We English don't talk about Sex. We're known for it. I've only ever talked about it at length with two people:
- V - The girl I fell in love with at 17
- C - The old man who subsequently abused both me and V
So it's hard for me as an English man and a survivor to even type the word without getting nervous. But it is a subject that is inevitably going to be difficult for many survivors. There will be many different reasons for it to be difficult.
In my last two therapy sessions I've tried to talk about it, about the fears I have being in a sexually active relationship again. In the first session it didn't do so well. Sitting on a sofa with someone telling me "it's normal to feel these things" just reminded me too much of being 17, sitting on a sofa, and an old man telling me "it's normal to feel these things". Nothing my therapist could do to tell me "this is a safe environment" could stop the alarm bells ringing. Anything she did to make me feel more calm just made my subconscious scream louder that I was being manipulated.
But I do want to talk about it. I want to express why it scares me so much and how I have begun to resolve that problem. I had some more success in my last session.
In talking about it I found I want to be adventurous with my girlfriend (as she has asked to be). But I want to be safe. C twisted my boundaries. He wanted me to do some pretty disgusting things with V in front of him. Frankly, he erased my boundaries in order to manipulate me. It left my fantasies truly messed up. So when I got out, after C, the only boundaries I could find were "avoid sex". After that boundary, after consent, I feel so scared of what to do next. I feel scared I might hurt my partner in some way. As much as I want to trust my girlfriend to tell me when some-thing's wrong I can't really go into sex saying "by the way, I think I'm dangerous".
In all other areas of life I've been able to undo his brainwashing. I've observed other people carefully and figured out a map of what is "normal" and "acceptable". In the hardest cases I've simply asked people what was normal. That is, I've re-learned to be me.
But when it comes to sex, its much more difficult. All I've got is a 17 year old's memoires of a destroyed relationship, C's abuse and some pretty messed up relationships since. How do you begin to build a map of what's normal with that? It's not like pornography is going to give any idea of "normal" or even "acceptable".
Dating J for the past few months has helped. It seems that finding the right person has been important. We began very simply. Very un-adventurous. J didn't ask me what my fantasies are and when she's tried since I've gently but firmly avoided the question. She's since told me she wants to try new things and doesn't really know what to try. She wants me to come up with some ideas and that's where I'm being ultra careful. Under no circumstance do I want what we do to be influenced by C and I know that my fantasies are still messed up. So for the moment I'm able to come up with a few ideas and keep things a very long way from anything C ever talked about or tried to make me do.
I know there will come a time when there is an overlap between what happened with C and what we do now. But I'm working on building a map that starts with "vanilla" and works out from there. Hopefully I can re-inforce that map enough so that when things become more "interesting" I don't find myself slipping into flashbacks during sex.