WRITTEN BY HANNAH SHEWAN STEVENS.
ORIGINALLY POSTED HANNAH’S BLOG, Sardonic Chronic.
TRIGGER WARNING This article contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
When people say that your first love sticks with you forever, they’re not lying. Mine has been the monster in my closet for my entire life.
I was seven-years-old when I met the person who forged the foundation of my understanding of romanticised love. I thought I’d met a guardian who would protect me from the world’s evils. It didn’t turn out that way.
For three years I was groomed and abused by a family friend. My innocence stolen and my bodily autonomy corrupted, the chance to explore my sexuality naively was denied long before I ever consented to a sexual act.
My abuser carefully manipulated me to ensure that I was easier to abuse by grooming me to be passive; that sexual placidity has been hard to undo. Just like him, I learned to switch masks effortlessly and keep my true emotions concealed so that no one would know the truth.
His manipulation convinced me that I had some level of control over the abuse, which ensured that I lay the blame at my own feet when it abruptly ended. I thought I’d done something to anger him and that he was as disgusted by me as I was. The impact of the abuse left me vulnerable and reliant on male approval for validation.
As a young teenager, I lacked the tools to navigate a world full of sexual intimacy and I was swiftly sucked into dangerous situations. I knew what sexual acts were biologically but I didn’t know that emotions were supposed to be involved or that mutual respect was crucial. And, most damagingly, I had no clue what consent was. Essentially, I saw myself as a sexual object first and a person with rights second.
My first sexual experience outside of childhood abuse was another assault. Before I could even register what was happening to me, I clicked on that trusty mask and went into autopilot. My life had taught me that passivity was the key to survival at the hands of dangerous men. Afterwards, I quickly excused the behaviour of the 19-year-old adult who had preyed on a 14-year-old child.
A year later, I had penetrative sex for the first time with a 20-year-old, solidifying the trend of holding myself accountable for the actions of problematic men. Subsequently I nicknamed the state I slipped into during sex “prostitute mode” after I saw Pretty Woman for the first time. Listening to Julia Roberts explain the mindset she’d switch to when servicing a john resonated with me more than any teen rom-com ever had.
The cycle of sexual chaos continued until I met my first serious boyfriend. He was the only person I’d dated who actually tried to reach me underneath the veneer I’d worked so hard to build. But I was still stuck in my own head. While I loved the pleasure of sexual intimacy, I was emotionally numbed. I only saw the need for sexual pleasure, because that’s all I’d been conditioned to do.
He saw the darkness I was hiding and convinced me to seek help and with counselling I was able to connect intimacy and romantic feeling while having sex.
When we ended, I thought I’d conquered the abuse so nothing would ever get in the way of my sexuality again. I was wrong. I had awakened a deep-seated resistance to my sexuality, especially my high sex drive. Despite being a documented effect on survivors of sexual abuse, the intense shame broke me all over again.
Following another lapse into “prostitute mode” at 20, I hacked into my leg in a trance. I hadn’t self-harmed in years but I tore apart a razor and drew deep slashes into my skin before I could register what was happening. That incident became the last time I ever self-harmed.
As I looked down at the pool of blood, I knew something had to change. I was exacting revenge on myself for a crime I hadn’t committed. I had to break the cycle of self-abuse.
I tried to learn as much as I could about sexuality of abuse survivors but all the books in the world couldn’t make me apply their logic to my life. So I found another way to embrace my sexuality, I started using other people for sex. I thought that was a good compromise.
Then I met someone who embraced all of me. It was revolutionary. He took me down a sexual rabbit hole and then slowly set me on a path up a mountain I had no idea I needed to climb. He stoked the fires and I poured on the gasoline. For the very first time, I fell into my sexuality and harnessed its power for myself.
The foundation of my sexuality was forged in a nightmare and I’ve fought for most of my life to counteract the effects. I clawed my way up and out of the pit I was thrown into and I’m still climbing higher every day.
I live with PTSD, I have nightmares so intense that I often procrastinate sleep to avoid them and every so often I accidentally slip back into old habits. It’s excruciating to confront the impact sexual abuse has on your life but it is crucial, even if it takes a lifetime.
I am stronger than the abuse. I am worthy of love and intimacy. I am a powerful person with agency, boundaries and bodily autonomy. I am a woman who embraces her sexuality. I am a sexual survivor and I am not ashamed.