One in four women and one in five men is sexually assaulted in North America, but not everyone who is assaulted handles it in the same way. Every experience is different, every experience is equally as damaging. That being said, there are many different strategies for coping. Some may choose to immediately jump back into having sex as a way to replace traumatic experiences with new, positive ones. Others may choose to avoid all physical interaction, not just sex, but any kind of touch for a long time. There is no right way to deal with an experience like this. It is a process of trial and error, and finding out what is right for you.  

I have been sexually assaulted. I was young and had no concept of what sex was. It took me a long time to learn that what had happened to me wasn’t sex: sex requires consent and what happened to me was not consensual. It took even longer to be able to rebuild my sexual identity. I started with therapy, which was a great tool for me. There, I was able to focus on the feelings of shame and self-resentment that the assault had brought up in me; coming to terms with the fact that what happened was not my fault. This process did not happen overnight, but did help me to make strides with my mental health and learning to love myself again.  

Everyone will tell you that a support system is essential, and I am no different. Because of my specific situation, I was not able to rely on my family for support. So instead, I found my support system in my friends. Through the ups and downs, the lying and hiding, the many long and tearful conversations, my friends were always there for me. When I came to university, my support system expanded to include my new friends as well. Being able to confide in these people became a large part of my healing process. Sometimes it can be hard to bring up traumatic experiences in conversation because I worry it will make other people feel uncomfortable. My friends always tell me that I am not a burden and neither is my story. This has helped me to become comfortable telling my story and in turn, has helped me deal with it. Not only did they help me learn to trust and to love, but they also taught me about what a healthy sexual relationship should be. Through listening to their stories and being a part of those conversations with them, I learned so much. With the help of my friends and my therapist, I was able to slowly rebuild my sexual identity. I learned about who I was and what I wanted.  

Walking down the street one night with my roommate and best friend, I confidently declared that I was ready to have sex. This did not mean I was going to jump on the next guy I saw, but meant that I had finally reached a mental and physical state where the thought of having sex didn’t make my skin crawl. This was something I could finally do for myself. 

For me, it was easier to think of having sex with someone I didn’t really know and wouldn’t have to see again anytime soon. There was no particular reason for this except that I am not really a relationship person. I don’t require a personal or emotional connection to feel comfortable with idea of having sex with someone.  

So one night, I went out with my friends and met this guy at a bar. We flirted, we talked, and when I was sure that I was going to go home with him, I told him that I had been assaulted. This was a big moment for me because I felt confident in what I wanted, but was also nervous as fuck. He immediately took his hands off of me, worried that he had crossed a line. I made it very clear that I had limits, but I would tell him if I felt uncomfortable in anyway. This moment was key. I outlined my boundaries without having to give an explanation for them and he listened. It was a quick, but vital conversation and I would not have been able to move forward without it. I was terrified that he was going to just walk away and decide that this was too much to handle, that I was too much to handle. I was pleasantly surprised with his reaction or more a non-reaction. He reassured me that he had heard what I said, and was willing to continue the night if I was. And I was.  

My first experience after being assaulted was great. I can’t say that it was completely painless, but it hurt in the way that all of my friends had warned me about and not in a way that made me think about my past experiences. After years of learning about myself and learning to love who I was, I went into my first time feeling comfortable with myself and the situation. It was a totally new feeling.  

This positive experience has helped me to make new memories. I no longer associate my assault with sex because I have learned that they are two very different things. My assault was this awful thing that happened to me, but sex is this positive, consensual decision that I had made and continue to make. And while the assault will always be a part of my story, it does not hold me back from having sex when I want to. 

 

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