What It's Like To Have Sex As A Grown-Up Child Of Sexual Abuse

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 Finding Your Sexuality After Abuse
Sex, Self

So many men, but I never enjoyed any of it.

How do you develop your sexuality after childhood abuse and sexual assault? Especially when the moment you discover the pleasure of a pillow pressed between your legs is also the time when your stepfather decides it's his right to place a hand there? How do you move beyond that?

How do you grow up to separate the guilt and fear from the good sensations? How do you find joy?

.....

I stayed a virgin until I was 19. I waited and waited, searching for someone who would matter, and then I still ended up losing my virginity to a guy whose surname I never knew: Dave.

He was an architecture student from Ireland. We went to the movies and then to his apartment, which was full of stolen road cones. He asked if I'd had sex before and I said yes, but he knew I was lying.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "This is f*cking awful. This is the worst sex I've ever had."

I left blood on his bed and went home expecting to cry, but feeling strangely numb.

Then there was Steve, the self-proclaimed feminist who I thought I loved but he already had a girlfriend and a cat. I'm allergic to cats. When his other girlfriend was away and I stayed over, I'd pop antihistamines like they were gum but I still got puffy eyes and a tight chest.

We did this for nearly three years. I'd ask him to hurt me and mark my body — to bite and bruise and scratch — to show that I was his, even though I really wasn't.

One day, we were out walking together and he stepped into the front lobby of a department store to spray himself with something that masked the smell of me. And that's when I knew it was over.

After Steve, there was Peter. He had an espresso machine, several bad ties and overflowing drawers of novelty socks. He read broadsheet newspapers and was probably a massive right-winger, but I never asked.

The best sex we ever had was the night I came home from my grandmother's funeral. In the end, he finished with me just before his final year exams and told me I was one diary commitment too many.

There were others. I remember some of them.

There was Sean, who was 17 and had his leg bandaged from a motorbike accident. I brought him home with me from a club one night and it was fine, but in the morning he wanted to hold me and talk, and all I really wanted was for him to go away.

There was James, who I f*cked in a public toilet, mainly because I fancied his father and it was the closest I was ever going to get.

There was Alan, who I worked with one summer, who told me that my skin felt like velvet. But he had a potbelly and red silk sheets and it was all just a little too intense.

There was Tim, who brought me beautiful notebooks and ink from Italy, paid for expensive dinners, and almost knocked himself unconscious on the headboard one night.

There was John, who was only in the country for a night. He showed me pictures of his children on his phone. We went to his hotel first, and then my flat. He was super-hot and the sex was great, but 10 years later I still wish I'd been smart enough to make him wear a condom.

But it was all wrong. It all felt wrong. Sex was  and is  still about power.

On the rare occasions when I enjoyed sex, it was usually because I was getting off on the power trip. I enjoyed feeling like the one in charge. Sex is a great leveler, whether I was in bed with an older, smarter guy who I was used to seeing stand at the front of a lecture theater or a young, dumb, ugly teenager who I'd only met an hour earlier.

The effect I had on them was the same. I turned them on. I was boosting my confidence only by seeing how pathetically grateful these men were when I allowed them to touch me.

When I didn't enjoy it — which was almost always — I justified it to myself by saying at least they were bad experiences of my choosing. At least they weren't forced on me.

Everything I did was an attempt to reclaim my sexual story from the man who had abused me years earlier.

It's only now, with the man who is my husband, that I have sex with any kind of joy. We do not have enough but what we have feels good. Sex makes me laugh; It makes me feel warm and soft and open, instead of cold and hard and closed.

The first time we spent the night together, when I came, it made me cry. He somehow seemed to know why and assured me that it was okay as he wiped my tears away.

It shouldn't take so many years of mistakes, so many unhappy, alcohol and drug-fueled nights in strangers' beds to discover the joy of sex.

I'm just glad I got there eventually.

How do you develop a sexual identity after abuse?

You keep looking until you find the right person. 

You fall in love.

And then you let them help you heal.

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