In my 32 years of life I have survived molestation*, sexual assault*, and rape.*
In the moment it is not uncommon for victims of rape or sexual abuse to disassociate, to separate their psyche from their body. Many may spend years, decades, or even a lifetime in this state of disassociation.
In a discussion with a sexual partner about my past they asked a rather thought provoking question, “after all of that, how is it that you are able to be sexually open and active?” This question comes from someone with an equally long list of witnessing and experiencing trauma and struggles daily with the challenges of PTSD.
My answer took 3 days to surface,
“Someone tried to take something very special from me. I did not let them.”
We all heal and face our demons in unique ways. I have learned not to assume that what has worked for me will work for others but I have also learned that there are tools a person develops, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, that enables them to continue surviving and sometimes even thrive. Whether it is the brain’s process of blacking out painful memories, disassociation from the traumatized body, or any other number of trauma responses, the body does continue to function, at least as far as survival is considered.
My curiosity and drive both as a person in healing as well as a Sexual Wellness Mentor who supports men and women on journeys of sexual awakening and healing, is the step from surviving to thriving. How does one re-associate with their body? How does one re-discover their orgasm? What are the mental and physical mechanisms of survival which must be overridden or re-written in order to open up to healing and pleasure?
In my story of sexual awakening I speak of losing my orgasm and finding it again. How? A LOT of work, both internal and external and with the help and support of a tenured healer, but that is my story. What I learned from that journey is just how deep sexual wounds and trauma go and how many elements of life are affected by trauma-related lack of libido and/or sexual pleasure.
Sex. Is. Everything.
Physiologically the stress response which inhibits libido and sexual pleasure is related to pituitary function which regulates our hormones. In general conversation the topic of hormones may come up when talking about adolescence with expressions like “raging hormones” and “walking hormone factory” (I can’t be the only teen who was described that way) but truly, our hormones, and in large part specifically our sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen, regulate EVERYTHING from digestion to sleep patterns to muscle function to skin quality to, well, you get the point. In a state of stress cortisol flushes through the body and you get the fight, flight, or freeze response. All functions of the body pause and redirect efforts towards getting the body to a state of safety. Without support or treatment the body may spend a lifetime in pause waiting to feel safe.
Dearest sexual abuse survivor,
Are you surviving or are you thriving?
If/when you share your story do you identify as a victim or as a survivor?
To be transparent, it was only a few months ago that I recognized my own language and have been making a conscious effort to identify as a survivor and not a victim. Words are messages that have deep impact on us often put upon us and accepted as truth. I found myself sharing my story with the statement “I was raped”, “when I was raped”, etc. It was always something that was done to me. My language was not honoring the journey I have taken to own the experience and perpetuated my role as victim. Now I try to start my story with, “I am a rape/sexual abuse survivor” but again, that is my story, what is yours?
Read my introductory statement again:
"In my 32 years of life I have survived molestation*, sexual assault*, and rape*."
What if, instead, it read:
"In my 32 years of life I have been molested*, sexually assaulted*, and raped*."
Feel the difference?
Do you have a story that may feel heavier for the words it is currently told with?
Have you not yet shared your story? What an amazing opportunity to own it in its first utterance, YOU SURVIVED!
Dearest brave being,
When you are ready, I am listening.
*Legal definitions of terms
“the crime of sexual acts with children up to the age of 18, including touching of private parts, exposure of genitalia, taking of pornographic pictures, rape, inducement of sexual acts with the molester or with other children, and variations of these acts by pedophiles.”
Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill.
“Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”
“The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
www.justice.gov (updated 2012 definition)
What’s my experience with birth control?
I guess it started when I was 17. I drove myself to a doctor’s appointment to have some warts frozen off. Not the most glamorous event but I remember it being the first time I was at a medical appointment without my mother. I didn’t have a primary care provider at the time so just went to a clinic between home and school. The male doctor looked over my file and made it a point to ask why I was not on birth control. I blinked silently at him for a while.
“I’m not married. Why would I be on birth control?” apparently my file said nothing about my ‘no kissing before marriage’ religious value system.
The doctor choked on his words a bit then gave a little speech about birth control being able to ease menstruation symptoms like cramps (which I suffered from) and migraines (which I suffered from) and offered to write me a prescription.
“Yes, but what about warts?” I had a one-track mind, having spent all day mustering the courage to expose my already plagued and tender foot to more pain; I had no head-space to have a discussion completely outside the realm of the present moment. Besides, pain relief pills did just fine relieving cramps and headaches, why would I want to be responsible for taking something daily to treat something that occurred only once a month? Plus, there was a huge stigma in my community around unmarried women taking birth control.
It wasn’t until I was 26 that I put any serious consideration into taking ‘the pill’.
It was 2010 and the IUD was all the rage but, having witnessed two close friends suffer horribly from IUD complications, one a severe uterine infection, the other an ectopic pregnancy, I was forever scared away from that option, hormonal or not.
Being a nude model, and generally uncomfortable with medical procedures; Norplant was not an option.
The diaphragm and cervical cap were suggested but between still being uncomfortable making (or receiving) contact near or around my cervix after a traumatic colposcopy, as well as enjoying spontaneous and adventurous sex-sploits (like that one time in the snow against a tree after biking around Crater Lake), neither of those seemed to be a good match.
Ultimately a progesterone based daily pill was decided upon.
Being responsible for something and having opportunity to create a regimen in my life gave me a strange thrill-like feeling, like paying bills for the first time, some sign of adulating I may grow to hate later but in the moment, felt like a rite of passage. I set an alarm on my phone for 10am and, work or weekend, drank a full glass of water and took the tiny pill.
After the first month my partner and I began to enjoy carefree and condom free sex. It was also at this time that problems started to surface. It started with my orgasm moving then getting harder and harder to find. I felt a change in the geography of my vagina. The spots and areas that were my “oh yeah! Right there!” spots were getting smaller, some even disappearing. My partner noticed changes describing my vagina as feeling like a silk glove, somehow more “cozy” and softer.
While the changes were positive for him, and seemingly positive for our sex life (no need to have tissues containing used condoms in a baggie in the truck post sex-sploits in the woods), the fact was, I no longer wanted sex. What sex we did have no longer felt any better than a soft shoulder rub. I hadn’t been able to achieve orgasm for weeks when previously I would have 5 to 20 in an encounter. Sex slipped from something I enjoyed and looked forward to, to being something on my chore list.
I started putting my partner off, I felt I had to fix something in me before I could connect with him; this, in turn, was hurting him. At his demand we had a date. It was easy enough to avoid the topic of our waning sex life over dinner by choosing the standard, blah blah work, blah blah friend drama, blah blah weather, but once at his place, where we had enjoyed so many nights, and mornings, and afternoons, and whole days of incredible sexual connection, where there was no where to sit except his cozy queen size bed, that the topic had to come to surface. He caressed me, kissed my neck, nibbled my ear, and did all the little things my body had once responded to so quickly.
I. Felt. Nothing.
I claimed a headache (total cliché, right?!?) and went to the kitchen for an ibuprofen and glass of water. I sat on the kitchen counter taking deep breaths and wondering what the hell was wrong. The space was stagnant and silent for a while; there was emotional static in the air, like after a lightening storm. He came into the kitchen and saw me there, on the counter, glass of water still full at my side, hands on my knees and head down looking for answers in the floor tiles.
“Talk to me,” he said.
“I don’t know what to say,” I replied.
He came closer, positioning himself between my open knees, forehead pressed gently against mine, “I love you,” he said, in a hushed and choked voice. My chest heaved a deep sigh in a futile attempt the release all the internal frustration I was battling with.
“I love you too,” I said.
“Then why don’t you want to be with me?” He asked.
“It’s not you, I don’t want to be with anyone, I don’t…” and then, in that moment, I found the words, “I don’t feel anything, physically, or emotionally. I’m just wound up and frustrated and unable to feel!”
His head dropped lower into my lap and he began to cry. Even then, in that tender moment of this strong and caring man, brought to tears by my words, something was stalling my emotional response. I ran my fingers through his curly hair and gently brought his head up to mine. I kissed his tear-moistened lips and wanted nothing more than to want him, and I myself began to cry over the frustration and heartbreaking scene of it all.
I stopped taking the pill and we went back to condoms. Eventually I learned about cervical mucus testing and the fertility awareness method, both of which have become invaluable tools in my personal reproductive awareness program.
I don’t begin to assume this is everyone’s experience. ‘The pill’ and other medical methods of fertility control have gone far to liberate women and if it has worked for you, that’s great. This is for all the women the pill hasn’t worked for, for all the women who experience life-altering symptoms that are brushed off or disregarded.
You are not alone.
If you have experienced libido loss which may be related to hormonal birth control, there are options.
Sexual Wellness Mentoring is available to support as you find what works for you.
I encounter this question often in women’s chat groups, online and off, either directly or subtly hidden within the sub-questions of sexual curiosity, body image conversations, and the moments of deeper sexual exploration.
I could go down the rabbit hole of the word ‘normal’ and talk about projections vs realities, airbrushed images, social illusions, etc etc, but let’s put all that aside.
Two published texts have tackled this topic more deeply than any before:
The Hite Report. Written by Shere Hite. Published in 1974 and re-published in 2004.
I am tempted to type out the entirety of the 3-page revision introduction; it is a thing of beauty.
Instead, a sample paragraph:
“Women have come a long way, from a time when the existence of the female orgasm was doubted and when women were effectively owned as property in marriage to landmark victories such as the 1995 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Women, signed by 140 countries, which proclaims a woman’s autonomy over her own body. However, despite today’s shrill insistence that women have all their rights and sexuality is all over the place, there is still some way to go—as is plain from what women continue to write me.” (Hite, 11)
Just sit with that for a minute.
What follows is a large and extensive survey of questions with a gambit of responses boiled down into statistics to discover a median ‘normal.’ Masturbation. Orgasm. Intercourse. Clitoral stimulation. Lesbianism. Sexual slavery. The sexual revolution. Older women.
These are the chapter headings under which are various topic related questions. Three pages in and you may never again wonder about ‘normal.’
The other is I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown.
Wait, let me give you the whole title,
I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”
Yes, it is available in audio book. Yes, mp3. You can download it RIGHT NOW and listen to it.
We need to question the origin of this question. Who put doubts in our minds that we are not all absolutely radiant and glorious beings, each unique in her own way, no less or more resplendent? WHO?!?!?
How is it 2016 and people are still sharing and BELIEVING and ARGUING articles about female ejaculation being a myth?!?!?!?!?!
When questions of normality rise, pause.
Investigate the situation from a medical lens: Were you born that way or did something recently appear or disappear? Is it causing pain? Is it causing someone else pain?
If none of those, and maybe a few other questions I’ve forgotten but you get the point, if it doesn’t hurt you or your partner physically or emotionally, it’s probably ok and, chances are, you aren’t the only person who has asked that same question about that same thing; it’s just never spoken of.
If you read those books and want someone to talk to about them or, if this has inspired deeper feelings or thoughts and you’d like a safe space to share and process, I’m available.
Sexual Wellness Mentoring: guidance on the deeper journey.