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True Story: How To Reclaim Your Sex Life After Surviving Sexual Assault

It Got Better
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How To Deal
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I Was Raped
An account of sexual assault at Amherst College. Read More »
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One in every five women has been sexually assaulted. And most of those assaults happen before the age of 25. I am a woman. I’m 25 years old, and I am part of the 20 percent of women who have been raped.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to accept about myself, and it’s one that’s not frequently talked about.

This summer, I met a guy, and for the first time since my rape, I wanted to have sex with someone. I scoured the Internet for advice and found nothing. I was so nervous about having sex, but had no one to talk to about my concerns. It wasn’t going to be my first time, but it certainly felt like it. My first time again, if you will, and I needed some advice.

What I want to say to those of you who have also been affected by sexual assault is that sex isn’t frightening. It’s fun. And it can be great, if you let it to be. There are a few speed bumps to that road. It’s not going to be as easy for you as for the 80 percent of women who are nervous and excited in all the normal ways. For us, it’s a little different.

Every sexual trauma is different, and I can only speak for myself, but these were the major concerns that arose for me and how I chose to go about solving them.

Finding “The Person”: I refer to this person as “training wheels.” And finding him should be the easiest part of the equation. Your training wheels will help you find your footing in remembering how to ride a bike (or a person in this case), and you’re going to want them to be awesome. First and foremost, find someone you like. Someone you’re attracted to. Someone you want to have sex with. This might sound incredibly obvious. Why would you try to have sex with someone you’re not into? But believe me, I contemplated it. Just to get it over with, I told myself. But ultimately, I waited until I found someone I couldn’t stop thinking about having sex with, which is really how I knew I was ready.

To Tell or Not To Tell, That Is The Question: No one wants to lead in the bedroom with, “So, I should tell you, I’ve been raped …” In fact, it’s something I try not to tell people because it’s something that I don’t want to immediately define me. But the problem is that with sex in particular, that experience does define me. And if you feel the same way about your own experience, it’s something that you’re going to need to communicate to your partner. You may think it’ll scare them off, but I guarantee there’s a miniscule chance of that. And if by that incredibly small chance he does reject you based on that admission, run far far away — he’s not worth your time or your body. I was initially too scared to tell my partner, and though it worked out, it was only because I was able to avoid certain triggers.

Location, Location, Location: I decided I was going to have sex before the night even began. (Yes, ladies, that is how control of the situation you are … believe it). I called him up, asked him if he wanted to sleep over, and boom, 20 minutes later, he was in my apartment. This is because I wanted the main event to be on my ground, AKA, my bed. I found it comforting to be in my own bed and surrounded by my own things. I knew that if things went badly, I’d be able to send him home (as opposed to making a sleuth escape). As soon as he came over, we both knew what was going to happen, but I was nervous he’d be able to tell how inexperienced I was. Word of advice: as soon as you’re naked, it won’t even cross his mind.

What Positions Are Best?: This was something I was particularly worried about, especially since I hadn’t told my partner what the hell was going through my mind. Because of this, I found it extremely helpful to let him lead. Specific things to keep in mind: any sort of face-to-face position will be best. This will allow you to stay present and keep your eyes on who you’re currently with. Also, if having your hands and feet pinned down might trigger you, make sure you can move them around at your leisure.

Dirty Talk: What Should I Say?: For those of you who don’t want to keep your eyes open the entire time to stay in the present, try talking. It sounds a little silly, but this helped me stay in the moment the most, even when my eyes drifted closed. Plus, your partner will appreciate hearing if he’s doing something right. And on the flip side of that, if something isn’t right, you can turn it into dirty talk without immediately bringing up your trauma. For example (Mom, don’t read this), “I like it when you hold my hands, but I love raking my nails down your back even more.” With a statement like this, he gets immediate satisfaction from being told I’m enjoying myself, and I get the use of my hands back without feeling like a victim.

Finding a connection through sex after being raped has been a lengthy learning process. For years, I compartmentalized sex into a little scary, violent box, but I know now it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be in control of the entire situation. And you should be able to ask for what you want and need sexually.

Sex is a healthy part of adult relationships, and it’s something I’m so happy to have reclaimed.

Charlotte Lewis is a writer’s assistant for the CW show “Hart Of Dixie” and a blogger for The UNDERenlightened.com.

[Photo Thinkstock]

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