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Am I sexually compulsive because I was raped?

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Angel asks:

When I was 11 I was raped, got pregnant, and had a miscarriage. Now I am 14 and I compulsively have sex with guys who are older, and it's like I can't stop myself. Does this compulsiveness have anything to do with what happened to me a few years ago? I have tried to go to a therapist but my parents say that its too expensive, and they just don't care. Is there anyway that I can help myself?

Heather Corinna replies:

Really, the why here isn't that important. What's important is the "is."

In other words, you're doing things you're saying you really don't want to do. WHY you're doing them, or what might have caused you to have a hard time with making the choices you want to isn't as important as the fact THAT this is going on and you want to do things differently. Even if there was no "why," you don't need one to have a valid concern.

Certainly, with any sort of compulsive behaviour, therapy can be a real help. And when it comes to healing from sexual abuse, counseling/therapy and support are also often a very big deal. It's pretty tough to go either of those things alone, and without support from people who understand the place you're in, and who can help you find tools and practices to better manage your choices and your feelings.

Might this have something to do with being raped? It might, but it also may not. There's really little to support the idea that rape always causes these effects, and plenty of people who were never raped have issues with sexual compulsion, or with making sexual choices that aren't best for them, or aren't the ones they want to be making. However, it's very normal for rape survivors -- and all the more so the earlier sexual abuse happens -- to have a really hard time setting limits and boundaries, as well as a hard time having positive experiences with consensual sex. if and when one of the first ways we learn about sex -- even though rape sure isn't sex for us, the people being raped -- and about limits and boundaries is through a traumatic experience where we're used, and our limits and boundaries are disregarded, we often have handicaps when it comes to figuring all this out.

One thing missing for me in your post is understanding how you're really defining compulsion, and how you feel about these sexual relationships you're having. If they're enjoyable for you, and they leave you feeling good -- and are also safe for you in terms of general safety, but also in terms of birth control and safer sex -- then we're likely dealing with a very different matter than if they are not enjoyable -- physically and emotionally -- and if they're leaving you feeling bad. I'm going to presume it's the latter -- that this isn't good for you -- since you're asking for help.

One thing to bear in mind is that you're not the only one making choices here. These guys are making choices, too. They're just as responsible for them as you are, and they're just as responsible for being sure things are safe, sound and good for you as you are when it comes to them. How are they behaving? Are they really treating you with kindness, concern and care? Like an equal? If they're not, it might be helpful just to start taking more stock of that. You didn't have a choice when it came to your rape and being abused and mistreated there. But right now, you DO have a choice, and in the case some of this is stemming from rape trauma, you may need to remind your self that whatever the situation, your rape was neither your fault nor your choice. Sometimes, if we forget that, or don't really internalize that, it can be easier to fall into patterns with sex where we're reckless or don't care for ourselves as a way to keep punishing ourselves for something we somehow got convinced was our fault, when it very much was not.

Tto be healthy, any sex you're having should always feel like something you have 100% control over, in terms of choosing to have sex or not, what kind of sex you're having, who you're having it with, and when it starts and it ends. Sex is supposed to feel good, not just physically, but emotionally. If it isn't, and if you're feeling like this all really isn't in your control, it's very important that you take steps to change that for yourself, for a whole lot of reasons, including your personal safety and health.

I'd also suggest doing what you can to start working to keep yourself from situations where you have found you have a harder time with control. For instance, it may just not be a good idea for you to hang around older guys right now. Or, if this is happening when you're drinking, or when you're in a certain mood, it'd be wise to avoid drinking, or when you're in that mood, to find something constructive to do with it. It can also sometimes be helpful to have a friend with you in hookup/dating situations who knows you're having trouble and need some help, who can be a support for you and remind you, if you're about to make a poor choice, that those choices haven't been making you happy. And if you know, full-stop, that at this point in time you just are not able to make smart, healthy choices for yourself when it comes to sex, then don't put yourself in the position to even be sexual with someone else for now, until you DO feel like your choices are 100% in your control, and until you feel really ready to make the choices you want to be making, that leave you feeling good about yourself.

I'm very sorry that your parents aren't being supportive in you seeking out help, and that they're not understanding the gravity of your rape and the problems you're having now. (I was raped at a very young age, too, and didn't have support, so I know personally how terribly hard this can be to go alone.) But you do have some options in terms of getting support in healing from your rape, and whether or not the behaviour now is a result of that, I think that you'll find having some support with that really helpful.

One fantastic place to start, which costs you nothing, and which you can do at any time of day, is with the RAINN support services. Their toll-free (as in, no cost to you), 24-hour-a-day hotline, with counselors on the line, is 1.800.656.HOPE. They also have a great toll for finding a rape crisis center closest to you, here: http://tools.rainn.org/counseling-centers/index.html

You may have a crisis center near you, for instance, which provides free counseling or support groups you can use.

You might also check out if your school has a counselor on hand. That could be someone for you to talk to for free, or, if you don't feel so great about them, or about talking at school, that person may be able to direct you to other resources when it comes to free counseling.

As well, at our message boards, we have a forum expressly for support with rape or other abuse, and we and the other users there are always glad to just sit and talk through a lot of this stuff.

Lastly, there may be some books that can help you out, both with counseling, or until you can get counseling. Staci Haines' "The Survivor's Guide to Sex," is an excellent one, but if you want something tailored a bit more to your age, you might like "Invisible Girls: The Truth About Sexual Abuse--A Book for Teen Girls, Young Women, and Everyone Who Cares About Them," by Patti Feuereisen and Caroline Pincus or "Strong at the Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse," by Carolyn Lehman better.

Hang in there, angel. Even just acknowledging these things are a problem for you is a great, brave step, and I'd encourage you to keep on with that forward movement in terms of healing and dealing. And ask for help! I know it can get hard to do sometimes when it keeps seeming like the answer is always no, but if you keep asking around enough, you will get help. We're happy to help you work this out more here, the folks at the RAINN hotline are people I can guarantee will be helpful, and in time, you'll likely find other avenues of help and support, too. Both of these issues aren't easy to deal with, but they are manageable with some good support and some effort and dedication.

I'm also going to toss you a couple links here that I think might be of help to you in looking at the sex you're having and figuring out what you don't have together right now, and what it would be good to work towards getting together before you have sex with someone else again.

written 28 Oct 2007 . updated 28 Oct 2007

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