Happy Sex After Rape: My Search for Pleasure After Trauma.
TRIGGER WARNING: This writing contains frequent references to rape and sexual assault, and while there are no graphic descriptions, it could be distressing for anyone who has triggers around these areas. I have tried to write this as tastefully as possible.
This is a topic that is incredibly close to my heart — it is the reason I have studied therapy, the reason I keep pushing to become successful in my field, and the reason I will never stop striving to learn more about the heart, the mind and the subconscious.
I touch on this in a far deeper way in my book and in the course I am creating, however I feel it is something I want to talk about now regardless. So many women carry shards of the same story, so many people close to me are still searching for happy intimacy after traveling for a long time down a road of self-loathing, shame and fear. My heart breaks for every girl who has experienced sexual trauma, because I know too well how long it is carried by the body and heart.
Six years on, and I still carry pieces of one shitty night and the interactions and events that unfolded afterwards.
I was raped when I was 15. Most people know this already, I’m not shy about it, I’m not ashamed of it (anymore) and it is something I will talk about and keep talking about until I have nothing left to say, because the voices of victims and survivors need to be heard.
Our journeys need to be respected and understood, and when I Google things like books on sex after rape and variations of this phrase, I need something more than a whole host of books written for the partners and families of victims to show up. I need something that doesn’t have words like coping, surviving and recovery in the title.
People need to wrap their heads around the fact that people who survive rape and sexual abuse and assault still want to have awesome sex.
The idea might scare us silly, and we might not be all that great at achieving this wonderful and life-affirming sex, but we absolutely do fucking want it.
We are people. Before survivors and before victims, we are human beings. We had lives before it happened, and we have lives afterwards, and the acts that are forced upon us should not define our lives afterwards — in or out of the bedroom.
I am not writing this as a professional sex therapist. While I am trained and certified in various fields of therapy, I am writing this as a woman who has blossomed and is still blossoming after sexual trauma. I am writing this as a woman who is a sexual being, and was a sexual being before she was raped, and regardless of the struggles faced afterwards, someone who still wanted to have happy, joyful, fulfilling and intimate sex be a part of her life.
Can we have less How to Support Your Poor Fragile Victim Wifey-Wife, and more How to Take Back Your Body and Have a Flaming Hot Sex Life, please?
I have no issue admitting that I was sexually active from what is, comparative to some, a pretty young age. I lost my virginity at 14. It was sensual and fun and communicative, everything sex should be, and exactly what I would hope for anyone’s first time. I had a couple of semi-serious boyfriends who lasted a few months each, but looking back, I was just dipping my toe in the pool of what relationships could be.
I had spent most of my life receiving the subliminal message from media and other women around me that a girl’s primary goal in life was to find and secure a boyfriend to validate her existence as a human being and woman, and that message shaped how I viewed and chose partners.
In the time leading up to my attack, I played with what I thought sex was, experienced it in various forms with my partners and solo, and generally considered myself a healthy young woman with a harmonious sex drive and a great relationship with her body.
I knew what I wanted and how to communicate effectively to get it, and I knew how to find out what my partner wanted and give it to them. Sex was a beautiful dance of giving and taking. Sure, looking back, I would love to have a few words with my younger self about her (terrible) choice of partners, but she was in tune with her body, and she wasn’t likely to put up with a guy who didn’t know how to give her an orgasm (bravo, young Esther, bravo!).
I understand some people might feel very uncomfortable with the idea that someone under the age of 16 could experience actual sexual feelings and actual happy sex before the legally assigned age where people are suppose to become sexual beings in this country (16). However, I want to offer an understanding of the stark difference between my relationship with sex before and after the rape.
I’ve had a few people ask if I regret jumping in so early, and my honest answer is No. It was exactly right for who I was, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
After my attack, I went through such a roller coaster of feelings and emotions. Primarily, there was an immense mistrust in men, and a lot of shame and disgust directed at my body.
I began self-harming, not as a stress-release, but as a way to punish myself for having allowed it to happen, for not having fought harder, and for having the kind of body someone would want to do that to. I didn’t like to be hugged or touched, and I flinched when people came up behind me or made sudden movements around me.
For a while, I wasn’t even comfortable masturbating, and when I did attempt it, I would more often than not have an intense flashback, and spend the rest of the day in a zombie-like state of distress and detachment. If I was reading or watching a film and a sex scene came up, I had to swallow the bile in my throat and close the book or leave the room, sometimes childishly covering my ears and closing my eyes, waiting for the next scene to come on.
Nevertheless, I continued dating, and continued having incredibly dysfunctional sex.
I wanted to take back my body, I wanted pleasure to be on my terms, and I wanted to be seen as desirable only when I said so. During sex, I would either break down halfway through and need to stop, or completely disconnect from what was going on and wait for it to be over… horrible as it sounds, I would make the appropriate noises, but my heart and my body weren’t in it.
I so desperately didn’t want it to have beaten me though, so I just kept at it like a dog chewing on an old bone even though there was nothing left, even though I needed to heal before I could have happy sex again.
A little before I turned 18, I became very interested in BDSM, and shortly after, I became heavily involved in the Kink/Fetish scene. I attended events and munches*, and explored almost every avenue of the fetish scene as I searched for a place where I could safely and comfortably rediscover my sexuality. I found the scene to be an incredibly healing and welcoming place during this time.
*Munch: the term used to describe a casual gathering usually held at a pub or bar, and often involving homemade cakes/biscuits where members of the Kink scene go to meet other like-minded people and make friends.
It was a world built around safe-words, consent, and communicating your desires and needs with your play partners. I had found somewhere I could set the parameters for what I was comfortable with and how far things would go.
If I wanted to push my own boundaries with someone I trusted, I could, safe in the knowledge that everything would stop the instant I spoke my safe-word, and if I simply needed things to slow down, I could utter the world Yellow and bring things back to a place I felt comfortable.
I began exploring the sensations my body had to offer again, from simply being comfortable being touched platonically, to seeing how I felt about completely handing over control, being tied up, blindfolded and led around. I used kink as a tool to find trust in my own body again, and find a way to be able to trust others with it in a safe environment.
I explored being the dominant partner and having complete control, and I tentatively found ways and people I felt able to explore being submissive with. Still among all the play, the safe-words, the rope and wax and feathers, when it came to sex I had the same two reactions: panic and stop, or dissociate and keep going. Neither was healthy, and neither was happy.
A time after I became involved in the Kink scene, I decided in some flash of daring determination that I was curious about the world of adult entertainment, or more specifically, lap-dancing. There was a club nearby that I knew was hiring bar staff, and my intention had been to apply for some weekend work. But when I walked in to ask about applying, the role had been filled, and somehow I found myself asking if they needed dancers, and giving the manager my phone number.
A week later, I worked my first night stripping, and made £200 cash in hand. I felt empowered, independent, desirable, and most of all, strong. The first time I took my clothes off on stage was terrifying, and in no way perfect, and the first lap dance I gave was a mess: I got my bra stuck in my hair, and my earring hooked on my bracelet, but the customer was nice about it, and we simply laughed it off.
In my time dancing (almost two years) I had lovely customers and not-so-lovely customers. I learned quickly how to handle men, no matter how big, brawny or drunk they were. I developed rock-solid boundaries and highly tuned instincts. I learnt how to talk to people, how to approach people, how to defend myself, and how to make a man feel like his mother had just sucker-punched him with a few choice words if he chose to disrespect me.
I also spent a lot of time dancing naked to loud music, and drinking shots of tequila with women who became like my sisters.
I think a part of me started dancing to find a place where I was not only in control of what happened to my body, but also in control of how it was seen and used. I felt strong, beautiful and almost divine on that stage, curling myself around the pole, unashamed of my imperfections as I flaunted myself in front of strangers. I was like a big cat on the prowl as I stalked through the club choosing whom I would approach next. I was safe in my own domain, and I made the rules.
My body became my friend and ally when I became a dancer. Its curves stopped being dangerous to me, and became symbols of abundance. I was financially independent — in control of my life in so many ways I had not been before. My sexuality stopped being frightening, and sensations of desire weren’t so chilling anymore. I could allow feelings to flow through me freely.
With a new awareness of my own strength, and ability to stand up for and protect myself when necessary, I suddenly felt comfortable in my own skin again. My body had stopped being my enemy, and with that newfound self-love, I no longer held feelings of shame and disgust around my body or my sexuality.
My body, however, still remembered everything it had been put through. I could be completely relaxed, totally at ease, and with someone I deeply loved and trusted, but one wrong move, and I was right back there. A simple sound or sensation could trigger a memory, and suddenly sex was happening to me, no longer an act I was an equal participant in.
More often than not, if I could relax enough to orgasm during intercourse, I would sob my heart out as soon as I came, leaving my partner confused and unable to understand what they had done wrong. At other times, I would have to excuse myself halfway through to vomit in the bathroom. Lovers’ hands stopped being loving in my mind, and I would scream and scratch and kick and run and hide, feeling ashamed and disappointed later.
I met my now-fiancé whilst I was a dancer, and found, for the first time, someone I could actually let myself go around. There are still occasions where a flashback is triggered and there are occasions when I cry halfway through. There are some positions and situations I can’t be put in, and may never be comfortable with, and I still feel the scars that one shitty night left on my psyche.
Even now I have issues around my body, my existence as a sexual being, and my relationship with pleasure. My self-esteem and body image are still healing; my feelings about the male body and male sexuality are adjusting. Having a man who is safe, loving and communicative in my life has made all the difference in the world, but I do still have a ways to go. Recently things have been much better.
When something triggers a memory in me, and fear spikes through my gut, I am learning to let go, and remember who I am with; that I am safe and loved.
My body will always want to protect me, as will my subconscious. When they think I am in danger, they’ll tell me with fear, but nowadays it is easier for me to swallow that feeling when it comes up and know where I really am. I know fear well; it spent a lot of time ruling my life. Now it is a friend, just like my body, and together we work to make sex safe and communicative and pleasurable, on my terms.
See, most of this recovering from rape happens in the bedroom.
It’s sticky stuff, no pun intended.
My healing didn’t happen in one of my eight counselling sessions inside the Sunflower Room at the Rape and Sexual Abuse Clinic.
Nor did it happen during one of my many psychotherapy appointments.
My healing happened in the strip clubs, under blue lights, in skimpy bikinis.
My healing happened at Fetish clubs in the middle of the night, holding the leash of some guy dressed like a dog wearing thigh-high leather boots.
It happened on the nights staying up until 3 in the morning, drinking whisky and crying and talking and making out.
My healing happened under the covers, it happened when I wept, when I shook, when I was unafraid to go back again and again and be in that place over and over, if it meant that one time out of ten I would be successful and become something more than a victim.
My healing happened when someone was strong enough to stay and hold me when I came apart, and simply be there as my wounds were torn open to be cleaned.
I am not a rape survivor.
I am a woman who was raped, and now I am a woman on a quest to take back her sex life, and have fun doing it!
Esther De La Ford is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist, Life Coach and Doula, and qualified at practitioner level in Stress Resilience training, Reiki and Seichem, and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). She uses these tools, and others she has gathered along the way, to create writing that introduces the idea that every woman has all the tools they need to begin their healing work already within themselves. Her deepest wish is for every woman to have the strength to step back into their power, to re-learn how to trust in their bodies and the deep-knowing we call intuition, and to know the full extent of everything they deserve and everything they can be. Her core philosophy, and what fuels her writing and her work, is that a woman empowered has the ability to empower others and so a woman standing in her power has the power to change the world. You could contact Esther via Facebook or Instagram.