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Am I doomed to a sexless life if these scars don't fade?

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insaneTrash asks:

I'm 15 years old (almost 16) and have self harmed for almost two years, my method being cutting. I'm now getting help for my issues and am trying to get on the road to recovery. But I have the most awful scars all over my thighs and hips. My family and close friends are aware of what’s happening, but I don't know how comfortable I'd be with telling a partner. I broke up with my last boyfriend because I was terrified of him finding out. I was just worried that our relationship might get physical and he'd have to see. And I'd have to explain, which would then probably scare him off. He was a great guy, he wasn't in it for sex, and didn't expect any either. We got on great but I couldn't force him to have to deal with something like that. It wouldn't be fair on him.

I really want to get close to someone though, I'm all for the idea that you can have a great relationship without sex, and I wouldn't find it hard to get rid of someone pressuring me into doing something I don't want to do. But the problem is that I want to. I feel more than ready, and I'd like to share that kind of relationship with someone too.

But will I have to be doomed to a sexless life if these scars refuse to fade? Is a cutter good enough for anyone though?

Lena replies:

For starters, congratulations for seeking treatment and starting on your road to recovery. You deserve major recognition for that; it's not easy but taking those first steps are so important, if hard, and I'm really proud of you!

My quick answer to your two questions is that you are definitely not doomed to a sexless life, with or without scars, and people who have a history of self-mutilation are certainly deserving of a great, loving sexual relationship with someone they care about and who cares deeply for them! I am optimistic that you will be in a positive sexual relationship with someone special one day. Now let's talk about getting there!

We all come in different shapes and sizes and forms and, call me a bit crunchy, but this diversity is exactly what makes us each so beautiful in our own way. However, we live in a society that seems to aim for a perfect, airbrushed physical beauty ideal; ironically and quite cruelly, there really isn’t one type of “perfection” out there. Each of us 6.7 billion (and counting) people on this planet are perfect and special in our own ways—just as we are right now. We may be differently-abled but all deserving and capable of being loved and appreciated for who we are: some of us are born with certain physical conditions, others develop them over time. It could be the physical effects of self-injury or the scar that remains after a childhood accident; it could be a solider returning home from duty with an amputated leg or a former political prisoner who was forced to endure torture for an extended period of time. For the challenging circumstances surrounding these injuries or differences, these are all people who deserve – and find—love and fulfilling sexual relationships. I believe that even people with less visible “scars” are actually quite open and brave and understanding and willing when it comes to partners with more visible ones. It’s just finding them, working through our own issues while slowly proceeding with partnering with others.

A big part of any relationship, be it a platonic friendship or a romantic partnership and especially a sexual relationship, is intimacy. Intimacy means open and honest communication, sharing experiences and caring about each other, and even being a little vulnerable by taking this chance of exposing more private selves. It can be scary and we do risk getting hurt emotionally, but we also “risk” experiencing good stuff, like shared closeness and the feeling of mutual support, that we’re not in this alone! Whether we’re taking off our clothing or baring our inner selves, we’re exposing ourselves.

As you know yourself from treatment, while cutting may have physical manifestations, our urge to do so comes from emotional things. Self-injury is one way, be it a less desirable way, to process those tough feelings. I’m sure you’ve been through a lot – one doesn’t have to grow up in a war zone to feel devastating emotions and face heartbreaking situations – and cutting was your way to deal. However, you’re now working on other, better-for-the-long-term coping strategies as well as working on the original issues. Again, I know it’s not easy and you deserve major credit for trying so hard. (Needless to say, we have our moments of strength and weakness. The strong moments feel good and while the weak moments can be tough, it’s important to not beat ourselves up over lapses or challenges and just try to keep going from there!)

As much as you’re doing right now in terms of getting treatment, being open with your family and close friends about it, you found you weren’t ready for a sexual relationship at this time. He was a nice guy and you wanted something sexual, but you were wise enough to realize that it wasn’t the right thing for you at the time. That’s really good to know! Other good people will come along; it’s important that you’re in the right mindset for them.

Therefore, I recommend you spend the next however months or so continuing to focus on yourself, your road to recovery, and your relationships with your family and friends. It may sound like a bummer, but there’s actually some pretty cool about lavishing this attention and effort on yourself. Think of it as treating yourself a huge box of chocolates and a bubble bath; it’s a lot of fun and you deserve it! While eating chocolates and soaking in the tub may not help prepare you for your other life goals, working on yourself and your platonic relationships will actually be time well spent and help with future romantic and sexual relationships! I myself have taken a few hiatuses from dating and relationships for anywhere from few months to two years – I’m in my mid-twenties now – for various reasons and have found myself and my following relationships to be that much better for it.

So, please keep working on yourself for now! Focus on your schoolwork, enjoy your hobbies, and work at your job, should you have one. Try to eat right, a combination of balanced meals with treats in moderation, and get regular exercise. It could be a team sport, a yoga class or just the occasional walk on a nice day. Those are all good ways to get back in touch with our physical selves. Additionally, you may find that volunteering is a welcome respite from self-focus and actually a way to feel better about yourself and what you can do to help others. While sharing your cutting with your family and close friends probably was hard, I hope you feel you now have a whole new group of allies and supporters. (That’s a form of intimacy right there!) Continue to work with your counselor on coping strategies and those root feelings. I know you say you are interested in sex. That’s cool and natural because to be human is to be sexual. However, we don’t need a partner to explore our sexuality or be sexual! I would encourage you to try things out on your own, be it through masturbating or enjoying other forms of sexual expressions like by wearing an outfit that makes you feel sexy or reading a story that turns you on. Again, these things will all pay off when you find yourself in or about to embark upon a sexual relationship with a partner.

Now, let’s say you’ve found a person with whom you’d like a romantic and/or sexual relationship. It sounds like you already know how to find a good, caring person to date as well as can recognize your sexual feelings and interest. Awesome—both are important and good!

You don’t have to give your entire life history on a first date; in fact, while it’s important to be candid and open if you’re interested in the person, it’s also good to take time getting to know each other. However, sooner or later, your history of self-injury will be important to mention. Preferably when you both have your clothes on and are in a private place where you can talk openly about these things. Just as you would probably take things slowly sexually, not going from first hug to first intercourse in a few minutes on your first date (unless you wanted to and felt comfortable doing so!), you don’t have to launch into a talk about the scars or anything until you feel ready and comfortable. Positive communication is important in any relationship and there’s really nothing wrong with saying flat-out, “I really like you and want to get naked with you but I’m scared because I’m worried what you’ll think of my scars!” In fact, such candor is refreshing and welcome; chances are, your guy would have his own personal issues that he’s worried about and would appreciate being to share them, be it something like body image challenges or sexual abuse in his past or just a fear you’ll laugh at him for having an innie rather than an outie bellybutton. (Of course you’d wouldn’t!) Plus, telling someone whom you like and who likes you that you want to get sexual with them is a pretty huge and awesome compliment!

It’s interesting how, on one hand, we often strive to change ourselves in the name of “personal improvement” in the airbrush-weight-loss-change-everything culture we live in. On the other hand, the physical parts of us that we may dislike or want to change about ourselves are what others find so appealing or special. What one woman may consider a “yuck bulge that just won’t go away despite hours at the gym!” is what her partner considers the beautiful, sexy curve of her stomach! Likewise, while one guy may consider his body to be “way too hairy in a gross way,” his partner finds the soft covering on his muscular legs and line from his bellybutton to groin to be totally sexy! I don’t want to romanticize your scars or injury but there are part of you and your experiences. They may represent a hard time but they also represent a success-in-progress. A truly caring partner will recognize and appreciate that side of you. In fact, even as a friend, I would feel honored and special for your willingness to share this with me. Granted, not everyone is ready or mature enough for a relationship and we aren’t always the best match for everyone, but I believe there will be many mutually-interested and emotionally-available people there for you with time.

I wish you the best of luck with your recovery and in future relationships. I know there’s a ton of good stuff on the horizon for you!

Finally, here are some articles I think you might find interesting and informative.

10 of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Sexual Self (at Any Age)
Be a Blabbermouth! The Whats, Whys and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner
Life Lessons from the Third Stall on the Left
Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist
Safer Sex...for Your Heart
Seven Ways to Love Your Body
Body and Soul [Scarleteen message board forum

written 02 May 2009 . updated 28 Jan 2014

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