IT HAPPENED TO ME: Having Sex with Strangers Made Me Realize I'd Been Sexually Abused as a Child

I had been trying to avoid getting hurt, but instead, it brought up a phantom pain.
Avatar:
Alex Reaves
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
85
I had been trying to avoid getting hurt, but instead, it brought up a phantom pain.

I grew up believing sex was an act of surrender. As a girl, I'd heard horror stories of women being driven mad after being duped by their first partner. By losing her virginity, a woman had to give up her body as well as her mind. There was something about sex that made women vulnerable, and they always seemed to get hurt because of it.

I was convinced that I'd share this fate. I fear that, after giving myself fully to a man, he would somehow ruin me. Sex seemed unavoidable, though, so I resigned myself to this sacrifice and the anguish it would bring. If I were emotionally detached, then maybe I'd be protected from harm. 

That's when it struck me: I had to lose my virginity to a stranger. By turning an intimate act into a mechanical one, I could make myself numb.

To use and be used would become my way of life.

To use and be used would become my way of life.

My first sexual partner was a university student I met on Tinder. Although I had some reservations, I locked them away in the pit of my stomach. It'd be better this way — a guarantee that no man would ever have the power to wound me. 

I stiffened as soon as he touched me. My body was corpse-like as he pulled my skirt, my panties, and tufts of my hair. I felt like I was being unraveled, and more than anything I wanted to sink into his bed sheets and disappear. I kept my eyes closed most of the time, afraid that I'd suffocate under his body. At times I felt separate from my body, an attempt to escape the physical distress I was in.

After that hazy, petrifying night, I felt obligated to have sex again. I saw the fear that paralyzed me while pinned under him as a sign of weakness. The fact that I had felt anything at all meant that I'd failed, unable to be completely anesthetized to a man's touch. Maybe the more sex I had, the less I would feel.

The second time was more traumatic than the first. I absolutely did not want to sleep with this man, but I thought I had to. He repulsed me, and every time he made contact with my flesh, I burned with anger. I fought the urge to smack his hands away and scream. After he came, I was leaden with guilt, disgusted by what I had done.

Though shaken up by that encounter, I still craved sex. This hunger wasn't driven by desire, as my experiences were never pleasurable. Instead, I sought control of my physical self. I thought I wouldn't mind men using me as long as I was desensitized, but I was wrong. A vital part of myself felt missing, like they had stolen it, and I wanted to get it back.

I found an online dating site and looked for sexual partners. I managed to sleep with three different men in three days, hoping for an epiphany on the other side of their orgasms. I longed to feel some degree of autonomy, to know that my body completely belonged to me, but each time, I left empty-handed. The only thing I did achieve was having sex without feeling, deadened to all touch.

After sleeping with a stranger one night, a sense of bewilderment shot through my veins. My eyes wandered about in the darkness, occasionally drifting toward the window where the soft glow from the street lamps filtered in. For a moment I considered leaving, but where would I go? I wondered what I was doing there in the first place, lying naked next to a man 13 years my senior. The emptiness that I had felt in my stomach spread, eating through my nerves and into my bones. I finally knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what.

That binge threw me into a whirlpool charged with my dread. I was a hollow, unfeeling vessel, stripped of both my body and soul. As I wallowed about in helplessness, blurred images from my childhood began to form in the back of my mind. 

They were memories from the ages of six to nine, slightly out of focus, but still stinging. Something terrible had happened. 

For all those years I thought if I didn't admit it to myself, it couldn't hurt me. Still, it had managed to snake its way through the past and strangle me in the present.

Being sexually abused was more than just a physical experience. It had deprived me of any sense of ownership I had over myself. I was nothing more than someone else's object, rotting away from humiliation while they used me for their pleasure. Every time they touched my body, the more detached I became. Sex was the only way I thought I could take it back — proof that it was mine and couldn't be used against me.

I tried to defend myself from feeling that phantom pain again by turning off my emotions. It was my only protection against what I saw as inevitable physical violation. But blunting my nerves did nothing to preserve my sense of self, and often left a quickly eroding void within.

I'm finally starting to become vocal about what happened to me so many years ago. The memories that I had allowed to fester have come to light. They're no longer monstrous abstractions governing my every move. 

Yes, it still aches, but I'm relearning that my body is mine, and no one can take it from me.