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My girlfriend would like to expand our sex life to include activities such as me hitting and slapping her (specifically: hitting her in the face). She has brought it up more than once. Normally I am very into exploring mostly anything in the bedroom with her. But this idea makes me want to lie down and curl into the tiniest ball and never ever get off the floor ever again.
My most serious relationship ever (~3 years) was with a girl who was heavily physically abusive towards me. And despite my extensive awareness/education/passion regarding issues of domestic violence, and despite damn common sense, I didn’t ever leave that relationship. I stayed. I stayed until she didn’t. I am not proud of this fact but I have made peace with it.
And now my loving girlfriend wants me to lovingly hit her. And I KNOW these situations are different. I know that hitting my girlfriend with consent when she wants it and is asking for it, holds no similarity to the times my ex-girlfriend would hit me. I know that logically, but I can’t separate it in my mind. Every time my lovely girl asks me to hit her during sex I just shut down because the request sends me right back to the head space of having a girlfriend hit me without consent, and without me asking for it or wanting it.
I want to be able to give my girlfriend what she wants in the bedroom. I want to fulfill her sexually and sensually and I want to help her explore her various interests and fantasies. But I can’t even think about hitting her without conflating it with my own memories of lying on the floor next to my bed, letting my girlfriend kick and punch me, and thinking I deserved it. I can’t disconnect her politely requested action with the actions so deeply entrenched in my memories.
So what do I do? I honestly don’t think I can mentally handle hitting her. Even if I know she wants it, it’s just too close for comfort for me. But I don’t want to be that person who won’t fulfill a request for their very generous and open lover. I want to make my girlfriend feel good. I just don’t know how to make her feel good without making myself feel very very bad.
Hello my dear, I’m going to call you Myrtle, okay? So, Myrtle, first it is so very evident that you care deeply for your girlfriend and love her to pieces, that you’re even torn up over this in the first place! You should never ever ever have to do something in bed that makes you unhappy, let alone reminds you of an abusive relationship.
Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional. I’m also not a sex educator so sometimes when I do posts like this I feel like I’m pretending to be Carolyn or Dani or Ali. (Like I’ve never said “______ play” in actual life but I’m about to say it in this answer!) As always, I’m gonna do my best to give advice based on my own experiences and knowledge about life, but I’m sure there will be readers who have more (or even something better) to say!
Before I even get into talking about the sex thing, though, I wanna talk about your previous relationship: please don’t berate yourself for having stayed, or curse your “lack of common sense.” Abusive relationships are terrible beasts that attack you mentally, emotionally and physically. Anybody who has been there has had that moment where you step outside yourself and think, “where did I go?” The deck was stacked against you, and the reason intimate partner violence advocates push so hard for women to leave those situations is not to teach you things you don’t already know or make you feel stupid for staying, it’s just to save your life. It’s the worst trap and I’m so sorry you were treated that way, and I’m so glad that you’re not in it anymore. But I wonder if some of your sense of obligation to perform in bed in a way that makes you upset comes from guilt for having been involved in an abusive relationship in the first place when you should have “known better.” Girl, if “knowing better” was all it took to get ourselves out of living hellscapes, we’d all be angels in lesbian heaven by now.
If “knowing” that [this thing] was not [that thing] was all it took to stop associating them with each other, then we’d all get MacArthur Genius Grants.
So, Myrtle: I know you don’t wanna be that person who won’t fulfill a request for their very generous and open lover — but I bet your girlfriend doesn’t wanna be that person whose sexual requests send their girlfriend into a horrifying traumatic spiral, either. Plus, that kind of play is supposed to be fun for both people involved! Ideally, the giver of slaps would be a person who gets off on or is turned on by that act or other kinds of consensual violent play. Of course, people have been known to do consensual things solely for the other’s pleasure even if we don’t care for it ourselves, but I think most receivers have the most fun if their partner is also into it.
Obviously you’re really affected by the idea of hitting your girlfriend in the face during sex, and no amount of logic is gonna change that, at least not yet. Your body remembers, you know? (Sidenote: If you haven’t already and you can afford it, you should try therapy. You deserve a safe space to work through a lot of the after-effects of what you have survived.) Beyond the realm of intense psychological trauma points, though, we as humans quite often have a hard time separating the impact of past traumas on present realities. Why can’t I be told that I need to do [this or that] around the house by a kind loving roommate, partner or friend without spiraling into self-hatred because once upon a time, if I failed to wash a dish I could be in for hours of things being thrown and screaming about what a terrible human I am? I DON’T KNOW, MYRTLE. Things remind us of other things!
So your first step is that you’ve gotta sit down and talk to her about why it is that you cannot do this. If you do go to therapy it’s possible you might be able to in the future, and you can hold that in your heart, but don’t promise her it might happen if it won’t.
You need to find out how important it is to her — maybe she likes BDSM and wants to explore with you, but is also fine doing without it if you’re not game. It’s not that easy for couples to match up perfectly w/r/t what they like in bed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still have great sex together within that intersecting Venn Diagram piece that looks like vulva. So tell her that it’s a no for now, and find out how important it is to her in general, and then go from there.
Here’s what that might look like: is it just slapping/hitting her face that you have a problem with? Like my girl and I are pretty into most forms of consensual violent kink, but can’t do any kind of face hitting/slapping, full stop, and that’s okay! It’s a very loaded area of the body. If it’s that specific act and that specific target that’s unsettling for you, then maybe there are others that wouldn’t torpedo you into a dark place. Like spanking, for example. Maybe you can talk to your partner about what it is about being slapped that appeals to her (humiliation? submission?) and find another way to get there that doesn’t require you to do anything violent, like through dirty talk or using restraints. Maybe it’s just the pain that she likes and she could use sex toys to experience that pain during sex without having you inflict it (e.g., nipple clamps, wax play). Maybe there are floggers or paddles or whips that are so costumey that you could use them during kinky sex without it reminding you of past trauma. It’s possible that the more often you do this kind of sex, the more you’ll be able to associate those memories with this relationship instead of what you’re dealing with right now, which is that your only memory of this type of physical contact is within a shitty context. (There’s also always the option to open up the relationship or have your girlfriend see a professional dom or something, if that’s your thing?)
Your first step is always just to talk about it and figure out the best way to make her feel good without making yourself feel very very bad. Whatever happens, please know that there is nothing wrong with you for not being interested in that kind of sex. Not everybody is!