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)