The impact of trauma on your sex life: sexual assault
Pooja* who, after being attacked at 11-years-old, spent almost a decade detached from sexual pleasure
I was 11-years-old when a man came into my room and sexually assaulted me. It was the night before my Latin exam, I really remember that. He held me down, and touched and kissed me. I woke up, and he ran out. As it turned out, he lived only a few doors down from me. I remember feeling as though I wanted to be an adult about the whole thing. I stood in front of the mirror, waiting for the police to arrive, and thought: ‘I have to be grown up, I want to make mummy and daddy proud’. So when the police came I refused counselling. I thought ‘chin up, deal with it’. Strangely, I don’t think the attack is what impacted me the most. Instead, it was a prank call that I received a couple of weeks later.
I hadn’t told anyone about the incident, but I grew up in closely knit city and word soon got out. Some of my male friends decided to ring and said they were going to rape me and chase me down the street with an axe. This betrayal, not from the big bad boogeyman who was meant to be scary, but from my friends, who I trusted, had a serious effect on me.
From that moment on, I did everything I could to ensure no-one would catch me out like that again. I told myself I was strong, confident and always in control. Obviously I wasn’t, but it was my only coping mechanism.
The following year, I had my first kiss at the school Valentine’s Day disco. I remember being absolutely repulsed by the experience. My personal space felt invaded, because the last time I was kissed – my first kiss – it with a random 30-year-old man, in the dark, in my bedroom, against my will. From then on, I kept doing stuff with boys. I wasn’t interested in them, I just did it because I couldn’t help return to the wound. It was like picking at a scab, going back over it, only making it worse.
Sex wasn’t about emotions or being sensual. I would call myself part of the porn generation and I learned everything through that. I always thought that as a woman you didn’t have sex for pleasure, you had sex to be hot. I wasn’t doing this for me. Sex was for men and because I was good at it that meant I had power over them. For years I thought I was extremely confident and sexy, but I wasn’t, I was extremely weak inside. I was completely out of touch with my sexuality.
I TOLD MYSELF I WAS STRONG, CONFIDENT AND ALWAYS IN CONTROL – OBVIOUSLY I WASN’T
When I was 17, I went to a birthday party and got horrendously drunk. An Australian university student, who had taught at my school for a year as a PE teacher, took advantage of me. I didn’t sleep with him, but I still find it extremely difficult to say what happened. I see it as something like rape. All I remember of those moments was thinking ‘I really don’t want to do this,’ but the worst thing is that people saw. I was so ashamed. I thought it was entirely my fault. I thought that because of my promiscuous behaviour and short skirts around school, I had led him on.
The next day at school, everyone was talking about it, so what did I do? I owned it. I said: ‘Yeah, I did it, so what?’ knowing inside it was a lie and I hadn’t owned anything. I had to tell my parents (the incident became a school issue, which lead to the teacher being sacked) and it felt more shameful telling them the details of what I didn’t do, rather than to just accept what was being said about me.
University was a blurred nightmare. I was on drugs, I drank a lot. I was so lonely. I did anything for attention.
I was old enough to start piecing together the memories of what had happened to me when I was a child and all the things I had been told, but it was really hard to decipher what was true from what had just been a rumour. All I had was all the bits of hearsay, newspaper articles and boys from school telling me their version of events.
I was so confused, I went into a black hole. I used sex, again, as a coping tool. It was any time, any place and anyone. Those men thought I was fun and crazy, but they didn’t see me suffering.
After I left university, I talked to people about what happened, but I would be drunk and I’d see people glaze over. That’s when I realised I was f*cked up. I realised that I should have said yes to a counsellor when I was 11 and I should have said something about the teacher when I was 17.
Don’t hesitate, do go and see a professional, it’s what they’re there for and it’s not weak to ask for help.
After this turning point, things did eventually start to get better. I felt freer at home and I started working at a club in my home town, which was fun. I still needed to talk things through and I wasn’t ‘fixed’, but I began to feel like myself for the first time since school.
A few things have really helped me get my mojo back. Firstly, I became a Brownie leader, because I thought, if I could give a few younger girls the confidence I didn’t have and a caring friend to talk to when they need to talk, that would mean so much to me. I’ve also started dancing again. It’s something I’m good at, and makes me feels amazing.
A few months after leaving University I met the man who is now my fiancé. We clicked straight away. When I look back at photos from the first night, we’re pulling all these silly faces – I was happy and it was fun and the wall came down.
We’re getting married next year. He’s also been through considerable trauma in his life, so we have been able to switch between looking after each other.
I WASN’T ‘FIXED’ BUT I FELT LIKE MYSELF FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE SCHOOL
And the sex? Before I met him, it was hardcore, modelled on things that I had seen in pornography. But now, with someone I feel has my best interests at the front of his mind, it’s safe and loving. It’s not about power anymore, which is incredibly empowering for me.
Of course, sometimes I catch myself lying there at night, thinking of all the stupid things I did as a child, but you know what I do? I take that voice inside my head and I make it talk like Donald Duck. It’s stupid, but it works for me.
What I want people to take away from this is that I regret nothing. I took some dark turns, into some dark alleys, but I honestly think if I hadn’t felt what it was like to be that sad, I wouldn’t be this happy today. It’s important to train yourself to have that kind of positive mindset.
If anyone has gone through something similar to me and wish that they could change what they did, or acted differently, or wish they’d gone down a different route, just stop. It’s happened, it’s part of the tapestry of life and you can build upon it positively to get yourself to an amazing place. Be proactive, let yourself be happy, you deserve it.
*Names have been changed
FROM : ELLE UK