Twenty years ago, in the back of an old Ford Bronco, I finally got my sexy back.

Let me explain here since you're wondering how I lost it in the first place. As a survivor of child sexual abuse, sex always seemed like a scary, awkward thing. And when I lost my virginity to a rape, it solidified my impression that sexual desire turned people into cold, heartless monsters. My first adolescent experience of sex involved a friend telling me he “couldn’t stop,” while I lay frozen and in pain under his heavy, thrusting body.

Needless to say, these experiences made sex, well, complicated. When someone touched me, my body initially responded with warmth or chills. After all, I’m human. But even though my mind liked the person and wanted to go further, the sensation of being aroused frequently evoked anxiety and fear. My heart began to race. Sometimes, I felt sick to my stomach. Other times, I disassociated completely, watching a hookup unfold from somewhere above us. Later, lying alone in my bed, I wondered whether I could ever be normal.

For a time, I drowned out that worry with alcohol, a surprisingly effective, yet frequently dangerous solution. When I hooked up drunk, I didn’t have to process the vulnerability and shame that came with being sexual. Afterward, I felt awful about myself, nursing a hangover from both the alcohol and the shame.

When I started on a real pathway to healing and recovery, I found it harder and harder to check out. So I stopped hooking up altogether. This was fine at first, as it helped me focus on feeling all the feelings I had bottled up for so long. After a while, though, I started to feel angry. I was in college. It was a time of freedom and exploration, including sexual freedom. I felt robbed and cheated. If sex was supposed to be fun, why did it make me feel so scared?

I met Brendan at the moment my anger surpassed my fear. He graduated from high school a few years before me, and we started running into each other one college summer I spent at home in New Jersey. We spent many late nights diners talking about life, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. As we became closer, I opened up to him about my past. I told him about being molested, about my first sexual experience, and how it left me unable to really enjoy sex.

While Brendan responded with empathy and compassion to my whole history of sexual violence, it was the fact that I didn’t enjoy sex that he found particularly horrifying. As a young man with deep respect for his sexual partners, he thought this was an incredibly high price for me to pay. Brendan enjoyed sex and pleasure and didn’t think it was fair that I should miss out.

Brendan taught me how normal, healthy men think about sex. The point, he explained, was for both partners to enjoy themselves. And in order to do make that happen, both partners needed to know what they liked and communicate to the person they were with – preferably in advance. He wanted to give me pleasure as a part of sex, and in order to do that, he needed information from me – both verbal and non-verbal.

Since my first sexual experience was rape, I assumed that once you gave the green light for sex, you simply had to endure it until your partner decided it was over. Brendan taught me that only rapists think like that. He could – and would – stop anytime something seemed off, or wrong, or plain not fun anymore. If I wasn’t turned on, he wasn’t turned on. Period.

So that’s how I ended up in the back of Brendan’s Bronco, that first night and many other nights that summer. Learning how to enjoy sex. Talking about it. Consenting fully to everything we did.

It’s how I got my sexy back.

Even then, I knew Brendan wasn’t my forever. But I’ll be forever grateful to the role he played in my life as a sexual violence survivor on a journey back to healthy sexuality. His ability to speak openly about my history of sexual violence coupled with his open communication style about sex helped inspire enough bravery and trust to give sexy another chance.

I’m glad I did.

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Posted by Sarah Beaulieu