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Deciding when to have sex after a sexual assault

This SpunOut.ie writer gives some advice for survivors of sexual assault who are thinking about having sex


Written by Clara Hand and posted in opinion


This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact editor@spunout.ie.


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Learning to navigate our way through sex can be difficult on many levels at the best of times. It can feel awkward to talk about, uncomfortable to be exposed and it takes time to learn our likes and dislikes. This can feel amplified when you are a survivor of sexual assault or abuse. It may feel like your body isn’t yours anymore and you have to learn to be comfortable in yourself all over again never mind letting anyone else see or touch you.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any sexual action or behaviour done without consent or where the person is under pressure to perform sexually when they do not want to. It is also important to note that consent can not be given if the person is asleep or under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Sexual assault and abuse is about power and control. It can happen to anyone including those in a relationship, and can be done by a loved one. A person of any gender or age can be sexually assaulted or abused.

Your reaction

Everyone reacts differently and there is no one right or wrong way to feel. You may feel all kinds of emotions, or no emotions at all. While you may have some challenging feelings to tackle, it is okay to feel a range of emotions following such an experience.

After an assault, some people want to be alone and it's perfectly understandable to not feel okay with being intimate when your autonomy has been taken from you. Sex should always be on your terms.

There is no right or wrong way to react. We all deal with things differently but it is important to know and remember that it was not your fault and you are not to blame. We are not responsible for the actions of other people.

It may take some time to come to terms with what happened and may feel uncomfortable to talk about but getting support and feeling heard is the least you deserve. Statistics show that one in five of us will be sexually assaulted and one in four sexually abused as a child so you are not alone. There are people who understand and want to help you. It may take time to get to that stage but I cannot emphasise enough the fact that you are not to blame for what has happened to you and that you truly deserve all the love and support.

Sex after a sexual assault

Some survivors may experience different reactions and feelings towards sex such as avoidance, emotional or fearful feelings, feelings of guilt and distressing thoughts and images. Making the decision to be intimate following an assault is a big step and one that needs to be made on your own terms, when you’re comfortable and ready.

It’s important to be aware of your reactions and feelings as only then can work through them and help and resolve them.

Some people choose not to engage in sexual behaviour and that’s okay. It’s also okay to know that just because you don’t feel comfortable now doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to positive sexual experiences.

Some tips that might help

When it’s right for you

Remember it’s up to you when you want to engage in sexual activity. You are not obligated to fulfil anyone’s needs other than your regardless of relationship status. Remember you can always say no to any sexual activity at any time, even if it is after you have consented or initiated sexual activity.

Communication

Communicate with your partner about your feelings. This can include your preferences - what you don’t like or what makes you uncomfortable, as well as what you like and enjoy. It can be helpful to discuss guidelines with your partner in order to feel safe at all times, for example having a safe word may be helpful. It can be something as simple as saying ‘lemons’ if you want to stop, as it can be hard to communicate if and when difficult feelings come up.

Counselling

Counselling can be helpful as it provides a safe space to talk about challenges & difficult feelings we may be experiencing. Organisations such as The Rape Crisis Network provide support people. They offer a range of support and information tailored to your needs as well as counselling. Support and workshops can also help. A lot of colleges around Ireland are now facilitating Consent and Bystander Workshops. All 3rd level institutions are now obliged to have a transparent and accessible and supportive response available to any student concerned about something that they have experienced.

Check in with yourself

Make time for self care and reflection. It’s important to check in with ourselves too. This is not an exhaustive list by any means as everyone is different and recovery is unique to each person.

Remember, it’s up to you when you want to engage in sexual activity so take time to decide when it’s right for you. Talking about how you’re feeling and checking in with yourself can really help. Most of all remember sex is supposed to be something you enjoy, so do it for yourself, because you want it and not for any other reason and do what feels good to you. 

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Published Jan­u­ary 29th2020
Tags opinion sexual assault sex abuse
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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