Trigger warning for survivors and cosurvivors of sexual abuse or assault.
As a physical therapist who works with (mostly) women with pelvic pain and dysfunction, I am reading “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life” by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
Many of my clients either cannot have sex at all or at least not without pain. Pain during sex is NOT normal. I don’t give a damn what your GYNs may say. They’re wrong.
So I teach my clients relaxation techniques that are similar to mediation. I teach them how to breathe (so many don’t), how to contract their muscles (many don’t properly) and how to get back in touch with their bodies, literally and figuratively. Many of them are sexual abuse and/or assault survivors.
It helps them when I share that I, too, use to have pain with sex, with pelvic exams and with tampon use. I also often share that I, too, was sexually abused.
I explain to them the anatomy and physiology of arousal. Many are surprised to know that, for the most part, arousal is blocked when we are stressed. Past negative sexual experiences can affect our current sexual experiences as well. Even when we feel safe. Even when we feel love towards our current partners. Even when we want to have sex with them.
So, here I am, reading this book knowing these things and I’m hit with a concept I had never considered. I’ve had sex, more often than I’d care to admit, out of obligation and fear of assault than out of desire. I threw up a little in my mouth with this awareness.
Yes, I just said that. Me. A sexually liberated woman has had sex when she didn’t really want to. And she didn’t fight it because she was more afraid of being raped than she was of being (out of obligation) consenting.
Yeah, Holy (insert explicitive) Cow, Batman! Seems I need a superhero to save me from myself.
I’m counting and only 2:5 men I’ve had sex with were truly consensual on my part. The rest were obligatory. I feared my survival or that they would force me. So I didn’t stop them. That’s not consent.
In having experienced the “freeze response” with the loss of bodily control in the face of imminent danger (think possum), I preferred to allow men to do what they needed without putting on the brakes in fear they would then try to force it.
2:5 only includes men who had sex with me. This does not include those who kissed me when I didn’t want or touched me in ways I didn’t want. So that ratio would look worse if I included men with whom I had sexual encounters that did not end with sex. That’s a more challenging figure to calculate.
Dogs are given to chase if the cat runs. I calculated my risks and determined it was better to not run…for risk of also freezing and losing all control.
I wish I could say never again. This is my hope, of course, and awareness is the first step to change.
So now I go about allowing myself to feel shame so that I can allow myself to forgive myself, thus reducing my likelihood of repeating this pattern. I used the tools I’ve listed below to help me through the tough parts.
This was a huge pill to swallow. Yet I see where I repeated this pattern and where I shamed myself for it afterwards. This has blocked me from being more open and intimate. Now I choose to let it all move through and away from me.
It is my hope that I can pass less shame onto my children with this work that I am doing here. May they never have to experience this, nor be the perpetuation of it either.
Techniques to clear emotions: