December 22, 2017

Q&A: How Do I “Get Into It” After Forced Sexual Experiences?

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Photograph of a face with the palm of a hand covering the mouth and the mouth superimposed on the palm

Closer, but not.

Q: My ex-boyfriend forced me into sexual things I didn’t want to do so I was never there physically or mentally. Now, I have a new boyfriend who I have had meaningful and consensual sex with a few times, but he recently has brought to my attention that he feels that I’m not “into it” when we have sex. Is there any way I can get past that and move on?

A: I’m sorry to hear about your past experiences with non-consensual sex. Far too many women and men have had similar experiences. These events can be difficult to move past, particularly when they happened over a long period or when they occurred at the hands of someone you trusted or who you thought cared for you (like your boyfriend at the time).

Good for you for finding someone who treats you with more respect and for working to communicate with him about your sexual relationship. If you feel comfortable, you might consider sharing information with your current partner about your past experiences as a way of helping him to understand why you may not always seem “into it.” This is certainly not something you have to do, and not everyone would choose to, but it is an option and may help to foster understanding, intimacy, and connection.

I wonder if you’ve had a chance to work through your feelings about your former relationship in a way that’s brought you not only closure, but perhaps some insight and personal understanding about how to navigate healthier relationships. Many women and men who have been forced into sex find that counseling can be helpful.

Books for Survivors

The books The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz and The Survivor’s Guide to Sex by Staci Haines come recommended by a sex therapist colleague, either on their own or in conjunction with counseling. Books like these have helped many individuals deal with the effects of non-consensual sex. Often when people are forced to do something with their bodies that doesn’t feel good or right to them emotionally, they “tune out” as a way of adapting to the situation. This makes sense in the moment; it serves as protection and is a common response to a terrible situation.

The difficulty is when this becomes kind of an automatic response such that now, even when you’re having sex with someone who you actually want to have sex with and consent to have sex with, it can be easy to slip into that same pattern of tuning out. However, many people learn to break through this pattern and establish new ones and you can too whether that’s through reading the book, doing counseling, journaling or paying closer attention to the kinds of sexual expression you do or don’t want and acting on your choices.

Finally, given how negative our culture can be about sexuality, there are an awful lot of people who tune out during sex because they wonder if what they’re doing is right, what their parents or friends would think if they found out, if they’ll be punished or if they are now somehow “dirty” for having or acting on sexual thoughts and fantasies. Getting over negative associations with sexual expression and accepting the sexual sides of ourselves is – to some extent – work that many of us have to do. The fact that you’re aware of this and you’re ready to do the work puts you way ahead of the game.

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