(Doctor’s Note: This week’s ADNL has a letter from someone dealing with sexual assault. This is a sensitive topic and brings out a lot of issues. As such, I will be riding hard on the comments section. Be on your best behavior or else.)
Hi Dr. NerdLove,
This past weekend I went drinking with some friends. We all ended back up at my place… and one in particular guy got me alone. He and I have been flirtatious in the past. He kept pulling me close and asking for sex. I kept saying no, however he kept making me feel guilty for saying no. I told him I was scared (as I had never had sex before) and he kept asking me for reasons why I would be scared. I told him that I was uncomfortable since our friends were in rooms all around us, I didn’t want to get pregnant , and I’m still in a conflicting predicament with my ex. He kept disrespecting my no and giving me reasons why I should let him. So finally I just said yes. I stopped him not even three minutes into it, because I had started crying. This person was the person I had been most comfortable with, yet somehow I felt exposed and betrayed.
Ever since then I have felt guilty and disgusting. I cringe when anyone touches me. And to put the cherry on top of my situation, my ex boyfriend (who I really love) and I are trying to get back together. He was a virgin as well and I’m planning on telling him what happened but I’m scared he won’t see it as my being coerced. I’m scared he will see it as I said yes so I’m to blame. How do I move past this to feel okay with myself again, and what am I supposed to do about my ex?
Didn’t Want This
First of all, DWT, I’m so sorry this happened to you. You discovered that the person you thought was your friend had been lying to you. They weren’t your friend; they were someone who thought that they had rights to your person, who could betray your trust, push you until you finally said “yes” to something you didn’t want and hurt you on an incredibly profound level. I hope you understand this already but I feel the need to reiterate it anyway: I believe you and this was not your fault. It doesn’t matter that you’d been drinking. It doesn’t matter that you and this guy had a flirty friendship. It. Was. Not. Your. Fault.
I want you to surround yourself with people who will tell you the same thing: that they believe you and this was not your fault.
It was incredibly brave of you to reach out like this, and I want to commend you. You’ve gone through something horrible, and it’s entirely understandable that you’re hurt and that you’re feeling scared. But I want you to realize you’re braver and stronger than you realize and you will be ok.
I would suggest is that you talk to a licensed counselor or therapist, especially one who specializes in helping people who’ve been sexually assaulted. They are going to be the people who can help you cope and recover. RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network has a crisis hotline and assault service provider network that can help put you in touch with counselors for both individual help and group counseling – whichever you might feel the most comfortable with. These are frequently free or low-cost and I think they will absolutely help you right now.
They can also help you with how you may want to talk about this with other people. A trained counselor or therapist can help you find the right words to describe what happened and help you decide if, when and how you want to tell others, including your ex.
The next thing I would suggest is getting yourself surrounded by Team You – your friends and your family who can give you the emotional support you need. You aren’t alone; you have people who care about you and who’ll lend you their strength if that’s what you require. They can be an important resource for you right now, because you need people who love and care for you in your corner. One thing that is going to surprise you and shock you and hurt in ways you’re not expecting: you may find yourself mourning the loss of this person you thought was your friend. This is natural and understandable. It’s going to hurt and you’re going to not understand why it hurts… he assaulted you. Why would you spend even a nanosecond of your emotions on him? But emotions aren’t simple things; they can’t be turned on or turned off like a faucet. You will have experienced a loss, of sorts. Someone you thought was your friend is gone, in one of the most thorough and permanent ways possible, taking with them even the pleasure of your memories of your time with them. Don’t let it throw you. It doesn’t mean that you wanted this. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t hurt. It means you’re a person and somebody you were close to died in almost every way a person can while still breathing.
You should also be aware that there’s a lot of pressure for victims of rape and sexual assault, often from corners you might not expect. You may feel pressured to be open about being a victim of assault. You may feel pressure from people to speak out against the guy who assaulted you. You may feel pressured to name him and expose him or to tell others about having been assaulted. I want you to know: all of that is entirely up to you. In my strictly personal opinion – and I stress that I’m saying this as someone who hasn’t been through what you have – I think it can be important to let people know that someone did this to you. However: there’s really no right or wrong here, just what’s right for you. If that’s not a road you want to go down, for whatever reason, that’s ok. If you want to wait until you feel stronger, that’s ok too. You have the right to do what you feel is right for you.
Similarly, don’t worry about how you’re “supposed” to be; you’ve been through something traumatic and there’s no schedule to follow or any specific way you’re expected to react. Do what you need to heal; that’s the most important thing.
As for your ex-boyfriend: like I said, talking to a counselor can help you determine if you want to tell him, what to say if you do and how to say it. And if he’s a good guy, he’ll listen to you, he’ll believe you, he’ll be patient and he’ll understand.
But I want to circle back around to this: you’re incredibly brave, and you’re stronger than you realize. Help is out there for you, and you are going to be OK.
All will be well.
Hi Dr. NerdLove,
Let me start by saying that I really like your page, although I live on the other side of the Atlantic, I’ve found a lot of helpful advice here. Now I’m in a somewhat difficult situation. To give some background, I’m 30 years now, I’ve got a life which has given me the opportunity to live in several different countries, and I’ve had a handful of relationships. These have normally lasted a bit more than a year; after that I was always the one to break up. This was either because the relationship had become long-distance and I saw no future in it anymore, or because I’d lost interest in having sex with my partner. Last year ,I moved to a new place and right upon arrival met a guy I fell crazy in love with, he fell in love with me too, and we’ve been in a relationship now for one and a half years. This came after a period in which I was single for several years, dating several guys but starting to feel annoyed that none of them wanted to commit to anything, so I was very happy to meet my current boyfriend who has been 100% committed to our relationship ever since.
As any relationship, we’ve had a few problems, but the main one that I don’t know how to get out of is that, after the first few months, I have pretty much lost interest in having sex with him. I never thought the sex with him was great, to be honest – it was fine, and in the beginning I thought we’d learn to harmonize better over time, but that hasn’t really happened. I’ve tried asking him to do a few things I’d like, but although he put in some effort, he also started complaining that sex should function ‘naturally’ and that he felt like I was making him follow a manual.
There were also some health issues – I have genital herpes and had a number of outbreaks since I started dating him, which understandably worried him. I’m now on suppression therapy and haven’t had outbreaks for half a year, but he doesn’t want to give me oral sex because of this, and I miss it a lot. So over time, I lost interest in having sex with him, and have started feeling stressed when he makes an advance. By now, I don’t feel sexually attracted to him anymore at all, and even feel reluctant to kiss him, although I love hugging and cuddling him, which I wish we would do more – so I guess we have quite different preferences when it comes to physical intimacy.
This has made me question the relationship a lot, and as a result, we have also had fights about other issues, which I might not see as major problems if we still had a functioning sex life. He has always told and shown me that he loves me, but he also expects me to have more sex with him (it’s really rare now, maximum once a month that we have sex). After a phase of just not caring for sex, I now do miss it – but I just don’t enjoy the kind of sex we have, and I don’t know how to change it. In the past, I would have taken this as a definite signal to break up and move on. But I care for this man, and I also realize that there is a certain pattern to my relationships where I lose sexual interest after some time, and I have come to a point in my life where I would like to have a longer-term relationship, complete with a functioning sex life. Any advice on how to get there?
Looking For Both In Many Wrong Places
I think there’re a couple issues here, LFBMWP. The first is that you and your current boyfriend aren’t sexually compatible. You are pretty clearly on different pages of what you want sexually, and the sex you are having isn’t the sex you want to have. Some of that sounds like he could use some education on herpes, the fact that it’s not that big of a deal, how it’s spread, and the likelihood that he already has it. Some of it sounds like he just isn’t that caring and giving of a lover, especially if he’s complaining that following some of your suggestions isn’t “functioning naturally”.
So I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised that you’ve fallen out of lust with him. And to be honest… I’d say that your initial instinct of “it’s time to leave him” is the right one.
But what about your tendency to lose interest in your partners? That merits some self-reflection and tallying up the common factors. What are the circumstances under which you lose interest? Is it that the sex is – as with your current beau – just ok but goes down hill and you’re not interested in mediocre to lousy sex with them? Perhaps you’re feeling a certain amount of stigma and (unnecessary) shame from having contracted herpes and that puts the kibosh on your libido? Have there been times when the sex has just been headboard-rocking-neighbors-pounding-on-the-wall awesome, but you still lost interest? Could it be that you’re just one of those people who requires a fair amount of sexual novelty and for whom monogamy’s a bad idea?
These are questions you’re going to need to answer for yourself.
But in the meantime, the fact that you have a certain pattern in relationships doesn’t mean that you should force yourself to stay in one to prove a point. If you’re not happy with your sex life and your partner isn’t willing to work with you to improve, then it really is better to break up with him and find someone you are compatible with. If you’re not happy, you’re not happy, and forcing the issue won’t make you happy. Not every relationship can be fixed and not every relationship should.
If you need an assist on sorting things out – and possibly dealing with any stigma you may feel surrounding having herpes – then it can be worth finding a sex-positive counselor. But in the meantime, spend a little time seeing if you can sort out the triggers around your loss of interest, LFBMWP. Then decide for yourself if that’s a bug or a feature.