This article contains details about rape and sexual assault.
If there was a comprehensive list about how to have sex after sexual assault, I would have been all over that bitch in a heartbeat. How do you have sex without feeling like you’re going to have a meltdown/pass out/throw up/insert your own alternative here? The thing is, I don’t have an answer to that. And my god, I wish I did, because it would have solved so many failed sex attempts and panic attacks while trying to get in between the sheets with cute uni boys and people from Tinder (OK, mainly just people from Tinder).
I’m quite candid about my sex life – candid enough to publish all the dirty details in Debate. And so I’ll just slip in here that before October last year, sex was an activity I could do with little to no qualms. Boys were polite, respectful and listened to what I had to say, both in and out of the bedroom. That was until I met a boy at a party who was not polite or respectful and didn’t listen when I said no.
Since that night, it's been a bit of a struggle to get into bed with someone, understandably. PTSD is a very real and valid thing, so no doubt going right back to a place where I was hurt is a tough thing. I’ve managed to find ways to cope, and while they may not work for everyone, they may work for you.
1. Register that your head and your body are not on the same wavelength. While your brain may know that you’re in a safe place and you won't be hurt, it's a lot harder to convince your body, and that's okay. People react to trauma in a multitude of different ways. Don’t be afraid to tell your sexual partner that you’re hesitant, and if they don’t respond well to that, leave them and have sex with someone who cares about your mental health.
2. Remember that it's okay to seek reassurance from people you’re having sex with. I recently saw a man I’ve been on/off with for years, and we did the deed, if you know what I mean. He told me beforehand that it was OK if I was emotional – I do trust this man, but he was also the person that introduced me to my rapist, much to his dismay. We were having sex and I felt uncomfortable so told him to stop, and I burst into tears. Despite the fact my rape was months ago, I’m still affected by it, and it’s totally natural. He held me as I cried and reassured me that it was OK, no matter how many times I apologised – not that I had anything to apologise for. There is no time limit on how long you can be affected by rape. Everybody reacts differently, and it's not a thing you can get over straight away. If your partner doesn’t register that you will be different after assault, honey throw the whole partner away.
3. Remember that you are as worthy of respect as you were before the assault. That doesn’t change, regardless of what happened. You deserve a sexual partner who respects you and your decisions, regardless of the nature of the relationship. Longtime partner, Tinder hookup, cute uni pal you met once and boned, it does not matter – you still deserve all the respect in the world.
The fact is, there is no definitive list, because everyone is different. Everyone responds in different ways, and there is no right or wrong way to react to traumatic events, and so long as you are looking after yourself, you’re doing a great job. You don’t need to jump into sex, regardless of anything. It’s OK to not cope. It's OK to panic. It's OK to worry. It's OK to be scared. All of these uncomfortable feelings are valid.
Anyone that tells you how to react to trauma can sit in back to back tutorials for the rest of their lives, because we don’t want them here. Whenever you feel ready to jump back into the bedroom – or the couch, or the back of the car, there is no discrimination here – go hard (pun intended). Sex can be wonderful, and while it’s awful that someone has ruined that experience for you, you’re allowed to take your body and those experiences back. So grab life – and your partner – by the balls, the hair, whatever body part they have, and go live your best life. Free condoms are available at the AUT doctors' offices and at the AUTSA reception.
If you or anyone you know needs support after being sexually assaulted, here’s where you can go:
HELP: a counselling service for women and families
Phone: 09 623 1700 – 24 hour crisis line
Website: www.helpauckland.org.nz and www.dearem.nz
Better Blokes: a service for men and childhood sexual assault survivors
Phone: 021 174 9252 or 09 889 2553
Tu Wahine Trust: Kaupapa Maori provider delivering counselling, therapy and support to Maori women, children, and families affected by violence and abuse
Phone: 09 838 8700