Content note: This story contains details about sexual assault.
I wish I could forget my rape.
Surely other survivors share a similar sentiment, a collective longing for a magical erase button. Naïve at nineteen, I visited my best friend in college, glad to assert my newfound independence in her faraway town. To be abused somewhere I felt safe among peers seemed like a cosmic blow to my struggling self-esteem. Though I didn’t realize it then, my path to healing would be tormented by uncertainty, weakness, and exacerbated by my detachment. A stranger in my own skin, I once thought I’d never find comfort in my body again.
Experiencing orgasm seemed like a myth perpetrated by television. As a late bloomer, I also never experimented much due to my delicate blend of Catholic guilt and repression. I barely comprehended my sexual trauma, let alone how to rebound from my violation.
Rape is a weapon of war. It’s a forceful invasion on personal property, a pillage rooted in heteropatriarchy, destruction, demoralization. Coming to terms with sexual assault can mean facing humiliation, tribulation, or possibly ostracization, factors made even more discouraging during adolescence. Escapism or avoidance are normal defense strategies. By unpacking our pain, however, we learn to master our psychological scripts, to rewrite our own narratives. When my assault happened, I badly wanted to return to my routine, to lead a healthy love life like my friends. Stunted in my sexual exploration, I had no choice but to start anew, enduring my memories on a panic-inducing loop. In striving to maintain stability since, I’ve learned it will always be an ongoing battle for me, but a possible feat. Scarleteen readers confronting a comparable situation should know there’s hope for you too.
Whether sexually inexperienced or wondering how to regain sexual agency, assault survivors should prepare for an introspective undertaking into a rewarding domain. Reclaiming our right to pleasure combats apathy by demonstrating our capacity to enjoy again. While we can’t reverse rape, recovery begins when we remember we have alternatives.
Heal, Take Time To Process
It’s important to grieve what’s lost. I repeated this to myself frequently following my sexual assault, sourcing strength from a sheer resolve to retain my identity. Though I didn’t want the trauma to change me, I still couldn’t deny my resulting shame. I also thought I’d never crave sex again. Worse, I feared I lost even my ability to lust.
Looking back, I realize the first step toward healing is accepting what happened frankly, weighing facts not as ammunition, but as a channel to recoup control. Rather than fixating on small details, you can tangibly acknowledge your assault, and accept you may be different due to it. As complex human beings, we comprise the sums of multiple junctures in our lives, not just a singular episode. Rape isn’t the end of the road. Consider it a new start to your chosen journey of discovery. Heartache can convert to cultivated resilience when remedied with bravery and the conviction to mend, forgive yourself, and remember all wounds inevitably improve. All you may need is some time.
Don’t Force It
It helps to understand what cues your trauma responses in order to avoid them or see them coming so you can be ready to manage them.
If having sex or masturbating isn’t appealing, you don’t have to feign desire to meet some unspoken criteria. Maybe you won’t have sex for another year, or perhaps you’ll feel aroused again soon after your rape. Determining I wasn’t ready yet, I abstained for at least six months. I even found masturbating difficult. Whatever your own time frame, strive to patch your psychological injuries alongside your physical ones. You can build trust by socializing with friends, meditating to practice mindfulness , or search for another form of emotional relief. After my assault, I attended more local drag shows, which provided a happy distraction from my anguish.
Most of all, I learned to stop suppressing my feelings, anticipating I’d miraculously rehabilitate. Crying, hopelessness, and confusion are standard reactions to distress, and circumvention is rarely conducive to recovery. Don’t shun whatever your personal healing process is.
Work To Consciously Change Mindsets
Recognize sex as potentially pleasurable. When we choose it, it is a consensual liberty we can make willingly, wantonly, and, when others are involved, with mutual respect. A mind-body disconnect is a common coping mechanism among many survivors, and can remain long after your assault. Fostering physical intimacy can empower from within.
To repair entrenched sexual trauma, try to consciously change your mindset first. It’s normal to initially shy from your mirror due to dysmorphia or embarrassment. To nurture a raw love for my rallying body, affirmations such as I will feel safe again and It’s not my fault helped me during my own recuperation. Aside from positive associations, you can also address any underlying agitators you may have. I’ve spent years unraveling subtle ways I repressed my lust during youth, including never masturbating and disguising the word “vagina” with a euphemism. You can explore your anatomy, and don’t be afraid to follow natural curiosities. Only we control our own sexual gratification.
Reconnect With Yourself
For sexual assault survivors, reaching orgasm can feel like a litmus test for mental endurance.
Beyond prior preparation, attaining a pleasing peak demands patient determination to relax and let loose. Before you become intimate with someone else, I suggest you reacquaint yourself with personal gratification. You can explore extra avenues of desire to get in-tune with your needs, like physical touch, erotica, or sex toys. Listen to your intuition. Experiment with masturbation when you feel comfortable and safe enough. It’s okay if your experience is conclusively anti-climactic. I bought my first vibrator at twenty, and didn’t orgasm until a year later. With any partners, communicate your preferences and establish clear consent agreements and boundaries, but don’t push your threshold if you’re suddenly taken out of the moment.
When I first asked my therapist how to reclaim my sexuality, she suggested respiratory techniques to ensure I’m grounded in the present. For example, breathe deeply through your abdomen to boost circulation and decrease tension, directing concentration toward your pelvic area. Though it’s instinctual to hold your breath when almost reaching climax, try to resist the urge. With this awareness, you’ll gradually grasp that easing up enhances satisfaction. To counteract distractions, I also focus on my physical surroundings or somatic sensations during sex or masturbation, which allows me to orgasm easier. Continue testing your own trial and errors.
Check-In When You Check-Out
Don’t be alarmed by disassociation. Zoning out can happen anytime, anywhere, even when you are enjoying yourself. Many survivors describe sexual fulfillment as an unpredictable minefield after sexual assault; as a subtle switch from ecstatic to numb. I’ve also come to predict these obstacles every so often, whether masturbating or achieving orgasm otherwise. At first, I can be excited to test a new position with my boyfriend, consumed in heartfelt passion. In the next minute, I’m suddenly sobbing because a specific maneuver awakened my latent trauma. While every case differs, I’m left equally shaken each time.
Don’t give yourself a hard time when your body abruptly relives a past event. You’ll undeniably be jolted from your pursuit, but the prospect isn’t gone forever. You can work through these foggy episodes to creep closer to orgasm, presumably while also nearing reassociation. Drink warm water or tea, exercise your ligaments, and be sure to slow your breathing once more. Check in to notice when you’re checking out.
Open Up and Find Support
Vulnerability warrants measured courage. While opening up about assault may be difficult to contemplate, finding reliable people to talk to ultimately makes a significant difference. I attend weekly therapy sessions. With new partners, I try to speak honestly about my trauma when I’m secure enough. Sporadically, I also turn toward the Internet to research complex topics, like rape trauma syndrome and secondary victimization. Whether to a paid professional or a close friend, articulating your feelings help gain outside perspective, and highlight what requires attention. Turning thoughts to words can also later transform guilt into healthy coping mechanisms. For many, it’s also cathartic.
If you’re uneasy about revealing your identity, online anonymity is another viable option for those seeking support. In addition to working directly with survivors, Scarleteen’s forums promote inclusive discussions on sex education to soothe your concerns.
Remember: Recovery Isn’t Linear
Welcome failure as a learning curve. Scars may fade, but it’s impossible to simply brainwipe sexual assault.
Years have passed since my rape, and it still haunts my nightmares on occasion. Sometimes, my subconscious slips farther into darkness, swelling with vivid flashbacks of my incident. I have days I believe I’ve made no headway, even after orgasm or sustaining an intimate relationship.
No one has a tidy trajectory toward self-growth. One instant you may be invigorated, and the next, reality can prove more grueling than expected. I know regression can make it seem as if all progress has been lost, but setbacks are also part of our individual endeavors. Float in your emotional riptides today, so that tomorrow you’ll be free to feel again. Only by embracing the negative can we fully lean into our deepest desires, fears, and discomforts. I’m still understanding this too.