Sexual Attraction – Addiction or Intimacy?

Megan asked the following questions in one of our phone sessions: Over and over, when Iím really attracted to a man and I sleep with him fairly early in the relationship, I discover that he is not good husband material. What am I doing wrong? Am I just attracted to the wrong kind of men?

This is a frequent question from my single women clients.

Megan, many men know how to project sexual energy in a way that arouses women. These men define their worth by their sexuality and by their ability to attract woman. They know just how to sexually ignite a woman – itís an energy that they are putting out that goes right into your genitals and makes you think that something real and important is happening. But they are operating from a sexual addiction rather than from caring or intimacy.

So what should I be doing when I feel that powerful sexual attraction?

You need to be telling yourself that this feeling doesnít mean anything ñ that itís just an energy that is being projected onto you but has nothing to do with love, intimacy, caring, or marriage. Real, long-lasting relationships take time to evolve. If you feel sexual upon first meeting someone, there is a good possibility that this man just wants a sexual encounter with you rather than a real relationship with you. My suggestion to you is to not have sex early in a relationship, even if you are very attracted.î

Well, when do you have sex?

When you feel emotionally intimate. When you trust each other and really care about each otherís wellbeing. When you know that the feelings are not just sexual, and that the sexuality is coming from the emotional intimacy rather than from a sexual addiction.

Why not wait until there is a commitment to the relationship and to learning and growing with each other?

How often have you slept with a man that you were really attracted to and then had the relationship not work out?

More often than I’m willing to admit. This is what keeps happening. So are you saying that I should also go out with men that I’m not immediately attracted to?

Yes, if you like them. Often, sexual attraction grows as you really get to know a person. Many of my clients with the best relationships are people who were not immediately attracted to each other. The attraction grew as they fell in love with each other. Others, who were attracted immediately, lost their attraction as they got to know the person.

Many men can have sex and then just move on without any inner turmoil. Yet many women feel connected to a man when they have sex with him and then feel awful when the relationship doesnít work out. It is unloving to yourself to sleep with a man early in the relationship and then run the risk of being dumped because all he wanted was sex.

Another factor is that sex without emotional intimacy is often disappointing for both people. When you have sex too early in a relationship, it might not be emotionally or physically satisfying. When sex is not an expression of love, it often feels empty, and then the guy might decide that you are not the right person for him because there were no fireworks. Yet if you had waited for love to develop, it might have been wonderful. You really have nothing to lose by waiting.

But, replied Megan, ìI always think that a man wonít like me if I don’t have sex with him.

Well, if you doesnít like you for not having sex with him, what does this tell you about him?

I guess it tells me that he is not good husband material.

Right! So you have nothing to lose by not having sex right away.

Okay, I see that now. I see that what Iíve been doing is never going to lead to marriage. I’m going to put sex on the back burner and pay more attention to caring and intimacy.

Megan completely changed her pattern with men and within a year she was engaged to be married.

Signs of an Addiction

Addictions come in many forms. Itís important to recognize the signs of addictions in order to seek out help before the problem becomes to large.

Some different types of Addictions are:
Caffeine addiction, nicotine addiction, drug addiction, Alcohol addictions, and gambling addictions.

Like mentioned above itís very important to recognize the symptoms of addictions in order to be able to recognize and treat an addiction before it becomes to serious. There are several different symptoms, some vary on type of addiction, and others are age and gender specific. Here is a look at some of the most common symptoms:

  • Uncontrolled Craving and Desires This symptom can be general to all types of addictions. For example: food/drink cravings, gambling cravings
  • Fatigue ñ Often times addictions will result in both physical and mental fatigue, as your body will often be working over time, and not resting properly.
  • Obsessive thoughts Can you not get a thought out of your mind, is it starting to take over and effect the way you think?
  • Change in Behavior Do you suspect that your behavior has changed? Are you more moody, or easily frightened?
  • Hyperactivity Do you seem to be excessively active, but not getting a lot done? Do you fidget more than usual? Do you have problem sitting still for any length of time?

These are just a few of several signs that can indicate the development or indication of an already existing addiction. If you are experiencing any of these signs, and it is unusual for you, I would recommend seeking out further existence either by a medical or mental professional.

Be smart with your health and body. Your only given one chance with it!

Feel free to reprint this article as long as you keep the following caption and author biography in tact with all hyperlinks.

Navigating Dating Beyond the Binary

When it comes to sex and dating beyond the binary, not only are we given no blueprint, no representation, and no guide whatsoever, but we’re also working against the heteronormative messages we’ve all been indoctrinated with by media and culture from birth. Here are five ways I’ve learned to safely and creatively navigate dating spaces as a nonbinary person.

Dating in 2020 can be a challenge for anyone, especially amid a global pandemic, but navigating dating as a nonbinary person more than that. It is a constant exercise of resilience and vulnerability.

When it comes to sex and dating beyond the binary, not only are we given no blueprint, no representation, and no guide whatsoever, but we’re also working against the heteronormative messages we’ve all been indoctrinated with by media and culture from birth. And it’s these messages that set the tone for the modern dating scene. On top of that, transgender and gender nonconforming folks routinely deal with microagressions, misgendering, and harassment on dating and hookup apps, regardless of how inclusive they claim to be.

For all of these reasons, dating, especially with apps, can seem like a mentally and emotionally daunting task for a nonbinary person. But if you approach it with a few things in mind, it’s both possible and potentially liberating.

Here are five ways I’ve learned to safely and creatively navigate dating spaces as a nonbinary person:

Choose your dating apps wisely

For those of age and otherwise able to use them, dating apps can open up the dating pool, especially if you find it difficult or  unsafe approaching people in person. A few apps have been putting forth more initiative into making their platforms affirming, inclusive, and accessible to more genders, sexualities, and diverse relationships.

While unfortunately dating apps are not available to minors, there are other ways to meet queer people online — even though all of them won’t be the right place to look for dates — like Facebook or Reddit groups, queer Tumblr blogs, or the message boards here on Scarleteen.

If and when you are able to hop on dating apps, it’s about quality over quantity. Here are a few I think are worth your time spent crafting that perfect bio for:

Lex

From the people who brought you the Queer Personals instgram, comes Lex, a personal-ad style dating app for by and for queer people of all genders. Lex prioritizes safety and inclusivity in their app. Lex doesn’t require you to connect another app to sign up, and uses minimal identifying information. You can choose to connect your instagram, or make an instagram specifically for Lex, and gives you full control over your information. You can post 3 “personal ads” a month and respond to as many as you’d like. The queer people I’ve met through Lex, especially during quarantine, have become some of the coolest, nicest people I know, and I’m excited to be able to meet and flirt with them in person.

OK Cupid

Ok Cupid has been around for a while and has consistently evolved their platform to be inclusive of all genders, sexualities, and relationship styles.

They use question prompts to determine whether you and another person are compatible on a fundamental level, including politically and ethically. You can select which or all gender(s) to connect with. You also can identify your sexual orientation as one or more of a dozen options and identify your gender as one or more of nearly two-dozen including nonbinary, gender fluid, and genderqueer.

Of course, there’s a catch. You eventually have to answer the unfortunately inevitable, “I want to be included in searches for [Select One] Man/Woman” question… but you can decide whether or not your profile is shown to straight people.

#Open

#Open (called “Hashtag Open”) is a newer kink-positive, sex-positive app that caters to the alt-sex community. Their mission is proudly and loudly one of inclusivity and identity.

You can choose from a number of gender identities, sexual orientation, and relationship orientations and choose to list your pronouns. But the best part is that their “include me in searches for…” question has a nonbinary option, and the option to select more than one. They have a detailed preferences section that lets you use hashtags to communicate exactly what you’re looking for. Under the “boundaries” section is even a “hard-limits” section where you can list your non-negotiables using hashtags and be alerted of potential conflicts.

And there’s really no catch. It’s a very new app, so it’s just starting to grow it’s user base and could stand to be more user-friendly, but it has potential and partners with many notable sex educators!

There is still no perfect dating app for transgender and gender-nonconforming folks (and by all means, if you build apps, let’s talk!) but in the meantime, these are probably your best bet!

Be explicit in your intentions

If you’re using dating apps, use your bio to communicate who you are and what exactly you’re looking for, to the extent that you feel safe doing so. For example, in my bio, I have “they/them pronouns only”, “nonbinary/genderqueer” and “looking for casual, communicative, intimate sexual relationships with queer cuties”.

Signaling the type of relationship and shared values you’re looking for will save you time and energy. It helps if you try not to be vague. A way to go about this more subtly though, that I and many other queer folks incorporate, is by including hashtags that are relevant to your politics, your identity, and/or your queerness. For example, in my profile I have #TransIsBeautiful #BlackLivesMatter, and #KeepYourLawsOffMyBody included.

Not only will you be weeding out at least some of the incompatible, bad, or unsafe people on the app, but you’ll also yield more quality potential matches, reserving your energy.

Think outside the apps

Queer and trans folks have historically had to rely on the creation of alternative spaces or means of communication when it comes to intimacy and dating, and the age of digital media is no different.

We’ve gotten especially crafty during quarantine. With the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a queerly-beloved game, queer people have taken it upon themselves to set up virtual dates that take place at one another’s islands. If you’re a fan, joining queer ACNH Facebook groups or Discord chats can be a great way to meet folks. In general, joining the queer Facebook groups in your neighborhood is a good way to potentially meet friends and dates alike. As long as the group rules permit, you can use it similarly to a personal ad.

Social media has also made it easier to host and hear about events that are exclusively for the trans community or that are explicitly transgender and gender non-conforming affirming. For example, @QueerSpeedCruising is a new queer speed dating/cruising event that takes place periodically in New York, when we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic. It was started and is run by two queer comedians, Alex Schmidt and Lily Marotta, who recognized the importance of having a safe space for queer and trans/GNC people to meet and mingle in an environment with none of the pressure, anxiety, and expectation that might come along with a one-on-one date.

HER, another social dating app for lesbians and queer women and nonbinary people, has been hosting virtual speed dating events periodically throughout quarantine.

You can also check the websites and social media pages of your local LGBTQ+ center or reach out to them directly to find out if they have any virtual mixers or dating events coming up. If not, suggest one!

Throw out heteronormative (s)expectations – write your own scripts

We live in a society where heteronormative sex and dating scripts are, quite frankly, inescapable. All of us come into our nonbinary or otherwise gender diverse identity in different ways, but wherever we’re coming from, it’s normal to feel nervous, inexperienced, or unprepared for intimate relationships and sex that exist outside of those prevailing narratives and gendered power dynamics.

Binary gender roles and expectations limit sex and relationships for straight, cisgender people as well, but they’re even more salient for gender-nonconforming folks. Questions arise like “Who messages first? Who pays for the date? Who makes the first move? What pet names am I comfortable with? You may find that you want to use different words to refer to your genitals, not want to use certain body parts or engage in certain types of sex. Which is wonderful because pleasure is about (so much) more than penetration, and it isn’t limited to our genitals! Reading queer inclusive sex education books like  S.E.X., second edition: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, Trans+ and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves can also really help expand your understanding of what sex and intimacy can look like.

Other great resources for learning your desires and boundaries when it comes to romantic and sexual intimacy are Scarleteen’s Sexual Inventory Stocklist, and this zine, both of whch can help you determine what you are and aren’t comfortable with when it comes to sex and your body and help you communicate that to your potential partners.

The sex toy and gender-affirming product markets are expansive and growing, making all kinds of sex and fantasy possible and pleasurable for people of all genders, no matter what genitals you have or whether or not you want to use them!

Unlearning these scripts and rewriting the rules can be scary and hard, but thinking through your needs and asserting your boundaries is so worth it!

Above all, prioritize your safety, comfort, and wellbeing

Dating new people can be thrilling and exciting, but at the same time, it can be anxiety-inducing and both physically and emotionally vulnerable. This vulnerability is two-fold for transgender and nonbinary folks, who experience dating abuse & violence at alarmingly higher rates, and this abuse comes both IRL and virtually.

So often we are met with messages on dating apps that range from harmful and hateful to ignorant and disgusting, which, on top of the regular fatigue that comes online dating, is exhausting. As a result, it is crucial and self-preserving to dedicate adequate time and resources to your mental health and well-being.

If, and when it’s safe, to meet someone in person again, choose a public place where you feel comfortable, preferable somewhere welcoming of queer and trans people and with gender-neutral bathrooms if that makes you feel more affirmed. Ensuring your environment is a safe space may help you feel more at ease during your date.

Tell someone reliable who you trust  — like a parent, sibling or friend — where you’re going, and what time you’ll think you’ll be returning. You can give them access to your phone location or determine an emergency word or phrase, and check-in periodically throughout the date.

An important way to prioritize your wellbeing is to consistently communicate and assert your boundaries when it comes to intimacy, touch, and sex. This could include going over pronouns, setting expectations and parameters for the language you use around your body parts, discussing appropriate safer sex methods, and more. Also, pay attention to how a potential partner responds to these discussions. How they respond to open communication around sex is a good indicator of whether they’re someone you end up wanting to be intimate with.

The bottom line

Yes, dating can be a figurative minefield for nonbinary folks. But by practicing boundary setting and body autonomy and awareness, you’re taking precautions that will not only lead to more positive experiences but also preserve your emotional energy.

Remember, you deserve to be excited about dating and enjoy yourself. I hope, with the help of these tips, you will be able to lean into the thrill of dating and the potential for intimacy and pleasure. Because the reward — living, lusting, and loving, fully and freely as your authentic self — is so sweet!











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We Are Currently Living in an Active Trauma State: An Interview With Jimanekia Eborn

"Those of us that identify within the QTBIPOC community cannot take off our skin the same way we cannot remove our gender and/or our sexuality. We have to continue to have conversations about all of the disparities that are going on. There is not just one way we are affected."

As with discussions about race and gender in the United States, talking about sex, even sex education, are still often taboo in the supposed land of the free. Enter Jimanekia Eborn, MS, and her vast array of knowledge on the subject and its intersections with race and gender.

Jimanekia is known for centering QTBIPOC (Queer Trans Black Indigenous People of Color) in her sex education work and also advocates for them to care for themselves during the “active trauma state” we are living through, which has been triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and civil uprisings caused by racist police violence.

The intersections of race, gender, identity, and sex are more visible these days, thanks to the work of people like Jimanekia Eborn, and they influence the spaces of interpersonal relationships. Even in a growing gender fluid world, these intersections can still seem like a novelty with few spaces in mainstream media that reflect the lived experiences of QTBIPOC individuals.

As the world asks for more attention to and justice for Black lives, Scarleteen engaged in an interview via email with the self-proclaimed Trauma Queen, who’s been a mental health professional for the last 12 years and has a Master’s in Health Psychology, to talk about her sex ed and trauma work that centers QTBIPOC communities.

Scarleteen (ST): You’ve been working in sexual education for 12 years now, and focusing on trauma. What are the differences from when you started to now?

Jimanekia Eborn, MS (JE): What I see is that the conversations are changing. I believe that there will always be folks that are going to push back on this information. The fact that it is being talked about and the fact that they have never dealt with their own issues is an entirely different thing. I also see that the youth are tired of not being heard. Which I love!

They are advocating for themselves, for their future selves, and even for us now. They are tired of being told half-tales, want the full information, and push for deserved knowledge. Laws are changing slowly, but surely things won’t change overnight. Especially because there are people that are uncomfortable or very much religious and believe that the best education is forcing abstinence information on folks.

ST: You have a Masters in Health Psychology. What’s health psychology? How did that education and training change your work in sex education? 

JE: Wikipedia defines health psychology as the study of psychological and behavioral processes in health, illness, and healthcare. It is concerned with understanding how psychological, behavioral, and cultural factors contribute to physical health and illness. Psychological factors can affect health directly.

When I went back to school, I wanted to seek out something that was covering more than just medical folks or just brain-focused. In working with survivors and sexuality education, I want to always show up to support the entire person.

What I have learned has allowed me to continue looking at the full story, the full body. More than just what is being told verbally, because our bodies can hold onto such a story. I believe that what I have learned, as well as what I will continue learning, is that we need to ask more questions to really understand what folks are struggling with, instead of listening to one thing and then running with it and/or equating their struggle with someone else’s. Everyone’s body is different and things show up differently.

ST: How can affirming sex ed for, in and by QTBIPOC communities help them evolve in their personal lives and with the greater world?

JE: There is just something about seeing someone who looks like you that gives you hope.  Having teachers that look and identify in similar fashions to you is healing and allows you to let your guard down to receive the information that is being shared. Which can allow these folks to explore and learn in a safe space, versus the trial and error that can lead to injury and/or further trauma.

Sex ed historically is very cisgender-focused and heterosexual. I’m not sure why folks thought that there was just one way to have sex. Just like history class, there is much to learn hence we grow up going to multiple classes… because there is a lot to learn. Sex ed is the same; there is much to learn and much to consume. The ceilings are being broken; the eyes are being opened.

ST: Can you talk some about the racial and social uprisings in the world right now? How can we best use them as dialogues with QTBIPOC issues? 

JE: When I look outside my walls and see what is happening in the racial and social spaces, I am exhausted honestly. Being a Black queer woman has really always been a lot, and the outside world is adding to this immensely. I have seen and been a part of many conversations about how what is going on in the macro world is affecting the micro world, and the conversations have been really interesting.

It is hard for folks to see others that look like them being murdered and overlooked every day. What I continue to remind folks is that we are currently living in an active trauma state. It is really disheartening that folks think you have to separate your identities to be seen during this trauma state. We need to use these times to recognize that we are whole people.

Those of us that identify within the QTBIPOC community cannot take off our skin the same way we cannot remove our gender and/or our sexuality. We have to continue to have conversations about all of the disparities that are going on. There is not just one way we are affected. 

Honestly, I wish people would work on their own biases. We have to continue to have hard conversations, we have to continue using our allies and our accomplices to push the narrative forward. Sometimes it takes folks  who look like each other having hard conversations with each other so they can understand others. It is shitty, and really hard but it is so needed.

ST: How can everyone best manage any trauma they are experiencing with the events and loss of life at the root of the uprisings, with participation within them or observation of them? How can we best manage our hopes and fears around them?

JE: Whew, I think we have to do a lot of our own unlearning while we are living in this active trauma state. That is to say, we have to give ourselves more permission to rest, drink water, eat food, detach from social media. Things will still be going on outside without us. As cheesy as it sounds, I often say we cannot pour from an empty cup. There are many ways to show up and participate.

If marching and protesting is not what works for you, or does not feel safe for you, that is okay! There are plenty of people that are doing it. Using your voice, using your connections, if you have a bit of money that you can donate — those things can also be really helpful and important.

Listen to your body.

Checking in with our bodies is even more imperative right now. Our bodies are beacons of what is going on with us and around us. I want folks to know that, again, we are all living in a traumatic time and it is going to affect everyone totally differently. So, however you need to take care of yourself, do it.  Hopefully whoever reads this receives this reminder: you matter, you need to rest, and it will be there tomorrow!

ST: From your point of view, what kind of relationship changes or self-love can best help raise self-esteem and support for each other in this moment and in general?

JE: Honestly, I do not think there is just one best way to help folks right now. We are all raging in different ways; a lot of folks are having past traumas pop up and it is really throwing everything off kilter.

I will say that doing body scans can be really helpful, to just find where you are holding tension in your body or where you are in pain. Due to everything going on, a lot of folks are having lots of triggers come up as well as lots of numbness. Doing a body scan can be completed by scanning head to toe or toe to head. Sit down in a comfortable spot, take a few deep breaths in and out, focus on which end you would like to start (either your head or your toes),  and then scan over each area of your body until you get to the opposite end from where you started. Once you find those areas of tension or pain, you can foam roll them out. You can stretch, you can take a bath. You can journal about them, you can take a shower. There is no wrong way to deal with those tension areas, other than not addressing them.

I think we have to start taking care of ourselves before we look at supporting each other. I often use the following analogy in my classes. When we are on an airplane, they go over all the safety rules and they talk about the oxygen mask falling in an emergency. They say you have to put your mask on first before helping others. I want to affirm that you have to spend time with yourself, check in on yourself, take care of your body, your temple and your home first.

And then you will know a bit more what you need, not by what someone tells you. Also, it is 1000% percent okay to not know what you need and to say that. We can show up for each other by being honest about where we are versus saying we are all okay. Because, honestly, most of us are not doing great. Having that community is also great to know that there is no pressure to measure up to a certain way of being.

We have to be okay with not being okay.

We have to take some of the pressure off of ourselves to be living the same exact lives we had before COVID-19, before everyone started protesting. It can also be helpful to remember that these moments are not permanent.

image of Jimanekia Eborn











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Love Addiction and Approval Addiction

In my experience as a counselor for a number of years, I have found that love addiction and approval addiction are far more prevalent than any other substance or process addictions. We live in a love-addicted, approval-addicted society.

What does it mean to be love/approval addicted? Below is a checklist for you to see if you are addicted to love and/or approval. Believing any of these may indicate love or approval addiction.

I believe that:

* My happiness and wellbeing are depended upon getting love from another person.

* My adequacy, lovability, and feelings of self-worth and self-esteem come from others liking me and approving of me.

* Others disapproval or rejection mean that Iím not good enough.

* I can’t make myself happy.

* I can’t make myself as happy as someone else can.

* My best feelings come from outside myself, from how other people or a particular other person sees me and treats me.

* Others are responsible for my feelings. Therefore, if someone cares about me, he or she will never do anything that hurts or upsets me.

* I can’t be alone. I feel like Iíll die if Iím alone.

* When I’m hurt or upset, itís someone elseís fault.

* It’s up to other people to make me feel good about myself by approving of me.

* I’m not responsible for my feelings. Other people make me feel happy, sad, angry, frustrated, shut down, or depressed. When I’m angry, someone makes me feel that way and is responsible for fixing my feelings.

* I’m not responsible for my behavior. Other people make me yell, act crazy, get sick, laugh, cry, get violent, leave, or fail.

* Others are selfish if they do what they want instead of what I want or need.

* If I’m not connected to someone, I will die.

* I can’t handle my pain, especially the pain of disapproval, rejection, abandonment, the pain of being shut out – the pain of isolation and loneliness.

Living as a love or approval addict is a very hard way to live. You have to constantly make sure you say the right thing, do the right, and look right in order to get the needed love and approval. Your feelings are on a roller coaster from feeling the wonderful feelings that come from getting your love or approval fixîto feeling the despair that comes when your supply source of your love and approval – shuts down, gets angry or judgmental, or goes away.

THE UNDERLYING CAUSE OF LOVE AND APPROVAL ADDICTION

Love and approval addiction is rooted in self-abandonment. Imagine the feeling part of you as a child, your inner child. When you are love or approval addicted, you have handed your inner child away for adoption. Instead of learning to take responsibility for your own happiness by loving and approving of yourself, you have handed your inner child away to others for love and approval making others responsible for your feelings. This inner self-abandonment will always cause the deep pain of low self-worth, making you dependent upon others for your sense of worth.

The sad thing about all of this is that love is the most abundant thing in the universe. We live in a sea of love it is always within us and all around us. It is our ability to connect and love oneself. When you learn to open to Self Love, you become filled with love, with peace, with joy. The empty place within that yearns to be filled becomes so filled with love that it overflows to others. You find yourself desiring to give love rather than always trying to get it.

As long as you make others your source for love, you will not find the love, peace and joy that you seek. By learning and practicing the Inner Bonding process that we teach, you can learn to fill yourself with love and heal your love and approval addictions.

Are you love or approval addicted? Most modern people are. The following checklist will help you to determine your level of love or approval addiction.

What to Do When You Disagree

Repair happens when we build bridges of validation that connect us, deepening sense of belonging and security.

The post What to Do When You Disagree appeared first on The Gottman Institute.











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Music With Lyrics: Finding Your Way Back to Yourself After Sexual Assault

The term itself is insufficient and sounds oddly trivial. The word ‘stealth’ has various associations in the Oxford English Dictionary (2020), including ‘secretly and without right or permission’, ‘clandestinely’, ‘furtive’. A stealth action happens quickly and slyly, like the swiping of an appetising sweet by a small child before their parent sees. But stealthing does not just happen surreptitiously, swiftly, or without the total awareness of the victim.

Content Note: graphic description of sexual assault

Beginning

As long as it has existed, writing has been an act of self-control as much as it is an act of self-expression. It can bring solace and even medication. I am writing this to take control of what happened to me, but sharing with readers I have never met. I hope some of what I say speaks to you.

This is a time of deep, global reflection. For some, it may be a balm, as they steady their gaze and look at their life with newfound peace. For others, this slowness may increase anxiety, as we are thrown into waves of endless questions, where answers are like the rarest pearls of hope at the bottom of a murky ocean bed. Perhaps old demons have resurfaced: people you don’t want to hear from or think about, events you thought you’d buried. It may cause you to reframe moments in your life, to see them from a different angle, lit with renewed pain, joy or acceptance.

I want to tell you about an experience that is newly spun in my own tapestry.

A few months ago, I was sexually assaulted. I’m very early in my journey of reflection and acceptance. Through writing this, I am trying to put what happened in a frame, to observe it as a memory. Part of, though clearly separate from, me.

I am a single, white, and able-bodied woman. I am emotionally open and I try to be consistently kind. Some of my favourite things to do are dancing until my clothes are transparent with sweat and studded with wet glitter; to eat fresh food in green spaces with people I love a lot; and to laugh very often. I remember this quote from Toni Morrison’s Jazz: ‘laughter is serious. More complicated, more serious than tears.’ So, I laugh and I cry and try not to put a dam up against either of these wellsprings.

I had my first kiss when I was eighteen (which I think can generally be considered late) and first had sex when I was twenty-one (perhaps more average). Both of those times felt right for me. I have only had committed, romantic and sexual relationships and sex with men, but I have also dated and am attracted to women. I have had mundane, excellent and hollow sex, in and out of relationships. I have dumped and been dumped. I am a very romantic person but I have never been in love. I am optimistic and I hope, one day, to marry someone with whom I can laugh, cry and eat in the sun.

I am sure that you will recognise a lot of these qualities, in yourself and in people you know. Perhaps I am more sensitive and vulnerable than some. Less savvy and experienced than others.

I reveal some fairly ubiquitous details about myself to demonstrate something which you should not ever have to prove. No one aspect of me or of anyone can ever explain, excuse or justify sexual assault. What happened to you is never your fault. Never, never, never.

First meeting

We met on a dating app; matched and exchanged a few messages before agreeing to meet – neither of us seemed like small talk people. “Seemed” is the keyword here, because dating apps, in their infinite, algorithmic wisdom, amalgamate the complexities of our identities into bald, flat projections of two-dimensional comparison. We tap and swipe with one eye open, dully hoping for the next connection. And in the spaces between matching, messaging and meeting, we have already formed a million micro impressions, whether we realise it or not, based on our histories and sensibilities, on what they are like.

On our first date, we shared information and interests and found mutual connections. He encouraged – and sometimes demanded – openness. This was new. He remarked that when we date, we play a game of conceal and reveal. I thought – that’s true, that’s insightful. And within that thought, I had couched the assumption that, because he recognised the cynicism in modern dating, he himself was not playing a game. I began to trust him.

I trusted him enough to decide to go to his house a week later for dinner. We had a couple of calls and exchanged messages during the week. I deliberated, but I wanted us to take an evening to enjoy ourselves. So I decided to go. Plus, he was making me dinner.

His house

The atmosphere while he was trying, and failing, to cook, simmered with the charge of two relative strangers who are attracted to one another. He asked lots of questions, and I liked his curiosity. I took it as him making a genuine effort to learn about who I am. But sometimes, he pushed the verbal contract implicit in every conversation. Know when it’s too soon, or too raw, to talk about some things. The two words he said the most were, “Tell me.” I found myself at one point having to explain why I wouldn’t immediately tell him something from my history. This felt like a new kind of dating game: pushing someone to see how far they’ll bend to you.

But each time, after repeated ‘nos’ from me, he’d get the message. All these exchanges were under the guise of flirtatious play. I did not feel any insinuation in them that this person had an issue, full stop, with boundaries. With being told no. And how could I? At this stage? We were flirting. We were cooking. We were strangers, learning about one another.

I don’t know if you can really tell what someone is going to be like sexually before you actually are sexually intimate with them. I think kissing reveals a lot, but sex has clear rules. It has rules because within those rules, there is so much boundless, beautiful freedom that you can find with another person. The main rule is that consent has to be active, consistent, and enthusiastic. I would never judge someone based on how soon they have sex with someone they’ve met. You have to know then that it’s what you want and what feels right. This far into the evening, it was still what I wanted, still what felt right.

The bedroom

We spent a few hours in his bedroom, getting to know each other sexually. We had protected intercourse a few times. Neither of us climaxed. But we were having fun. Mostly. Intermittently, he was rough. ‘Ow!’ was what I said most during our encounter. Ow for stop, you’re hurting me. Which he did. But the main, niggling issue amongst all this was his persistently pressurising language.

When you’re in a room with another person, being sexual, you create a new world together. There is a power in the atmosphere which, if both parties respect each other, can be shared and equal; see-sawed, stretched, billowed and played with to create an ecstasy of human collaboration, trust and wonder. But when someone else seizes that power – it may be over a period of time, or all at once, in a moment – they have changed the rules. You may lose where you are. You may not realise it happening, because you think you are still in that place of equality. But it’s become a different game.

It started with little, seemingly offhand remarks about how ‘shit’ and ‘inconvenient’ and ‘unsexy’ condoms are. He would come to me without a condom on, I would say, “No, stop, get one. “ He would say, begrudgingly, somewhat mockingly, with a roll of his eyes, “Yes, yes, I know you’re right. You always say the right thing.” This happened two or three times. Then the remarks started to mount, each one degrading more at my will power and ability to say no:

It’s just a boy thing, I think. All I can think about is ejaculating.” “Nothing happens for women, does it, if they don’t come? They just get pissed off.” “My stomach is really starting to hurt.” “It’s male biology. This is my reaction. I can’t come with a condom.” “No one has ever made me come from just a blowjob. That’s your challenge.” “Oh but it’s soooooo rubbish with a condom. Can we just…”

These, and more like them, for a very long period. I suggested we go to a 24-hour shop to get more condoms. He, lounging on the bed, in a childish huff, instead repeated at me his apparent biological imperative.

My self-possession had been whittled and worn down. I was exhausted and I wanted everything to be over. Every time I said no, I was made to feel more and more like I was being unreasonable, even mean. It became exhausting to continually assert myself, until the point where I no longer felt I could. My self-control was zeroed by his coercion.

Stealthing

‘The Social Science Research Network (SSRN), in their paper ‘Rape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal, last revised in 2017, defines stealthing as:

‘Nonconsensual condom removal during sexual intercourse [which] exposes victims to physical risks of pregnancy and disease and, interviews make clear, is experienced by many as a grave violation of dignity and autonomy. Such condom removal, popularly known as “stealthing,” can be understood to transform consensual sex into nonconsensual sex.’

The term itself is insufficient and sounds oddly trivial. The word ‘stealth’ has various associations in the Oxford English Dictionary (2020), including ‘secretly and without right or permission’, ‘clandestinely’, ‘furtive’. A stealth action happens quickly and slyly, like the swiping of an appetising sweet by a small child before their parent sees. But stealthing does not just happen surreptitiously, swiftly, or without the total awareness of the victim. Not using a condom when your sexual partner has explicitly, repeatedly, insisted that you do; wearing them down until you have overridden their final plea of ‘No’; and proceeding to climax in the knowledge that you are actively violating their sexual autonomy, crossing a clear, iron-clad boundary without consent – this is stealthing, too.

I recall Lady Macbeth’s words, ‘That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, / Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, / To cry ‘Hold, hold!’’ The man who assaulted me knew the wound he was making and, still, he did not stop, did not look away.

The aftermath

Cycling away from his house, the morning after pill in my bag, I felt bruised, numb and clouded. His words throughout the night, and the strange spectrum of emotions that were exchanged and heavy in the atmosphere, weighed on me like lead.

“I just feel…” I searched for the word.

“Disrespected.” He supplied it. I found this very chilling.

I thought – okay. So, on one level, you know and understand what happened here. I don’t think this makes him a better or worse person for going ahead and doing it anyway, because what adult could seriously claim that in the moment itself, they had no idea what they were doing? Absolutely none at all of what the other person was feeling? I think, on balance, it makes him worse; but what I’m saying is no one could claim ignorance and therefore be deemed ‘better’. There is no better or worse, there’s just the facts of the matter. You do not not know what you are doing.

I’m upset that you’re upset.”

He was not upset about what he had done. 

I got home and went for a run. Then I went to buy some condoms, as an act of reclaiming control, I think. Then I called a close friend. Something wasn’t right, I knew that, and I wanted advice. Once I’d explained what happened, he was silent on the phone. Then, he said, “What he did is absolutely disgusting.”

This was the first step to me recognising the experience in the cold light of day. On the advice of the friend, I sent the man in question a voice note, articulating how wrong I felt, and suggesting a conversation. He asked to speak on the phone.

I was still very much trying to understand the situation and to put it to bed. I did not want it to have happened, and my contacting him when things were still so fresh was another attempt to put the night to rights. At this stage of the trauma, I did not realise that righting his wrongs was not my obligation.

The phone call was really strange. Unlike in the immediate aftermath, he was clearly shaken up. During the course of the call, I wanted everything to be ok, neutralised, erased. This meant we ended up ending things fairly amicably. Two things really stayed with me.

“I don’t know what being an adult means,” he said, boyishly.

“Being an adult means taking responsibility,” I replied, with sudden knowledge.

That’s it. That’s what it means.

Processing 

I told a close female friend a few days later. “How can I best support you?” she asked. It is the support of other people, which I am so fortunate to have around me, that started a process of healing, reflection and renewal.

I don’t want to feel any of these feelings. They feel so much bigger than me.

For the first month, my thoughts, dreams and fantasies were invaded. My reaction to things, things which felt random and inoffensive, disarmed me. I spent a long time not feeling like myself. Like a stranger in my own body.

I couldn’t listen to certain songs because the lyrics were too on-the-nose.
I feared sensory pleasure and tensed up at the thought of a sex scene on TV.
I felt sick thinking about other bodies being sexual.
I felt bewildered and intimidated thinking about my own body being sexual.
I felt reticent to exercise, I was afraid of sweat.
I was continually restless.
I lacked resolve.
I sat still a lot. I moved around a lot. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

I had very visceral flashbacks from that night. They intercepted my vision, disrupting my interior world. I felt like a faulty television set which blinks back to the same channel, no matter how many times I try to change what’s on. I was held captive by these invasive images which flared up in my free associations. Everything and nothing reminded me of what happened.

I imagined seeing him in the street. In a club. In a supermarket. In another country. I was trying to prepare myself. I still am.

Two weeks afterwards and my bruises were fading, only faint discolourings. Yellow-purple half moons or squashed berries blended into my skin, receding into my body’s memory. They persisted to remind me of what happened, that everything was not okay.

I sought professional support and legal advice. Both processes are ongoing. The initial bureaucracy of both was tiring, but every phone call I had with someone who listened, who made me feel heard, who let me cry and work through so many complicated, ugly and intrusive feelings, made me feel hopeful. They gave me faith that most people are like those people and not like the person who has left me with this reality. Articulating my experience in different ways – to friends and family, to medical professionals, to myself and for myself, to you – has never stopped being horrible and hard. But it has empowered me also, because it has helped me claim what happened through externalising it. As soon as you describe something, your mind becomes more spacious, and their action has less power.

The emotions I found hardest to handle were empathy and rage. The empathy especially, felt because of the fact he is a three-dimensional person who clearly had some understanding of the depravity of what he had done. It is a natural emotion but, initially, it was a huge hindrance to my own self-soothing. I was trying to take responsibility for him changing, in some vicarious way. It is important to recognise what you are and are not responsible for. Empathy and compassion are infinitely beautiful things which, whether directed outwards or inwards, are a direct source of comfort and salvation. Don’t misdirect them towards people who have actively abused these qualities. They may be hurting, but they have hurt you. Be compassionate towards yourself.

As for the rage…I thought about the obvious things. Post dog shit to his house, or something; sign his email address up to spam accounts. I have decided against these courses of action (for now, at least). Writing this is a vehicle to drive out many of these feelings, so I can move forwards.

The future

Thank you for sharing your insights with me and thank you for being a good person in the world.”

This was the last thing he said. This looks like a sincerely pleasant, mildly heartfelt and touching, goodbye, doesn’t it? It felt like that at the time. I am still confused by its apparent sincerity. I know that he meant it, that’s the weird thing.

It’s the fact that I can’t render this man monstrous in my mind’s eye, the fact that he doesn’t emerge with seven heads, breathing fire, spiked tongues hissing, dagger eyes rolling, that so addles my brain.

When I imagine someone who abuses, I see a dark, shady figure, faceless, ageless, timeless, who moves silently with profound intention. Who can run, dart, fly. I imagine someone who has no interests. No past. No home. Nothing they love. No pets. Few aspirations. Who doesn’t feel real pleasure.

This is, of course, the stuff of fantasy, but it underlies collective conception of who it is exactly that sexually assaults. Such nightmarish imaginings lurk in victim-blaming culture, in the stark statistics of reports versus arrests, and contribute to a sinister and prolific culture of trivialising sexual assault. Of ‘not all men’. The victim should have seen the abuser coming. Should have worn a longer skirt.

We should not be frightened of normality, or of all men. But in order for this basic fear to be assuaged, we need to recognise that we are a long way off from assault not being normalised.

There are no blurred lines in sex, just lines, plain and simple.

The only way to address how insidiously skewed the ways we talk about, regulate and teach sex is through education at every level, in schools and in workplaces. Only then can we truly discover it for ourselves, autonomously; talk about it, openly and without shame; and trust the majority of people, with the trust which only education empowers you to exercise, to love freely and respectfully.

It is not the responsibility of the victim to explain to an abuser what a boundary is before, during and after they have crossed it.

I reported him on the dating app and he was removed. That felt like a small victory. My friend assured me that it wasn’t small, but in my head all my attempts to claw back power were woefully meagre. In one phone call, the kind voice at the end of the line said, “Justice means different things to different people.” I don’t know what justice is for me, yet; how relatively big or relatively small it is.

I am so lucky to feel safe where I live and to have a strong support network. I know, for some people, one or both of those realities is not theirs. To you, I say: there are people you have never even met who care about you, and they really are a phone call away. Take a deep breath and pick up the phone.

I listened to Kate Tempest in a podcast recently. She was saying how creative acts, even if they come from something traumatising and frightening, are always beautiful. I am striving to take something beautiful from this.

I’ve been writing a lot, and I’m grateful to be writing this. I feel safer and less suspicious everyday. And I can now listen to music with lyrics.

Advice for readers 

♥ If you can, sleep a lot. It will help your body recover and your mind more clearly assess how you feel.

♥ My way of dealing with what happened was to go into ‘productive’ mode – proactively processing, busying myself, still loading up my days with things to achieve. If this is you, slow down and let yourself feel what has happened. This will feel scary, but it will help you. If you are struggling to motivate yourself in any way, start really, really small. You got out of bed and went to the shop and bought chocolate and milk? Yes queen!

♥ Try talking out loud to yourself about what you’re feeling. This will help you feel more in control and will prepare you for when you are ready to talk to other people.

♥ Speak to people when you are ready. There is no rush.

♥ Doing activities with your hands may help. I made cards for friends and did a bit of painting/online art classes. They really diverted my attention.

♥ Daily rituals, like yoga, can help you centre self-care.

♥ Practise noticing when something triggers you. This will strengthen you and make you more equipped to deal with life’s randomness.

♥ Don’t put pressure on yourself to report what happened. If you are thinking about it, research your options and speak to someone informed.

♥ You may feel confused or alarmed by directive emotions, such as desire, passion and anger, reawakening. Especially if the assault has made you feel passive or disinterested. Notice these emotions, and if they are causing you to actively want to do things – anything from masturbating to sending hate mail to the abuser – ask yourself what would be healthy for you and for your recovery. This allows you to be engaged in a continual process of coming back to yourself.

♥ If you can, light a candle and have a bath. Make or buy yourself your favourite food. These sensory activities will soothe your body.

♥ You may feel frustrated by people’s responses if you choose to share with people you know. Perhaps they will ask lots of questions, or not know what to say at all. Hold in your mind your reasons for telling them. It is more important that you have shared than what they say – unless, of course, if what they say or do helps you.

♥ If you seek support, which I encourage you to, the bureaucracy will be waring. What helped me was making a ‘Love Log’, in which I noted who I had called and if I had spoken to anyone. This allowed me to see these things as victories in the interim between reaching out and waiting for long-term support.

People to thank with all my heart

My cousin
My friends
My work colleague
Every health professional who answered the phone and let me speak
My family (though I haven’t told them, they’ve still been around)
Christine and the Queens
Survivors who have shared their testimonies
Survivors everywhere
Scarleteen, for this space to share











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How Can I Access Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in the UK?

A primer on accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare in the United Kingdom.

ALL sexual and reproductive healthcare in the UK is free through the NHS.

The best ways to access sexual and reproductive health services are through a GUM (genitourinary medicine)/sexual health/family planning clinic or through your GP. You do not need an NHS number to attend a GUM clinic — these services are available to everyone. To find out which services are available near you, you can check out the Sexwise website.

A great thing about going to a GUM clinic is that you can get a comprehensive sexual health check up with a doctor or nurse who works in sexual health. It can be your one-stop shop for contraception, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening and management of STI symptoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV and more.

If you need contraception

ALL contraception in the UK is free, including emergency contraception. There are many different methods of contraception available so you should be able to find something that suits you. These include contraceptive pills, the contraceptive patch, the vaginal ring, injectable contraceptives, implants, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). You can have a read about all the methods available in the UK on the Sexwise and Contraception Choices websites, or a range of contraceptive methods here at Scarleteen, so that you can come to your appointment with some information and any questions about the methods you’re interested in.

Emergency contraception comes in two forms – an intrauterine device or emergency contraceptive pills. Both forms of emergency contraception are available for free at GUM clinics, some GP clinics and some A&Es. Emergency contraceptive pills can also be bought over the counter at some pharmacies.

If you want to get tested for STIs 

Free at-home STI testing kits are available to many people in the UK (depending on where you live) and can be ordered online. These kits are for if you want to test for STIs and also have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you should see a nurse or doctor at your GP clinic or a GUM clinic instead.

The free STI testing kits are sent to your house in an unmarked confidential package. The tests usually involve collecting a urine sample for those with a penis and a vaginal swab for those with a vagina; these usually test for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Taking a vaginal swab is similar to inserting a (very tiny, very thin) tampon. There is also a blood test, usually for syphilis and HIV; this involves pricking your finger and squeezing out blood into a small tube. You can then post the samples back to the lab for processing for free – just pop the kit in any post box.

If you’ve got STI symptoms

If you have any symptoms, like unusual discharge from your vagina or penis, pain passing urine, pain in your pelvis or lower tummy, pain with sex, unusual vaginal bleeding (like during or after sex, or between periods), or rashes, lumps, bumps, or sores on or around your genitals, then you should be assessed by a healthcare professional at a GP clinic or GUM clinic.

If you need a cervical smear

A cervical (or Pap) smear is a test to help detect pre-cancerous changes in the cervix . All cisgender women or other people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 should be invited by letter. You should have a cervical smear every 3 years from age 25 to 49. After this, the test becomes less frequent. Even if you have had HPV vaccinations, you still should have regular cervical smears.

If you have not already, register with a GP in the UK. You will get a letter in the post just before you turn 25 inviting you to book an appointment at your GP clinic for a cervical smear. If you do not receive a letter, or you think you need a cervical smear and haven’t received a letter, contact your GP.

If you need an abortion 

Abortions are available for free through the NHS. You can either ask a GUM clinic or GP to refer you, or you can contact one of the following abortion providers directly:

Check out the NHS website for more information.

If you have been sexually assaulted

The UK has sexual assault referral centres which are 24-hour one-stop specialist services where you can receive medical care and counselling. Find your closest centre on the NHS website. You can also go to a GUM clinic, an accident and emergency department, or your GP clinic.

Check out the Sexwise and NHS websites for more information on finding those services.

The last thing you may feel like doing after being sexually assaulted is going to the doctor. However, you should ideally do this as soon as possible because you may be at risk of pregnancy or STIs. You can be given medications to reduce your risk of pregnancy and STIs after assault. You don’t have to report the assault to the police if you don’t want to: reporting isn’t required to get emergency contraception, medications to help prevent STIs or other kinds of care.

I’m a man who has sex with men. Where should I go?

You can visit your local GUM or GP clinic to discuss regular STI screening, relevant vaccinations that may be available to you for free (e.g. the HPV vaccine, hepatitis vaccines etc), pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and more.

What to expect at your appointment

If you have symptoms, are having a cervical smear, or are having an IUD inserted your nurse or doctor will likely need to examine you. Please don’t worry about pubic hair: your healthcare provider couldn’t care in the slightest if you have or haven’t shaved or waxed. It also doesn’t matter if you are currently menstruating. If you are feeling anxious, remember that the doctor or nurse you are seeing examines many people every day and this is as mundane for them as brushing your teeth is for you.

What about during the coronavirus pandemic?

The NHS is still open. Don’t avoid seeking healthcare you usually would during this time. Call your local GUM or GP clinic and they will advise you on what you can do during this time. They may try and manage your needs remotely, like by posting you medications you may require.

During the lockdown is also a great time to order an STI testing kit to your home.

While routine services may running at reduced capacity right now, all emergency services are functioning. If you have been assaulted, if you need emergency contraception, if you are feeling unwell, or if you need an abortion, you will still be able to receive these services and more. For example, some clinics are now posting medical abortion pills to patients, and you can still get help from a sexual assault referral centre (SARC) during the coronavirus outbreak. You can contact your GP clinic, GUM clinic, or go to A&E if you need any sexual and reproductive healthcare.











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