recovering and moving on from long-ago rape (trigger warning: sex, rape)
February 18, 2018 5:48 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to hear suggestions about recovering and truly moving on from a rape that occured many years ago. If you, a male, and I were dating, what would you say if I told you about this before we had sex? I simply don't know how to answer the "are you a virgin" question without launching into an intimate story.

It happened in high school, when I was 15, and now I'm 33. It hasn't affected my life that much in that I don't think about the incident, I don't blame 15-year-old me for putting myself in that situation, I don't have flashbacks or physiological responses, and I'm not afraid of men. Yet I've never had sexual intercourse of any kind in the years since, although I've kissed five men. I'm beginning to think the sexual assault and celibacy are related.

I was a virgin when an older student who I had been flirting with forced me to have sex with him. He crushed my body with his, resisted my attempts to get him off of me, and digitally and genitally penetrated me. As I mention, I don't think about the incident now that we're so far away from it, and I don't have any guilty feelings toward myself around it. If you ask me, I'm not afraid of penetrative sex at all, and lately I've been dating more than ever and am looking for something serious. I'd like to have a family. This seriousness calls for real thought about how to discuss what happened to me. Every time I've dated, I've sort of lied and told people that I'm a virgin--I'm not. But I don't have any sexual experience either, and I want to be given first-time-sex courtesies like understanding of the fact that I don't know what I'm doing.

When do you think is a good time to break it to a man? I don't want to break it to him early and mark him as my eventual first-time sex partner. But I also want to give someone the chance to lose interest in me because I understand it's not something everyone wants to deal with.

Thoughts?
posted by flyingfork to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
For what it's worth, I think you're still a virgin. You never chose to have sex. You DIDN'T have sex.

The question of (if/)when to disclose your assault would, I think for me, depend on how well I knew/trusted the guy in question. Probably not right away....
posted by Weeping_angel at 5:57 PM on February 18, 2018 [14 favorites]


I think you should own your virginity. Virginity is a messy concept with a lot of toxic stuff underlying it, as evidenced by your reticence to claim it. You haven't ever had sex; you've just had it done to you.

You should disclose the assault if and when you're ready, whether that's before or after you have sex. Any guy who would interpret your virginity as a lie in light of the rape is a dirtbag who doesn't deserve the time of day, so I wouldn't stress about how he'll react. Most guys who aren't jerks and have been with at least a few women have dealt with this before. There's nothing wrong with you, and if he makes you feel like there is, show him the door.
posted by hollyholly at 6:03 PM on February 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


1) I’m so sorry this happened to you.
2) I’ve had about 13 sexual partners and not one has asked if I’m a virgin.
3) You should disclose info about your rape if and when you feel comfortable and not a moment before. You don’t owe that info to anyone. You are not “damaged goods” that need to be disclosed before purchase. You can treat this info like any other part of your history that you can choose to share or not.
4) You also get to decide if your rape changes your virgin status. Rape is an act of power, not sex, and since you didn’t willingly enter in to it, if you consider yourself a virgin, that’s your business.
5) Your virginity is also something you’re not obligated to disclose. You can also say “I don’t have a lot of sexual experience” without bringing virginity into it. You can have open discussions about what you want without saying what exactly you’ve done. It’s totally up to you.

I hope you find a first-time sexual partner that treats you with the care you deserve.
posted by greermahoney at 6:03 PM on February 18, 2018 [18 favorites]


Consider banishing the word "virgin" from your dictionary. What happened to you was sexual, but it was not sex. I don't think the concept of virginity is particularly useful, but it's especially damaging to those of us who have experienced rape or assault.

Good for you for thinking about how to communicate to a partner about your needs. That's what's important here, your needs being met, not a full disclosure about your past. Something like "I don't have any sexual experience" will alert your partner that this is new to you. In my opinion if you say "I've never had sex" you're not lying, but use the words that feel right to you.

Be gentle with yourself and remember that having a positive sexual encounter isn't about following a script. You may not have sexual experience, but you're the expert on your own body and desires. After disclosing that you're new to sex, make sure to ask your partner for what you need, whether it's lots of communication, taking things slow, etc.

Finally, an obligatory recommendation of the book Come As You Are, which really helped me understand my own sexuality and what a positive sexual relationship can look like.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:08 PM on February 18, 2018 [21 favorites]


Assuming you're dating men over 25, I'd be extremely surprised if a guy asked if you were a virgin, to the point that I think it's a red flag and you shouldn't date him. A fair question is "have you been tested for STIs," which you should answer honestly (I'm assuming you have been tested since the assault).

If you want to be proactive about disclosing because you're anxious about potential awkwardness during sexual activity, then I'd get it out of the way before the activity. You can't control what someone's going to think about it and if it matters enough to someone to dump you, you're well rid of him. I really can't see this being a problem for most straight guys though as long as you're on the same page about what activities you want to engage in.

If you're not anxious about awkwardness then I personally wouldn't say anything at all and go with what feels good during the encounter. If it develops into an exclusive relationship then (if I were you) I would talk about your history because it's something important that happened in your life. But absolutely no one is owed that information.
posted by AFABulous at 6:13 PM on February 18, 2018 [16 favorites]


I can't even imagine asking this question of a woman and agree that it is very red flaggy, so if it is a question you are asked, this isn't a discussion you need to have with the guy, because it's time for one party or the other to go home.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:25 PM on February 18, 2018 [13 favorites]


Say what you have told us: that you are sexually inexperienced, and that you think this is probably because of an assault when you were young, but that this is not causing you to have hangups at this time. No one will press you for details.
posted by 445supermag at 7:11 PM on February 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


An ex of mine was raped as a teen. When we were getting to know each other I playfully asked who was her first time? She responded that actually she had been raped. I felt ashamed that I had assumed she had a first positive experience, but I also felt immediately closer that she chose to share that with me. We still had sex, after we'd given some time and attention to to that conversation.

I think the answer is: share exactly as much as you want to share. And know that an adult who would chose not to have sex with you because you disclosed an important part of your life history is probably not a person who you are likely to have a satisfying relationship with.

You are OK how you are. Share what you feel comfortable sharing.
posted by latkes at 7:19 PM on February 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


don't break it to a guy like it's rough news for him, just tell him. you haven't been lying, but if it feels like a lie, phrase it differently, say "I've actually never done this before" or "I don't really know what I'm doing, can you go slowly and bear with me" when you get to the part you've never done before.

if I were you I don't think I would tell him details beforehand, except maybe to say something vague about being nervous or not being experienced. No matter how much experience you have, you have the same right to ask for and expect patience, consideration, courtesy, dialogue, pauses when you want them, no surprises, even deliberate guidance if you want it. That will not change after you've had sex for the first time, or for the fiftieth time. You can ask for any of that, as explicitly as you feel comfortable with, with or without saying a word about how much or what kind of experience you've had. Tell him if you want to, if it will make you feel better, but you don't need to explain in order to justify the consideration you need.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:43 PM on February 18, 2018 [15 favorites]


Yes, whether it is the first time or the 5,000th time you've had sex, you ALWAYS expect your partner to go slowly and be gentle. But especially your first few times being intimate together. Or unless you specifically agree to a different pace. People worth having sex with talk before, during, and after sex. Or at least, they should. You don't have to say you are a virgin or talk about the assault. You do have to say that you prefer intimacy to go slowly and gently. You can simply state your preferences. No excuses or qualifiers necessary. Your preferences are enough and you deserve to have your preferences acknowledged and fulfilled.
posted by jbenben at 9:02 PM on February 18, 2018 [13 favorites]


Oh, my dear. I am so sorry. And I can't favorite what jbenben said hard enough. Go and be well and happy and satisfied.
posted by cyndigo at 9:19 PM on February 18, 2018


If you, a male, and I were dating, what would you say if I told you about this before we had sex?

I would say that what you deserve to hear is something along the lines of:
“Thanks for telling me; I really appreciate that you trusted me enough to tell me; I’d love to talk about this more in the future if/when you want to; I’m down to do anything that you’re comfortable with at whatever pace you’re comfortable with; how can I help and what does fun, safe and sexy play feel like to you right now?”

But I also want to give someone the chance to lose interest in me because I understand it's not something everyone wants to deal with.

Anyone who doesn’t want to deal with part of you and your experiences is also someone who you do not want to date, full stop.
posted by suedehead at 9:32 PM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you want to say you are a virgin, you can. If you want to say you have no experience with sex, you can, and say yes when they then ask if you are a virgin, if you want to. You could also say, "I've been celibate my whole life, so please talk to me and tell me what you like, and be ready to stop if I need you to." All of these things should be heard and accepted quickly - if they question, you could say, hey, it's sexy time, we can talk more about that later.

If a relationship progresses to the point where you want to disclose your trauma, any kind man will understand why you said you were a virgin, why you think of yourself as a virgin. He will celebrate your claim to your sexual identity.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 6:53 AM on February 19, 2018


Also, you have NO obligation to disclose trauma early. Certainly not in the first few dates - a lot of people have trauma, and it's something that is accepted as part of having a partner.

You don't need to disclose your experience until it becomes relevant - ie, immediately before sex is about to occur. It is enough to tell someone you don't have a lot of sexual experience - if they need you to be on full throttle sexually right away, that will be enough for them to decide you are not compatible.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 6:57 AM on February 19, 2018


don't break it to a guy like it's rough news for him

Yes yes yes this. You are not damaged goods, you do not have to apologize for what happened to you. It should not be an obstacle to be overcome (by him; I understand if you see it that way). He should not desire you "in spite" of your past just as someone should not be attracted to a person "in spite" of a physical trait, e.g. weight. Your past is part of you - to the extent you want it to be - and a guy either accepts all of you or he's not worthy of you.
posted by AFABulous at 7:44 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I simply don't know how to answer the "are you a virgin" question without launching into an intimate story.

"That's none of your business".

You aren't obligated to reveal intimate information to people who aren't invested in your mental and emotional well being.

Anyone who believes they are entitled to ask you such personal questions, unless you are emotionally close and intimate already, is being incredibly rude and inconsiderate. It's okay to have boundaries about this.

You're always allowed to expect courtesy including during sex. You don't have an obligation to be some guy's porno fantasy. It's okay to say that you aren't very experienced and want to go slow.
posted by windykites at 9:06 AM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think if you are seeing men in a dating context (rather than hookup context, which is probably not where you are) it's generally traditional to have some kind of conversation about sex before sex occurs. At the very least, you're supposed to discuss disease status and contraception and what happens if contraception fails, but it is also extremely good and helpful to talk about things like what you like and what you'd prefer not to do (or not do early on) and what gets your motor revving and, you know, good stuff to talk about. Straight people are sometimes not very good at this, because of huge assumptions that people make about the universality of their experiences. You are free to take pages from the queer handbook and talk in depth about what you do and do not want to do (at least at first if not forever), how to do it, what words to use, etc.

(I will also note here, after discussing this in a writing workshop yesterday: there's this cultural myth that the only Right Way to have sex is spontaneous and telepathic. It is FINE to sit down with your partner and plan the shit out of your next sexual encounter, whether it's the first or the five hundredth. Choreograph it, if you want. Write out the steps on a posterboard and tape it over the bed. You do not have to just hope a sexual encounter works out okay. Don't date people who can't talk about it, because they can't talk about anything else either.)

This is the point where I think it is beneficial for you to at least say you don't have much/any sexual experience, not because that is bad news or you are damaged but because good sex contains a continuous feedback loop and this information is meaningful. This is also where older adults, I think, DO talk about the summary of their sexual and relationship history. The question isn't "are you a virgin" because nobody over like 22 would come at it like that, but I think most people do discuss in generalities what their experiences have been with previous partners - good, bad, required antibiotics, cheated on me, experienced sexual violence, really great relationship but the sex died off, etc etc.

I am not as sure as other commenters that all men can be assumed to go at it all soft-focus and candlelit the first time they are with a new partner, or that they are bad bad men if they do not, because people have all kinds of wiring and contexts have all kinds of moods and sometimes couples get rowdy horny together and that's fine and you can do that too, but if they are assuming you have previous experience swinging from chandeliers and you do not, that is a good way to sprain an ankle either literally or metaphorically. But you are allowed to define that lack of experience with whatever words feel right to you, and feel right to you with that particular person, and at that particular time.

You do not have to discuss the specifics of what happened to you ever, you do not owe anyone that information. But maybe in an ongoing relationship you feel is going well and deepening you will choose at some point to at least revisit the topic because you want them to know, but that could be months or years into the relationship, there's no deadline.

You are allowed, too, to specify a multiple-step process between some sexual activity and actual p-in-v sex, which I don't think most straight adults consider traditional anymore so it requires a discussion. You don't have to do this solely because of your history; lots of women would prefer this kind of staging process with any new partner and you can do the same. Boundaries are totally fine and extremely good for you. Anyone who doesn't like yours can and should take a hike.

I think it might help you to be armed with knowledge and vocabulary, and you should read Come As You Are (everyone should read it, all the better if they do so before ever having sexual relationships). It is, as you suggest, a little suspicious that this thing happened to you a long time ago and you just happened to not engage in this entire category of activity for a very long time afterwards. It depends on how rich your inner sexual life is, maybe you're well in touch with your desire mechanisms and the thing you're really avoiding is just the trust/vulnerability challenge of dealing with someone you're only just getting to know, but if that's not true I would recommend not trying to do this with other people until you know how to do it by yourself. Women have a way of conforming to whatever container they find themselves in, we're trained to do that, and it's easy to end up in a sexual relationship where you've become the blank slate for someone else's desires, especially when you are newer to the intimate relationship arena, and it sucks and I disadvise it.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


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