My Devoutly Christian Mother Suggested Using Sex to Help Me Move Past My Rape

It was the most unexpected thing I could possibly have read.
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Calliope Jennings
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It was the most unexpected thing I could possibly have read.

“Mama, are you awake?”

It’s not an unusual message given how often I’ve sent it in the past two years.

At the beginning of last year I ran away from my Jacksonville, Florida, home to New York, overwhelmed by the constant reminder my rapist. I met her when I was younger, and between our shared memories before the rape and the year of being consistently raped, staying in the area was just too much for me. So I ran away to New York, which no, wasn’t the best choice I could have made, but it gave me the space to deal with the trauma, and it left me reaching out to my Mama at odd hours.

Mama had been devoutly Christian for my entire life. While I have since come into a realm of sex positivity, it certainly didn’t come from home. Mama seemed averse to even the notion of sex. I presumed I must just not like anyone, at least as far as sex is concerned, and she seemed pleased with that, if skeptical. We’d always been close. I think it made her happy that I wouldn’t have to risk being hurt by someone. 

Of course, when my rapist came along, a wedge came down. I was afraid to tell Mama about my rape. I knew that she was against sex. Maybe that’s the wrong word — she wasn’t against sex so much as she was against the idea of premarital sex. I’m not entirely sure if it was religious or protective instinct, or maybe a combination of both, but either way, I knew I’d be yelled at if I was having sex. I didn’t know that it would matter if I’d been raped, especially since it was by another girl. It complicated things even more that I wasn’t out to my family yet as a girl, so in their minds it would be claims of a girl having raped a guy — laughable, in their eyes.

Mama was horrified when I finally told her what happened years later, and I think she was more worried that I hadn’t told her. We’ve talked since.

So when I messaged her late at night just about a month ago it wasn’t strange. Lee, my amazing current partner, suggested talking with her. Lee had been trying to convince me not to message my rapist — which, of course, is never a good idea — and called in Mama as backup. So I asked Mama.

“Can I message her?”

She told me it wouldn’t be healthy, which I’d been expecting. She explained why, which I’d been expecting. I’d expected that she wouldn’t get it. No one can get another person’s trauma and all that. Normally, I’m OK about not pointing that out when people are trying to be helpful, but I was in full on breakdown mode, so I was less reserved than usual.

“I hate this. Every time I pass certain makes of cars or certain kinds of wooded areas or even certain stores, I'm right back there and it's happening all over again.”

What she said next was the most unexpected thing I could possibly have read.

“You need to find something else to think of. I know that's easier said than done. Can you start making some memories with Lee that could possibly override the past?”

Sex therapy wasn’t a new idea to me. My therapist in New York (where I stayed until I recently moved to Kentucky, closer to family and where Lee lives) suggested it several times. She thought that if I could disassociate the experiences, it might help. I’d never tried it though. How could a city like New York disconnect the iconography of the south from my rapist?

It obviously couldn’t. But in the south? With a person who I knew would never do something like that? (Lee is also a rape survivor; in fact, when we started becoming friends it was one of the things we talked most about. Having that sort of a support system is necessary in the face of these types of trauma. Solidarity and what not.)

It was a promising suggestion. Of course, even knowing I could be interested in sex didn’t inherently make me interested in it. There were other considerations: primarily that the predominant sexual experiences in my life were those of a close and trusted partner raping me. I wouldn’t be jumping into this so haphazardly.

Lee and I talked about it and agreed that we could tentatively try something. While we wouldn’t be doing anything particularly explicit (baby steps), we set a safe word to stop any sexual advances during the session. In case I became nonverbal, as I frequently do when I think back to my rapist, we set out a simple tap pattern so I could tap out. And I guess we did it?

Don’t worry, I won’t go into details.

Don’t worry, I won’t go into details.

It wasn’t even “sex” exactly. There was kissing, and we were lying on each other, but I couldn’t do any more. (Understandable given the point of the experience.) If I’ll be able to in any real way remains to be seen. But the trying was somehow empowering in and of itself. The knowledge that I’d even tried, and in such a healthy way, to move past the sexual scars my rapist left makes me feel at peace in a way.

I still want to message my rapist sometimes. She’s sick and dying. I want to know before she goes if she regrets it. I want to know if she even understands what she did. But I don’t message her.

“You have to be able to move on sometime, Calliope.”

Mama’s words were infuriating in the moment. It’s hard to get past something like this. Some people say you never really do. But she’s not wrong. It’s important to have other, better experiences, and not to let bad ones hold you back. And I’m working on that.

I want to end this by saying it worked. I want to, like, I don’t know, encourage people or something like that. But I’m not better. I will be one day though. I’m getting better, little by little. And my Mama told me how to get there. I’ll always be thankful to her for that.