The build-up before being sexually intimate with someone is incredibly electric: the sexual tension, the passion, the longing, the wanting. When you get to those final moments before your lips touch, before your hands brush against their skin, before you feel their warmth against your body, the air is heavy with desire. All you can think about is how badly you want this person in front of you. But for me, there is another strong emotion present: fear. Fear of confessing what happened to me. Fear of their reaction. Fear of my reaction to their touch. Fear of being hurt again.
The first time I was sexually intimate with someone, I didn’t experience that wonderful tension and passion with another person. I was numb and paralyzed with fear. I was sixteen. He was on top of me, begging for permission to touch me, to lick me, to kiss me, to “love” me. All the while, I kept repeating no, on the verge of tears, my breath short and my heart beating fast. When I surrendered my “no’s” for silence, he took this omission of “no” for permission, tore off my clothes, and had his way with me. I kept telling myself that I should want this. This is intimacy. This is sex. This is love.
For almost a year, this pattern continued. He wanted to do things to me, or me to do things to him; he would beg me, I would say no, I would give up saying no, and he would get what he wanted. I never knew sexual, physical intimacy without this pain or fear for a long time. I thought that this was normal.
When I finally got away from that relationship, I started to see how toxic and abusive that relationship really was. Getting out was like waking up from a long nightmare. I was left in a state of self-loathing, covered in both physical and emotional scars that I wasn’t sure would ever go away. I started looking for someone to fix me in any way I could. I was desperate for someone to love me and be gentle with me, to erase those marks he had left on me. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized: nobody was going to fix this. I had to find a way to put the pieces back together myself; through therapy, journaling, talking to friends, taking care of myself and so on. It has been like trying to glue the pieces of a broken vase back together again. And if I’m being honest, I’m still not entirely put back together five years later. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be entirely fixed from this, but one thing I do know is that I am getting stronger every day, even though that trauma does still come out sometimes.
When I first tried dating in university, the fear of telling people about what happened to me was always at the back of my mind. When should I tell them? What if they don’t like me because of that? What would happen if I don’t say anything? I had only been physically intimate with one other person since him, and it took a lot of time and trust to build up to that point. I didn’t know if other people would be okay with waiting that long.
I went on three dates with a guy who seemed sweet and understanding. When it felt like everything was lining up well with him, I decided to open up a little about what had happened. Not too much detail, but just enough for him to understand that I needed to take things a bit slower when it comes to sex and physical intimacy. To my relief, he was very understanding and supportive after I told him a bit of what happened. I felt all those fears and questions wash away, and in its place was a new-found confidence and acceptance. Maybe this wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it would be. I was silly for being afraid of opening up about this.
We ended up dating for about two months, and in that time, we actually had a lot of sex (which was unexpected even to me). Most of the time it was great, but there were a couple times where I would panic, usually if he was on top of me. I would suddenly become overwhelmed with a feeling of fear and dread – it felt like everything was happening all over again. I could feel his hands on me, I could hear his voice in my head, the pain that scarred me before was suddenly there again. It was a terrifying experience, not only for me but also my partner. He didn’t know if he had done something wrong or not, and all I felt was guilt. I felt so guilty that this was happening, that my trauma was making him feel bad. I would apologize over and over, and he would always reassure me that this wasn’t my fault. And even though I know, realistically, it’s not my fault that this happened to me, I still carried an immense amount of guilt over everything that happened. I’m sorry this happened. I’m sorry I’m like this. I wish I was normal. I wish I could just enjoy sex. I wish I wasn’t afraid of it sometimes. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
One of the worst experiences I’ve had since being in that abusive relationship was with someone I dated for only a short period of time. We were at his house in bed after a night of hanging out with friends. He had been drinking a little while I was completely sober. He was touching me and beginning to finger me when I started to feel that fear and dread setting in again and needed this to end. Now. “Stop.” I reached down to pull his hand away.
He grabbed my wrist tightly with his other hand and replied “No.”
I tried to pull my hand out of his grip, my heart rate immediately jumping up and my body becoming overwhelmed with panic. In a firmer voice this time, “Stop.”
“No.” Grinning, he started going faster.
I sat up, pulling my body away from him and this time yelled, “Stop!”
He froze and looked up at me. I could see the dread and realization in his eyes as he pulled himself out of me. “I forgot, I’m sorry.”
I burst into tears, shaking and terrified. He held me and kept repeating “I’m sorry” over and over. I didn’t know what to say. I just kept crying.
Telling someone about what happened to me takes a great deal of trust — but then trusting them with my body takes even more. Not only am I trusting them with personal information but trusting them to be gentle with that information and mindful of it whenever we’re together. Being emotionally and physically vulnerable with someone like that is overwhelmingly scary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.