Will I Be Ever Able To Have Sex Like A Normal Person?

The sexual trauma of rape leaves scars that affect our self-concept, body image and our emotional intimacy

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Q Two years ago, in my last year of college, I lost my virginity when I was raped. Since then I’ve assumed that was what sex was like, and so I didn’t ever want to do it again. I didn’t realise I had been ‘raped’ until I recently told a friend about what had happened to me. I’ve never told anyone else.

I’m in a relationship now with a lovely boyfriend who is patient, kind and caring – a very different type of guy to the first one I met. I want us to be intimate together, but whenever we try I just seem to clam up. I have flashbacks and I freak out and get all panicky and tearful. I fear that I’ll always be like this. Will I ever be able to have sex like a normal person?

A You are a normal person – well, as normal as anyone can be! What happened to you wasn't normal.

It sounds as though you’ve been more deeply affected by the distress and trauma of having been raped than you’d previously realised. This is perhaps compounded by not acknowledging the full impact of the sexual assault/abuse upon your mind and body, and instead trying to bury it, and put it all behind you.

There are different types of sex, just as there are different types of people (and everything else) out there.

As you’ve said that the first person you’ve ever told about this incident of rape was a friend, I’m assuming you didn’t go to the Police or have any counselling to help you to understand and re-balance your feelings about what had happened to you.

The memory will have been stored in your mind and your brain is trying to alert you to any other similar threats in future. It is making you feel awful about sex so as to avoid a potentially bad sexual experience again. Your brain has made a link between sex and assault, pain and violation. It doesn’t want that to happen to you ever again.

You ‘clam up’ to keep the pain and distress locked away. You are having emotional flashbacks as a reminder to stay alert to any possible sexual threats.

That makes sense – but it also gets in the way of you being able to move on from that old trauma and file it away. The emotional charge that memory holds needs to be greatly reduced. You brain and body need to feel safe and under your control.

I am so happy for you that you’ve attracted a good guy this time, one who treats you with respect and consideration. One who can put his own needs second to yours and who wants the best for you.

Your brain needs for you and your body to feel safe again – and your new boyfriend could really help you with this.

You can calm and soothe yourself with slow, deep breathing as well as self-stroking (particularly on alternate sides of your body/upper arms/lap).

When you felt ready you could then progress to being held and stroked by someone you trust – your boyfriend. It’s important that this isn’t seen as foreplay… just sensitive, respectful and compassionate touch.

This will encourage your body to release something called ‘oxytocin’ – which makes us feel safe, relaxed, connected and bonded. It’s sometimes called the ‘cuddle hormone’ and it’s vital for our physical and psychological health.

As you feel your mind and body becoming more calm, safe, receptive and yielding you can then take whichever small steps feel right for you at that time.

Ask for what you want – especially because you didn’t ask for what happened to you in the past and now you can reclaim your self control and power by speaking up for yourself and making your boundaries and desires clear.

You must rely upon yourself to keep you safe in future and to trust your gut instincts about what feels right for you.

Always remember to give the wounded ‘younger you’ plenty of self-compassion and self-care. Treat her as you would treat a daughter you loved. Offer her time, attention, care and love. Open her heart to emotional connection, and open her body to receiving loving touch.

Your past experience has now given you a perspective that not everyone else has. The ability to feel the power of resilience and self-soothing, self-compassion and self-love.

That is not ‘normal’ for everyone – but it should be!

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR - where you will find a page of FREE resources including some short video clips to help you to rebalance your emotional state. (You can also find some of these here in Psychologies Life Labs if you search for my name). - helping women understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours - to FEEL better, so they can BE, DO and HAVE better! - 10 online self-help workshops of Psycho-Emotional-Education for a wide range of emotional and psychological difficulties

Maxine Harley