Content note: the following contains detailed description of rape, sexual intimacy post-rape and re-victimisation.

"I’m sick of feeling like I have to provide a reason or excuse for what I do and do not feel comfortable with in the bedroom"pxhere.com

I’ll begin this article with a disclaimer. This is the article I’m most nervous about writing, and I’ve been putting it off for a while. Its subject matter is, well, intimate, and what I want to say feels to me less explicable than in past weeks. Here goes.

After I was raped, for a short while sexual intimacy was something I didn’t want to think about. The whole thought of it physically repulsed me. I spent a lot of time watching TV in bed to try to switch off, and had to pick shows very selectively to avoid anything which might have a sex scene because I couldn’t stomach watching the thought of watching one (my top recommendation here is The Thick of It, if you’re ok with Tucker’s sexually-aggressive language).

There wasn’t a miraculous day when I suddenly felt that I was ready to re-engage. Rather, it was a gradual process of being able to watch rom coms again, being attracted to people again, finding myself in a situation where it felt natural to get with someone for the first time post my rapist. I didn’t have a game plan here, which led to some unpleasant mornings unpicking the night before, working out how I felt about the milestones I hadn’t planned on crossing.

I was somewhat surprised by my own inclination towards honesty. The first guy I brought back I very openly told “I was raped a few weeks ago so we’re not going to have sex, but you’re welcome to stay over”. The reactions have been a mixed bag – some bland “I’m sorry to hear that”s, alongside a more rogue “what happened?” (pro tip: if someone tells they’ve been raped, don’t press them for details), and a sad “me too”.

It is a documented but under-explored phenomenon that victims of rape and sexual assault are more likely to experience the same thing again

Of course, I appreciate this honesty isn’t for everyone. It’s something I’m trying to wean myself away from now, because I’m sick of feeling like I have to provide a reason or excuse for what I do and do not feel comfortable with in the bedroom: I should not feel that my boundaries need explaining.

Sexual intimacy post-rape is a strange and completely individual thing. There’s a real lack of resources online: some helpful blog pieces exist, but the majority of articles frame their advice in the context of you being in a loving long-term relationship, which isn’t where I’m at. I don’t pretend to have the solutions, but I’m offering up another personal perspective – and some hope that these things get better.

For me, the biggest issue has been associating sex and related acts with pain. I was left with genital injuries which sent me to A&E and left me on bed rest for a week. This can make it pretty hard to remember that some things are meant to be pleasurable.

I find it hard to immerse myself in the moment because I have a constant double awareness of keeping check of what’s going on, probing myself for how I feel about it, and, as necessary, setting limits. If the person I’m with does something I’m not expecting it throws me. I’m very sensitive to the levels of drunkenness (of both parties); I’m not a big fan of anything that feels aggressive. While I’ve got good at saying “no, I don’t like that”, it makes for a somewhat stilted encounter. It’s slow progress, but things have been getting easier and more comfortable. I’ve got better at being patient with myself and to listening to my gut.

I think I’ve began to realise that my old idea of the normal I should recover towards has its flaws

The less pretty side to this narrative of recovery is re-victimisation. It is a documented but under-explored phenomenon that victims of rape and sexual assault are more likely to experience the same thing again: for a general explanation, this video is informative.

Re-victimisation is a way of processing trauma. Putting yourself back in the same or a similar scenario, replaying it – to see if this time you can gain control of the situation, or get a more satisfactory outcome. I found myself returning to set-ups similar to the rape because I wanted to try to better understand why it had happened. I guess there’s a part of my brain that was attracted to a narrative of ‘winning’; of feeling I was able to deal with a rape-like scenario ‘well’ so I could stop feeling so vulnerable.

It takes time and distance to process these feelings and gain that kind of critical analysis; for a long time I didn’t really understand what I wanted or why I was doing it. I guess there’s also an extent to which any drunk hook-up has certain shared features, so it’s hard to draw a line between me trying to replay the night I was raped and me getting back to ‘normal’ by doing what used to happen before.


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What I do know is that this led to me not always feeling happy about what happened. I’m still not sure how to describe an experience I had after being raped, but an objective observer would probably term it sexual assault. It was unpleasant – less so in itself for me this time, but more in the memories it stirred up, the emotions it revived. I felt guilty that I had ‘let’ the same thing happen to me again, but of course it wasn’t that simple.

Being raped has also made me more critically reflective of previous sexual encounters. Things I brushed off as no big deal, or just accepted as ok seem less so – I’m a lot more sensitive to the gender dynamics of sex and the blurriness of consent in a drunk hook-up scenario. I think I’ve began to realise that my old idea of the normal I should recover towards has its flaws: it’s ok to want to do things a little differently now

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