You Need Help: When Doing [This Sex Act] Makes You Want To Lie Down and Curl Into The Tiniest Ball

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q:

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.

A:

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 lifeIt’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!

Love,

Riese

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2676 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. Riese is of course right on the money. Consensual is the first and only way to go – if you’re not into the idea, absolutely don’t feel like you’re a bad person for not wanting to do it.

    IDK if this is helpful, but Sinclair Sexsmith talks about this stuff a lot, from various perspectives. This is a related question, and has some good links in there, too. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful/interesting.

  2. Is the girlfriend aware of the past abuse? Because if she is, thats pretty fucking gross. I’m all for consensual anything, but if you know that your partner was abused by someone that was supposed to love them, maybe don’t suggest that they relive it in some way. Even if it’s pretend. Don’t even ask.

    • That’s too hard line of a rule. Here’s why: I’m a sexual assault survivor. I also enjoy some kink including bondage and mild to moderate playing at non-consensual. However, I’ve had enough partners shame me for this, that my sexual interests were somehow pathological because I’m a survivor, that I began to wait for partners to bring this topic up rather than introduce it myself. I would have been sad if my partners had stuck to your rule. Clearly if someone says that something is out of the question because of past trauma, that’s not a place to push. However, just because someone has a past trauma that resembles some kind of sex play doesn’t mean anything about how they might or might feel about said sex play. I’m for talking to partners not making unilateral sexual decisions for them. So, I say, ask. Ask respectfully and with saying no as a clear and acceptable option, but ask…there’s no universal truth here.

    • I can tell you’re coming from an emotional place on this, but I disagree about the girlfriend’s motives. It can be hard to know what someone’s triggers are, and if the abuse is difficult to talk about, the partner may not know what specific things are likely to cause difficulty. If Myrtle’s girlfriend kept asking for this specific act *after* Myrtle told her how triggering the request was, that would be pretty fucked up, but I don’t think a partner making a mistake by not anticipating a trigger is an abusive thing, even though it sucks to deal with.

    • I think bdsm can be therapy. I’ve been in a very abusive relationship before and have been sexually assaulted. I can, however, indulge in bdsm play. Her girlfriend is allowed to ask. She should ask. How else is her girlfriend suppose to know about her desire for bdsm or anything else for that matter? My current partner doesn’t share my compulsion for bdsm but it doesn’t make the relationship bad. We’ve talked about it though.

    • yeah i agree with B13 as well — i think it’s no good to assume a correlation between somebody’s past experiences with abuse and what elements of BDSM they may or may not be into. in my experiences there isn’t necessarily a huge correlation between the two. and i think a good trusting relationship should make room for people to freely express their desires as much as one can freely discuss what they don’t desire. we shouldn’t shame anyone for communicating openly about their desires.

    • I also respectfully disagree with your opinion that Myrtle’s girlfriend is being gross here. I am a survivor of sexual abuse and I am also very kinky. I would never punish a ladyfriend who respectfully told me (or requested) some kind of play that might remind me of past sexual trauma because the difference is in the asking. My abuser didn’t ask me. There wasn’t love, trust, and respect and it sounds like those 3 things are in play in Myrtle’s question and at least 2 out of the 3 of those things are in play when a lady I’m sharing my bed with tells me what turns her on.

      In an ideal relationship—I mean, like the one Myrtle has now, not the one with her abuser—you share your boundaries with your partner. It is very powerful for me to be able to play and occasionally push my boundaries—consensually—with someone that I trust. I am honored when I also get to do the same for my play partners. Every time I have kinky, amazing sex with someone and get to share the incredible bond born of trust and mutual respect it helps me heal from my past trauma.

      So, yeah, it sounds like Myrtle isn’t at that point. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that her girlfriend shouldn’t express her own desires. They’re both adults who are allowed to have their own sexual preferences and ask for what they want, and in a non-abusive relationship, each party can decline.

  3. For what it’s worth: the thing that I was thinking through this whole answer was the yes/no/maybe list. It’s essentially a pretty comprehensive list of things you can do together and alone.

    Autostraddle made one a while ago, and it’s here: http://www.autostraddle.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/autostraddle-sexapalooza-handout.pdf

    Autostraddle’s just has boxes to check, but you might want to take a page from Scarleteen and mark Y (Yes), N (No), M (Maybe), IDK (I don’t know) and N/A.

    Usually, it is recommended that each person fill it out individually and then you compare notes, but you may also want to do some of the pages together. I especially like the Venn Diagram in it.

  4. Another option could be to explore substitutes without getting into why face slapping is difficult. For any sexual partner, just saying “I’m not into that, how about this?” should suffice. Disclosing abuse history is optional; not a prerequisite.

    I like the idea of expanding the conversation into a y/n/m list for both partners; seems like it could turn into a more balanced, fun and informative convo.

    • Doesn’t have to be all or nothing either; just saying “it brings back bad memories” or “it’s triggering” followed by discussing alternatives could good help your partner to understand where you’re coming from, without disclosing details you don’t want to share at that time.

      That way the focus could be more on how you are now with your current partner, rather than reliving past events and relationships if you don’t want to.

  5. it sounds like the biggest thing you all need to do here is talk about it. Who knew having good mutuially fulfilling sex was all in the pre-conversation right? No one talks about it in health class, but the talking about why and what and when is really important.

    I also second the therapy suggestion, assuming you have the resources to do so. Even a woman’s group fro survivors of domestic violence. That gives you a safe place to process your experiences and possibly access to the solutions a bunch of other women have found to manage their own triggers in the bedroom and in relationships in general. I really hope it works out for you and I’m sorry you had to go through such a terrible time in your life. Sounds like you have a good thing going now and that she will be likely to support you and help you when you guys talk it out. All the luck!

  6. I think it’s often easy to forget that tops are just as entitled to have boundaries and hard-limits as bottoms are. In order for your sex life to be truly consensual, you BOTH need to feel ok. If this question was “my girlfriend really wants to slap me during sex but it brings up memories of my abuse” I think the answer you’d recieve would be different and obvious: you’re allowed to place limits around the things that make you uncomfortable without feeling like you’re an ungenerous sexual partner. It’s hard to remember that a top’s limits are just as important. There’s the illusion that being the one in the dominant position means you’re the one always in control. But kink is very much a give-and-take. She needs to respect your limits just as much as you need to respect hers. I think reise is right when she suggests that you try to explore things that might evoke the same satisfaction in her but feel safer to you. And I think also that you need to tell her that in order for your sex life to remain consensual and strong, you need to have the same kind of respectful conversations about your boundaries as I imagine you’ve already had about hers.

  7. K I’m projecting here cause I’m triggered, but can we add that repeatedly asking someone to perform a certain sex act, despite their consistent refusals, can be (even unintentionally) really pressuring and coercive?

    Again, just “can be,” i don’t know the specifics of Myrtle’s situation, and like i said, I’m projecting my own experiences with one of my abusers. So this is going to be more of an open letter to my past self, and if it is similar enough to someone’s situation to actually be relevant, that works too.

    So can we talk about being “that person who won’t fulfill a request for their very generous and open lover” because i have also been in that place of believing that was something i had to avoid doing, and oh my god it’s horrific. It’s literally the belief that you can’t ever have limits, can’t ever have boundaries, can’t ever say no, or you’ve Failed.

    Its is not at all our fault that we hold our own selves to this, we’re taught and raised to believe these things, but anyone who ever tells you to not be “that person” (who says no) is completely fucking evil.

    Any partner who actually* thinks you saying “no” is denying them something they’re entitled to – they’re not “generous and open,” they’re a (wannabe) rapist.

    Please, please, please believe that you’re human, you’re allowed to say no, to have limits and boundaries, it does not make you a bad person or a bad partner!

    (*not saying whether this is true of Myrtle’s partner, again, i have no idea! It’s something i know i *fear* every one of my partners might think, no matter how much i trust them and know intellectually they’d never do this. But anyone who does actually urge you not to be “that person” who says no, absolutely is treating you horribly, and you deserve better.)

  8. Riese and others have had some good advice.

    I will second what a previous poster said about it being okay for you to have boundaries. As a survivor of same-sex domestic violence, it took me a while to learn that. You are allowed to do what is safe and comfortable for you, and this clearly is not (at least at this time). Even though you love her very much, it doesn’t mean you have to do something that causes this much pain for you. Certain types of play are not for everyone, and that’s okay.

    If you are interested and can afford it, therapy might be an option for you. I was lucky enough to live in an area with an amazing LGBT center that provided services on a sliding scale. I saw a therapist who specialized in treating survivors of same-sex domestic violence (and who was a survivor herself). I also attended a group for survivors. This helped me tremendously. If you haven’t already, you may want to see whether a local (if there is one in your area) LGBT center provides these services.

    I am so sorry that you went through the abuse and that you are being triggered now. It sucks and it’s horrible. I wish you the best of luck with moving through this.

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