Promiscuity should not be the answer.
January 28, 2014 7:49 PM   Subscribe

I grew up in an implicitly sex-negative environment. More recently, I was raped. I had next to no sexual experience at the time and barely understood what was going on while it was happening. I had very little interest in sex in the months after that, but suddenly, I am now extremely preoccupied with the idea of sleeping with other 50 to 60-year old, educated white males.

For as long as I can remember, I have had negative or apathetic views towards sex. My parents never educated me about sex as a child and preferred to pretend that it did not exist as a whole (they went so far as to discourage me and my siblings from attending sex ed classes in school). At the same time, it was somehow indirectly communicated to me that sex was something that only corrupt people engaged in. As a child who was generally obedient and eager to please, I developed into a teenager who not only had very little interest in sex, but who practically felt a twinge of moral superiority for having said lack of interest. I found an awesome boyfriend who was also relatively conservative about sex and relationships and was perfectly fine with a relationship that had little physical contact; we're still happily together today. During college, my views on sex became more liberal, but I still ended up graduating with basically no sexual experience beyond the assault.

It bothers me a great deal that I was assaulted before I had a chance to get a sense of myself as a sexual being. These days, whenever I have any sexual thoughts, I have a very hard time identifying whether they are a reaction to the assault or if they are merely a result of my natural sexual maturation. Most upsettingly, I can't stop thinking about sleeping with men who coincidentally (or perhaps not so much?) share my rapist's demographic. I'm not by any standard an impulsive or reckless person, and yet on some days, I am this close to acting on it.

I know that my boyfriend, who I love and care about very much, would be crushed if I slept with anybody else, and part of me doesn't even actually want to. But the preoccupation and the desire (or what my brain is interpreting as desire) is there. What if I am just naturally attracted to older white men, or want to explore sexually at this point in my life, and this has nothing to do with the assault? What if I snap and end up acting on these thoughts? How can I deal with these thoughts? I am intensely ashamed for even having them in the first place. Please help.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

This is something that you should really address in a therapy setting with someone that specializes in sexual abuse/molestation.

I'm sorry this happened to you. Please know that you will move forward from this.
posted by HuronBob at 7:53 PM on January 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

I'm really sorry this happened too. How awful. It sounds to me like you're having intrusive/obsessive thoughts. I had a similar thing following a bad sexual harassment episode, very similar to what you are describing. I hope it might be comforting for you to know that just having intrusive thoughts doesn't mean you will automatically act on them. Here's an interesting little article about that. (I agree that talking to a counselor, or even a rape crisis line, or whatever is available to you, is a good idea if you haven't already.)
posted by Ouisch at 7:59 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hey, some of your past questions have mentioned the assault and your decisions to go to therapy.

Can you let us know if you have gone to therapy, how that's going and if he's helping?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I want you to know that I admire you for reaching out. Not everyone does. If an internet hug is okay, you have it.

HuronBob and Ouisch both make good points that I hope you find useful and encouraging.

Hypersexuality and self-sabotage are both common features of PTSD. I would add that to the possibilities you're trying to work through.

A well-qualified therapist will be able to give you immediate coping skills for stopping the intrusive thoughts and unplugging any bad wiring that may be contaminating more authentic feelings that need exploring.

If you're already in therapy and this isn't being addressed, you should ask your therapist directly for help and/or find another therapist.
posted by batmonkey at 8:09 PM on January 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sorry to threadsit.

I went to therapy (CBT). My therapist specializes in child sexual abuse, which was appropriate given the circumstances under which my assault happened. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I have been taking good care of myself and doing the best I can. Therapy was helpful in terms of reducing my self-blame and helping me get a more balanced view of what happened. However, I am not sure if CBT can address this specific conundrum and the benefits of therapy seem to be plateauing as of late.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:14 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

But the preoccupation and the desire (or what my brain is interpreting as desire) is there.

This happens all the time, and it is so incredibly common.

Have you ever tried visiting a support group? I visited one after a physically abusive relationship. I remember one time when I couldn't take it anymore and I blurted out how, despite all of the cruel and insane things he did to me, I still really deeply loved him and I was hurt that he was already dating someone else! Seriously! It was one of the most embarrassing things I have ever said out loud and I was on the verge of tears. I felt an incredible amount of shame.

When I said that, every head in the room started nodding.

In therapy, to state it kind of crudely, there is kind of this relationship where you are the broken one who has a problem and the therapist is the one who will help fix you. Nothing against therapy. It's just that in a support group, you are all peers. Nobody is "the one with the problem." Nobody is "the one with the weird feelings." Nobody is "the fucked up one." And nobody is "the normal one." Nobody is "the non-fucked up one."

It can just really help to be surrounded by a bunch of peers who have all had a similar experience as you. And sometimes you can meet people who have had some of the same issues that may be currently arising for you, but they arose for that person earlier in time and that person has already worked through them way more, and you can learn from them.
posted by cairdeas at 8:22 PM on January 28, 2014 [24 favorites]

Look up EMDR therapy and discuss whether its use could help you.

Meditation may also help. Currently you're bothered by thoughts in your head. Meditation may help to disconnect you from the emotional anxiety of having those thoughts. Again, discuss with therapist.

I'm sorry you're going through this, but it can get better. Do continue taking care of yourself.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:37 PM on January 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

IANAT. One possible reason you have these thoughts: rape is about power; thinking about having sex with people in the same demographic as your rapist gives you the power over the situation. So your brain could be trying to rewrite the scenario, but it's not something you should do in real life because a) your boyfriend and b) it would probably cause more trauma.

So, CBT can help decrease intrusive thoughts; distraction can keep your mind occupied on other things (exercise is a way of having control over your own body; art is a way of having control over/releasing your own emotions). And yeah mindfulness and EMDR are supposed to be positive things for trauma.

But definitely talk to the therapist about this. You might need to get the therapist to change their focus a little if you think things have stalled.
posted by heyjude at 8:47 PM on January 28, 2014 [16 favorites]

However, I am not sure if CBT can address this specific conundrum and the benefits of therapy seem to be plateauing as of late.

The thing about therapy is, it stops helping if you stop talking about the shit that's actually bothering you. I can't guarantee that bringing this up in therapy will help you with it. But if you don't bring it up, it's just about guaranteed that therapy won't help you with it.

Might as well give it a shot.
posted by this is a thing at 9:29 PM on January 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Try emdr, definitely, if you can. It was life-changing for me and I think it would be helpful in your situation.

Support groups can be very good for your situation. I might call a women's shelter to see if they have resources that might be helpful to you.

Good luck in your recovery. Congratulations on all your hard work so far and for continuing the journey. It's a long road but it is so rewarding.
posted by sockermom at 9:38 PM on January 28, 2014

I can only address one aspect of this, which is that I totally "outgrew" or "graduated" from therapists. No complaint against them, but after a certain point, you've integrated the things they have to teach you (whichever are useful for you at that time). Maybe try someone new?
posted by salvia at 9:53 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

One other thought: could you reduce the power of the intrusive thought by really indulging in that thought? E.g., maybe with your therapist, engage in an active and detailed fantasy of what that sex would be like? Just an idea.
posted by salvia at 9:56 PM on January 28, 2014

From an anonymous Mefite:
Your post brought to mind a book by Matt Atkinson, a therapist who works with people, mostly women, who were raped by men or women.

The book is entitled Resurrection After Rape, and there is one section of the book (PDF link for a free version of Atkinson's book here) that addresses what he calls "sexualized grieving." This was a revelation to me.

A salient excerpt:
[Section Header, p. 189] "Why did I become promiscuous after the rape?"

I have never met a slut. ...

If we want to understand the problem of sexual compulsivity after rape, we need to explore the concept of sexualized grieving [emphasis in original].

Grief after rape can take many forms, and as a therapist I believe that all actions are efforts to meet a need. ... Instead of trying to label something [as "slut", "promiscuous", etc.], what if we tried to understand the hidden needs and hurts beneath it?

If I were to say that people express grief [by drinking] alcohol, ... through drug use, ... through self-injury, nearly everyone would understand and agree.

But if I said that people can express grief through sex, suddenly people stop and gasp, "say what?!"

If you became more sexually active and vulnerable after your rape, it is important to stop using negative self-labeling like "promiscuous" or "slut," and understand your process in a new way.
Everybody's process is their own, and nobody can do it for you. But, as you know, support is possible. Like previous responders said, this is best left for the realm of a trained professional therapist. Your questions begs for a teasing out of sexuality from the violence you experienced. You're right. They're different.

Probably everybody who has experienced some sexual violence early on feels extreme hell and ire because they somehow equate sexual violence as an expression of their sexuality. It wasn't. Being robbed doesn't reflect on my material values as such. The social reality of racism doesn't reflect on a person's actual, genetic makeup. There is no "race" gene. These are human variations, and there is more intraracial variation than interracial variation.

So, the violence enacted on your body by another person is not a reflection of your sexuality in the least. But it is confusing. That's where therapy comes in. Time.

Lastly, there are some clues and guidelines for conditions that support a healthy sexuality. You can also find them in the above PDF. And this will all take time. You are not wrong. It is confusing, and teasing out your own sexuality from the shame and the feelings around what happened to you, chosen by another person, are part of that process. That's what I think you're articulating. Said with kindness, all.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:51 PM on January 28, 2014 [26 favorites]

[Section Header, p. 189] "Why did I become promiscuous after the rape?"

I have never met a slut. ...

If we want to understand the problem of sexual compulsivity after rape, we need to explore the concept of sexualized grieving [emphasis in original].

I think this is the key to what's happening to you, but perhaps it can be useful to put it in more mechanistic terms.

One of the central issues of PTSD is that memory of traumatic events which give rise to it is typically very vivid, is often obtrusive and can force you to virtually relive the trauma, and is very resistant to fading in the way ordinary memories do.

I think recreating the circumstances of the original trauma as closely as possible in a non-traumatic situation-- in your case by having consensual sex with men who resemble the man who raped you as closely as possible-- allows PTSD sufferers to layer obscuring memories over the traumatic memory, be less disabled by it, and get on with their lives.

However, these obscuring memories fade with time and must constantly be renewed, and that leads to compulsivity.

I don't think you have any authentic desire for these men, you just need relief from your awful memories-- but having sex with them would be a temporary solution at best, and could take you down a dark path.

I second sockermom's suggestion of EMDR; it's no coincidence that the eye motions it involves resemble those of REM sleep, and it can be very powerful for some people.
posted by jamjam at 1:16 AM on January 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's a lot of great advice in this thread already, but I just want to say that I was sexually attacked and I experienced (and still experience sometimes) exactly what you're talking about. I do think it's a way to "overwrite" the feelings and memories of lost power and helplessness. I am careful to never blame myself and to just let myself run with those thoughts until they pass.
posted by koakuma at 6:41 AM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is your therapist a woman? I would suggest working with a woman for now given that the exact demographic bringing up these feelings is probably not the best person to explore this with in therapy. Eventually maybe after talking it over with someone else. I just ask given that if this is a man you may be, justifiably, reluctant to want to bring up personal sexual desire issues and it's actually ok to have a personal boundary of not wanting to discuss your most vulnerable sexual feelings with people of the gender you are attracted to or who could find your feelings arousing. You have some intense stuff to talk about and you have every right to only choose therapists who feel safe and you can interview many people to get a feel for them. Just because someone has a professional license it does not make them immune to being human or mean you automatically have to open everything up to them. If it's a woman I too think you might be ready for a change or a directed shift of focus. Write out the issues bothering you and what you want worked on. Interview your own and other therapists about what sort of planning and recommended therapy types they recommend to address your goals. Some therapists operate on a model of just letting you talk and being empathetic which can be very needed at times, but sometimes you need someone with a more specific plan in mind.
posted by xarnop at 6:55 AM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also I don't like CBT for some things, especially as practiced by some professionals, you could try different therapy ideologies as well. In some ways asking if there is a therapist who will offer you information and education about your condition and how common your experience is could be helpful as well. support groups and talking with others online could also be helpful as I agree with the mentioned above that constantly being the messed up one in therapy gets to feel a little less than empowering.
posted by xarnop at 7:03 AM on January 29, 2014

I don't have much to add to the excellent answers you've already received, but I wanted to say 2 things: 1) this is incredibly common - please know that you're not alone! and 2) it probably took a lot of guts for you to even post this question, and I'm so proud of you for doing it.

You will make it through this. You're already on your way.
posted by widdershins at 7:44 AM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

and yet on some days, I am this close to acting on it.

You're worried about how suddenly you may give in to these desires. And, before you know it, you're in bed with a 55 year old ivy grad white man.

The reality:

even if you at this very moment decided to act on your desire, it's not so easy to make it actually happen. There aren't a number of educated 50-year old white men circling you, waiting for you to succumb to your impulses. Therefore, ease up on the fear of a misstep and talk to a skilled female therapist.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:47 AM on January 29, 2014

I'm so sorry to hear whats happened to you :(
My background is in psych care.. but what you talk about is very niche work.. if you were to go into therapy be sure to 'interview' them first to make sure they have the skills you need/or are willing to get them. Then again, the bottom line is always how comfortable you feel, I believe. There was a lot of research a while back saying the biggest thing for victims/survivors was that they weren't 'closed' up again when they trusted even a non specialist to open up to.

I do know a few things about the subject... responses to rape and assault are understandably varied. A small amount of victims (5% at least, clinicians expect more) will orgasm during rape. Many more will 'lubricate'. The first is thought to be due to the fact (possibly).. where relevant.. an attraction existed to begin with.. ie in the case of date rape. It all needs a lot more research and I really, really hope this doesn't look like I'm suggesting anyone enjoys rape.. only that the physiological responses (and emotional) ones can be out of kilter/strange/varied. The lubrication, I believe, is about surviving the physical assault. Some people defecate. None of this is talked about because the victim is left with the shame instead of the rapist (generally speaking, a percentage are capable of remorse I suspect). The mind and body work in mysterious ways, thank god sometimes, in order for us to survive.

I'd agree that the fantasy side of it sounds like it may be linked with trying to reclaim the power that was so brutally violated. This is not unusual.
Remember that you do still have your power. You still have you. What would help you reconnect with it in a safe and gentle way? What different types of power can you think of? Where in your life do you feel empowered? Can you draw on that somehow?

Perhaps some kind of burning ritual (of a letter to the violator) written in old clothes you also burn may feel a little cleansing. You might want to read up on inner child work to help you make safe decisions.

All the best.
posted by tanktop at 8:46 AM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh! On the off-chance it is the therapist themself that you are having these feelings about, that is extremely, extremely common and happens to all kinds of people all the time, it's called erotic transference.
posted by cairdeas at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh. To be perfectly clear, I have zero interest in my therapist!

As a whole, I really like my therapist. It's supposed to be trauma-focused CBT. It is beneficial for me to have somebody to check in with every week or two. It is also important to me that my therapist is a minority, because I am a minority as well (and I'm in a fairly non-diverse region of the country, so it's hard to find non-SWM therapists, actually). Beyond that, I don't know if I would have the energy to re-tell my story all over again and find another therapist. It is exhausting. Actually, part of the reason why I was even able to get therapy was because the therapist I am working with now didn't ask me for a backstory upfront. It allowed me to get used to going to therapy without the debilitating backlash from recounting the events. My current problems are not physiological (I don't have anxiety attacks often and I'm not dissociated from my body for extended periods of time, for instance); I took up yoga and Pilates for the past half year and it has been helpful. I am capable of talking about the events in balanced, non-self-blaming way. ... So I'm not sure where these feelings are coming from suddenly.

Oh, and while it is true that I'm not exactly encircled by a group of educated 50-something white men, I recently realized (not from direct experience!) that there are lots of men out there who wouldn't turn down an offer from female in her early twenties (I know I sound naive, but... mind. blown. ... in a somewhat horrified way... ). So I know that there are obstacles, but nothing that substantial as to actually keep me from acting if I were determined to do so.

Thanks for your input so far.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 9:25 AM on January 29, 2014

Here is one other thing that may be an option.

If you are worried that you might start having problems with impulse control, you can speak with a psychiatrist about medication for that issue. If you try medication, you don't have to be on it forever; you can quit it if you find it's not helpful or if you just don't want to be on it.

These issues might be slightly less distressing if you felt like you could work through them without worrying you might take sudden action that you couldn't entirely control.
posted by cairdeas at 9:42 AM on January 29, 2014

Here's an example of an emergency plan:

Let's say you feel on the verge of really doing something (anything really) you don't want to do because it would be painful. Create a list of things you can do instead of that thing.

1. Call your therapist and out with your actual situation.
2. Call an anonymous hotline and say WHATEVER you want, ask for the support you need from the other end of whatever variety it is.
3. Write your feelings instead of acting on them.
4.Call a friend to come over and distract you.

I want to also add, that it really isn't the end of the world if you find some older person and have sex with them. I'm not recommending it, but it's not like your life will be over, you'll just need to continue getting support/therapy, will likely feel worse about yourself and feel more traumatic feelings as a result, or feel loss if it's just a fling and you lose your boyfriend and/or the guy involved. Even if you did something like that, it's really a perfectly forgivable (albeit painful and not fun) thing. And if you decided "OK! I am definately going to do this!" at least call your boyfriend and break up with him first. He'll be upset, you'll be upset, it would all suck very much but I think you're making this urge into more of a taboo than it really is. People do things like this all the time and these are very normal human urges (people have fantasies about or even actual sex with older professional men or a particular race or bdsm/power imbalanced situations all the time). If you really want to, you can actually explore this stuff, in fantasies, role playing, or with safe people of your choosing--but really I think what's holding you back from coming to whatever resolution you really want with this is that you're hesitant to bring this up with your current therapist or find a new one.

I really REALLY hope you will consider interviewing some better therapists, try exploring writings online about race based sexual assault, kinky fantasy, age fetishes, the impact of assault on types of fantasy/arousal afterwards---or whatever it is you'd like to understand about this better. Find a therapist familiar with this stuff (which will take a lot of effort, lot's of therapists are NOT well educated about these specifics or how to work with them) and has a philosophy you like and figure out where you want to be and how to get there.

There is really nothing we can do here to make the decision to work on this in therapy easier although I wish it were so. I really think you're just going to have to decide to stick your feet in the water and let yourself get dirty to really work on this even if it will be hard and scary.

There is no way out of this but through. You can also take your time and go as slow as you need. You are free to stagnate right where you are, you just aren't going to achieve resolution with the dilemma you have that way.
posted by xarnop at 11:25 AM on January 29, 2014

What if I am just naturally attracted to older white men, or want to explore sexually at this point in my life, and this has nothing to do with the assault?

From a reddit discussion that touched on similar situations:
Orgasm and Arousal During Rape or Sexual Assault: IamA Psychotherapist Requested to Revisit this Topic for Reddit. AMA! (Ask Me Anything):

On your last question, this is definitely something we see is some rape victims; that they develop a strong psychological transference between the arousal and the events that caused it. I talk about this a lot as it is a foundational piece of therapeutic work to heal it.

In a sense, it's classic behavioral conditioning, only times 1000 due to the intensity of the experience. Remember Pavlov's dog; connected ringing the bell to salivation. Similar concept (I'm being very simplistic here), and it does occur in a minority of those who were abused/assaulted sexually.

The reddit thread may be useful if it is not too triggering. Try skimming and only picking out the expert's responses.

In terms of "naturally attracted" - what happened left you with a kink-like sexual response and you have intrusive thoughts associated with them and that's just something that happens sometimes in cases of rape. An analogy would be a specific food aversion after food poisoning. (getting all this from the reddit disussion.) Another word for kink would be sexual fetish or, more properly, paraphilia.

Having no background in the subject, I don't know if a therapist would describe your situation as paraphilia or something else entirely, but there are generic therapists and sex therapists who work on this very issue. According to the cited text.

However, I am not sure if CBT can address this specific conundrum and the benefits of therapy seem to be plateauing as of late.

If you haven't brought this up with your therapist, by all means do so. Your therapist will probably have seen this issue in before in their training if not their practice and should be able to start a course of treatment on the subject in a competent manner. Even a non-CBT approach or a referral.

I do know they can't help you with something they don't know about.

It might be that your therapist will only be able to deal with the impulse-control part of the intrusive thoughts and won't be able to remove the paraphilia. (I really don't know anything about this stuff.) It may be they use CBT, it might not, but general therapists and sex therapists have been dealing with this issue for a long time.

My impression is that with classic fetishes/paraphilia, they mostly work in terms of coping mechanisms, rather than removing the paraphilia, I'm afraid. But that may be different from your situation which may not be a classic paraphilia. And even working coping mechanisms for stuff like feeling ashamed and impulse control may help.

It may be a crap shoot getting a therapist whose approach and personal chemistry will help you. That may mean you'll have to go through a few to find the one that helps, and also that you'll have to look for someone who specializes in this.

I want to also add, that it really isn't the end of the world if you find some older person and have sex with them.
It is true with general kink issues that it's sometimes healthy to indulge in sexual fantasy, roleplay, or have partner-informed out-of-relationship sex. (Each issue being separate.) What's true for sex-positive kink may be completely different from what's going in gemutlichkeit's case, and I think it would be much better to leave it to a expert to sort it out, and figure out if it is healthy to indulge in sexual fantasy or roleplaying in her case. Or indeed out-of-relationship sex. It might be that it is, it might be that it isn't.

Do bring it up with your therapist. Don't be afraid for asking for other treatment methods if CBT isn't doing it. Do ask for a referral for a sex therapist or some other type of therapist if this one's approach isn't working for you.

I am intensely ashamed for even having them in the first place.
I think what's going on is analogous to having a food aversion after food poisoning. It's not rational, it just happens - it's tied up your nervous system and stuff. It may help to keep that in mind when you're dealing with the shame reaction.

I don't know, really. Ask a specialist about all this stuff - they are certainly out there.

All the best.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:03 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

my comment was not at all meant to imply doing this wouldn't be traumatic especially without talking to a professional about the underlying issues first. It was more meant in a harm reduction sense, that if you make traumatic choice for yourself due to your own pain taking over you can still forgive yourself and move on. I want to make it more clear I really think you need to avoid doing this and get the courage to talk about it with a therapist you trust before you act on something I definitely think would be traumatic if acted on as described he're. Any sex you're having because you feel out of control and somewhat don't really want to have should probably be avoided. But none if us here are professionals and if you can find a good one that's where you can get the support to make the decisions you really do want and get the support you need.
posted by xarnop at 2:41 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

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