Hi! I just wanted to give a quick TW for assault and toxic relationships! I don’t go into detail but that’s the subject so I wanted to give you a heads up.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve begun to remember that I was sexually assaulted in college. It’s been a long process to accept it, and I think I’ve come to the point where I can start dating again. My main issue is how to approach the topic with potential new partners. When’s the right time to do it, and how do I tell them? I was dating my (now ex) girlfriend around the time I began to remember the assault, and initially when I told her she was empathetic and told me she respects whatever choices I made. When I finally told her that I didn’t want to have sex in the near future because I hated the thought of being sexualized and no longer felt like my body was mine, she suddenly got really angry with me and all but tried to coax me into it. I’m really worried that it will happen again. The fallout from the assault and my ex’s lack of support have shattered any form of trust I’ve had in any future partners. Now that I’m trying to find that trust again, I’m not sure how or when to word it. I’m really not sure I could handle someone reacting the way my ex did again.
I have to start by getting this out: “Fuck your ex. FUCK THEM.” I don’t think I have to expand on why, but in case it isn’t abundantly clear to you, your ex was way out of line and what you are describing is sexual violence. Using anger and coercion to try to get someone to have sex with you is disgusting. Frankly, it would be unsurprising to me to know that your ex had other red flags around respecting your boundaries that, upon reflection, were also part of that relationship becoming unhealthy for you. I’m so very glad they are your ex-girlfriend and not your current girlfriend. I’m so glad you got out of that situation, however it ended.
You are not to blame.
You are not to blame for how your ex responded to you. You are not to blame for how your mind and body are reacting to sexual intimacy. You are not to blame for needing to reestablish your individual needs around intimacy, no matter how many times they change or with whom they are changing. You are certainly not to blame for the sexual assault in college. None of this is your fault. Before we go any farther here, I want to be sure that has sunk in.
I hope you have sought professional help to provide a listening ear. If not, and if you are able to allocate some funds to therapy or counseling, I highly recommend it. You are going through a really challenging time in your life and you deserve support and attention paid to helping you figure out where to go from here.
I’m going to be real about future partners. You can’t control them. You can’t control how someone may react to your disclosure, should you choose to disclose, around your assault. You can’t control how someone may react to you turning down sexual advances or setting a personal boundary around sexual intimacy. Some people…are assholes. And you can’t always tell who is and who isn’t before the moments in which it becomes abundantly clear.
What you can control is how you set boundaries in your dating and romantic life way before you get to the bedroom. You may decide that you want to take a break from dating altogether. You may decide that you are only interested in romantic relationships without an expectation of sex right now. You may decide that you are only looking for platonic relationships. You may decide you absolutely want to date again and want to actively work towards reclaiming your sexual desire. These are all options and there are many more possibilities for you, but you get to decide and no one else. And you get to change your mind. Have faith in your ability to set boundaries and know what you need.
You definitely should stop thinking of yourself as broken, if you do, and I sense that you do. Consider that every person in this world has sexual needs and desires that change over time, that ebb and flow, and are sometimes impacted by traumas and stressors that are not our fault. I repeat, you aren’t broken. You are understanding a part of yourself right now that is raw and delicate and that deserves your careful time to see it, hold it, and figure it out. If a partner isn’t down for that, they aren’t the right partner for you. And you aren’t responsible for any adverse reaction a partner or potential partner or date has. That is 100% about them, not you.
You can’t stop a broken heart from hurting if someone does reject you. It fucking hurts. You can control how you place the blame. It’s not your fault. It’s also not shameful to be working on yourself. It’s also not shameful to choose to abstain or place clear boundaries around sex. You can also control how you care for yourself. You hopefully have, even if not a professional, a person you can talk to about this. If you don’t, think about who in that life might be able to be that supportive friend to you. You can care for yourself in other ways, letting yourself feel feelings without self-harming or placing blame on yourself, taking care of your body in ways that feel good and safe to you.
You won’t be able to trust another partner again until you can trust yourself. I’m not saying you have to figure this all out to date and trust again. We’re all on a path all the time — no one has it all figured out. I’m not saying you can’t date right now. I’m saying you have to work on trusting yourself that your boundaries are valid, should be protected at all costs, and should be respected by other people. When you believe that you have nothing to feel bad about for being who you are, where you are right now, you will be better able to trust yourself to filter out the people who are not on your level. You can stop worrying about whether they’ll reject you and focus instead on whether they pass the test of respecting you to be allowed into your life. It sounds like your ex really messed with your head, but I think you know that this–all of it–is not your fault.
When and if you decide you want to work towards sexual intimacy with a partner again, I highly suggest working with a professional and I also answered a question about that topic from another person navigating past trauma and sex. By setting your boundaries and prioritizing your choices, you may find the right partner to start down this path with if it’s what you want. In terms of when or how to tell people about your boundaries or sexual assault, that’s your choice. If it feels like something you want to put right out on the first date, that’s OK. You can even keep it simple, like, “I’m working through some personal stuff right now, so I’m not interested in having sex in the near future. Is that OK with you?” Remember your needs aren’t a burden and you don’t owe anyone any explanation to get their respect.
I’m so glad your shitty ex is out of the picture so you have the space to figure out what you want and how you want to move forward. I imagine an abundant future for you and I’m sending you all my love.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.