Five Lessons I’ve Learned About Reclaiming Pleasure After Sexual Violence

Pleasure is complicated at the best of times. And reclaiming pleasure after you’ve experienced sexual violence can be an absolute minefield.

The first, last, and most important thing I want you to take away is this: your journey is your own. There is no correct way and there is no set path. To that end, this is not a how-to guide. It’s just a set of lessons I’ve learned.

Trigger warning for abuse, trauma, and sexual violence

Reclaiming pleasure after trauma is not a linear journey

It’s not a straight line. You won’t just get better and better each day until suddenly, you’ll find that you’re fully healed. At least, I don’t know any survivors whose experience has been this way.

You’ll have good days and bad days. Sometimes you might feel like you take two steps forward and one back. All of this is normal. It’s complicated, multi-faceted, and messy. You don’t need to berate yourself because it’s harder today than it was yesterday.

Be where you are today. Wherever that is, it’s okay.

A healthy sexual relationship with oneself can be immensely healing

“Sex” doesn’t have to involve another person unless you want it to. In fact, masturbation can be a really important part of healing from sexual violence and trauma.

Masturbation and solo sex is something you do entirely for yourself. You don’t have to perform or worry about pleasing someone else. You don’t even need to involve your genitals at all, if you don’t want to.

Self-touch is a wonderful way to get to know ourselves, to be kind and loving and gentle with ourselves. Pay attention to your body and what feels good. Do you just want to run your hands over your skin for now? Perfect, do that. Does using a wand vibrator through your clothes help you access pleasure in a way that feels safe? Amazing.

Your healing is for you. You don’t owe it to anyone else

I hear a lot from survivors who are anxious to recover or “get over” their experiences because they want to be able to give their partner a certain kind of sex. Sometimes this pressure comes from the partner. Other times, the partner is completely supportive and this pressure is internalised.

What I want to say to these survivors is this: your healing is for you.

Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to share awesome sex with your partner(s). But ultimately, it has to be for yourself first. No-one has the right to access to your body. Not even if you’ve been married for fifty years. You can’t heal for somebody else, and you don’t owe your partner(s) a certain kind of recovery.

There is no one correct version of healthy sexuality

Pleasure is many different things, and a healthy relationship with your sexuality means something different to everyone.

There’s a sadly very common narrative that says that promiscuity after trauma is by definition a sign of dysfunction, damage, or lack of healing. For me, it was the opposite. Having lots of hot, filthy, consensual sex with lots of different people has been tremendously healing, validating, uplifting, and a massive part of reclaiming pleasure and my relationship with my body after the abuse I went through.

Find what works for you. Monogamy or polyamory or singledom. Vanilla or kink. Masturbation or partnered sex. All the sex, or none of the sex. It’s all valid and there is no script.

Some things might never go back to the way they were

This was perhaps the hardest thing to learn when I started healing from my abuse experience and reclaiming pleasure and sexuality.

Abuse changes us. It has a deep, profound, and lasting impact. I know that the things I’ve experienced will, in some ways, be with me forever. I’ll never go back to the way I was before – not completely.

But that’s okay. Nothing stays the same forever, and every experience we have shapes and molds us. So no, I’ll never be the person I was before. But I can grow into someone else – informed by my experience, but not defined by it.

If you need crisis support after sexual violence, please contact RAINN in the USA and Rape Crisis in the UK.

The #SexEdSeptember logo, for a post about reclaiming pleasure after sexual violence

This post is part of my #SexEdSeptember series. If you find my work useful, you can help me keep doing this by buying me a coffee! This post contains affiliate links.

When Consensual Sex is Punished More Harshly than Rape (or: Smutathon – the Reason Why)

This post comes with a HUGE trigger warning for sexual violence from intimate partners, including while underage. Please feel free to skip this one or step away to care for yourself if you need to. It also carries a hefty dose of vulnerability and exposure of my personal traumas. Victim-blaming or doubt-casting comments will be deleted and the commenter permanently blocked. This is a one-strike-and-you’re-out deal.

The Rape Crisis England and Wales logo for a post about Smutathon and rapeThe Backlash UK logo for a post about Smutathon and rape

I was sexually assaulted for the first time by a classmate when I was twelve. It was “only” breast and crotch grabbing through clothing, but I was deeply troubled by and ashamed of it. It was three years before I could even begin to find words for what had happened, let alone how it had made me feel.

More than one of my early relationships were sexually violent. By the time I was fifteen, I’d been coerced into sex acts I absolutely did not consent to and was not ready for by a much older boyfriend.

At nineteen, I pushed a man away seconds before he penetrated me – penetration that I had explicitly said, repeatedly, was not on the table that night. On the second date with the same guy (yes, there was a second date) he pushed me to drink and drink and drink, before telling me he wanted me so black-out drunk that I wouldn’t remember anything in the morning. Later, our previously sweet online chats took a turn for the dark as he described his violent, graphic fantasies of raping me (fantasies, he made very clear, that were not about CNC but about Actual Genuine Rape.)

A year or two later, a boyfriend threw me out of the house for not acquiescing to sex. And on and on and on it goes. Sex became about obligation, pressure, coercion and survival. I became divorced from my own body, my own pleasure. They took me years to reclaim.

The point of all of this is to say that I didn’t understand until years later that sex under duress counts as rape or serious sexual assault, even if there was little or no physical force involved. I didn’t understand that as a minor, what happened to me at fifteen was statutory rape as well as sexual assault under coercion.

I didn’t seek any help until I finally got a therapist, long after it was all over. I dimly understood that places like Rape Crisis existed, but I thought they were only for people who’d been raped at gunpoint or assaulted by strangers in dark alleys. “My boyfriend uses the threat of the roof over my head to make me have sex I don’t want, and my other boyfriend tried to penetrate me against my explicit wishes once and is weirdly obsessed with getting me drunk and telling me graphic fantasies of raping me” just didn’t seem serious enough, somehow, especially as I’d also had consensual sex with both of these men and others.

I wish I’d known then what I know now – that Rape Crisis would have listened with sympathy, love and support, given me resources to help me get out of those relationships, and told me that in no way in the world was it my fault.

That’s why #Smutathon2017, my erotic-writing-for-charity challenge, supports Rape Crisis.

In all but one case, I didn’t even report because I knew I’d be putting myself through hell for a less than 1% chance of justice. None of the men who assaulted or abused me have ever suffered consequences of any kind.

The same, alas, cannot be said for the not-insignificant number of people over the years who have been punished (legally, financially, employment-wise and more) for engaging in completely victimless fringe sexual practices with other consenting adults. From 1987’s Spanner Case (in which a group of gay men were prosecuted for participation in consensual sadomasochism) to the infamous “tiger porn” case, to those who have been fired or had their kids taken away for participating in BDSM, sex work or pornography, sexual freedom is constantly under threat.

I cannot sit back and be okay with innocent, good people being prosecuted for consensual sex while only 0.6% of rapists ever see a day in jail.

And that is why #Smutathon2017 ALSO supports Backlash UK, an amazing organisation that defends freedom of sexual expression for consenting adults.

Please donate and support these two brilliant charities if you can. I hope none of you will ever need them – but if you do, they’ll be there for you.