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Author Topic: How to be ok with sex?
Dolphins_Cry
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Ok, so I know there are like a million topics about this exact thing but I still am at a loss about to what to do.

Background: I was raped approx 9 years ago. Been with boyfriend nearly 6 years. For the first 2 1/2 years we were having sex, not very often as it was a long distance relationship. Around this time, the guy came back to town and I took a downward spiral and we stopped being intimate. It just provoked too many bad feelings - I was having nightmares, flashbacks, the whole deal. I started having alot of pain with sex and the more I avoided it the more I convinced myself it was disgusting, horrible and painful.

So for the last 3 years there has been a dry spell. I'm currently seeing a psychiatrist and trying to work through the whole thing. He's been encouraging me to think of sex in a more healthy way but it's slow work.

So anyway, I got drunk the other week and we ended up having sex. We did the foreplay thing so I was somewhat aroused but not fully and I wasn't relaxed at all and we used nearly a whole bottle of lube! It was still painful though. I've read the articles about sex and pain and know it's likely because I was nervous/scared/not fully aroused. But my question is, how on earth can I relax enough so that it's not painful? My mind wants to take me back to that day so it's a struggle to stay in the moment and it's practically impossible to stay calm. And also there is an expectation of pain so my whole body tenses up. It seems like a cycle that's impossible to break. How can I relax?!

Apart from the pain issue, there's the rest of the feelings that come up. I managed to keep it together until after we'd finished and then I broke down and started crying. I don't feel like I'm ready to start having sex again but I don't know what else I need to do in order to be ready.

Does anyone have any suggestions to help me with this? [Frown]

[ 07-27-2008, 07:42 AM: Message edited by: Dolphins_Cry ]

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Heather
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In terms of what happened the other week, getting drunk was likely part of the problem, for the record. Alcohol inhibits our physical sexual response, so it's normal for intercourse to feel less comfortable.

But what I'm wondering about is what you mean in terms of "sex." Is this only an issue with intercourse? Have you been taking baby steps with other activities -- without them leading to intercourse -- to try and ease your way into things?

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Dolphins_Cry
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Sorry for the confusion, yeah I mean only with actual intercourse.

In terms of the baby steps thing, we've done manual sex a couple of times over the last few months but that's it. I still feel kind of icky about that but there has been no pain. I'm not comfortable touching him in any way yet - I think that's a long ways off.

I know it was a really stupid idea to get drunk and do it but I was feeling like I really needed to make it happen, kind of to just get it over with. Being drunk gave me the courage to go through with it. Bad attitutude, I know. I just thought if I could prove it to myself that it wasn't *that* bad then I'd be ok with it.

I just don't know if I should keep doing it and hope that it'll get better or if, by doing that, I would just be doing more harm to myself psychologically (and maybe physically in terms of the pain thing).

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Mortality
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If you keep having sex before you are comfortable with it you'll just get more uncomfortable with it. Trust me, I've been there. Trying to make yourself do something you don't really want will just hurt you!
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Heather
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I agree with Mortality, here.

Having intercourse with someone is touching them. I probably don't need to tell you that.

But it sounds like a lot more baby steps need to happen before you try more big leaps. Even just things like other kinds of physical affection: hugging, snuggling, kissing, being naked around someone else and naked with them, WANTING to touch someone else, etc. I'd also say to be sure that when you're having any kind of sex or physical affection, you're doing it because you feel a desire to do it for its own sake, not to prove anything to yourself or anyone else.

If that takes a long time, it takes a long time. But trying to make it happen sooner and have it put you back isn't going to be a better approach, you know?

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Dolphins_Cry
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Ok. I get it. That's what I've been telling him - that if I rush it and just jump in the deep end then I'll only make it worse. My PTSD symptoms have been so much better without that pressure around but now that it's sort of become an "issue" again, I'm having an increase in nightmares and feeling unable to cope at work etc.

But here's the thing. The boyfriend and I have been having some "talks" about this lately. He's been so extremely patient with me (for 3 years! I'm sure not many guys would stick around that long without sex) but he's reached the point where he says he is starved for physical affection and intimacy. Completely understandable.

I've tried to be more physically affectionate by hugging and snuggling etc, but in terms of intercourse and all other sexual activities (even kissing), I just plain have ZERO desire to do any of that. I quashed any sexual desire I had back when we stopped having sex and now I'm practically asexual. Seriously. None whatsoever. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. It actually terrifies and disgusts me. How do I get it back? [Frown]

I just feel like I'm racing against time here. My boyfriend can only stand so much before he's going to go elsewhere. He sees how big a deal it was for me to have sex with him the other week but it's not like I can have sex with him once every 3 years and sustain our relationship. I need to sort my crap out soon or find myself without him.

Also: how does one "deal" with being assaulted? I mean, what does that actually involve? I accept it happened now. What else do I do? Can I speed it up somehow?

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Mortality
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First of all you can accept that it'll take time.

I was trying to push myself to have sex and it only resulted in me not wanting sex with my boyfriend whatsoever, but I felt attracted to other people. So me and boyfriend took some time out where we didn't have any sex at all and I got my desire back after a while.

Sometimes I can still need to stop in the middle of things, and he'll just have to accept that.

If he is pushing you to do anything you aren't ready for, are you sure this relationship is good for you?

Also, if your boyfriend leaves it's not your fault. You shouldn't have sex just cos you are scared to lose him. That'll definitely only make things worse.

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Heather
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It also may be that right now, a sexual/romantic/physical relationship just isn't doable for you, and you may both want to talk about shifting your relationship to a friendship for the time being.

I know that that's certainly not an easy solution, but there are a bunch of different situations in which a person may need to make that choice. That might mean opening up your relationship so that your partner can have a sexual partnership elsewhere -- negotiated, honestly -- or it may mean shifting to a friendship for a while. When your desire for sex and other physical affection comes back more organically -- and my guess is it's going to be tougher when you feel under a deadline -- then you two would have the option of revisiting whatever arrangement or model you had in the interim and seeing if you two wanted to go back to a sexual/physical relationship then or not.

Might it be something you two could at least discuss?

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Dolphins_Cry
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No, I don't think that's possible. I pretty much just don't function without him. We've talked about "just being friends" but we both agreed we'd keep trying and maybe get some counselling before calling it quits. We both love each other a lot and we've been through so much together.

Just to be completely clear: he's in no way pressuring me or forcing me to do anything. That pressure is coming from myself. I guess I feel really selfish for "holding out on him" so I've been trying desperately to sort this out.

About my sexual desire returning naturally? Are you sure? I mean, it's been 3 years. That's.... a really long time. I think it might be gone forever.

My psychiatrist suggested that we (together) see a sex therapist. Any experiences of that? I'd really like to be able to just fix this myself but if I can't do that, then I guess I'm open to the idea if it will help.

Is there any other things/strategies I should be doing/using to help myself in this situation?

Thanks for all your time. I know it might sound like I'm not taking on board what you guys say, but I am. I'm just desperate. I guess I want a quick fix if there is one. This whole thing already ruined my life in so many other ways, I don't want it to destroy my relationship too. [Frown]

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Heather
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There is no quick fix when it comes to sexual trauma. I know it sucks, but that's just the way that it is.

I hear that this isn't pressure from him. In fact, it sounds a lot more like pressure you're putting on yourself. But too, it isn't unrealistic to talk about a person -- you, a partner, whoever -- in a relationship with the understanding that it is sexual wanting to have sexual desires or needs met. That's one reason I brought up just discussing the possibility of opening up the relationship as one option and one way to take the pressure off of you both, and as a way to see that there are more options than just staying together as you are or "calling it quits."

As an example, a friend of ours is going to Africa for two and a half years next week to do social justice work. he can't have visitors or come back here in that whole time. He's not in a relationship right now, but if he were, I'd expect he and his partner would like talk about what they both thought would work best for them in terms of sex, and I'd expect that they at least would have a discussion about the possibility of a different model during that time, even if the conclusion they came to was that they both, save masturbation, were just going to be celibate. Not even having that conversation at all would strike me as fairly unrealistic and not particularly sage, since most people do have a need for physical affection and/or sexual partnership.

Might your sexual desire still return? yes, absolutely, But you might indeed want to do some counseling with someone in terms of specifically being about sexual healing after rape -- and I'd say individual therapy is likely going to be of more use to you here than couples sex therapy, since this isn't about him, but about you. Or (or additionally) read some more books on the topic, try some other things to get back in harmony with your body and your sensuality (how about a dance class, for you or together, or some yoga, some other kind of body/mind therapies like starting to get regular massages).

[ 07-28-2008, 04:30 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather
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One other quick thing: are you still struggling with an eating disorder?

If you are, that can also be just as much of an issue with not feeling sexual desire, feeling repulsed by physical closeness (or being seen physically) as sexual abuse or assault can.

In other words, if that is still an issue too, I'd say this is probably a compound issue.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Dolphins_Cry
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I do still struggle with an eating disorder. Mostly it's under control but sometimes when I'm under a lot of stress I fall back into that pattern and stop eating. I'm not at all comfortable with my body. Actually, I'd probably go so far as to say I hate it. I won't let my boyfriend see me naked either. Kind of makes sexual contact difficult [Razz]
Oh, and I have scars everywhere too that I'm embarrassed about. He's seen them all, but it still makes me ashamed.

Having an open relationship was actually something we talked about (briefly) during one of our "talks". He brought it up and even though it upset me I said he needed to do what he thought was best for him, because even though we're a couple we still need to do what is best for us individually too. It was the same conversation in which we deciding to try counselling and a bit more patience before any other options. I think he was more just toying with the idea than anything. He realises that I'm trying really hard with my doc - I used to be in complete denial so I've made a lot of progress in that regard and he appreciates that.

I'll have a think about the suggestions you made. Maybe I could try the massages because I get a lot of back pain and sometimes my hip plays up, so that might help with that too!

I really appreciate your help [Smile]

Actually, just one more thing! I'm on the pill and have been for about 5 years. Could that be contributing to my lack of desire? I read that it can kill sex drive (although, I know in my case it would not be completely due to this)?

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September
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You say you are in counseling - is this for your sexual abuse only, or do you also talk about your eating disorder? Because you mentioned earlier that you have difficulties being naked around your partner, and it sounds like that's due at least as much to your body image and your self-esteem than it is to your history of abuse. So if you haven't brought up your eating disorder with your therapist, then I suggest you do that.

It is also true that hormonal birth control can have an effect on your libido. So if you've been on the pill for a good while, it may not be a bad idea to talk to your gyn about switching prescriptions and seeing how that goes, or even going off hormonal birth control entirely for a while.

It really sounds like there are a lot of factors at play here -your history of abuse, your eating disorder, the pressure you are putting on yourself, hormonal birth control- and I'm really with Heather in saying that it might be a good idea to take a step back from sexual activity, or being in a romantic relationship, to take some time for yourself.

It is really difficult to get back to a healthy relationship with your body and your sexuality after abuse. And it does take time. And as much as it can suck, it is important you give yourself that time, because pressuring yourself or growing impatient with yourself won't help.

I also don't think that being with your parter or not being with your partner are your only two options you have here. Relationships can change over time and according to the circumstances, and adjusting to that is an important part of keeping a relationship (of any kind) going. Personally, I was with one partner on and off for three years after my first abuse, and we eventually decided to keep our relationship platonic because I was simply not ready for a romantic relationship. That was over four years ago, he is still my best friend, and we don't regret our decision one bit. It simply wasn't fair for either one of us to be in a romantic relationship we weren't satisfied with, and that way we got to keep the parts that were working for us and step away from the parts that weren't.

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Dolphins_Cry
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We talk more about my eating disorder and body image than we do about the assault. It's a lot easier to talk about, I can spend the whole session talking about that without getting too upset, whereas with the assault it's usually a 10-15 minute discussion at most before I get too racked with anxiety and have to stop. His particular interest is eating disorders, he's worked in inpatient clinics and ED units - that's why I started seeing him. My ED is about 7 years old now. He's already told me that it's very entrenched, prognosis is not particularly good, and chances are I will not completely recover to the point of having a normal relationship with food or my body.

I guess the thing is, the ED was a way I found to cope with the assault so until I really start dealing with that, the ED way of thinking will probably stay.

Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions. I have an appt with my doc tomorrow so I'll talk more about it to him then.

[ 07-29-2008, 04:20 PM: Message edited by: Dolphins_Cry ]

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Dolphins_Cry
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Update: I saw a "sexologist" today.

It was awful. About half way through our appt she told me that she's not used to working with "victims" as she actually treats "offenders"! Umm, WHAT? Did she not think that was important to mention to me when I spoke with her on the phone last week?! Seriously! Not only that, but when I looked at her in disbelief she said, "Don't worry, not the really crazy ones! Just the ones that make silly mistakes like this" and she circled her pen around the part of her paper where she had written my age and the year of my assault! A "silly mistake"? Is that what rape is?

Then she told me that sex is one of the "joys" in life, "just like food!". At this point I'd already told her that I have an eating disorder, so I reminded her again and she laughed and said "yeah, you really ARE a nutcase, aren't you?"

Oy.

It took so much courage for me to make that call and arrange an appointment and it was a total disappointment. I feel like there's no hope [Frown]

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Heather
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Oh, Dolphins. YUCK! That's so freaking awful.

That doesn't mean there's no hope. Rather, it just means you got a serious dud, and someone who -- if she said she was someone who specialized in counseling rape survivors -- was dishonest. If that was the case, I'd report her to a medical board.

Regardless, sometimes when we're looking for counseling, we have to see one or two counselors before we find one that works for us. Mind, it's normally about personality issues, not about something like this, but you're not out of hope. I hope not, anyway.

You just need to see counselors who really DO counsel survivors and who understand rape is a crime.

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Dolphins_Cry
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It was probably my fault. She told me she was very experienced in dealing with "sexual assault issues". I just took that to mean survivors, not offenders!

I'll talk about it with my psychiatrist at my next appt and figure out what we should do from here.

The one possibly helpful thing she mentioned was that she thought it was likely that I have vaginismus. She wanted me to see a doctor for an exam but I don't know if I'm entirely comfortable with that. I think you have an article on here about it so I'll go have a read!

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Heather
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I don't see that as your fault: I would have presumed the same thing. If she was being honest and plain, she would have said sex offenders.

Seriously, that just burns my freaking biscuits. It's HARD to go and seek out counsel, and I'm so brassed off this woman made it so much harder for you.

Happy to talk with you about vaginismus and exams if you like.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Dolphins_Cry
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Ok, so I just read your article. It sounds exactly like me [Frown]

How important is it that I see a doctor? If I find another sex therapist/sexologist (who I actually like!) could we just work on the presumption that I have it?

I'm going to show your article to my boyfriend. It might help him understand a little bit more where I'm coming from.

This really sucks.

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Heather
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Well, I can't imagine it wouldn't be suggested that you start with a gynecologist first to assure that's even what you have and also to rule out other things. It doesn't really make sense to work under the presumption you have it, especially since some infections -- which need to be treated -- can create similar symptoms. Too, if it's not vaginismus, you treating it as such doesn't make a lot of sense. Lastly, in the interest of your health, you really should start having exams as a habit: if you've never had an exam, it's long overdue, especially considering you've been sexually active. I know it's daunting, but it really shouldn't be any more so than sex with a partner is.

As well, talk therapy alone isn't the usual treatment, and the physical therapies usually used in conjunction will tend to be through someone who is a medical doctor for repro health.

And I know this sucks. But I'd also very much try NOT to think of this as having a deadline or being a race for time in terms of your boyfriend. That's a LOT of pressure and it's only going to make all of this worse.

(For the record, after your last post, I had to run upstairs to my partner's home office and blast out what happened to you with that other therapist. I felt a lot better afterward, but I don't imagine it helped you very much. However, if you ever want to email me her name, I'd be very happy to write a really pissed off letter to her and your medical board over there.)

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Dolphins_Cry
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Well, even if it doesn't help me much, it still made me laugh! I've had a bit of time to reflect on it now and I've moved beyond being upset to being really mad at her. Seriously, how could she think it's ever ok for a therapist to call a patient a nutcase? (Even if it might be true.) Ugh.

I'm going to try to find someone else and if they also suggest vaginismus as a possibility I'll consider a doctor's appt. I had a pap smear about 3 years ago and the results came back normal. I hated it though, hence why I haven't been back.

Is it likely that I would have an infection? I haven't really been sexually active for the last 3 years or so. Before then, when we were sexually active, it was a completely monogamous relationship. I've never been tested for STIs though. But I don't have any other kind of symptoms, apart from painful penetration.

I showed my boyfriend your article and he was really great about it. He agreed we should refrain from any more attempts until I can get another opinion on this. Even then, he told me not to rush into finding another therapist because of the bad experience I had with the one yesterday. He told me to just take a few weeks to relax and not think about it and we can revisit the idea again later. He's so mad at her - even more than me! [Razz]

Question: are you saying the "physical therapies" involved (the dilators?) are ACTUALLY DONE by a doctor? Not me? I thought they would just say, "Here's what you need to do. Take it home and work on it". Wow, this just keeps getting better. [Frown]

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Heather
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To my understanding, dilators are usually self-administered. However, a pelvic exam is needed to diagnose vaginismus, and you'll want an OB/GYN to be checking in with during your treatment to see how it's progressing.

With that exam, just let your doctor know in advance that you are a sexual assault survivor and what you think you have. They should take that info account when doing your exam.

I can't say if it's likely you have an infection: that simply is one possible cause with symptoms or vaginismus, and you have been sexually active in the last three years in some way, so it's always a possibility.

I agree, you should be angry. Earnestly, I'd consider a formal letter to the medical board.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Dolphins_Cry
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Ok, so it's back to square one: need to find another sexologist/therapist as well as an OB/GYN.

I've been looking at the website for our state medical board. I'm undecided about whether I want to actually lodge a complaint. Apparently there is no time limit on doing so, so I'll take a while to think about it. (I wrote everything that happened down so I won't forget!)

Thanks a lot for your help, Heather. I'll talk to my psych at my appt this week and I'll come back to you if I have any more questions. Otherwise I'm just going to try to forget about this vaginismus thingfor the time being. There's no point in worrying about something that might not even be true, and I won't know that until I see a doctor.

Again, thanks!

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