Did rape ruin my vagina forever?

I was raped about seven months ago and my vagina hasn't felt the same ever since: it has felt more open. My boyfriend and I just started having sex about a month ago. I asked him if I felt loose, because ever since the incident I haven't felt good about my vagina. He said that I am definitely not tight. I looked at my vagina with a mirror and noticed that the opening isn't completely closed. I tried inserting a small dildo and standing up but the dildo fell out. I can easily insert one finger with little resistance. I have tried doing kegels but still feel like my vagina is open and loose. I cry about this and feel really self conscious. Is it possible that because when I was raped the rapist was really rough with me that my vagina is broken forever? Thank you.
Heather Corinna replies:

I'm so sorry you had to experience a rape. But I'm glad you survived it and very glad you feel able to ask for help and support.

The vagina can't really be "broken." A person with a vagina can sustain injuries to their genitals -- via rape, consensual sex, intentional genital mutilation, childbirth or some other scenarios -- and those injuries vary in severity. While there is not likely anything wrong with your vagina (you'll see why I italicized that in a bit) due to your rape, if you did sustain an injury and it has not healed by itself by now, you can get some care to address that injury. You can also get some help and care for the way that you're feeling emotionally, too.

Let's start with possible physical injuries. When we're talking about what impact rape can directly have on the genitals or reproductive system, what we're most often talking about are sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. For all of the obvious reasons, even without feeling as you are, if you haven't checked in with a sexual healthcare provider yet about those possibilities, I'd suggest that you do.

Genital injuries can also happen with rape. While mostp people with vaginas who are raped do not sustain genital injuries, around 1/3rd of them do experience some kind of genital injury. Before you read further, take a minute to read through and look at this page so the terms I use make sense to you.

The most common genital injury from rape is bruising of the cervix (the opening to your uterus, inside your vagina). That can make the cervix tender and cause discomfort during sex, but it won't result in feeling more "loose" or "open," nor would a cervical injury make your vaginal opening look any different. Abrasions or tears of the labia minora (our inner labia) or the posterior fourchette are also common injuries from rape. The former probably wouldn't contribute to feeling what you are: the latter most certainly could. For people with vaginas who do sustain genital injury from rape, fourchette injuries occur in around 70% of those injured. (L.Slaughter, C.Brown, S.Crowley, R.Peck, 1997) The posterior fourchette is a bit of tissue just below your vaginal opening. If that got torn, especially deeply, you might well feel -- or it may look like -- the vagina is more "open" and to you, and how your vagina feels to a partner may feel different than it would with another partner who did not have any tearing of that area.

Another possibility is that more of your hymen wore away during your assault or was torn. The hymen doesn't wear away in one act of intercourse, so even if you had vaginal sex before your assault, there may have still been more of it to wear away, and that could have happened. That could change the appearance of the opening of your vagina, and -- though less so than a fourchette injury -- may have altered how sex feels for you now. Of course, you may have had more hymenal tissue when you started being sexually active with this partner than you do now. In other words, you may also have had some genital changes recently that were not about your rape at all.

If this is solely or primarily about an injury, we'd likely be talking about a hymenal tear or erosion or an injury to your fourchette. Both are certainly possible, and both could result in your vulva and vaginal opening looking and/or feeling different. With the hymen, since it is supposed to gradually wear away over time, and would have whether or not you had been raped, there's nothing to fix or repair, nor nothing that needs care. And if that resulted in things feeling different, understand they would have felt different eventually anyway, even without a rape.

If this is about a fourchette injury, some of those injuries will heal on their own. Given how much time has passed, my understanding is that that kind of injury should have healed by now if it was going to heal by itself. If it has not, then you may need medical treatment, which could generally either involve the use of hormonal creams, or for more intensive injury or an older injury, may involve surgery. Some fourchette injuries may not require any kind of treatment at all. In other words, a woman could have an injury to the fourchette that resulted in a change to that area, but that change would not be anything major which was problematic for her health or her sexual function at all. To give you an example, I had a laceration of my upper lip from a dog attack some years back. My lip and face looks different, so I needed to get used to that, but I can still talk just as well and my mouth still works fine, so it's nothing I needed to have treated after-the-fact.

Understand that what CAN'T happen, whether we're talking about consensual intercourse or rape, is your vagina losing tension due to either. The vagina (the canal past the vaginal opening, inside your body) is a muscle: a strong, flexible tube that's mostly closed when nothing is inside of it. When something is inside of it, especially deeply, it will grip and hold whatever that is, which is why, for instance, tampons don't tend to just fall out on the street when they're inserted properly. With something like the dildo you mentioned, I can't know how deep you had it inside your vagina: if it wasn't substantially inside, then by all means, it may have just slipped out. When we tense our vaginal muscles, that can also push out things we place or have inside them: that could be why it just fell out, too. Not meeting resistance with the insertion of one finger is not something at all atypical for people wit vaginas. Given you've been having wanted intercourse, I'd not expect that if a penis in your vagina feels okay, your vagina would put up any fuss about your finger. Lastly, I don't know how much you really looked at your vulva or explored your vagina before your rape: if you weren't as observant before as you were now, it could be that nothing has really changed all that much, and some of these changes may have happened during puberty, but you just didn't notice them.

When you do Kegel exercises, what you're doing is tensing the muscles of the pelvic floor: not the opening or the parts of your vagina you or your partner will tend to feel that acutely during sex. While those muscles or their nerves can be injured or work less well (usually temporarily) due to pregnancy or childbirth, possibly with a hysterectomy procedure, and sometimes with age (as in, way later in your life), neither rape nor consensual sex is at all likely to cause them injury or create changes. That may be why you're not feeling the Kegels are changing anything. They're probably not, because you likely didn't injure them, and because if you're a young person with a vagina who has not given birth, the tone of those muscles is likely great already, so their isn't anything to improve with those exercises. As an aside, know that Kegel exercises are usually more about helping with urinary incontinence or to help avoid organ prolapse than for anything sexual.

Here's another thing to consider: you say you and your boyfriend only started having sex one month ago, so he can't know how your vagina would have felt before your assault. You don't mention if you were sexually active before with anyone else, so I can't know if you have any basis of comparison yourself. If you didn't have any sexual partners before and he didn't either, then saying you feel "not tight" would be a bit like me saying that a prickly pear I just ate, the first one I ever ate, didn't taste like fruit. Prickly pears generally don't, but if I haven't eaten any before, I couldn't really have any sense of that, especially if I presume something called a pear will taste fruity. Know what I mean?

A lot of younger men -- and some older ones -- don't know jack from vulvas and vaginas. Especially with younger men fairly new to sex, guys are just not the best sources to look to on whether or not a vagina feels "loose" or "tight." To begin with, very often, younger sexual partners with vaginas will be nervous with sex, so it's common for younger men to have had more experience -- if not have that be all their experience -- with a vagina feeling "tight" just because fewer of their partners were likely relaxed and aroused, which is what loosens and lubricates the vagina and vulva. If the guy in question hasn't had intercourse before at all he's probably comparing the feeling of a vagina to the feeling of their hand when masturbating, and by comparison, most vaginas are not going to feel at all "tight."

Many young men also don't yet know how to talk about women's bodies with knowledge or maturity, and some feel like they need to talk about them as if they know everything there is to know, lest they look like a newbie. Some will simply answer a question like, "Do I feel loose to you?" either the way they think they are supposed to, or the way they think will make you feel a certain way. You haven't told me anything about this guy, so I don't know what he's like or how much he cares for you. Sometimes, guys will say things they think will make a partner feel crappy on purpose (the same way some women sometimes will tell men they have small penises to cut them down) to try and make them work harder to please them sexually. Other times it's not intentional, it's just careless or uninformed. No matter what the situation, the point is that your boyfriend just isn't a sound authority on this.

A much better person to seek out accurate information from about the state of your vulva or vagina is going to be a sexual/reproductive healthcare provider, like an OB/GYN. Not only are those the people who have done more study of women's bodies than any teenage or twentysomething guy could aspire to, those people also are trained to recognize and evaluate their own biases, and also have an objective view and understanding of the body separate from their interpersonal relationship with you, their own body image, or their own sexual desires.

If you did sustain an injury from your rape, they will be able to tell through an exam. And if you did and need treatment, that's who can figure that out and get you the treatment you need. I don't know if you see a gynecologist or other sexual healthcare provider already, but since you did have an assault and you are sexually active now, that's someone you want to start seeing around once a year no matter what. Given your concerns, now seems like a really good time to start going or to have a new visit if you already have had that care in the past. If you feel nervous or anxious about that because of your assault (which is common), just mention that when you're making your appointment, and you can also do so when you get to the office for your exam. It's not like an OB/GYN would be rough with you if you didn't, but if you tell them that, they can work with you to take whatever extra care you need to feel comfortable getting an exam. If there are particular things you think would make you feel more comfortable, you can let your doctor or nurse know what those are.

I want to also be sure to talk about how your emotional feelings may be impacting your body and how you feel about it. This will certainly be important if, when you do see a doctor about this, they tell you there is no injury at all, but may also be helpful even if you do have an actual physical injury.

One common result of any kind of sexual abuse or assault we can have are what are called "body memories." In short, those are symptoms you can feel in your body in some way which are actually caused by the psychological trauma rape causes. That can be something like feeling vaginal pain, even with consensual sex you want or something like headaches. It might even include feeling like sometimes you're smelling the scent of your rapist again, or tasting something you tasted during rape. Body memories can happen any time, or can be triggered by certain things, like certain sounds, places or -- commonly -- during any kind of sex. I'd consider that having a persistent feeling of your vagina being "open" or having it feel very different than it used to could potentially be a body memory.

Whether we like it or not, few of us who have been sexually assaulted are going to find that rape does not change us in some way. It is a profound violence and it is a major trauma. Anything like that is usually going to have an impact on a person, and often a big one. We're just not going to be exactly the same person we were before rape.

Having body image issues after rape or other sexual abuse is typical. Sometimes, because we feel so different on the inside, we may even perceive differences in our bodies that are not actually there (or which we just didn't observe or pay such close attention to before rape). It may be that your genitals feel more "open" because you -- psychologically -- feel you were made to be open when you wanted to be closed. It may be that you feel your vagina is broken because you, yourself, feel broken. Understand that when I say things like that I am not suggesting what you feel or perceive is all in your head or is not real. How we feel emotionally and psychologically is not something that's separate from our bodies, and often has impact on our bodies, how they behave and how we feel in them, as is the case with body memories.

It may even be that, backwards as it might sound, you want something to be very different with your body because you feel very different as a person. It can sometimes feel insulting to have your body be or look exactly the same when you, internally, feel so different, and when something so awful and so huge happened to you. It may also be that you feel so open because, however you feel about your boyfriend, being sexual with someone right now or in this way is too soon for you after a rape. In other words, those physical feelings of "too open" may be about emotionally feeling too exposed or too vulnerable right now. While for some people, in some relationships, six months after an assault can be just fine for resuming sex, for others it's not: that's all very individual. But I do suspect your feelings of self-consciousness are probably larger than a possible genital injury or change, and have at least something to do with your feelings about your rape as a whole. I also think it's worth thinking about if given how self-conscious you're feeling, this really is the right time for you to be sexual. I know it can be really important to reclaim sexuality after rape, so you may be resistant to that idea, and I can't say what's right for you. I'd just invite you to think about it and check in with yourself about what really feels like the best thing for you right now, and to bear in mind that if it's not the right time for sexual partnership yet, that's okay. You get to come back to sex at whatever pace or time is right for you.

I'm not going to be able to tell you anything definitive with any of this just from your post or my one response. To get solid answers, you're going to need to see someone in-person. My suggestion would be to see both an OB/GYN and to connect with a counselor or support group expressly serving rape survivors. Seeing the OB/GYN is important both so you can get a solid answer on if you have an injury or not -- just so you know -- and because if you do and you need treatment, or need treatment for anything additional, like an infection, you can then get that treatment. Whether or not you did sustain a genital injury, I think being able to talk to a counselor, trained support person or support group about your rape, your feelings around it, and these feelings about your body is equally important. Not only may treatment of an injury (if you have one) not totally change how you're feeling, if you're like most survivors, some of these feelings are coming from your rape itself, not what it may or may not have done to your body. Too, most of us find that counseling is a really big help with our healing process.

I'm going to include some links for you that I think will help. I also want you to know you're also always welcome to use our message boards at Scarleteen to talk with myself or any of our volunteers further, or with other users: quite a few of us have survived rapes ourselves, and we have plenty of threads where you can get extra support or ask any more questions you might have.

Here are those links for you, and my best wishes for your healing in your body, mind and heart.

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