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.

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Quote Quest: Feeling the Fear and Posting It Anyway

“Right on the edge of fear was where trust could grow.”
― Cherise Sinclair

Content warning: this post contains frank discussion of body-shaming, body image issues, sexual violence, and imposter syndrome. Take care of yourselves, loves.

People ask me how I can do what I do.

“How do you write about your sex life on the internet? Share your innermost feelings so openly and honestly? Post naked and scantily clad pictures? Aren’t you afraid? Aren’t you scared what people will THINK!?”

Of course I’m scared. I’m fucking terrified.

Every time I post a picture of my body, I worry someone is going to shame my round belly or chubby waistline or pubic hair. Of course, I worry that when I take my clothes off at kink events, as well. (Remember those?)

And you know what? Occasionally they do. Just a few weeks ago, a guy on a fetish site fat-shamed me when I said I wasn’t interested in playing with him. Every discussion of body hair eventually attracts at least one person talking about how “disgusting” it is. Every time someone says something cruel about my body specifically or the bodies of people that look like me, I want to retreat. I want to go away and make myself small and hide and apologise.

But I don’t, because it is not their fucking right to tell me that I am wrong.

I posted a nude to Twitter last night. I don’t do this particularly often but enjoy it once in a while. My followers on Twitter are absurdly kind and every comment I received was genuinely lovely and made me smile and blush. Does that mean that every time my phone pings with a notification for 48 hours or so after a new pic goes up, I don’t flinch with fear at what horrible thing someone might have said? Of course not.

It goes a step further, too. I’m afraid of getting sexually assaulted again, of course – find me a woman, female-read or AFAB person who isn’t. But more specifically than that, I’m afraid that if I do, my pictures and my blog will be used against me. That I’ll be the slut who was asking for it because there’s tens of thousands of words about my sex life and more than a few pictures of my naked body floating around on the internet.

It’s not just about the pictures either, though a lot of my insecurities are centred around my body image so that’s where a lot of the fear congregates.

Almost every time I post a piece of fiction, I’m worried someone is going to tell me I’m a shit writer and should just pack it in. Every time I submit to a client, there’s a little voice in the back of my head saying “who the fuck are you that you think this is worth someone paying for?” If I post a negative review of a product, I worry I’ll be met with slander and threats from the company.

When I speak out about transphobia or rape culture or mental health, I fear the trolls and the bigots and the doxxers coming for me. When I speak up about the abuse I’ve suffered, I fear my abuser finding it and recognising himself and raining hellfire down on me in retribution.

So no, I don’t do this because I’m fearless. Truth is, I’m often afraid. I do this because I love it, and I don’t want fear to rule me. I do this because, despite everything, I still believe we all have the power to make the world a little bit brighter if we choose to.

I’m not brave. I just feel the fear and publish it anyway.

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Rape is Not About Attractiveness

TW: this post discusses rape and sexual violence. If you’re a survivor, please feel enormously free to step away and care for yourself. If you’re not a survivor, please try to read this one to the end.

This isn’t the post I wanted to write today, but yet again I found myself falling down the hellish rabbit hole of rape apologism on social media today.

I’m used to this. It’s just part of being a woman who talks about sexuality, sexual violence and feminism in a public space. I hate it, it makes me angry and sometimes it makes me cry. But I consider these issues too important to not speak up. Sometimes, though, the reality of talking about sexual violence on the internet straight up retraumatises me. Today was one of those days.

“You’re too ugly to rape”

This is a summary of what was said to me on social media today.

What upset me wasn’t the insult. Aside from the fact that this person doesn’t actually know what I look like, because I don’t show my face on Twitter, I don’t much care if random men think I’m hot or not.

What bothered me was the deeper implication, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.

Circa 2014, I inadvertantly started a civil war in my local kink scene by speaking out about sexual violence. (No regrets, would do again, the resident rapists all told on themselves, etc.) But at the time, I wrote something about how I’d experienced several sexual assaults of various kinds in my life. Someone wrote in response, “LOL, she thinks she’s hot enough to have been assaulted “multiple times.””

The idea that only “hot” people get sexually assaulted, or that speaking out about sexual assault is some kind of statement on one’s own attractiveness, is profoundly fucked up and shockingly common.

“I wish people wanted me so much they couldn’t control themselves”

This has been said to me a number of times by men over the years, including but not limited to former romantic partners.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the implication here is that sexual assault is a privilege. The implication is that being wanted enough to be sexually violated is something to be grateful for. Something to be flattered by.

Like, sure, one in four women (very conservative estimate) are sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetime… but they should just shut up and be grateful because some guy really really wishes someone he’s attracted to and wants to fuck anyway would throw him down and have their way with him.

Rape isn’t about attractiveness

How likely someone is to experience sexual violence isn’t even remotely correlated with their level of attractiveness (insofar as attractiveness is even a meaningful or measurable thing, given that it’s so absurdly subjective.)

Rapists don’t rape because they’re attracted to their victims. Physical attraction to another person isn’t a button that turns a decent human being into a monster. Everyone is capable of controlling what they do sexually, even when they’re super turned on and super attracted to someone. Most of us know this.

It’s not a fucking brag when I say I’ve been sexually assaulted multiple times in my life. It’s not a “hey look I’m so hot everyone wants to fuck me!” If I speak up about the worst and most deep-seated traumas of my life and your reaction is “lol she thinks she’s all that” then that shows something deeply and profoundly wrong in your understanding of how sexual violence works.

Rape isn’t even about sex

Rape is a crime of power. It’s not about the perpetrator being so overwhelmingly aroused, so overcome with lust, that they couldn’t help themselves. It’s not about sex at all.

To be raped isn’t to feel wanted and desired. It’s not some fucking ravishment fantasy out of a shitty romance novel where the hero you were totally gonna fuck anyway rips your bodice and has hot passionate sex with you. To be raped is to feel violated in the most fundamental way. To feel as though your body is no longer your own.

To still occasionally have nightmares thirteen years later.

Because rape isn’t sex. Rape is violence. And it needs to stop.

I’m accepting tips that allow me to keep giving time and energy to this incredibly exhausting work. But even more than that, I’d love it if anyone who could afford it made a small donation to Rape Crisis.

My Safety Philosophy: Why I Practice (C)RACK

I always listen to Loving BDSM Podcast the day it comes out (Fridays), usually on my way to work. They’re always insightful, frequently hilarious and often make me think.  Today’s episode was all about the different safety philosophies within the kink community. Kayla and John discussed why they personally practice SSC – Safe, Sane and Consensual. As always, they’ve got loads of great things to say and I highly recommend you take a listen.

A cracked wall with flowers growing out of it. For a post on safety philosophies in kink.As I was listening, I realised I’ve written about safety tips for kink, but I’ve never actually written about my own personal safety philosophy before.

In kink, the three safety philosophies you’ll mostly hear cited are:

SSC: Which states that everything we do must be Safe, Sane and Consensual.

RACK: Which urges us to practice Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

And PRICK: Which asks us to take Personal Responsibility (in) Informed Consensual Kink.

Each of these has their merits and I will never knock anyone else’s safety philosophy as long as it’s based around the cores of safety and informed consent. Personally, though, I practice RACK. Let me tell you why.

What is “safe” anyway?

Very little in life is completely safe. We take risks in our life every day. It would be absurd to think that sex or kink could be completely free from risk. I take a risk every time I use a sharp knife to chop vegetables. I take a risk every time I get in my car (driving, when you think about the size of the machine you’re in and the speeds at which it moves, is fucking terrifying). And I definitely take a risk every time I let someone spank me, string me up in ropes, or get into edgy and emotionally fraught places in my psyche. (Yes, not all risk is physical. Mental risk is just as real).

Risk Aware, for me, doesn’t just mean knowing the risks are there but taking active steps to reduce them. We know driving is dangerous, so we wear seatbelts, don’t drive drunk, and don’t text while we’re driving. And in kink, it’s exactly the same.

Being risk aware means letting a partner know about any physical issues I might have that could impact our play, and keeping an eye on them during. It means letting my partner know about a pinched nerve or pins and needles in my hands. It means, when I’m Topping, getting proper education on the acts I want to do to another human being and not playing beyond my competence level.

So: nothing we do is, or can be, completely safe. Even vanilla missionary position sex with the lights out carries some degree of risk. By being informed, we can meaningfully mitigate risks to the best of our ability.

Who gets to define “sanity”?

I, like approximately 1/4 of the adult population (conservative estimate,) suffer from a mental health problem. Does that mean I’m incapable of doing kink responsibly? No, absolutely not. As a person with mental health conditions, I find classifications of “sanity” to be intensely problematic.

As long as I’m aware of where my mental health is at, and can communicate that to a partner, it’s generally reasonably safe and completely healthy for me to play. Which… circles us back around to that risk aware piece, doesn’t it?

At best, sanity is nebulous and difficult to define. What feels “insane” to one person might be “average Saturday afternoon” for another.

My unease with PRICK

PRICK is a fine philosophy, in so far as it goes. But it makes me feel a vague uneasiness whenever I hear it, and today I finally put my finger on why.

I’ve been involved in various ways in anti-sexual-violence activism for 6+ years. The phrase “personal responsibility” has been thrown at me and so many of the survivors I know more times than we can count. In those instances, unfortunately, it is taken to the extreme of meaning that you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens to you.

This means that a generally good philosophy (“look out for yourself, take responsibility for your actions and the impact they have on yourself and others around you”) has been co-opted and twisted to mean “if someone harms you, it’s your fault”.

It’s not that I’ll never play with someone who practices PRICK, but I would need to make damn sure that their meaning is closer to “we are responsible for taking care of our own and each others’ safety and wellbeing to the best of our ability”. That’s what a good philosophy of personal responsibility would look like.

Sadly, I just know too many people who say “personal responsibility” when they mean “if you get raped, what were you wearing how much did you drink why were you out late how did you not know that guy was a rapist?????

It all comes back to consent

Whichever you practice, you’ll notice that the one thing all these philosophies have in common is consent. Consent is at the core of everything we do. However, it occurred to me today that there is one key ingredient which none of these philosophies explicitly address…

The missing piece

Kayla and John so often come back to the importance of communication in their discussions on Loving BDSM. I often find myself nodding along, and am in absolute agreement with them that effective communication is at the core of everything we do. You cannot have safe(r) kink and sex without communication. You cannot have a good relationship without communication! And I don’t think we can meaningfully discuss good philosophies of safety without also discussing the importance of strong communication.

Therefore I present to you my new philosophy, adapted from RACK, which you are all welcome to use if it speaks to you:

CRACK: Communicative (&) Risk Aware Consensual Kink.

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