Many people understandably feel a great sense of distrust after they have been sexually assaulted, probably due to the harrowing statistic that 90% of these incidents happen by someone that is known to them. For that very reason, love and relationships can seem like a daunting prospect to a healing individual.
Take your time: If you do not feel ready to engage in casual or committed sexual encounters, there is no rush to take things at a pace that doesn’t suit your needs. This plays into not forcing yourself to heal in any given time limit, sexual assault can be very traumatic and you deserve to come to terms with that in a way that feels right for you.
Find love that understands: A caring partner will actively try to understand your experiences and help you through the difficult times. Considering healing is not a linear process, your partner should be compassionate if you ever need to withdraw yourself from an emotional or sexual situation if it is causing you to feel uncomfortable in the memories of the ordeal.
Feel safe in your love: A love that you accept into your life after sexual assault has an obligation to make you feel safe and respected. It may be the case that the perpetrator was a previous partner, this can make relationships difficult when opening up to someone sexually and emotionally. Trust someone in your own time and feel safe and protected within that love with the knowledge that they are not a threat to your sexual security.
In my experience, my new partner after the assault I encountered has been able to enable all of these positive things. Luckily, I have been able to trust and open up to him, allowing our relationship to strengthen in the knowledge that I can allow myself to love after being assaulted and not feel guilt or shame, but love, respect and understanding.
After someone has been sexually assaulted, it can be common to withdraw yourself from any sexual encounter, whether that be with someone else or alone. There can be strong feelings of guilt and shame for experiencing pleasure of any kind (not necessarily sexual) and potentially even aversions to pleasure or activities which once brought you joy.
Practicing self-care: Whilst it can be hard to love yourself after assault, it is something which everyone deserves. Tasks such as washing your body, brushing your teeth, or maintaining a good sleep routine may seem like impossible missions. There is importance to self-care and loving yourself enough to look after the body you have. Take one day at a time and challenge yourself to implement these things back into your routine, eventually they’ll become second nature again!
Sexual pleasure: For many people, masturbation or sexual pleasure of any kind can be a daunting idea after the same feelings have been associated with sexual assault. It is perfectly acceptable to refrain from any sexual encounter until you feel ready. It may be a more achievable task to begin this post-assault journey with masturbation, taking time to re-learn what feels good and taking things at a pace which suits you-before adding anyone else into the mix.
Enjoyment in life: Pleasure can be found in lots of things after assault, many of which do not need to be sex or relationship orientated. Gratitude can be found in walks, meditation, time spent with friends and relaxation. Find things which bring you joy and remain faithful to beloved hobbies which can be used as an aid to take your mind off those triggering memories on the tougher days.
After I had experienced sexual assault, I found comfort in my usual hobbies such as dancing, playing guitar and writing poetry. Luckily, a lot of these hobbies were a great way of expressing emotion whilst keeping busy and active. Eventually, I felt more in control of my life and learned to regain enjoyment in the smaller things- whilst the assault I had faced faded further into the background.
Whilst this may seem like a ‘step-by-step guide’, it is worth noting that not everyone heals in the same way or at the same rate. The take home message from this is that life can move past an event like sexual assault, with people that love you and with a lot of love and compassion from yourself. Healing isn’t something which someone should have to do alone when times get tough, never be afraid to reach out for help and support!