Sex After Rape

Care

Editor’s note: This piece contains descriptions of rape and sexual violence.

 

When I learned that an ex-partner of mine had been a victim of extensive rape and sexual violence, I did everything I could to educate myself in how best to support her and ensure that I did not re-traumatize her or do anything that might be potentially triggering.

And then I was the victim of sexual assault, I wanted even more to find a way of coming to terms with the situation and envision a healthy sex life at some point in my future.

There is a wealth of information out there that focuses on love after rape from both the victim and the new partner’s perspective or, as it sometimes termed, secondary survivors. I found these sort of articles informative and helpful in that they acknowledged that sex after rape is possible, and they discussed special supports for rape survivors around sexual health. However, something didn’t quite sit right.

Much of what I read implied that I needed to take extra special caution or obtain some kind of additional layer of consent. While I fully understand and am aware of, the potential trigger of such a situation, in reality, ALL sex requires proper and informed consent. Both parties need to enthusiastically engage in the sexual act so there should be nothing occurring that is or feels remotely similar to rape or assault. AND, regardless of at what point in the sexual encounter it is, or whom is saying it, if someone says NO at ANYTIME that needs to be listened to and acted upon. We need to create a consent culture across the board for all who engage in sexual activity.

Pointing out that all sex should be consensual does not necessarily undermine special care and precautions in sex with sexual assault survivors. I am, however, advocating for us to fully understand the issues around consent. Society lacks clarity and true advocacy in providing a culture that demands consent from everyone. Consent needs to be understood from a young age so that we feel both empowered about our bodily agency but similarly confident and secure that people will not invade our boundaries. There is a focus on a heightened level of communication during intimacy with someone who has been raped. While this is true, it is also relevant to ALL intimate experiences with ALL types of people.

People of all genders and sexualities experience sexual violence from all types of people. Rape is not as black and white as a man forcing himself on a woman. However, this heteronormative rhetoric I have come across surrounding rape and consent makes me pretty uncomfortable. When people found out about my ex-partner’s assault, which happened to be by a man, they exclaimed “Oh, so that’s why you’re a lesbian.” Having sex with someone either through force or without consent is what causes sexual trauma not what they have between their legs.

Sexual violence is more common than you’d think. The Rape Crisis England & Wales Report states that about 1 in 5 women under the age of 60 have experienced some form of sexual violence. Since many rapes go unreported, it is estimated that the number in actuality is higher. Still, 1 in 5 is a staggeringly high number – making the chances of becoming sexually or romantically involved with a victim of rape or assault quite probable. So much work must be done to change this reality. Society needs to undo damaging systems of power that lead to these levels of violence. But in the meantime we need to do everything we can to support the people who have been abused.

Sexual violence survivors do need special support and space to heal. They also need help in how to deal with crises that may arise as a result of their experience–suicidal feelings, depression, negative feelings, and self-loathing among others. Cuts to public services providing this support are happening left and right. This puts additional pressure on the (hugely under-funded and overworked) charities to pick up the gaps in these services.

So what do people specifically need to have healthy sex after rape?

Many folx who have been raped can go onto experience disassociation and derealization during sexual encounters and may go on to struggle to build sexual intimacy. So while at first, it is about consent, secondly it is about trust.

A colleague of mine kindly shared her experience and words of advice on the issue:

“When men “go for gold” right away I get triggered. I need A LOT of warm up to get into my body and out of my head. A massage, a shower together, caressing…all acts that build physical intimacy and trust before having sex. And yes, I usually need this every single time. My partner needs to know what specifically triggers me, what turns me on, and why. I was molested in my sleep as a child…being woken up by sexual touch does NOT work for me and really pisses me off, actually. For others, it may be the most arousing thing ever. Every individual is different. And so communication and listening are crucial.” 

Communication and listening and an openness to individual need are so incredibly vital when it comes to sex. They are a critical part of consent culture but also play a huge role in the special support required by rape survivors around sexual health.