If I Don’t Talk to My Patients About Consent, Who Will?

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Here’s why I bring it up with all my patients.

By Natasha Bhuyan, M.D.

As a primary care physician, a significant part of my job is helping patients better understand and deal with the public health issues that affect our society—whether it’s the dangers of smoking tobacco or the importance of getting a flu shot or the need to get tested for STIs.

But there is one health issue in particular that is impacting so many and yet talked about by so few: consent. Talking about the nuances of consent can be complicated and uncomfortable. The subject has long been dismissed as a “mood ruiner” among sexual partners—and as a result, many choose to ignore these conversations altogether, creating a silence around something that desperately needs to be discussed and unpacked.

Since I know that many of my patients are not having these conversations with their friends, family, or even partners, I make it part of my regular practice to bring up the subject of consent with my patients. I talk to my patients about other necessities when practicing safe sex, such as birth control and STI-prevention, so I’m in a unique position to be able to also discuss consent with them. Even a simple question like, “How do you give and receive consent with your partner?”, can make a huge difference when it comes to starting a conversation and, ultimately, creating a safer, more comfortable environment for sex

When it comes down to it, consent is all about respect for another person’s bodily autonomy: when you want to touch another person or have sex with them, you should ask first (verbally) and continue to give and receive consent in this way throughout a sexual encounter. That doesn’t necessarily mean running through a monotone checklist of “can I…,” but it does mean paying attention to the physical and verbal cues of the person you’re with, while maintaining clear and open communication. Consent also doesn’t have to be sexual. Getting and receiving consent extends to situations such as borrowing your friend’s shirt or using your coworker’s phone. We wouldn’t do either of those things without asking, so of course an act as intimate as sex deserves the same consideration.

It also means being sure that the person is able to give consent. A few important factors to consider: is your sexual partner above the age of consent in your particular state? Are you certain that they are not under the influence of mind-altering substances, and they are in no way being coerced or pressured into saying yes?

The unfortunate reality is that a lack of consent can often be difficult to prove, which is one reason an estimated 80 percent of sexual assault and rape cases go unpreported and around 995 of 1000 perpetrators of rape will avoid prison. This lack of action through the justice system is one reason why it is critical to address the underlying cultural and societal issues as swifty and resoundingly as possible

This is why I talk to all of my patients (and anyone else who will listen, really) about the importance of both giving and receiving enthusiastic consent with all partners. In my work as a primary care physician, I have spoken to many patients about their experiences with sexual assault and consent. It’s a subject I believe all PCPs should broach with their patients if they have the training and resources to do so, since it directly impacts the physical, emotional, and psychological health of the people in our society

The taboo and shame surrounding non-consensual experiences coupled with the physical and mental trauma many survivors experience can cause severe health problems for years to come. Health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and long-term physical challenges are far from uncommon in survivors and can cause irreparable damage, both mentally and physically</a

But, as it currently stands, only eight states require consent or sexual assault to be mentioned as part of public school sex education curriculum. These are typically as pieces of a larger discussion on healthy relationships, which doesn’t always help young people make the necessary associations between safe sexual activity and consent.

So, why should I—a family medicine physician—be the one bringing this up? The number one reason for me is that it ensures that someone does. Too often, other leadership figures for young people, like their parents or their schools, either don’t know how to bring up consent or simply don’t feel comfortable. Unless someone else—like a primary care provider—takes on the subject, sometimes it never gets broached at all.

When talking to patients, I do my best to normalize discussions about sexual activity by asking about things like the body parts they use for sex (vagina, anus, penis, mouth, etc.). In these discussions, I ask patients open-ended questions about how they would describe their communication with their partners, or any tension they feel in those relationships. I also ask them how they typically give and receive consent. Patients are often surprised by these questions. They may expect to be screened for STIs or asked about pregnancy, but they don’t usually associate consent with their overall health.

But the reality is that consent is a hugely important component of a patient’s sexual and overall health. Talking about consent can help me identify other conversations that I should be having with that patient and may lead to a bigger discussion about past experiences, mental and physical health, and sexual practices.

The reality of consent is that it’s not always as cut and dry as “yes” or “no,” which can make it difficult for people to speak up when a non-consensual encounter has occurred. In the past, I’ve had patients open to me about situations such as partners taking off the condom during sex without asking, leading to thoughtful discussions about bodily autonomy that they may not be having otherwise.

In my professional opinion, consent is a public health issue. I believe that viewing the prevention of sexual assault and rape through the lens of public health will help protect the overall mental and physical well-being of our society. But what exactly does treating consent as a public health issue look like—and why does that matter?

First, this would mean funding studies about attitudes toward consent and the long-term impact of non-consensual encounters by qualified researchers, helping advance policy that would advocate for explicit consent in sexual encounters as well as creating and promoting educational materials to introduce the subject to children in school.

Recognizing consent as a public health issue would also shape evidence-based guidelines for clinicians, allowing us to treat it as we would any other widespread health problem—by making it common practice to talk about consent with our patients in the context of their overall health, and by giving our patients a safe place to discuss non-consensual experiences. Smoking tobacco is a good example of a public health issue that both the medical world and general society have made strides towards improving. Many of us can remember watching anti-smoking ads on TV, or being shown an image of a blackened lung in a health class. When we go to the doctor, we’re always asked whether or not we smoke tobacco. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it shows the positive impact a multifaceted approach can have on public health issues.

As with any public health crisis, laws won’t be passed overnight and changes to education requirements can take years to go into effect—though we have and will continue to see strides made in these areas. Importantly, individuals also have the opportunity to take action now in small, deliberate ways. Perhaps the most critical thing that an individual can do to address consent is to discuss it in whichever ways we can with those around us—our sexual partners, our friends, and even our children.

While starting with the youngest members of society may sound difficult, parents and schools should introduce the concept of consent in elementary school, in the right way. While some might argue that doing so would expose children to sexual content too young, the truth is that consent can easily be introduced and reinforced in non-sexual contexts from a very early age. Familiarizing children with the idea of bodily autonomy—that no one has the right to touch them without their approval—can go a long way toward applying the concept of consent to their own bodies and those of their peers as they mature. For example, the District of Columbia’s requirements space out this subject over the course of an entire public school education. In the third grade, schools teach the importance of respect for other bodies. In fourth grade, students learn why talking about sexuality can be helpful. And in sixth grade, the curriculum includes a discussion on the repercussions of unhealthy or violent relationships.

When I look at how society has evolved in the last few years, it is clear that progress has been made. We are far more aware of what consent is and why it is important, but this education very often comes too infrequently and too late. Too many of us have long been uncomfortable discussing healthy and consensual sexual activity, but it is critical that we do so in order to set an example for future generations. One way to do this is to start talking about consent with people you trust. And in the meantime, I’m going to continue talking to my patients about the subject to ensure that they have at least one safe space—and a trusted confidant—to share.

Complete Article HERE!

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10 pieces of advice for helping a partner who has been sexually assaulted

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According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, around one in three women and one in six men in the US will experience some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime. People who have been sexually assaulted are more than capable of being in healthy and fulfilling relationships, but if your partner has experienced sexual violence, you may be lost on how to support them

Obviously, every person is different, as is their relationship to sexual assault. INSIDER consulted with psychologists and relationship experts to come up with the best pieces of advice for being in a relationship with someone who’s been sexually assaulted.

Don’t press your partner for details of the assault

Some people will want to share the details of their experience. For others, talking about the trauma may feel like reliving it.

“After a sexual assault, it can be re-traumatizing for the person to recall the experience in detail. Your partner may experience flashbacks of the assault as a result of PTSD. This may cause unwanted emotional reactions and further harm your partner,” licensed clinical social worker LaQuista Erinna told INSIDER.

Allow your partner to share as much as they want and make it clear that you’re willing to listen, but don’t push them to give details of the sexual assault.

Never put pressure on your partner to have sex

It goes without saying that you should never pressure any person to have sex at any time, but survivors of sexual assault may need more care when it comes to how and when you initiate sex.

“Sexual desire and sexual arousal can be difficult to achieve for someone who has been sexually assaulted, and it can take time for the survivor to feel comfortable sexually again,” psychotherapist and clinical traumatologist Silva Neves told INSIDER.

Giving your partner the time and space they need to feel comfortable with sexual intimacy is essential. Allow them to set the pace and don’t try to pressure them into physical contact before they’re ready. Talk to them about how they’d feel comfortable with you initiating sexual contact and keep that dialogue open.

Focus on incorporating consent into all aspects of your relationship

It’s crucial for all couples to talk about healthy boundaries both in and out of the bedroom, but having open conversations about consent is especially important when someone in a relationship has been affected by sexual assault.

“Your partner has had an experience of their boundaries being violated, and it’s important for you to emphasize that boundaries will be honored in your relationship. This may seem obvious to you, but it can be so powerful for your partner,” licensed sex therapist Vanessa Marin told INSIDER.

Talk about how you say “yes” and “no” to each other, and if your partner already knows there are certain things that don’t feel safe or good to them. It’s also important to understand that consent can be withdrawn at any moment and needs to be re-given in each new instance of intimacy.

Recognize that physical closeness of any kind might be challenging for a survivor

It’s understandable that sexual intimacy after a sexual assault may be difficult and complicated for a survivor. But other types of intimacy or closeness can also present challenges.

“It’s not just sex that can be difficult after a sexual trauma. Physical intimacy of many types can be challenging: holding hands, snuggling, hugging, even sharing the same bed. Patience, sensitivity, and clear communication are key,” clinical psychologist Forrest Talley told INSIDER.

Don’t assume that physical contact that isn’t overtly sexual will be comfortable for your partner. Instead, regularly check in with your partner about what kinds of touch make them feel safe and in control. Be aware that their preferences might change over time or even day to day.

Focus on giving your partner control over their body during sex

During a sexual assault, a person loses control over their body in a very profound way. As a result, they may feel uncomfortable with intimate activity that make them feel out of control.

“When engaging with a partner sexually after an assault, give them control. Let them make the first move, decide which positions work for them, and use verbal consent when you are escalating a sexual encounter,” sex and relationship counselor Niki Davis-Fainbloom told INSIDER.
Keeping your intentions and boundaries clear can help a survivor of sexual assault feel safe and respected.
If sexual intimacy is challenging, work on finding other ways to express love

Sex isn’t the only way to express love and desire in a relationship. If sexual intimacy is still too difficult for your partner, focus instead on finding non-physical ways to express affection for each other.

“How does the survivor feel the most loved? Is it with a touch? Hearing kind words? Having something done for them? Receiving a small gift? Or spending quality time with their partner? It is different for everyone, and you won’t know unless you have open discussions about it,” Neves told INSIDER.

Building up a non-sexual language of love and respect can help a couple dealing with the effects of sexual assault maintain a close bond even if physical intimacy is challenging.

Have a discussion about potential triggers

Sexual assault can traumatize the mind as well as the body. Some survivors may experience panic or anxiety when exposed to things that seem perfectly innocuous to their partners

“With careful, calm, and non-judgmental discussions, the partner can learn where the triggers are for the survivor. Triggers could include particular smells, parts of the body, heavy breathing, certain sounds, or specific words,” said Neves.

Triggers can be places, too. Having sex in places other than your bedroom may be a trigger or simply visiting a certain part of town can bring back harsh memories. Discuss any potential triggers with your partner and try to be sensitive to them.

Know that every day is different

No matter how long it’s been since their sexual assault, every day since will be different. Things like the news, speaking with old friends, or even anniversaries can bring up old feelings.

Just like every survivor’s experience with sexual assault is different, their feelings can also vary day to day. Again, check in with your partner and let them know that you’re there to talk — or to give them space — if they’re feeling particularly raw.

Learning about the common impacts of abuse can help you better understand your partner’s needs

If you’re in a relationship with someone who has survived sexual assault, it’s sometimes possible to misinterpret the effects of your partner’s trauma as a personal statement on your relationship.

“The best thing you can do to be a supportive partner is educate yourself about the impacts of sexual abuse. Learning about some of the common impacts of abuse can help you understand that these kinds of reactions are about the trauma your partner has been through, not about you as a person,” Marin told INSIDER.

For example, if your partner doesn’t feel much desire for sex, you may think that they’re not attracted to you. If they flinch when you touch them in certain ways, you may think that they don’t trust you. Learning about how sexual assault can impact a person with the help of a licensed mental health professional or free online resources can help you understand what your partner may be going through.

Be honest about your own concerns around sex and intimacy

If you have a partner who is a survivor of sexual assault, it’s natural to want to let them take the lead when it comes to sex and intimacy. However, you should also remember to be honest about your own needs in a judgment-free, no-pressure manner.

“It is important to consider your partner’s stage of processing the sexual assault and proceed with sensitivity. At the same time, failure to identify your needs can eventually lead to harboring resentment,” licensed professional counselor Aimee Yasin told INSIDER.

Make sure you’re communicating your willingness to work with your partner’s needs while still being open about your own concerns and feelings. Bottling up your emotions or ignoring the topic of sex altogether can ultimately work against the relationship.

Take advantage of resources for survivors and their partners

There are several different anonymous and confidential resources that offer advice and services not just to sexual assault survivors, but also for their partners.

Anyone can call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional counselor who can direct both survivors and porters to local resources or simply offer an understanding and anonymous ear. The RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE can also help anyone affected by sexual assault receive support, information, advice, or a referral.

Complete Article HERE!

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10 Things To Do If You’ve Been A Victim Of Sexual Assault

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It’s not too late to get help.

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Sexual assault is typically something you think will never happen to you—until it does and and you find yourself in desperate need of help and support.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, so it’s a scary (but common) reality—and one that can leave you feeling anxious, fearful, sad, angry, or a combination of those things.

“It’s a natural human state to be overwhelmed with this kind of traumatic event,” says Jessica Klein, a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California. “The thinking part of your brain really can’t process everything that’s happened.”

Thankfully, there’s help for sexual assault victims, whether your assault happened thirty minutes or three years ago. If you’ve been assaulted and need to know what your next steps are, here’s a timeline of all the various ways to get help—from the first minutes after your assault to the days, months, and years that follow.

1. Evaluate your surroundings and get medical treatment ASAP.

In the immediate aftermath of your assault, it’s time to think about your health and safety. Evaluate your surroundings and get yourself to a safe place if you aren’t already in one. Then consider calling 911 or going to a hospital, even if you aren’t visibly injured or are unsure whether you ultimately want to involve the police.

“After your safety is secured, medical treatment is often an immediate need,” says Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor in New York City. “Even if you are reluctant to undergo a medical examination for the purposes of reporting your assault, trained staff can provide you with emergency contraception, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and referrals to a counselor.”

2. Try not to change your clothes or use the bathroom.

Something important to keep in mind: You can decline or discontinue your forensic examination (a.k.a. “rape kit”) at any point if you become uncomfortable, says Stamoulis.

According to RAINN, you don’t need to commit upfront to reporting the crime in order to have an exam performed, but it’s a good idea to get one, anyway: Should you choose to report your assault later on, you’ll have gone through the necessary steps to collect evidence.

RAINN also advises against doing anything that could damage that evidence in the time between your assault and your exam, like bathing, changing your clothes, or using the bathroom. (FYI, even if you’ve done these things, you can still get an exam.)

3. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you know and trust for immediate support.

It may be helpful for you to stay with a local friend or family member in the hours after the assault, says Stamoulis. Being around someone familiar can be extremely comforting and reassuring.

If you are a student, she says, many schools and colleges have counseling centers or victim advocates on campus to help support you through the aftermath.

4. Try to make yourself feel as safe as possible.

In the short-term, you will be dealing with the traumatic effects of your assault. This might include feeling anxious or depressed, having nightmares, having difficulty concentrating, or struggling in your relationships, says Stamoulis.

During this time, it’s important to prioritize your physical and emotional needs. That might look like taking time off from work, finding babysitters or extra childcare assistance if you have children, or even replacing the locks on your doors.

All of these needs are normal, and you should feel free to ask for whatever helps you. Try not to judge yourself—there’s no way to predict how your body and mind will respond to the trauma.

5. See a trained counselor who specializes in sexual assault.

Well-meaning friends and family members may not (or cannot) offer you the best advice for your particular situation, so Stamoulis strongly recommends seeking professional counseling.

A trained counselor, she says, will know the best practices for helping assault victims cope and can educate you on what to expect during your recovery. (If you’re having trouble locating a counselor in your area, RAINN’s crisis hotline can refer you to someone.)

“Sexual assault is different from a lot of other traumas because our society tends to blame the victim, [which] is another way of being traumatized,” Stamoulis explains. “A therapist who specializes in treating sexual assault survivors understands the unique needs of someone who experiences a trauma that is often shrouded in shame and secrecy.”

6. If you didn’t report your assault or receive a forensic exam, take those into consideration again.

If you didn’t receive a forensic exam immediately after your assault, there may still be time; in some states, Klein says, evidence can be collected and preserved up to 96 hours later. And even if you’re beyond the forensic window, reporting your assault is absolutely not a “now or never” proposition.

“Law enforcement is getting better at understanding why people don’t report immediately in the aftermath and not having forensic evidence is not a dealbreaker,” she says. “There are other corroborating factors they look into, and you never know who filed a report against that perpetrator before you—or who might file one after you, since many perpetrators are repeat offenders.”

7. Know the lifelong risks associated with sexual assault.

Being a victim of sexual assault puts you at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems, per Mental Health America.

So if you’re feeling really down, having trouble with your daily functioning, or relying on unhealthy habits to cope with overwhelming emotions, seek help from a qualified therapist ASAP.

8. Remind yourself that healing isn’t always linear.

The road to recovery in the wake of sexual assault is not always a straight line. Stamoulis notes that some people find themselves doing well emotionally for a long time, then suddenly struggling with intensely negative feelings again.

If this happens to you, she recommends being kind to yourself (making sure you are eating and sleeping well, monitoring your stress levels), as well as eliminating any identifiable triggers, like watching the news.

9. Know that you may need to confront your trauma again.

The healing process is a complicated one that unfolds over time, but you will likely need to address your trauma head-on at some point. That may be done through professional counseling or through reflective mediums like art or journaling. Stamoulis calls this process “post-traumatic growth” and says it’s a key component of long-term healing.

“When you’re working through the trauma, you’re not trying to get rid of the memories completely, but trying to gain a different relationship to the memories so you can think about them in different [less triggering] ways,” she says.

10. Realize that everyone’s healing process looks different.

In the long-term, it’s important to be aware of your unique needs during recovery and to choose activities that help you move forward in a healthy way.

“Some people find that they want to make meaning from the experience by volunteering with other victims or fighting for social justice, while others want to put it completely behind them,” says Stamoulis. “There is no right or wrong response.”

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, you can call 800-656-HOPE to receive confidential crisis support from a trained specialist with the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It’s free and available 24/7. You can also chat online with a support specialist.

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‘I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart’:

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Surviving child sexual abuse

As a boy, Tom Yarwood was assaulted by his musical mentor. Decades on, telling the story has not become any easier

In telling of the sexual assaults I endured as a child, I have always had the sensation of speaking into the void. I usually offer only the bare bones of the story, because I want my listener to fill in the emotional content, to tell me what I felt, what they might have felt in my position. I want them to explain to me how I could have suffered, when I felt pleasure, and how I was not to blame, though I didn’t resist. But their response is always underwhelming: they seem to understand so little about this kind of thing, less even than me. And it’s all so exquisitely embarrassing that I soon move on, apologise for myself, repeat the usual reassurances. It was nothing, really, it didn’t matter, I coped.

Each telling is a new humiliation, a new disappointment. And yet, like an idiot, I always go on to attempt another. Six months or a year later, usually when I’m drunk, at four in the morning, suddenly I can imagine it again – the moment someone will explain me to myself at last. Because on the one hand, I really do tend to think it was nothing, what happened. But on the other, it never leaves my head, the image of it, the stink of it, and he never leaves me, he is always there, the loathsome, pathetic man. And there’s this enduring longing to relieve myself of the weight of my silence, my slow-burning despair.

Still, something in this picture has shifted lately, since my father’s death three years ago, and my 40th birthday not long after. In childhood and youth, I knew, with the heroism of the young, that I would vanquish the effects of the abuse, by 20, then by 30, or by 35. The idea it might stay with me, in me, was as inconceivable as my own death. But now I’m closer by far to 60, the age at which my father had his first heart attack, than to 12, my age when the other man first laid hands on me. It has dawned on me that the assaults are with me for good. And so in talking about them again, I’m less inclined to defer to others. This time I will stand, for once, at the centre of myself.

As a small child, I was obsessed with classical music. My parents bought a piano from a junk shop in Ludlow, read us stories about the great composers. We didn’t have a television at home on our Shropshire housing estate, and so I spent a lot of time sitting in a little green velvet chair by the record player with my eyes closed, elaborating wild fantasies about my musical heroes as I listened to their symphonies. I started piano lessons at the age of four, but rarely practised, preferring to delight the neighbours (I felt sure) with endless improvisations, generally fortissimo and con fuoco.

In the summer of 1987, when I was 11, my mother took me and my siblings on holiday to Europe. My father was working abroad at the time, as he often did. In Bruges, we came across a grand exhibition of musical instruments, where I was thrilled to have the chance to try out a harpsichord. While I played, a man approached my mother and told her I was gifted. He said he was a conductor – a specialist in baroque music – and would love to foster my talent. Phone numbers were exchanged, and a couple of cassette tapes offered to my brother and sister and me – his own commercially produced recordings of Handel and Purcell. He was evidently a prominent figure in his field.

That autumn, my father took me to London to visit this dazzling new mentor. We spent the afternoon at the conductor’s house, playing the harpsichord and talking about music. I was self-conscious, and desperate to impress. He was charm itself, but I found something faintly peculiar about him. He had a manic, childlike energy, a tendency to clowning in which I detected no genuine mirth, and beneath it I sensed he was very tense. Still, we got on well enough, and my father trusted him sufficiently that I went back to see him for another day of music-making a few weeks later.

Before long, I was spending whole weekends on my own with the conductor, sleeping in his spare bedroom in London and attending rehearsals and recording sessions with him and his orchestra. There was little formal teaching, but I got to listen to some good live music, and doubtless soaked up some other valuable lessons – not least how to make tea, and set up a music stand – and occasionally we looked at scores or listened to recordings together. He would sometimes drive me all the way back to my parents’ house in Shropshire himself, and stay for supper.

My anxiety around him never abated. It wasn’t only the unnerving air of inauthenticity about his manner. He also seemed very driven, and he could be vituperative towards timewasters. Then there was the social gulf between us. My parents were bohemian members of the new middle class, but the conductor was an upper-middle-class product of the public school system. All was well in his world when people cleaved, outwardly, to the “sensible” values expressed by the authority figures of his childhood – headmasters, barristers, clergy. Those who made a fuss of their differences were “mad”. More unsettling still was his disdain for children of a certain kind – the vast majority, I suspected – the rude ones, the dirty ones, the ones who were not good.

He introduced me to alcohol, mixing gin and tonics for me, and cocktails sweet and heavy with cassis or curacao. I was drunk when he assaulted me for the first time. It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and he was in the kitchen, making a bland English bachelor’s lunch of pork chops, potatoes and frozen peas. He seemed to find something about the peas amusing. With wildly contrived laughter, he tossed them about the kitchen, pretending he was dropping them. I was embarrassed for him. He tipped several peas down my T-shirt, and chased me into the living room and around the sofa with the rest. I’m not six years old, I wanted to say. I grew out of this sort of thing quite a while ago.

He dropped a frozen pea down my trousers and wrestled me on to the sofa, undoing my trouser button. I ceased to struggle when he grabbed my penis. “Ah, the pea!” he said, as he tugged at it. After a while, he pulled down my pants, and complimented me on my first pubic hair, which I had noticed only days before. Nothing more was said as he went about his business. I did not move a finger. Afterwards, he cleaned me up, pulled up my trousers and did up my fly, telling me meanwhile that this was what boys did, and wasn’t something to worry about. We returned to the kitchen and the pork chops.

Not a single day has passed in the three decades since this incident without some effort on my part to cut through the tangle of dark thoughts and feelings it induced, and to understand the insidious effects it has had on my life. The physical sensations were pleasurable. But I did not want any kind of sexual contact with the conductor. I found him repugnant, and had he asked me whether I wanted him to continue at any point, I would have said no, and meant it. I had experimented sexually with friends in childhood; I had turned down sexual overtures from other friends. In this respect, I knew my own mind. And this is why it always seemed so strange to me that I said nothing, and didn’t resist.

I still remember the all-consuming shame I felt on being manhandled by a bigger creature, at relinquishing control of my body to another person, against my will. And I remember too how destroyed I felt at the exposure of my sexuality to an adult. The secret, underdeveloped heart of my psychosomatic being – still fraught with danger, still hedged around in thorns – had been torn out and thrown quivering before me, in full public view.

But it is only in recent years that I have gained the distance from these horrors – the sense of security in myself – to acknowledge their intensity. As a child, it was impossible for me to face my victimhood, impossible to own and name what had come to light.

I withdrew into a kind of mental panic room. This is nothing, I told myself. This doesn’t matter. This is him. This is not me. I will remain aloof. I will rise above. I marshalled all my contempt for the conductor and all my knowledge of sex. He thinks I find him attractive, but in fact I find him repulsive. I saw him, the adult in control of me, as a child – a “silly” child, as my mother would say, still fixated on other children’s penises like this. It was an extension of his general puerility, his weird clowning, his fake laughter. How pathetic, how contemptible, how sad. I had reversed our roles in my imagination – a fatal self-deception.

The panic room became a prison, a lunatic’s cell. This, I hazard, is the snare in which many victims of childhood sexual abuse find themselves – they are traumatised, but unable to face the fact. For almost three decades, I could not look back (or look down) at what the conductor did to me, but had to keep moving on, moving up, clinging to a reassuring sensation of balance like one of those weighted toys that always rights itself, no matter how hard you hit it.

Now that I can gaze more steadily at the ancient scene, I am struck by how very strange it appears. How strange it sounds, to have sex, to feel your body consumed by that fire, and actively to deny to yourself that you are involved in it at all. And how strange it looks – the child’s mute stillness, and the adult’s complete camouflage of his own desire, his voice never wavering from an even, nannying tone, as if he were teaching chess or changing a nappy.

The memories of the abuse still return many times a day, stirred up by chance impressions – scents like the soap the conductor used, or of his sweat, music that reminds me of his – even, of course, my own sexual thoughts and erotic sensations. And with these impressions come the associated emotions – the shame, the fear, the grief. But I always recoil instinctively from naming them, from facing the half-known horror that paralysed me during the assault. Lots of boys go through this, I might tell myself. He didn’t mean any harm. I’ll survive. Anything but the truth, the big taboo, the real words of power: I didn’t want it, I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart.

The loneliness was terrible. The abuse came between me and my parents, my siblings, my peers, sapped art of meaning, experience of joy. I felt a constant, immense pressure to speak, but something always seemed to intervene at the last minute, catching my words in my throat, forcing them back down, sickeningly, into my belly. I was, I can see now, the dream victim for a predatory paedophile. My father was often absent, and my mother’s attention was taken up by my adopted younger sister, who had severe behavioural problems. Since toddlerhood, my older brother and I always felt that we were holding the fort: the idea of turning myself into a problem child was anathema.

After the first attack, I buried my head in the sand, imagining that perhaps it had been a one-off, like a trip to Alton Towers. But on the next visit, I woke up late at night to find the conductor sitting on the edge of the bed with one hand under my duvet, stroking my thigh. He assaulted me again, and another sleepless night ensued.

I started working on my mother, trying to communicate my distrust of him. For a while, after several more assaults, it worked: she stopped phoning him, and each time he called, she found an excuse for me not to see him. Then, to my horror, he appeared on our doorstep in Shropshire – like a sexual Terminator, quite unfazed by what I thought of as the vast gulf between my family and the city. Although it makes me feel unhinged to think of it now, I had an overwhelming fear of what might come out if he were crossed, and so I insisted repeatedly to my parents that everything was fine.

When he had me strapped into the passenger seat of his Volvo, he drove a little way, pulled into a layby, took off the Schwarzenegger shades he wore when motoring, looked at me with wide eyes (his face, as usual, too close to mine), and told me that he knew he had upset me by what he had done, and that he promised, absolutely promised, that should I please him by resuming my visits, he would never, ever touch me again.

After that – and after he had been redeemed entirely in our family conversation – the assaults started again, becoming steadily stranger. He would pick me up and carry me up the stairs like an infant, apparently expecting me to find this humiliating horseplay as amusing as he pretended it to be. He would insist on bathing me. And as the assaults escalated, he took to putting a pillow over my head so I didn’t have to involve myself in what was going on – but I found this the greatest mortification thus far. It suggested he imagined I had thoughts and feelings about what he was doing, whereas I needed him to understand that I was not there.

It didn’t matter to me what he did, so long as he would let me be alone, inviolate, in my head. As an adult, I notice people often want to know the mechanics of the abuse you went through, and especially whether it was painful. Did he beat you, cut you, tie you up? If not, you sense, perhaps you’re making a bit of a fuss over nothing. The law also seems to operate like this, with its intricate scale of sexual transgressions, escalating in perceived severity, above and beyond the mere fact of exploiting a child for your own erotic gratification.

Pain and physical injury are traumas in their own right, but I suspect that the insult specific to sexual abuse in childhood is simply to have another person take ownership of your body against your will – to destroy your sense of sexual self-possession – after which everything can feel, indifferently, like rape.

Perhaps that is hard to imagine if you haven’t been through it yourself – if you haven’t felt forced, for the sake of your psychic survival, to dissociate yourself entirely from your erotic response, and then struggled to put these two aspects of your being – you and your capacity to feel – back together, to get them to work again as one.

I went to Eton on a music scholarship at 14, entering the school in the second year. The conductor had suggested it to my parents, after I was offered similar bursaries by Shrewsbury and Westminster. I came top of the music exams during my first term there, competing against boys who had spent years at choir schools and had enjoyed Eton’s excellent music tuition for a year longer than me. And that term I also told a wonderful new friend about the abuse, bursting into tears as I reassured him it was nothing. He told a senior music teacher. The teacher did nothing.

The conductor assaulted me more than 20 times over the course of three interminable years. The last attack came after a gap of several months, when I was 15 – old enough to acknowledge what he was doing. I objected repeatedly, and he overruled me, repeatedly, returning to my bedroom three times through the course of a single night, and finally getting what he wanted when both of us were haggard with sleeplessness, well after dawn.

At 16, I finally plucked up the courage to tell another adult at Eton the story in person. I gave them no room for doubt that I had hated my encounters with the conductor, but they explained to me that such incidents often cropped up in boys’ lives, and generally originated in the younger man’s admiration for the older. If there was no force used, they said, there was no reason to suspect harm.

Though I had long feared it, the revelation that the grown-up world as a whole couldn’t understand what I had been through came as a shock. My anger, my shame, and the ceaseless war between them – all this was my fault, it seemed, a fault in me. I was, in short, crazy. My immediate response was to give up music. It was a cry for help, a deliberate act of self-harm – killing off the great love of my life – but no one took much notice.

(It amazes me that I had kept going with music for so long; it is so tightly bound up with sex in our brains and bodies. My skin used to crawl every time the conductor called a favourite piece “erotic”, but somehow I had succeeded in imagining that there was music like his and music not like his, sex like his and sex not like his. Those lines became hopelessly blurred after I told my story to an adult at Eton. Touchingly naive adults such as my parents aside, the world was teeming with paedophiles and their sympathisers, and I was damned if I was going to open my body and soul to share the food of love with them again.)

I spent puberty and adolescence trying to construct in fantasy a relationship with my sexuality that was pristine, personal, free of the stain of rape. But when at last I went to Oxford and plucked up the courage to pick up another man for the first time, a friendly PhD student in his mid-30s, I was shocked to find that this mental construct had not taken root in my body. Something within me just wouldn’t move, wouldn’t melt, wouldn’t let go. Anger followed, shame, despair – all muted by stoicism. This is just me, I said to myself, this is my fate, I’ll get by. As a young adult, I developed an anxiety disorder to set beside the depression and insomnia that had plagued me since the first assault, and became prone to panic attacks.

The voices of denial – denial not that children have sex with adults, but of the fear and shame that shackle them, and of the violence of the act – always leave me feeling faintly deranged.

First came the voice in my head during the assaults. Then came his voice, explaining that the abuse was just a fact of life, an inevitable expression of my nature as a boy. And later, there were the voices of those from whom I sought help during my 20s – the mentors and teachers and parents and police and therapists and boyfriends – in whose responses I always found some admixture of bewilderment, embarrassment, incomprehension or indifference.

But only recently did I notice how closely these voices echo one another. It strikes me that our resistance to confronting the horror of child sexual abuse has common roots in human nature. The silence of victims and the general silence must also have reinforced one another over the millennia. I imagine those to whom I looked for help were simply as fearful as me – as fearful and more ignorant. I should have been bolder all along.

In 2007, when I was 31 years old, I heard from a friend that the conductor had been arrested and charged with sexually abusing four other boys in the 1980s. I am sceptical about the value of retributive justice, but I decided to join the prosecution. I needed to tell the world the truth.

The conductor was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. I had no desire to see him punished, but I took this jail term as an indication of how seriously our society regarded his crimes. It seemed rather light. In his ruling, the judge apparently drew attention to the fact that the conductor had recently married and had a child, arguing that in doing so he had entered a new phase of life.

Searching the internet for commentary on the case not long afterwards, I found the loudest voices were those raised in my attacker’s defence. In classical music discussion forums, his admirers persuaded others that his “alleged” victims could well be liars, and had most likely suffered no harm anyway. And in the Observer, the poet James Fenton used his opportunity to comment publicly on the conductor’s conviction – the most prominent proven case of child sexual abuse in the history of classical music – not to consider the hurt he might have caused to the talented young musicians he assaulted, to their hopes of fulfilling themselves through music, nor to ask how the music industry as a whole had so long allowed the conductor to get away with it – but to argue passionately that his mistakes in life should not be allowed to damage his career. Fenton was relieved that the judge had allowed the conductor to keep associating with children: “To be debarred for life from working with the male treble voice would have been a harsh fate.”

In all this, I saw further evidence of our culture of denial. And I see it too in the way the music industry has welcomed the conductor back since his release from jail. Singers and instrumentalists with MBEs and honorary positions at the Royal Academy of Music go on appearing with him in the world’s most famous concert venues – the Wigmore Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the KKL in Lucerne, and so on – and fans go on funding his performances and recordings.

They have restored to him the power and status with which they had entrusted him before, in putting their talent, labour, property and good names at his disposal. And they have done so despite the fact he abused all this – abused them – to gain the confidence of families and attack their children, and even though he called his victims “liars” and “loonies” during the trial, and has not expressed remorse.

There’s nothing more we can ask of the conductor himself. He apologised to me when I was 13, and went on to assault me again: another apology would be meaningless. And he has served his time. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to dwell on the past. And there are doubtless many other moderating thoughts to which I should also give voice – about the value of mercy, for instance, and about how blessed my life has been in other respects.

But it has fallen to me to say something simpler here. I did not ask to be one of the ones who had these words to speak. They were a burden given to me a long time ago. I might have felt less crazed by others’ silence, or by their denial, had I spoken them earlier – shouted them from the stage of a London concert hall 30 years ago, perhaps, into the darkness of the stalls.

They are the words for which I have reached so often, the words I needed to hear when I was a child. Make of them what you will.

Complete Article HERE!

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Child Sexual Abuse Among Boys

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Many boys, too, are sexually abused. Most don’t feel comfortable speaking up about it.

Boys who are sexually abused often don’t know where to turn, making it all the more critical for parents and other adults to ensure signs of abuse aren’t overlooked.

By Raychelle Cassada Lohmann

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016 more than 57,000 children reported being sexually abused, and that’s on the low end since only about a third of cases are reported. What’s more, males are even less likely to report sexual abuse than females. Research indicates that about 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18, and most of them aren’t saying a thing.

Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire reports that 90 percent of these boys will likely know the person who is sexually abusing them. According to RAINN, or the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, about a third of the sexual perpetrators are family members, and about 60 percent are acquaintances.

Another potential reason males may not report being victims of sexual abuse is stereotypes that exist in our culture pertaining to how they are supposed to be strong and independent. As a society, we have done a huge disservice to our boys by instilling stereotypes, like that big boys don’t cry, and sending the message they should just suck it up and be strong, or even worse, that they need to “man up.” According to these false beliefs, men are supposed to be tough and brave, and they’re supposed to have a strong sex drive. Media, literature, schools, community establishments like places of worship and even family members can reinforce stereotypical messages and paint a fictitious picture of how boys are supposed to behave. Research indicates that male sex abuse survivors not only have few resources available to them, but they also face greater stigma than female survivors.

In a study published last year in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers show that gender stereotypes have been associated with high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. It’s not just an American problem, either. According to research done as part of the Global Early Adolescent Study, a collaborative effort of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Health Organization and other research partners, children studied from 15 different countries began to accept gender stereotypes well before the age of 10. So it appears that many of these misconceptions are universal. When boys are taught that they aren’t supposed to show emotion because that is a sign of weakness, they learn to suppress and not express their feelings.

In a society full of erroneous stereotypes, is it any wonder that boys are less likely to report having been sexually abused than girls? With most of the research on sex abuse focusing on male perpetrators and female survivors, it’s past time that we shed some light on the devastating effects of male sexual abuse. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • One in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to a review of child sex abuse prevalence studies.
  • 10 percent of rape survivors are male, according to RAINN.
  • 27 percent of male rape survivors were sexually abused before they were 10 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • 7 percent of boys in the juvenile justice system have been sexually abused.
  • 50 percent of the children who are sex trafficked in the U.S. are male; and according to the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, the average age at which boys first become victims of prostitution is 11 to 13.

Unquestionably, when boys or men are sexually abused, it has a profound impact on their psychological and emotional well-being. According to the American Psychological Association’s Division of Trauma Psychology, this horrific crime has been associated with:

  • Alcoholism and drug use
  • Anger and aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Intimate relationship problems
  • Poor school and work performance
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts

Despite all of the information that we have on sex abuse, we still have a long way to go. It’s hard to turn on the TV and see that another person, such as a coach, teacher, priest or physician has taken indecent liberties with a minor. As we continue to urge survivors to come forward, more survivors may begin to tell their stories.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Enjoy Sex Again If You’ve Experienced Sexual Assault

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Up to 94% of sexual assault survivors experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

By Amanda MacMillan

Surviving a sexual assault, no matter what the circumstances were or how long ago it happened, can change the way you experience sex. For some, sexual contact can trigger upsetting memories or physical reactions, or leave them feeling sad or distressed afterward. Others may develop an unhealthy relationship with sex; they may have lots of it, but aren’t able to really enjoy intimacy with a caring partner.

Of course, not everyone who survives sexual assault or harassment struggles with these issues later on, notes Kristen Carpenter, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of women’s behavioral health at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “It doesn’t automatically mean that your life is going to be upended in this way,” she says, “some people definitely recover from it and are able to move on.”

But for those women who are struggling, it’s important to know they’re not alone. Research suggests that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in sexual assault survivors is as high as 94%, and treatment exists that can help. If you suspect that an assault in your past might be affecting your sex life now, here’s what experts recommend.

Recognize the root of the problem

For some women who have been sexually assaulted, it’s painfully clear to them that their experiences have tainted the way they think about sex now. But it’s also surprisingly common for survivors to suppress or downplay the memories of those experiences, and not realize—or be able to readily admit—why sexual intimacy is something they struggle with now. 

“Women don’t often come in saying, ‘I was sexually assaulted and I need help,’ says Carpenter. “What usually happens is they go to their gynecologist saying, ‘I’m not interested in sex,’ or ‘Sex is painful,’” she says. “It’s only when they come to me, a psychologist, that we get into a deeper conversation and they realize how much an old experience has stayed with them.”

Get professional help

If you’ve realized that a past sexual assault is interfering with your ability to bond with or be physical with a new partner, it’s possible that you have a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those feelings may not go away on their own, but a licensed mental-health provider should be able to help.

“A lot of women are afraid that if they face those emotions, it will become overwhelming and their pain will never stop,” says Carpenter. “But addressing that trauma head-on is really important, with the caveat that you have to be ready for it—because it can be an incredibly difficult process.”

Different treatments are available to help survivors of trauma, sexual or otherwise. These include cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, eye-motion desensitization and reprocessing, and dialectical behavioral therapy. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) and Psychology Today both keep a searchable directory of counselors, therapists, and treatment centers around the country who specialize in sexual assault.

Be open with your partner about your experience

How much you want to share with your partner about a previous assault should be totally up to you, says Michelle Riba, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. But she does encourage patients to confide in their significant others if they feel comfortable doing so.

“I talk a lot with my patients about how soon and how much you want to divulge to someone you’re dating,” says Dr. Riba. “This is your medical history and it’s deeply personal, so it’s not necessarily something you want to talk about on your first or second date.”

It can help to anticipate some of the issues that may come up in a sexual relationship, and to talk through—ideally with a therapist—how you will address them, says Dr. Riba. For example, if there’s a certain type of touching or certain language you know might have a visceral reaction to, it can be better to bring up before the situation arises, rather than in the heat of the moment.

Tell your partner about any sexual activity you’re not comfortable with

You should set boundaries with your partner, as well. “It’s very important to empower patients who have had a negative experience,” says Carpenter. “That person should drive the interaction with their partner, and should steer where and how far it goes.”

Of course, says Carpenter, it’s a good idea in any relationship—whether there’s a history of sexual assault or not—for partners to disclose what they are and aren’t comfortable with. “But it could be particularly important to be comfortable setting boundaries about likes, dislikes, and any behaviors that could be a trigger.”

That’s not to say that couples can’t try new things or spice up their sex life when one person has lived through a trauma. In fact, sexual assault survivors can sometimes find it therapeutic to act out sexual fantasies or participate in role-playing, says Ian Kerner, PhD, a New York City­–based sex therapist—and this includes fantasies that involve submission. The key is that both partners remain comfortable with the situation throughout, and that every step is consensual. 

Shift your thinking about sex

This one is easier said than done, but a mental-health professional can help you gradually change the way you think about sex, both consciously and subconsciously. The goal, according to Maltz, is to shift away from a sexual abuse mindset (in which sex is unsafe, exploitative, or obligatory) to a healthy sexual mindset (sex is empowering, nurturing, and, most importantly, a choice), says sex therapist Wendy Maltz, author of The Sexual Healing Journey.

You can help make this shift by avoiding exposure to media that portray sex as sexual abuse, says Maltz. That may include television programs or movies that portray rape; pornography that depicts aggressive or abusive situations; and even news reports about #MeToo accusations. It can also help for you and your partner to use language about sex that’s positive and healthy, rather than terms like “banging” and “nailing” that imply violence.

Put on the brakes, if needed

Sometimes it’s necessary to take some time off from sexual contact with a partner—even if your assault happened years ago but you’re just now coming to grips with its effects. “If people are struggling with intimacy, the first thing to do is really address the psychological symptoms associated with the assault,” says Carpenter. “I’ve found it’s best to leave intimacy until that’s concluded.”

You can use this time to work with a therapist, and—if you currently have a partner—to bond with him or her in other ways. “Once you feel better and some of those symptoms have subsided, then you can start to slowly rebuild your whole self in terms of your sexuality,” says Carpenter.

This may also be a time for experimenting with sensual self-care and masturbation, so you can rediscover the kind of physical contact you really do desire and enjoy. This can help you feel more in control, and more comfortable, incorporating these elements into your next physical relationship.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex Ed before college can prevent student experiences of sexual assault

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Students who receive sexuality education, including refusal skills training, before college matriculation are at lower risk of experiencing sexual assault during college, according to new research published today in PLOS ONE. The latest publication from Columbia University’s Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) project suggests that sexuality education during high school may have a lasting and protective effect for adolescents.

The research found that students who received about how to say no to sex (refusal skills training) before age 18 were less likely to experience penetrative in . Students who received refusal skills training also received other forms of sexual education, including instruction about methods of birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Students who received abstinence-only instruction did not show significantly reduced experiences of campus sexual assault.

“We need to start sexuality education earlier,” said John Santelli, MD, the article’s lead author, a pediatrician and professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “It’s time for a life-course approach to sexual assault prevention, which means teaching young people—before they get to college—about healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships, how to say no to unwanted sex, and how to say yes to wanted sexual relationships.”

The findings draw on a confidential survey of 1671 students from Columbia University and Barnard College conducted in the spring of 2016 and on in-depth interviews with 151 undergraduate students conducted from September 2015 to January 2017.

The authors found that multiple social and personal factors experienced prior to college were associated with students’ experience of penetrative sexual assault (vaginal, oral, or anal) during college. These factors include unwanted sexual contact before college (for women); adverse child experiences such as physical abuse; ‘hooking up’ in high school; or initiation of sex and alcohol or drug use before age 18.

Ethnographic interviews highlighted the heterogeneity of students’ sex education experiences. Many described sexuality education that was awkward, incomplete, or provided little information about sexual consent or sexual assault.

The research also found that students who were born outside of the United States and students whose mothers had lived only part of their lives or never lived in the U.S. had fewer experiences of penetrative sexual assault in college. Religious participation in did not prevent sexual assault overall, but a higher frequency of religious participation showed a borderline statistically significant protective association.

“The protective impact of refusal skills-based , along with previous research showing that a substantial proportion of students have experienced before entering college, underlines the importance of complementing campus-based prevention efforts with earlier refusal skills training,” said Santelli.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Sexual Assault Can Impact Your Physical Health, Even Years Later

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The body’s natural reaction to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault can have negative effects on a person’s long-term physical health.

Sexual assault can affect a survivor’s health in a number of ways.

by Leah Campbell

When Amber Stanley was 23 years old, a friend’s boyfriend raped her.

They had all been at a party together. She had fallen asleep in one of the spare rooms. When she woke up, he was on top of her.

“There were children asleep in the house, so I was afraid to scream,” she told Healthline. “I didn’t want to scare them or for them to see what was happening if they woke up.”

She told her friend what had happened the next day, and then went to the police. But there, she was essentially revictimized when the police officer with whom she filed her report questioned her story and credibility.

“He flat out told me that if he could prove I was lying, he would press charges against me. My rapist was in the army, a ‘national hero,’ so my word wasn’t good enough and he was never prosecuted,” she said.

Stanley says she’s been in therapy on and off for the last 13 years, trying to deal with what happened to her that night. And she still struggles with anxiety today.

“I don’t like feeling like I’m not in control of things. And I don’t like being around groups of people who are drinking, or alone at night doing things like shopping. I’m highly suspicious of strangers, even more so now that I have three daughters,” she said.

For Stanley, one of the worst nights of her life has turned into a lifelong struggle. And she’s not alone.

The many effects of sexual assault on health

A recent study presented at The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting in October revealed that a history of sexual harassment was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and clinically poorer sleep quality.

For survivors of sexual assault, there was an increase in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and sleep issues consistent with clinical disorders as well.

In other words, experiencing sexual harassment or sexual assault contributed to negative long-term health outcomes for survivors.

Sexual assault survivor advocates also report that survivors may be more resistant to going to the dentist and doctor, as both can require a fair amount of trust and invasiveness. This can contribute to health complications as well.

Out of 300 study participants, 19 percent reported workplace sexual harassment, 22 percent reported a history of sexual assault, and 10 percent reported having experienced both.

In light of the recent #MeToo movement, those numbers are only surprising because of how low they are.

A national study on sexual harassment and assault released by the organization Stop Street Harassment in February 2018 reported that 81 percent of women would experience some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center also reports that 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of contact sexual violence, and nearly two-thirds of college students will experience sexual harassment.

This means there are a lot of women potentially susceptible to a host of long-term health complications.

What experts say

Lisa Fontes, PhD, is a researcher, activist, author, and psychotherapist. She told Healthline that sexual assault and sexual harassment are both considered trauma. During trauma, the body releases hormones that help a person cope with the emergency.

“The body releases cortisol to avoid pain and inflammation, and it raises our blood sugar to help us flee from danger. Unfortunately, these physical responses become long-lasting for many survivors of sexual assault and harassment, contributing to poor health,” she said.

She explains sexual harassment is considered a “chronic stressor,” because it’s typically sustained over time. Child abuse and intimate partner sexual abuse also often involve repeated assaults, leading the survivor into a constant state of hyperalertness.

“Even a one-time sexual assault can produce long-term consequences as the survivor copes with intrusive memories that make her feel as if she is enduring parts of the assault again and again,” Fontes added.

Healthline also spoke to Elaine Ducharme, PhD, a board-certified clinical psychologist. She talks about the repeated trauma that occurs even with singular assaults.

“You have the trauma at the time the event happens,” she explained. “Then if it’s reported, there is repeated trauma because you are talking about it and dealing with it again and again throughout the process of pursuing charges.”

But even for those who don’t report or press charges, the trauma can continue.

“For people who have children, we often see a flare-up of trauma when the child reaches the age they were at the time the assault occurred,” Ducharme explained. “And even for women who think they are fine, years down the line they may see a movie with a rape scene and suddenly feel like they want to throw up.”

A recent national survey estimates 81 percent of women will experience some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime.

For many women, the recent #MeToo movement has proven to be empowering and healing. But for some, it’s resulted in having to relive those memories and experience the trauma all over again.

For those women, Ducharme suggests taking a break from media and considering a return to therapy.

“They may need to learn ways to manage the anxiety that can be triggered by some of this, and using mindfulness can be helpful,” she said. “I’m a huge believer in working with my clients to help them settle themselves down and be mindful and in the moment, trying to learn to stay present.”

“I don’t blame the #MeToo movement for the fact that we are hearing more about sexual assault these days,” Fontes added. “I blame the assailants and the years of cover-ups.”

Getting help

When asked what advice she would have for women struggling with the mental and physical health implications of their past experiences with sexual harassment or sexual assault, Fontes said, “There is power and healing in numbers.”

If you’re currently struggling, Fontes suggests the following:

  • See if your local women’s crisis center has a discussion group you could join.
  • Seek psychotherapy.
  • Speak with trusted loved ones about how you’re feeling.

She says those who return to therapy may not need a lot of sessions — just a few to figure out how to cope with the new landscape.

“Sexual abuse is so common. There is no reason any woman has to feel like she is alone, or to suffer alone,” Fontes said.

Organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) can also provide resources and support. You can call RAINN’s 24/7 national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673 for anonymous, confidential help. You can also chat with them online.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Evangelical Purity Culture Can Lead to a Lifetime of Sexual Shame

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Former born-again Christian Linda Kay Klein combines personal reflections with years of research to trace the psychological effects of purity culture on women in her new memoir, “Pure.”

by Stephanie Dubick

For millions of girls growing up in evangelical Christianity, sexuality is a sin. Girls are sexual “stumbling blocks,” they’re told—a danger to the relationship between men and God.

Such is the way of the purity movement. Emerging out of white evangelicalism in the early 1990s, the conservative Christian movement—today promoted by both local churches and national organizations such as Focus on the Family and True Love Waits—emphasizes sexual purity and abstinence-only education. The cornerstone: If women remain virgins until the day they marry a man, they’re holy; if not, they’re damaged goods. To avoid the latter outcome, young adults are required to make promises—signified in the form of purity balls, rings, and pledges—to remain abstinent from puberty ’til “I do.”

After marriage, the metaphorical chastity belt unbuckles. But as writer Linda Kay Klein engrossingly details in her recently released book, Pure: Inside the Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free, the psychological effects don’t stop there; they can follow women into their adult lives, leading to mental and physical side effects similar to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In purity culture, both young men and women are taught that sex before marriage is wrong. But it’s teenage girls who end up most affected, Klein finds, because while boys are taught that their minds are a gateway to sin, women are taught that their bodies are. After years of being told that they’re responsible for not only their own purity, but the purity of the men and boys around them; and of associating sexual desire with depravity and shame, Klein writes, those feelings often haunt women’s relationships with their bodies for a lifetime.

Klein knows from personal experience. After realizing she couldn’t be the woman the church wanted her to be, she left the evangelical community in the early 2000s. It was at that point, when she began considering having sex, that the symptoms started. “It began when I took the possibility of having sex and put it on the table,” Klein tells Broadly. “From that point on, sometimes it was my boyfriend and I being sexual that would make me have these breakdowns where I was in tears, scratching myself until I bled and ending up on the corner of the bed crying.”

Klein knew immediately that the reactions were linked to her religious upbringing, but assumed it was specific to her. “I never wondered where it came from, I just wondered why it was manifesting that way,” she says. “It couldn’t be that everyone who was taught these things were having these experiences, because surely I would have heard about it.”

Eventually, though, Klein realized that she wasn’t nearly alone. In 2006, she began compiling dozens of testimonies from childhood friends involved in the purity movement and found that they were all experiencing similar feelings of fear, shame, and anxiety in relationship to sex. “Based on our nightmares, panic attacks, and paranoia, one might think that my childhood friends and I had been to war,” writes Klein. “And in fact, we had. We went to war with ourselves, our own bodies, and our own sexual natures, all under the strict commandment of the church.”

Today, Klein considers the phenomenon an epidemic. When she first realized the scope and severity of what she was researching, she decided to quit her job—at the age of 26—and dedicate herself to learning more about the effects of purity culture. She went on to earn an interdisciplinary Master’s degree from New York University, for which she wrote a thesis on white American evangelicalism’s messaging toward girls that involved interviewing hundreds of current and past evangelicals about the impact of the purity movement on their lives. Eventually, those seeds of research grew into Pure.

A 12-year labor of love, the resulting book is an eye-opening blend of memoir, journalism, and cultural commentary that masterfully illustrates how religion, shame, and trauma can inform one another. Citing medical studies, she lays out that evangelical adolescents are the least likely “to expect sex to be pleasurable, and among the most likely to expect that having sex will make them feel guilty.” And in comparison to boys, Klein observes, girls are 92 percent more likely to feel shame—especially girls who are highly religious. For many women, like Klein, that shame can manifest in physical symptoms.

Klein observes and cites an expert who found that many women who grow up in purity culture and eventually begin having sex report experiencing an involuntary physical tightening of the vagina—also known as vaginismus—that is linked to a fear of penetrative sex and makes intercourse extremely painful. This could also be considered a symptom of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS), a diagnosis developed by Dr. Marlene Winell, a psychologist in San Francisco and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. According to Winell, as quoted by Klein, RTS is a condition “experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” The symptoms resemble those of PTSD, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorders, and can result in depression, sexual difficulty, and negative views about the self.

Perhaps more convincing than the medical research and professionals that Klein cites, though, is the wealth of testimonies she gathers from women. One woman she spoke to described having years of awkward, uncomfortable sex with her husband until she began to feel overcome by such extreme exhaustion, she had difficulty getting out of bed. Another shared that after her first sexual experience, her body began to shake uncontrollably. In one extreme account, a woman said that feelings of panic and guilt flooded her mind “like a cloud of locusts” after an early sexual encounter. Soon after, orange-sized welts broke out on her stomach, arms, back, and breasts and it became difficult to breathe. After jumping into the shower to find relief, welts the size of both of her palms formed on her vagina. “I would say it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” she told Klein. “I had no idea what was happening to me. My legs, my face, everything was bright red. It felt like I had absolutely no control over these horrific, nightmarish things that were happening to my body.” The woman was rushed to the emergency room, and though the doctors told her she went into anaphylactic shock, they couldn’t explain what caused it. While she knows something medical happened, she told Klein that’s she is certain something spiritual happened to her as well—the result of what happens “when you tempt Satan.”

Pure is a thorough and focused study on the effects of the purity movement’s rhetoric on women and girls, but Klein stresses that her findings aren’t relevant only to religious conservatives. Rather, they represent an extreme microcosm of a broader culture of gendered sexual shaming to which we should all be paying attention.

“The conclusion that I reached was that the evangelical culture is useful because it provides a mirror of what’s happening in other places in the culture,” Klein says. “You see what happens when you have high doses of this toxic messaging. But the reality is that this toxic messaging is everywhere and we’re all taking in unhealthy amounts of it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Men Sexually Harass Women

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Men vastly outnumber women among sexual harassers. The reason has more to do with culture than with intrinsic maleness.

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I can’t imagine my teenage self—or any girl I knew—doing anything like what Christine Blasey Ford described teenage boys doing to her. Watching the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing last week, I was struck by the feeling that the Brett Kavanaugh she described and I both went to something called “high school,” but they were about as similar as a convent is to Space Camp.

Ford has alleged that when she and Kavanaugh were in high school, the Supreme Court nominee drunkenly pinned her down on a bed, tried to rip off her clothes, and covered her mouth so she wouldn’t scream. A confidential FBI investigation, according to Senate Republicans, did not corroborate her account. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, say the investigation was not thorough enough, and several people who say they have knowledge of the allegations against Kavanaugh have told The New Yorker that they felt the FBI was not interested in their accounts.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Ford was mistaken and that it was some other boy who assaulted her. Either way, it boggles my mind that any teenage boy would feel empowered to do such a thing.

In high school, I made a list of all the boys I liked. My bitchy friend (everyone has one) told some of the listed boys. I was mortified—not only because they did not return the sentiment (this went without saying) but also because I felt like I had inflicted my liking on the boys. They were just minding their business, trying to live, and here I was, burdening them with my liking. It felt like such a grievous imposition, making someone deal with affection he wasn’t prepared to receive.

I wasn’t a particularly shy kid or an introvert. I was just taught—or maybe had absorbed—that boys will let you know if they want to date you, and your job was to sit patiently and wait to be let known. Bucking this norm occurred only on one day of the year, for our version of the Sadie Hawkins dance, which was special and exciting for the simple fact that it was the day when girls were allowed to tell boys what they wanted.

Admittedly, some of this was almost certainly regional: I grew up in the deep suburban South, where many of the cool kids at my school were saving themselves for marriage. None of my close friends drank, and I had my first sip of alcohol at dinner with my parents the night I graduated.

I hated our gendered dating rules and found them endlessly inefficient. But still, leaking a list of my boy preferences felt like asking for a raise on your first day at a new job—too forward, too eager, too much like something guaranteed to bring about the opposite result of the one you were hoping for.

The past year has opened my eyes to the fact that, apparently, many men do not have similar compunctions. I experience this same befuddlement every time I read about yet another #MeToo allegation. It would never occur to me to install a button under my desk to entrap my victims. It would never occur to me to try to masturbate in front of people I barely know. I would find it unthinkable to ask a stranger to watch me shower.

I can’t help but feel like the difference between teen me and how teen Kavanaugh allegedly behaved, and indeed between me and the other accused #MeToo perpetrators, comes down to how our different genders are conditioned to approach anything of a sexual nature.

Though there have been several cases in the #MeToo movement in which a woman was the perpetrator of harassment, the overwhelming majority of the offenders have been men. What is it about men, I’ve found myself wondering, that explains this extreme gender disparity? And is it even about the men themselves?

Some have ascribed it to knee-jerk assumptions about men’s essential nature: nasty, brutish, and short on impulse control. Boys will be boys, and the best we can do is contain their boyish urges. But where do we get the idea that it’s just what men are like?

One theory I had, especially when it comes to the lower-level sexual-harassment offenses, was that women are simply more risk-averse. They don’t dare put their hands on the knees of co-workers at bars because they know that they might be rejected, or that the co-worker might not like it, or that it’s just not a good thing to do with someone who’s going to be sitting next to you at the Thursday event-planning meeting. Women, I thought, must just like to err on the side of caution.

Meta-analyses have indeed shown that men are more likely to take various types of risks than women are. Some studies also show that men are more into thrill seeking, if exposing yourself to a woman without her permission could be considered a sick kind of thrill. (One older paper even characterized risk taking as an inherent part of “masculine psychology.”) Stress, like the kind people experience at work, might exacerbate these differences, since men take more risks under stress and women take fewer.

But other studies have complicated that narrative. For one, women seem just as keen to take certain kinds of risks, like disagreeing with their friends on an issue or attempting to sell a screenplay. It’s just that when surveys measure risk taking in terms of things like unprotected sex and motorcycles, women tend to demur, since those types of activities are either more dangerous for women (the unprotected sex) or less familiar to them (riding motorcycles).

In fact, when researchers measured risk using more stereotypically feminine risky behavior, such as “cooking an impressive but difficult meal for a dinner party,” women turned out to be just as, if not more, likely to take risks as men. “Maybe there isn’t anything so special about male risk taking, after all,” wrote the University of Melbourne professor Cordelia Fine in Nautilus.

Several prominent psychologists believe there are actually few psychological differences between men and women. Men, it would seem, are from Mars, and women are also from Mars but are nonetheless baffled by why our fellow Martians would opt to do things the way they do. The major differences between the genders are that men are more aggressive, can physically throw things farther, masturbate more, and are more comfortable with casual, uncommitted relationships. These very differences can help explain the disparity in sexual harassment.

“The bottom line is that men and women have quite similar psychology other than sexuality and aggression,” says Janet Shibley Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin who has done several studies on this topic.

There’s also evidence that men and boys are less empathetic than women are. Men make up the vast majority of prison inmates, commit 99 percent of rapes and 89 percent of murders, and cause more severe car crashes. Just 16 percent of sexual-harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were filed by men.

Boys are raised to think that men should be the initiators of sexual relationships, and, as Hyde explains, boys are also socialized to be more aggressive. The two processes can be toxic when combined. “Gender differences in empathy are not huge, but they’re there,” Hyde says. “If you’re going to victimize someone, it takes a certain lack of empathy.” (Though some studies point to men’s higher level of testosterone as the explanation for their higher levels of aggression, she says, “Humans are much less controlled by their hormones than other species are.”)

The explanation, then, might lie in social norms, or in what society is telling boys as they grow into men. Men are told they’re supposed to behave more aggressively, so they do. According to research, powerful people follow different societal rules than those who are powerless, and there are more men in power than there are women. Among men in powerful positions, but not among women, a fear of being seen as weak is related to an inclination to sexually harass others. People in power are more likely to wrongly perceive that subordinates are sexually interested in them.

“Power is enabling, and it is known to reduce empathy,” Peter Glick, a psychology professor at Lawrence University, told me. “It allows people to act on their impulses.” Glick says this is why it’s so often confident women who are harassed, or those who try to assert themselves, or who behave in a masculine way, or who otherwise challenge men’s power. They are being put back in their place.

People in power enjoy “looser” rules, according to work by the University of Maryland psychologist Michele Gelfand, the author of the new book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers. “Loose” environments are those in which norms are less strict and norm violations go unpunished; “tight” environments are the opposite. “People in high-power positions tend to live in looser worlds where they sometimes not only violate social norms but also border on completely inappropriate behavior,” she told me. In her book, Gelfand points to Uber as an example of a company where extreme looseness went wrong. “Several former employees described the exceedingly loose work environment as a ‘frat house,’ rife with unprofessional and even abusive behavior,” she writes.

In a 2010 study, Gelfand and Hannah Riley Bowles hinted at why sexual harassers often get away with the behavior for so long. They found that people who thought of themselves as “high status” were more likely to want to punish their subordinates when they broke the rules, but not other high-status people. White men, but not white women, were more lenient toward other men when they broke the rules. The social hierarchy is reinforced, they write, because high-status people are granted more leniency.

Glick also underscored how a permissive, boys’-club environment can turn a would-be harasser into an actual harasser. “There are these bad apples, but there are also environments that really permit it,” he says. “If the allegations are to be believed about the guys that Kavanaugh hung out with, it’s a lot of bragging about their sexual conquests.” This is a major reason that fraternities, with their culture of heavy drinking, male-on-male competition, and hazing rituals, are so often associated with higher rates of sexual assault than the rest of the university.

When women are seen as mere tokens of status to be collected, natural male aggressiveness can descend to a dark place. Subtle messages within social circles can imply that women are, sometimes quite literally, up for grabs. Men who want to sexually harass someone, says John Pryor, a professor of psychology at Illinois State University, “are unlikely to do it if they’re in social settings where there’s normative pressure not to do it.”

Perhaps the problem, then, is not in “masculine psychology,” but in environments that allow the least scrupulous men to act on their most hideous impulses. The norms I grew up with were not great for women. Those of Georgetown Prep, where Kavanaugh went to high school, may have been even worse.

Complete Article HERE!

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The New Birds and Bees:

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Teaching Kids About Boundaries and Consent

What we can learn from the Dutch: Talking openly about bodies helps keep shame at bay, and may help a child speak up if there is a problem.

By Bonnie J. Rough

As a growing number of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories have put a new focus on childhood sexual abuse, parents may have an urgent sense that they should frame conversations with their children about their bodies as safety lessons.

But doubling down on warnings is the opposite of what children really need. In researching my new book about how gender equality begins with great sex ed, I learned that teaching what’s good about bodies, sex and love is actually what gives children a secure sense of body sovereignty, boundaries and consent.

Children who feel confident in their body knowledge may be quicker to identify when something is awry, and those who learn empathy and egalitarianism less likely to cross another person’s boundaries.

Here are three essential lessons parents of children under 6 can follow to help kids stay safe, confident and shame-free in their skin.

Begin with body positivity

When my oldest daughter turned 3, a certain worry started to keep me up at night. I sensed that her risk of sexual abuse was increasing with her age, and I needed to teach her more about her body in order to keep her safe. Here’s what I know now that I didn’t see then: My motivation to start the birds-and-bees talks was fear.

But after living in the Netherlands with my family and learning how the Dutch approach to sex education in homes and schools produces some of the world’s best sexual health outcomes and highest levels of gender equality, I discovered the problem with fear as motivation: When children learn that certain body parts are dangerous and invite trouble, they learn sexual shame. And shame, in turn, is the mechanism that perpetrators of sexual violence rely upon to keep victims silent.

According to the Dutch approach (and many American sexuality educators), risks and warnings should not dominate our body conversations with kids. Instead, teaching body positivity — the joy, fun and privilege of living physical human lives — helps keep shame, secrecy and silence at bay.

“Tell your children sexuality is something beautiful and should be enjoyed but only if both people want it in the same way,” says Sanderijn van der Doef, a Dutch psychologist and the author of a series of children’s books on bodies and sexuality popular in the Netherlands. “For young children, you should be clear that sexual intercourse and sexual relations are especially for adults.”

Teaching body positivity means letting babies and toddlers freely explore their own bodies. It means avoiding grossed-out faces and language (try calling a diaper “full” instead of “dirty”) in teaching hygiene. It means talking about reproductive body parts cheerfully, with correct language and affirming tones. And it means helping children discover what they like and don’t like: Is tickling on the arms O.K., but not the feet? At bedtime, does this sleepy preschooler like her back rubbed, scratched or traced over? Does the toddler want to be picked up by Grandpa, but not Auntie? We can help children to recognize the gut feelings that reveal our individual boundaries.

Don’t treat body parts as shameful

Shame about body parts, Ms. Van der Doef says, comes from a child’s environment: they learn from their caregivers when to be squeamish and embarrassed. By normalizing all body parts and speaking of them regularly and straightforwardly with correct language, we send the message that every part of a person’s body is healthy, wholesome and worthy.

As I learned from the Dutch example, normalization goes beyond talk: day-to-day nonsexual nudity — in homes, picture books, mixed-gender school bathrooms, kids’ television programs, and public changing areas and wading pools — reinforces the tenet that bodies are nothing to be ashamed of and nothing we can’t discuss (in words any caregiver, teacher or health provider will recognize) if need be.

As we respond to kids’ natural, healthy curiosity about the human form, we can instill in them the idea that all people are born with wonderful bodies capable of feeling pleasure and pain.

Teach the importance of consent

It can be daunting to explain the emotional and relational aspects of human sexuality. Yet this is our richest opportunity to instill empathy, consent, inclusiveness and egalitarianism.

Preschool is the age to teach children the hallmarks of a healthy, trusting friendship. Children at this age can be made aware of the gender-role stereotypes they’ve absorbed (for example, girls like pink and boys have short hair). A simple role-play with stuffed animals in which a “girl” teddy bear wants to play football and a “boy” animal wants to wear a dress can teach it’s hurtful to limit one anther’s opportunities.

Preschoolers and even toddlers can learn rules for playing contact games with friends such as tickling, chase and “doctor”: everyone must agree happily to the game; no hurting allowed; anyone can say “no” or change their mind. As adults, we can model the importance of consent when children want to climb on us by reminding them to ask first. We can model respect for the importance of consent, too, when a child is reluctant to give a high-five, hug or kiss — especially to an adult, and this does include Grandma — by suggesting a contact-free alternative like a verbal greeting or a wave.

Elsbeth Reitzema, a sex education consultant and curriculum author for the sexual health institute Rutgers in the Netherlands, says it’s impossible to warn children of every scenario and impossible, too, to protect them 100 percent of the time. Specific scenarios such as the lap-patting relative or lollipop-offering stranger can be good to mention, but it’s most important to instill an understanding of consent. This goes for friends, relatives, teachers and even physicians. When children expect to ask, give and deny consent at their own discretion, sexual transgressions stick out as clear violations.

Teaching consent has a protective effect against child sexual abuse by showing children that they can trust their instincts: When a grown-up or anyone else touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, they don’t have to cooperate. They have the right to say no.

Even a young child, Ms. Reitzema says, can tell the difference between a safe secret like a sister’s birthday surprise and an unsafe one that must be told to a trusted adult: Bad secrets don’t feel fun or happy.

Adults who promptly respond to a child’s report of abuse by believing, guarding and reassuring them they did nothing wrong help protect young victims from long-term trauma. One of the most supportive messages parents can give to kids, at any age, is: “If anyone touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you can always tell me. I’m here to help.”

If you have concerns about possible sexual abuse, resources include the National Child Abuse Hotline, 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453); the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Complete Article HERE!

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Well-Timed Study Shows the Lasting Consequences of Sexual Assault

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This week, a study affirming the lasting impact of sexual assault and harassment on middle-aged women’s mental and physical health was published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Its timing is remarkable, published amid an ongoing national conversation and controversy surrounding the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings — specifically, allegations that he assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, now 53, when both were in high school.

For their study, researchers surveyed 304 women (all nonsmokers) between the ages of 40 and 60, 19 percent of whom reported a history of workplace sexual harassment, and 22 percent of whom reported a history of sexual assault. (Notably, both figures are significantly lower than national estimates, which hold that 40–75 percent of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment, while 36 percent have experienced sexual assault.) While previous research has established a link between sexual harassment and/or assault with poor health outcomes in women, many of those studies relied on self-report of the individual’s health, among other limitations. For this study, though, researchers assessed participants’ health themselves (by measuring their blood pressure, discussing medications and medical history, etc.), allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of these events’ specific impact.

The study’s authors found that both workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault had lasting, negative effects on women’s health. Women who reported having experienced workplace sexual harassment had significantly higher blood pressure and significantly lower sleep quality than women who didn’t. The former group was also more likely to suffer from hypertension. Women who reported having experienced sexual assault were more likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety than those who didn’t, and were also determined to have poorer sleep quality.

Beyond the fact that their reporting rates are considerably lower than national estimates, the authors note that their experimental group is the best-case scenario in other ways, too: by choosing nonsmokers, for instance, they eliminated a factor likely to amplify those negative health effects. And by surveying participants who volunteered to share their difficult experiences, they were perhaps limited to only the best-adjusted, best-supported survivors. If a highly educated, married, and upper-middle-class woman like Dr. Ford experiences trauma symptoms decades after the assault, one can only imagine how those effects, mental and physical, might be compounded in women with fewer resources at their disposal.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Kavanaugh allegations show why we need to change how we teach kids about sex

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By Sarah Hosseini

When I was 13 years old, I met a guy at the gas station right outside my suburban neighborhood in Upstate New York. Other neighborhood kids and I would go there to buy sodas and smoke cigarettes behind our parents’ backs. He was a friend of a boy I went to school with. He flirted with me and said I looked “so mature.” He was 20 years old.

He started regularly showing up at my house after school while my mom was at work. I don’t remember ever inviting him there. I told him my mom didn’t allow boys in our house. “But I miss you. It will just be for a few minutes,” he pleaded.

I shared a red metal bunk bed with my sister. We had matching comforters and stuffed animals neatly placed next to our pillows. He crouched under the low beams and jerkily groped me up and down, including beneath my underwear and training bra. I implored him to stop and pushed his hand away, but he whined, “A few more minutes.” He wouldn’t take no for an answer. And so, these encounters continued for weeks. I never told anyone until typing it for this article.

There were more violations of my body, with different boys and men, in varying situations. One was when I was as young as 7, and they continued all the way up through adulthood. Some were more terrifying than others.

While watching and listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, my own sexual attacks played in my head. The harrowing details she recounted are familiar to many women: nonconsensual groping, mouth-covering, the fear of rape, the fear of death and the laughing. The indelible memory of laughter.

This is the sexual landscape faced by girls and women in our country, but it doesn’t have to be. We have unprecedented access to information about sex thanks to the Internet, yet sex is still a taboo topic, especially with children. As a mom of two daughters, ages 7 and 8, I used to cringe thinking about sex talks with them. Now, I can’t think of anything worse than not starting the conversation.

“Parents sometimes think they’re ‘protecting kids’ innocence’ by avoiding sexual topics and questions when they come up. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t mean kids don’t get sexual information; it means they get it from less reliable sources like peers and unhealthy sources like pornography,” Connecticut-based marriage and family therapist Jill Whitney says in an email. Whitney also writes for the website Keep the Talk Going, which provides “talk starters” and tips for parents.

One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). One in five women in college experience sexual assault, as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“When young people are taught by omission that prowess on the sports field is more valuable than negotiating a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship, we realize we have our priorities wrong and women bear the brunt of such disorienting tactics,” New York City-based therapist Cyndi Darnell says in an email.

Many experts have ideas on how to combat sexual violence, but one particularly compelling option is the call for more comprehensive sexual education. A 2014 study from Georgetown University shows that starting sex education in primary school reduces unintended pregnancies, maternal deaths, unsafe abortions and STDs. Several psychologists, clinicians and educators also believe early sex ed could perhaps help reduce sexual assaults and rapes.

So where do we start?

Fundamentally, we must believe access to sexual health information is a basic human right, as outlined by the World Health Organization. We must also believe that sexual health extends beyond reproduction and disease. It needs to encompass the physical, emotional and social construction of sexuality. And it has to start when kids are young.

“The power and majesty of human sexuality must be respected and taught with the same reverence we use to teach children about how electricity works. It can be used to power our homes or destroy lives, it’s the user that determines its outcome,” Darnell writes. She believes that in our culture, the burden is unfairly placed on the individual to know better, rather than on society to support, care and educate.

“This is a systemic problem that must be changed,” she adds.

The current standards for sexual education in America leave much to be desired. Only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and the curriculums are highly variable. Many programs are abstinence-only and omit crucial information about contraception, sexual orientation and consent. They don’t even touch the topic of pleasure.

“Unfortunately, sex education is largely approached in a fear-based, sex-negative way in U.S. schools, and the curricula are rarely honest with children about the reasons people have sex,” says Brianna Rader in an email. She’s a sex educator and founder of the sex and relationships advice app Juicebox. “We teach young girls that they are more responsible for sexual mistakes and that men are going to one day give them their sexual pleasure instead of empowering them to claim it for themselves. We don’t even discuss the clitoris,” she writes.

The United States has a long way to go toward establishing an all-encompassing model. In the meantime, there are great private sector and nonprofit resources to help parents fill in the gaps. Scarleteen is a website providing inclusive sex information for parents and teens, including message boards where users can anonymously ask questions and seek advice. The site is also highly dedicated to gender identity and sexual orientation topics. Our Whole Lives, or OWL, is a sex education program founded by the Unitarian Universalist Association, which operates under the belief that informed youth and adults make better and healthier decisions about sex. Their curriculums and workshops start in kindergarten and continue to adulthood.

Preparation is great, but what if you get caught off guard by a curious little one?

“When little kids ask about something sexual, they’re just trying to learn about the world. They’re curious about how bodies work, just as they’re curious about everything. We adults may freak out — omg! this is about sex! — but for young kids, it’s just a matter of fact,” Whitney writes.

She suggests answering their questions with simple but honest facts. Which is really the basis of all sex talks, no matter the age.

I can’t say for certain whether more comprehensive and honest sex education would’ve prevented what happened to me. But I can say that I wish I had been empowered with self-knowledge, because it would’ve given me what I didn’t have in those moments: assertiveness, alternatives and options. I deserved more, and our kids do, too.

Complete Article HERE!

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3 Experts on What’s Missing From the Consent Discussion

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By Kasandra Brabaw

In 1990, a group of women gathered at Antioch College to talk about the growing problem of rape on their campus, drafting the very first version of the school’s Sexual Offense Prevention Policy (SOPP). In doing so, they created what we now know as affirmative consent, decades before anyone else began using the term. The policy required that Antioch students ask for consent at every step of sexual encounters, from the first kiss, to taking off clothes, to oral sex or penetration. In short, the group who created the SOPP flipped the widely accepted “no means no” definition of consent to a “yes means yes” definition. They were then mocked mercilessly by everyone from their classmates to Saturday Night Live for challenging the status quo.

Nearly 30 years later, people are finally seeing the wisdom of affirmative consent, and attempting to push the concept even further; the most popular consent definition of the moment, for instance, is enthusiastic consent,. It encourages people to ask for a verbal yes at every step of intimate interactions, but also recognizes that someone may feel coerced into agreeing to sex. So, in addition to the yes, enthusiastic consent encourages people to also notice nonverbal cues, such as whether or not their partner is kissing back, moaning, arching their back, or doing any number of things that makes it clear that they’re really turned on.

The conversation about consent took another turn when the #MeToo movement arose late last year. Now, people are talking about how masculinity factors in. Instead of just demonizing men for not understanding consent, we’re asking why they’re struggling with the concept in the first place. Mothers of young boys are starting to think about how to raise men to be good allies and to understand that they have to both ask for what they want and graciously accept when someone says no. Maybe it sounds simple, but it’s a difficult task for a culture that tells boys and men that sex is, essentially, their birthright.

We’re just starting to deconstruct the concept of masculinity that makes consent so confusing for cisgender men. But we haven’t really touched upon how the narrative of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and consent change depending on someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, financial background, ability, or other marginalized identities. Those conversations are happening, but they’re often relegated to minority groups, instead integrated into the mainstream conversation. As the consent conversation continues to evolve, we need to consider and address how sexual harassment and assault impacts various communities. Ahead, we talk to three leaders in sexual education — Bethany Saltman, who co-wrote Antioch’s Sexual Offense Prevention Policy in the 1990s, Ted Bunch, the co-founder of the violence prevention organization A Call To Men, and Bianca Laureano, foundress of the Women Of Color Sexual Health Network — about the evolution of consent, what’s missing in mainstream conversations about consent, and what the next steps are to make consent unambiguous to all.

Bethany Saltman, co-writer of Antioch College’s SOPP

Bethany Saltman

Tell me a little about being at Antioch in the 1990s. How did your group start talking about consent?

“We heard the stories about women who had been raped and nothing was being done, and so we decided right then and there that we were going to do something. So in the conversation about what we wanted to change, we thought about how the current understanding of whether or not a rape had occurred was always looking for the woman saying no. That was the narrative. So, kind of in our innocence, we said, ‘Well why don’t we just turn it around and say that you have to actually say yes?’ Not only to intercourse, but every time you escalate the interaction.”

It’s only recently that people are starting to see how amazing SOPP was. How long do you think it takes for radical change to happen?

“Generations. There are still so many people who think that [affirmative consent] is insane and ridiculous. The legal definition of rape and sexual assault is changing — but slowly.”

Is there anything missing in the conversations we’re having about consent right now?

“There are some conversations happening that are about the joy of consent. And that’s the conversation I would like to bring forward; consent is a path to kindness and pleasure in our bodies and in ourselves. We shouldn’t be looking at sexual delight as something that needs to be hidden in these dark recesses of desire. There’s definitely something to mystery, but I think that the more enlightened we become as a culture, the more we’ll see that we can be really honest with ourselves and allow for all the variation that is part of human sexuality and and still have a rockin’ good time. And what it means to be joyful and really saying yes to ourselves, especially as women. Because in order to say ‘yes’ you have to really want sex.”

Do you think the voices of men have a place in the conversation?

“Definitely. I’ve been teaching my daughter about what it means to consent her entire life. She gets to say who can touch her and who can kiss her, and I think we need to do that with all of our children. It’s really not even about boys and girls. You’re born with certain karma and a certain bag of tricks, and you need to know how to wield them respectfully. So 100%, every single one of us needs to be part of this conversation.”

How does intersectionality play in? Do you think different populations are having different conversations about consent?

“Absolutely. Black women are sexualized in ways that white women are not, and white women are sexualized in ways that Black women are not. I like to approach all conversations with the posture of listening as much as possible.”

So where do you think we go from here?

“It depends on who the ‘we’ is. I think people who are already engaged in conversations about consent should keep listening and asking themselves the tough questions when they get stuck. ‘Where do I feel the line drawn between myself and someone else? Where do I get violent? Where do I get rigid? Where do I objectify? Where do I steal someone’s agency?’ The better we know ourselves, the better we can know other people, too.”

Ted Bunch, co-founder of A Call To Men

 

Ted Bunch

When #MeToo was in full swing, a lot of people started talking about how we raise men. Do you think that’s important in the conversation about consent?

“Oh, yes. Huge. One of the questions we ask high school boys in our workshops is ‘Can you define consent.’ Only 19% of those boys could actually define consent. Eight out of 10 boys did not know what consent was, which explains a lot. It explains why girls and women between 16 and 24 have the highest risk of being sexually assaulted. Boys actually think ‘no’ means try harder. They think ‘no’ means get her drunk or that they’re not approaching it right and they have to change their approach. Boys are taught messages around conquering women and girls. They’re not even supposed to have an interest in women and girls unless it’s about sex. If a boy has girls who are friends, most of the time the men in his life are going to question why he’d spend time with a girl he didn’t want to date, because it’s against his paradigm. Just being friends with a woman is against this man box that we teach boys to be in, which stipulates that girls and women are sexual objects.

“Now, we have conversations with our boys all the time about going away to college, going out on dates, but most of the time it’s about wearing a condom. Not about boundaries. Not about respect. So yes, [how we raise boys] needs to be a big part of the solution.”

Do you think enough people are talking about including men into the consent conversation right now?

“I think the beauty of the #MeToo movement and this moment in time is that we all have had to look at how we impact other people. I don’t think there’s a man who exists who hasn’t done something, said something, or witnessed another man committing sexual harassment or some sort of discrimination. So what’s happening with men now is that we have to realize that, ‘Oh wow, being a good guy with the women in my life is not enough. I have to look at how else I’m impacting women and girls, and how can I do better.’”

Do you think intersectionality plays into these conversations?

“It certainly does. When we look at the intersections — race, class, gender identity, sexuality, and [so] on — we can’t address one without addressing the other. When we look at sexism, we also have to look at racism, and we have to look at class, and we have to look at heterosexual-ism, and how that plays out with homophobic messages and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming community members.

“We have this saying at A Call To Men that the liberation of men is directly tied to the liberation of women. We really believe that, because we know that as we increase and promote a healthy and respectful manhood, we decrease the presence of domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying, homophobia. It all would drop away.”

How long do you think it will take to change how people are seeing consent?

“I’m very encouraged because we’re developing the next generation of manhood right now. Historically, we’ve addressed this issue through intervention, right? Something has to happen to someone and then we respond to it. And now we’re working toward prevention, where it never happens in the first place. So that’s why these conversations are essential. And this is the first generation of men being held accountable for something men have always gotten away with.”

Bianca Laureano, Foundress of Women Of Color Sexual Health Network

 

Bianca Laureano

What do you think is missing in the mainstream conversation about consent right now?

“People always put consent in a sexual scenario, which is great, because it needs to be there. But it also needs to be in every other aspect of our lives: when we go to the doctor, when we’re out in the world, when we’re at school, when we’re at home. Every human has the right to make decisions about what happens to their body, no matter if they’re having sex or having a breast exam. And a lot of people don’t always put those two concepts and realities into conversation with each other. So the consent conversations that we’re having are very one dimensional and only focus on sexuality. And the sexuality conversations we have are very narrow, and they really only focus on ‘Okay, how do you not be a rapist?’

“Consent is required in many different situations. Asking my sibling if they’re done in the bathroom before entering, for example, involves consent. It’s about communication and feeling comfortable enough to be direct and clear about what we need and want, and listening and respecting what others need and want.”

Some people say that we should be teaching bodily autonomy from birth. Do you agree with that?

“What’s important there is the rejection piece. If you hear no, why do we call it rejection instead of self-determination? We’ve given the person an option and they’ve made a choice for themselves that’s very concrete, so why aren’t we celebrating that?

Is there anything that you think needs to change in the culture at large before we can change the way people are thinking about consent?

“I think having a clear definition and understanding of accountability and responsibility, and how those two things are essential to being a member of a community, a part of your family, an employee, a citizen of the world, whatever. When I say that, I think of bystanders. We hear a lot about bystander interactions and responsibilities.

“I’ve been at a crowded airport, crying, hysterically heaving, and everybody just stared at me. Then, Joe Schmo from the end of the line walks up to me and says, ‘Do you need help?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he was like, ‘What do you need?’ And I said, ‘Here’s my airplane information. I need to change my flight. They just canceled it, and my mom just died.’ Meanwhile, everybody continues to stare. People don’t know how to act when they’re confronted with certain things, whether it be tears, violence, or even laughter and joy. And I think doing that hard work of learning understanding, responsibility, and accountability could make a huge difference.”

Are you seeing different conversations around consent happening in different identity groups? Are white women having a different conversation from women of color, for example?

“Oh, for sure, and there are definitely similarities, too. All of the communities that include people who identify as women or femmes talk about misogyny and how it impacts their lives every day. But the way that they talk about it and the examples that they use are very different. Black women might talk about when somebody calls them a ‘Black bitch,’ for example. And that being both racism and misogyny. White women might be complaining about being called a bitch, but they’re not being called a white bitch. So the conversations around consent and misogyny are very color-free in certain communities.

“And in communities of people where there are mixed financial backgrounds or that are more impoverished, conversations about consent are rooted in conversations of power. Going to work with people who have been harmed at their big Fortune 500 company, they’ve talked about power in a very covert way. So people talk about the same things, but they talk about it very differently.”

Do you think that those separate conversations need to start melding together in order to make any real change?

“Sometimes we do need to have isolated conversations that are free from the people who represent the groups that harm us. That can be essential to being able to understand and affirm that what you experienced really happened. Because if you’re the only Black woman and you had a confrontation with a white woman and everybody else was white and didn’t do anything, the feeling of rage is boundless. So, if you can’t talk about that with other Black people then you might think: ‘Am I making a big deal? What is happening?’ It becomes a form of gaslighting where the silence makes us question our existence in our reality.

“But the world that we live in requires us to interact and engage with other people. So we eventually have to have interracial, inter-ethnic, and all the other inter-conversations with different people, so that we can begin to understand what’s happening from others’ perspectives.”

What do you think needs to change about the mainstream consent conversation right now?

“When people say things like ‘enthusiastic consent,’ that drives me bananas. It’s ableist, and people can perform enthusiasm as a safety tactic. If I say to a young person, ‘I know you’re having a bad day, but I really need you to put on a happy face and act like you enjoy being here just for 20 minutes,’ my students know exactly what to do. They sit up straight. They raised their hand. They call me Miss Whatever. They know how to perform. And that’s a danger, I believe.

“Because then what happens to the neuro-diverse people who don’t perform enthusiasm the way we expect them to? If people have in their head that enthusiastic consent does not look like how I’m behaving, then I’m not going to get what I need. It’s difficult to find definitions that aren’t ableist, but I define consent as: Direct words, behaviors, and actions that show a voluntary agreement to engage with others. Someone who is consenting is comfortable and aware of their surroundings and options. They are not being coerced or manipulated and are not debilitated by drugs or alcohol.

“I would just love for us to get to a point where asking for what we want is so common and so comfortable that it’s not some big thing people are afraid of.”

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What It’s Like to Reclaim Your Sex Life After Sexual Assault

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Survivors share their stories.

By Zahra Barnes

When she was 16, Lindsay Marie Gibson was raped. After her assault, life continued, as it does. Years later, in college, she met the man who would become her husband. She fell in love. They got married. Life was good. Yet her assault from years before still wreaked havoc, here and there. If Lindsay, now 34, didn’t flinch when her husband reached for her hand, it was only because she didn’t realize he was touching her in the first place. Her mind-body disconnect, which had come about as what she calls a “self-protection” of sorts after she was raped, was that powerful.

Many people struggle to feel connected with their bodies after experiencing an assault.

Lindsay is not the only survivor to unintentionally rely on this coping mechanism in the aftermath of sexual assault. “It sounds odd, but sexual abuse actually makes you forget that your body is yours and not property or an object,” Lauren*, 26, a survivor who often thought of herself as a “body-less soul” after her rape, tells SELF. “The minute you realize your body is indeed your own, you are instantly reminded that it was forcefully taken from you

This physical numbness stems from an emotional one, and it’s a natural impulse after undergoing something as horrendous as rape. But it is also an intimidating force blocking many survivors from what they say is one of the most empowering parts of reclaiming their lives after rape: Enjoying sex again, or for the first time ever

The yawning chasm between mind and body can make it impossible to fully connect with another person, says Lindsay, who was only able to fall in love with her husband mentally at first: “In my head, I knew I loved him, but I couldn’t feel it in my body.”

Integrating the mind and body is essential for a happy, healthy sex life after assault.

“There needs to be integration,” Holly Richmond, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist who has counseled survivors at the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, tells SELF. “The trauma happened in the past, and a new, healthy, sexual self is moving into future, but it’s all the same person—one body, one mind.”

The goal, says Richmond, is for the survivor to process the trauma so it does not affect her daily life, without compartmentalizing what happened to her to the point of suppression. Attempting to completely stanch the flow of painful memories can contribute to that mind-body disconnect, as well as anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Unpacking that trauma in a healthy way is what helps survivors enjoy many facets of life—including sex, Indira Henard, M.S.W, executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, tells SELF. “Each survivor is different, and it’s a lifelong journey,” she says.

Survivors must navigate various obstacles on the journey towards integration.

For starters, they often struggle with feeling comfortable around men. “If I saw a man in an elevator, I would turn and run the other way,” Lindsay says. “I was fighting anxiety through all my dates—I would sit and stare as they talked, but my head was going, Run, run, run. Get away from this guy.”

When a survivor does eventually wrangle that anxious impulse and start dating someone, she’ll likely disclose what happened at some point. At first, sharing details about her rape would often send men “running for the hills,” Anna*, 36, tells SELF. Now she is in a wonderful relationship with a man who responded to her story with kindness.

Even once a survivor is ready to have sex, issues like anxiety and PTSD can still rear their ugly heads. “When you’re having flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about your assault or rape, it’s very, very difficult to want to have sex,” says Lauren, who has PTSD. “Or worse, if you are having sex when these things arise, sex can become scary and intimidating, not to mention triggering.”

Avoiding triggers after sexual assault can feel like a minefield.

For Jess*, 24, a nickname her attacker called her is now off-limits. When dating after her rape, hearing the nickname during sex could prompt her to “100 percent flip out and start crying,” she tells SELF.

And after being raped from behind, Anna has drawn a line at certain kinds of touch with her husband. “Sometimes, as much as he wants to touch that area, it’s just too much,” she says.

That decision brings Anna a measure of relief while also prompting guilt at times, which experts say is normal but unwarranted. No matter what a trigger is, having one doesn’t mean you’re weak or wrong—it means you’re human, says Richmond.

To manage triggers, assault survivors must regain control over their sex lives, which often includes absolving themselves of any wrongdoing.

In order to heal, it’s vital to set sexual boundaries and hammer out a definition of consent and what is or isn’t OK between two people, says Henard: “Survivors have a right to ask for consent and negotiate what that looks like for them.”

This requires survivors to let themselves off the hook, which many have trouble doing due to persistent feelings of shame, says Richmond.

“It’s about recognizing that you did not do anything wrong, that there’s nothing you could have done to prevent this, and that you are not alone,” says Henard. Richmond adds, “I don’t care if you were sitting naked on a street corner. The only reason you were raped is that you were in the presence of a rapist.”

“When you realize it’s not your fault, it’s kind of like a weight is lifted off of you,” Jennifer*, 44, tells SELF. That self-acceptance often gives survivors the feeling that it’s OK to articulate what they need in order to feel in control of their sexual destinies.

Once survivors have established boundaries, they’re one step closer to truly connecting with someone else, which is an integral part of moving forward.

“This is what so much of my therapeutic practice is about: being able to authentically connect with another human being without going into the shame, guilt, and anger brought up during and after sexual assault,” says Richmond. “There might be some bumps in the road, but when the partner can continue to offer security and safety, it’s an amazing thing

Jennifer recalls how comfortable she felt when she first met her now-fiancé. “He was very compassionate, and he was very patient,” she says. Her fiancé—whom she describes as very focused on helping her to associate sex with good feelings instead of bad ones—is the first person she’s been able to get fully naked in front of since her rape. “I’ve always been very self-conscious of my body, but I don’t feel that way with him,” she says. Now, sex feels freer and is without the tense fight-or-flight mode that marked other encounters after her rape.

For Lindsay, something about her husband’s energy quieted the alarms that would clang whenever she was around men. “The first time he looked at me, I didn’t feel like I needed to run,” she says. “For the first time ever, in my head, I was able to have peace.”

And, of course, pleasure plays a crucial role in this equation.

The best-case scenario, says Richmond, is that a survivor isn’t thinking about the assault when she’s having sex. Instead, the hope is that she feels safe, secure, connected, and is feeling pleasure. But that’s easier said than done

“I got to a point where I was able to be intimate, but I didn’t feel passion,” Lindsay says. “I knew in my head he was safe…I just kind of wanted to get through it and wanted him to be satisfied because I love him.”

Jess would similarly go through the motions, humming songs or making grocery lists in her head to get through sex

But eventually, many survivors realize they deserve pleasure, too, and that seeking it out is essential for healing. “I found the only way to truly move on was to be vocal and to speak up for myself,” Lauren says. Sometimes, she needs to halt all sexual activity. “Other times, I just need a second to re-ground myself and allow my body to remember its present circumstance and realize it is not in danger,” she says.

Having good sex is more than a marker of healing—it’s a liberating step in the process.

Some time after her assault, when Lauren felt ready, she dove eagerly into sexual exploration with her then-boyfriend. “Learning what my body loves and wants has been an exciting journey and one that is incredibly empowering,” she says

But after they broke up, the uncertain world of dating pushed her into more exploration than was ultimately right for her. “I decided to—no strings attached—explore sex just for sex,” she says. “The experience I gained was not worth the emotional toll. I realized sex cannot be, at least for me, something [frivolous] without thought and true emotional connection.”

Now, Lauren is in a happy marriage with a great sex life. “My partner encourages me to be vocal, and we spend a lot of time communicating our needs, our wants, and our thoughts and desires about sex,” she says. “Finding out just how sexually compatible we are has been amazing.”

After some time in therapy, Jess gave herself a mission similar to Lauren’s: “My goal was to have as much sex as possible [with my boyfriend] until I felt normal.”

It helped her make leaps and bounds in her recovery. “I can do everything that might be illegal in some states and countries, and I’m fine with that!” she says. “I feel like my body is special now—there’s no one who can tell me otherwise.”

Sometimes therapy, yoga, or even a tragedy is what helps survivors move forward.

Although not for everyone, many survivors cite therapy as a crucial part of the equation. It helped Lindsay cut her panic attacks down from five to six per day to maybe five per month, and Jennifer and her fiancé sometimes go to couple’s therapy to figure out the best way to approach her lingering anxiety and trust issues

Lindsay has also found solace in trauma yoga, which helped her reconnect her mind and body. Part of this involved a focus on clearing negative energy from parts of her body, like her ribcage and neck, that had ached since the rape due to injuries she sustained during the assault. “Once I became aware that’s what my body was holding, I haven’t had a problem since,” she says. The yoga also encouraged her to sit with her pain instead of trying to deny it.

But what helped Lindsay truly mend her mind-body disconnect was actually another tragedy—the pain she endured after a stillbirth of a much-wanted son. “Losing him burst me open,” she says. The visceral pain made it impossible to suppress her feelings. “My body was trying to go back into denial, but this time it was different—I couldn’t deny the fact that I loved him,” says Lindsay, who wrote about the transformative experience in Just Be: How My Stillborn Son Taught Me to Surrender. “I was actually healing for the first time.”

Now, thanks to that combination of factors, Lindsay’s sex life has changed dramatically for the better. “I’m able to be present and let go, and I can feel my desire for [my husband], which is a completely new thing.”

If you’re on this journey, remember: It’s a work in progress, but healing is indeed possible.

<It’s normal to grapple with mixed feelings about sex and sexuality after an assault. “I want to feel like a sexy person, and I want to feel like I can be more vocal about what I like and what I enjoy,” says Anna. “But at the same time, is that me being like the men that attacked me, in a sense? I know it may sound silly, but I don’t want to be that aggressive person

Confronting these feelings is part and parcel of working through the aftershocks of sexual assault. It sounds like an unfathomable burden, but survivors consistently rise to meet the occasion.

“Survivors are the strongest people I’ve ever met,” says Richmond. “Almost across the board, these people come out with more strength, more empathy, and more insight into the human condition.”

Although Anna says reclaiming her life is something she’s “still struggling with,” she’s determined to keep at it. “We have three children. I want them to know their mama is strong, resilient. There can be love, and a family, and more to life than [my assault].”

That focus on a better future, many survivors say, is part of what helps them form bonds with potential partners with whom they can have healthy relationships—and repair their relationships with themselves. “There is hope,” says Lindsay. “The physical pain, the emotional pain—all that stuff is passing clouds. Joy is the sky. It’s always there

Names have been changed.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). More resources are available online from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. To find a sexual assault service provider near you, visit RAINN.

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