I can’t give times or a date.
I couldn’t tell you what he wore or how he smelled. But there hasn’t been a day where I wouldn’t see his face or feel his fingers in inappropriate places as a 4-year-old. I could tell you what kind of children’s underwear I had on and why the characters that colored those panties are ones that I cannot face today. I see them often, thus, I still see him.
It happened quick.
But no one ever tells you that when you’ve experience molestation at such a young age, that the bruising will remain for a lifetime.
Some days, the scarring is faint; others, the emotional wounds leave you retreating to a secret place–one that’s often dark where no one is invited in. Teenage fingers have granted itself permission to do as it pleased without your invitation. It would be hard to let anyone in, much less near, again.
How could a child hold power? I wouldn’t know; I didn’t say no.
I let him take control while parts of my fragile body fought him behind a closed mouth and light tears.
It would be hard to trust.
But thirteen years after the incident, I fell in love.
There was something about the feel of this relationship that frightened me as I felt I needed to take this one slow. My emotions moved as fast as those teenage fingers back in ‘92 and I wanted it to slow down. If I couldn’t say no then, I understood that I had the authority to do so now.
Again, I retreated.
Adolescent makeup sessions in basements would cease if he got too close to the button of my jeans. I would tell him I had an irregular cycle and couldn’t have sex during the times he wanted to. Months into dating and we would settle for heavy kissing and tongue wrestling, but sex? It wasn’t happening.
He never questioned my actions, only respected it, and I would end up making this guy, who would later be the father of my children, wait an entire year and a half before being intimate.
Some days were easier than others.
I felt light during sex. It was an essential escape that my body needed.
Sometimes, I felt emotionless, nothing at all because how could I find pleasure in something that got me to this point? There would be weeks of internal conflict where my body wouldn’t give in to my partner, as much as I wanted to. I had a chronic fear that he would find someone else to fulfill his sexual wants. Guilt made cameos from time to time. Anxiety lied in the bed with us. He would ask me the usual:
"Your body feels tense. Are you okay?"
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
I would give in, even if I didn’t want to, just to get over the mental hurdle of that afternoon I was violated as a 4-year-old at the babysitter’s house.
I felt that the boy who touched me as a child still had a hold on me, an intangible power over me, and his fingers within me. Anyone who I wanted to fully give myself to would feel the effects of him and what he did, even if I didn’t say outright, “This is what happened to me. This is why it’s hard.”
Shame found a home in my skin for years.
And I didn’t say anything for quite a while. It was my little secret to keep because I repeatedly heard his shhh’s and would feel like damaged goods. I would feel weak because I couldn’t say no and I would never let anyone know that I actually allowed someone to take advantage of me. But my partner knew.
My partner knew when I would pull back without saying “stop,” or “too hard” or “go slower.” He felt my body wasn’t ready to engage in big girl things and he understood that parts of my past would attribute to it. I was there, but not exactly present in the moment. I felt like he knew my body better than I did. This feeling would last even after the birth of two children and I decided that I needed a sexuality coach to intervene.
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We don’t do that enough. I felt by declining to have sex, I would cause a rift between my partner and I who would feel like I was no longer interested in him, but it was crucial that I respect my body after what I had gone through. Yes, even if it was twenty years prior. After being told that I was self-violating my own body even further by having sex when I didn’t want to, I realized that it was time to let him know the why’s behind the actions. I told him about that day, the weight I’ve been carrying, and my own grievances with the body he loved that I had to live in.
He admitted he knew I had experienced trauma of some sort, but still loved me, even when he knew I didn’t love or forgive myself.
We spoke candidly about that day–a painful moment to relive, but a pivotal point in our relationship as I helped him understand my story, which led me to come to terms that it happened.
Yet, I was still here.
It was hours of healthy conversations on boundaries, withdrawing from sex for a while, viewing sex as a shared experience, reframing my ideas of sex in general, and understanding sexual recovery after trauma. Reading stories from close friends who too have experienced sexual assault at 4, 14, or 24 has helped. I tell this story thanks entirely to them, my coach who has changed our lives, and the women who haven’t found the right time to share their own and probably never will.
As far as my partner’s concerns on how to move forward after becoming privy to this sort of information, he’s been advised to be more aware of the pressures he may cause when it comes to having sex, to not treat me like a victim, and be more patient during intercourse. Of course these are just a few of the many steps you or your partner should take if your significant other has experienced sexual assault at any point in their life.
It takes time to get over sexual assault–months for some women, decades for most, entire lifetimes for others–but it isn’t something you can’t overcome.
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You can have a healthy relationship and sex life afterwards. You can take back control over your life even after it feels like it's been taken from you. Yes, you still have that much power.
For more information about sexual assault, go to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (https://rainn.org) or contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline to speak to someone confidentially at 800-656-4673.