Personal Essay: I didn't react 'normally' after my assault.

[Image Description: A line drawing of a woman looking up at the sky with eyes closed.]

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

My relationship with sex has always been a rocky one. I went from getting my first kiss relatively late [for my friendship group] at the age of 14 to, less than a year later, losing my virginity. Convinced by some of the white feminist trash I’d been reading that had told me that sex was the only way to truly liberate myself, and armed with the conviction that I was mature and ‘ready’, I let it happen the week before my 15th birthday, to someone who said they loved me but in fact just massively fetishized me and then cheated on me, on my birthday.

Two months before that I’d been assaulted by a close friend. You’d think that a normal reaction to being assaulted would be to never want to engage in anything sexual for a long, long time after. But my response was the opposite. I’d barely comprehended the extent of how bad it was and packed away every item of clothing I wore that day in the depths of my bottom drawer, despite telling myself I was fine. I began to think so little of myself that I was no longer discerning about what I agreed to and started pre-empting boys so I’d get to say ‘yes’ before anything got out of hand.

I’d feel so terrible afterwards and disgusted at myself for being a ‘hoe’. My terrible friendship group looked down on me for the things I did, and that’s why those feminist pages on Instagram were so important to me, telling me that I was just being in control of my bodily autonomy, when in fact I was actively partaking in an unhealthy coping mechanism. My low self esteem and lack of desire for anything better for myself led me to settle and I started ‘dating’ the boy I ‘lost’ my virginity to. And I’ve been settling ever since. You settle for what you think you deserve and as much as I tried to believe that I was still valuable after what had happened, I just couldn’t. And if that meant that I had to put up with a load of bullshit so I could get the cuddles at the end like they loved me, I would.   

Someone recently asked me, ‘What is sex to you?’ and I genuinely didn't know how to answer. It’s been a transactional activity for me since the beginning, they get the pleasure and I get validation and eventually the pain after realising that I got used, yet again. Or maybe it’s more of a performance, pretending to enjoy it whilst waiting for it to be over. I am in no way saying that women participating in hookups is bad in any way shape or form, but hook up culture for me was a coping mechanism and a form of self harm almost. I hated myself after every single time yet I still did it to make me feel a little better about myself for however long that would last.

My casual attitude about sex after my assault made me feel as if my experience was totally invalid, because I was fine right? It was only when I saw a tiktok about hypersexuality after rape or assault that I realised that other people feel as invalid as I do. I did some of my own research and it explained my reaction; Counselling Directory says “Survivors can become very conflicted after the event and can turn two ways; becoming hyper-sexual or suffering from sexual anorexia (avoidance)”. Somehow in my head, sexual anorexia is the right way to grieve the event, not becoming a ‘slut’. But in the same way that I react to a death or anything in any way traumatising, my tendency is always to bury and get on with it in a very unhealthy way.

At the end of the day, healing is never going to be a linear process. I can say I’m fine now because I feel like I should be fine because it’s been over two years or because I’m abstinent. But healing doesn’t have some kind of timetable or schedule. Especially since I did the equivalent of sticking a massive plaster over a wound with stones in it, then ignoring it and expecting it to heal properly. My advice to anyone still processing is to do the harder thing and seek help instead of hoping that the hurt will magically go away on its own.