggests taking a bath and using mindfulness techniques to really notice your body and to think kindly and lovingly about it.
The second step is masturbation. You heard me. Trotta explains that “there is no better way to increase comfort with your sexual self than with masturbation. It’s hard to imagine a healthy way to feel safe and comfortable with intimacy with another person, but not alone. Although at the time of your assault you didn’t have control of your body, you do now. Create an environment that feels safe. Use self-pleasure as a tool for declaring ownership of your sexual self.”
The third step is communication. Even if you’ve never experienced sexual violence, it’s always important to talk to your partner about sex. This includes what you’re comfortable doing, if you want to take things fast or slow, and what may trigger you. Trotta explains that “you deserve to bring your healing into the light by talking about it with a partner if it feels safe to do so.”
Finally, don’t get discouraged. A reminder from Trotta is, “recovery from trauma is not linear” and “having sex easily once doesn’t mean you will always have simple sex, just as having sex with difficulty once doesn’t indicate that sex will always feel unsafe or hard.”
If you’ve experienced sexual assault and want to reach out to for help, try the Sexual Misconduct Response & Prevention Office, University of Windsor Campus Police or Windsor Police, or the Peer Support Centre. You are not alone, collegiettes.
Arnold, Carrie. Life After Rape: The Sexual Assault Issue No One’s Talking About. Women’sHealth. 13 Sept 2016. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/ptsd-after-rape
Trotta, Odgen Sarah. Sex After Sexual Assault: A Guide for When It’s Tough. Everyday Feminism. 30 January 2015. https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/sex-after-sexual-assault/