Sex after rape

Having sex after rape is something we so rarely consider as part of a survivors journey; let along enjoying that sex. One of Label's models shares her story about the ongoing process of learning to enjoy sex again, and trusting sexual partners once more.


Sex after rape is something often overlooked in the recovery of rape victims. My recovery, like most, wasn’t exactly a straight line. I hid my rape from myself, and from everyone around me for a long time, and subsequently put off my recovery too. Don’t get me wrong, I am still recovering, but recovery must begin somewhere.

After over a year of hiding and denying my rape, I drunkenly told a few of my new university friends, and over the following year I told more and more people. This was a difficult first step – and I still have a constant fear of judgement; that they will see me as broken and damaged, not the strong and funny girl I allow people to know. I discovered that the saying: ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is true, and have since been able to talk relatively openly about the worst day of my life. It gives me more control, and it allows me to not let my rapist define me. I crave control and life is good now: I am confident and genuinely happy. However, there is one hurdle of my recovery that still brings me to the point of panic attacks and tears: sex.

I was a fresher; I loved partying as much as any other in their first year, but I feared sex. I felt boxed in by my friends hooking up at the Union and the hook up culture that was so prevalent at my university, within my sports teams, societies, and my academic family.  I had more friends than ever, but when it came to nights out and the way they tended to end for my friends, I had never felt so alone.

By the time the end of first year rolled around it had been 18 months since my rape. 18 months since I had ‘lost my virginity’, 18 months without even a kiss – I hadn’t even masturbated. To me anything regarding sex or even the ability to touch myself sent shivers down my spine and filled me with dread.  I had come close so many times to going home with a guy, but every time I would panic. A guy danced with me at Sinners once. I ended that night crying outside into the arms of my very drunk future flatmate who struggled to understand what was happening. A guy kissed me at Christmas ball, and I ran away. I then found him on Facebook so I knew to avoid him if I ever saw him again. One lucky time I even made it to the bed of a guy, but I had a panic attack as he took off my skirt and ran as fast as I could. These above incidents might seem like nothing to you, and you probably think that I was overreacting, but to me these things were/are battles I have with myself every day. 

I was an outlier, I was a freak, and all I wanted was for someone to touch me. I needed to feel romance. I needed sexual pleasure. But there was an impenetrable brick wall in my mind that I couldn’t breakdown. It stopped me from living a normal life and impacted me greatly. I was boxed in by fear: sex is everywhere and completely unavoidable.

In terms of negative effects that were the outcome of my rape, fear of sex was definitely the hardest to overcome, and with that fear came self-confidence issues and the strong belief that I was unable to be loved.

I am so grateful to be able to sit here and write this article and feel empowered by it. Being able to have sex is a problem for many, but for me it caused me so much mental torment that I just avoided the subject while pretending I was fine. I downloaded Tinder because all my friends had it, and I flirted. A lot. I arranged to meet up with guys, and I would be leaving the house, telling myself this was my chance, anonymous consensual sex. If it went wrong I would never have to see these guys again, but then I would never quite make it out of the house. If I made it past the front door, I definitely wouldn’t get to the end of the street without feeling unable to breathe and a red fear taking over my vision, causing me to only think of the worst possible scenario. I still wasn’t quite sure what aspect of sex I was panicking about, but I was scared and lonely, and it was only a matter of time before this came to a head.

During my summer after first year I met someone. As I had become accustomed to do, I put him firmly in the friend zone, like I had done with every other guy I have met since my rape. I ensured I was the girl he would never see as more than a friend, a sister at most. However, it was different with him; within a week I had already told him I had been raped, and a week after that he tried to kiss me.

He tried to kiss me and yes, there was panic, but less of it. He already knew about my rape and still wanted to kiss me. I was shocked. He didn’t think of me as used or damaged, but still a whole enough person to want to kiss me. (I realise looking back that to any other person a kiss is not a big deal – but to me this was massive). The following week a thousand thoughts flooded my mind as to his possible motives, the consequences, and all of the things that could possibly go wrong; but a week later I kissed him back (crazy … I know!). We began sleeping together. I genuinely mean sleeping. Sleeping with a little bit of kissing.

Sometimes I had nightmares, and he would wake me up and rock me back to sleep while I cried. I was used to handling my problems alone and this feeling of love and affection was foreign to me, but damn it felt good. Naturally the relationship moved on, to a place where we should have been going to the next stage. Every night we inched closer, slowly, and he stopped when I told him too (often before he had even taken his top off) which came as a surprise to me. Every. Single. Time.

The panic was there. So close to the surface. As soon as we got close all I could see was red and pain, and I would react: I would pull back and cry or run away.

I remember one night so clearly. It was the furthest we had gotten. I was completely naked and so was he; he kissed my mouth and I felt ready… but then my neck and body began shaking. My stomach started sweating but I had goosebumps all over, inching slowly downwards while the hot tears burned in the corner of my eyes. I couldn’t breathe. Not in a good, sexy kind of BDSM way but in a bad panic-y attack kind of way. Surely I wanted this? Surely, I wanted to have someone touch me and love me and to finally have sex? Surely? I went from being a woman, naked, strong, on the bed feeling ready, to a child sobbing in fetal position. Unable to speak or move. He put clothes on and took me onto his lap and held me. For what felt like hours, I stayed there curled up while I gasped for breath, a crushing weight on my chest and hot flames of tears streaming down my face. He still held me.

After this incident we kept trying and kept stopping. He told me it was okay to stop altogether, that the nightly panic attacks and the pain wasn’t worth it, but in my heart I knew he was the guy I needed.

Eventually, it did happen for us. I had sex again. It was not this moment where doves flew, music was in the air, and was perfect in every way. The sex was amazing – don’t get me wrong, but my head still panicked. I couldn’t close my eyes because if I did I would lose control and could only see my rapists cold, grey eyes. I panicked, I cried, and I felt empty. My body was loving it – for the first time in 20 months I was feeling pleasure, pure unadulterated pleasure. But my head wouldn’t let me just be in the moment. He had to look me in the eyes, force me to face him and see through the red while he repeatedly told me “It’s okay, it’s me, trust me.”

To look him in the eyes and see through the red, the fire and the blur of the tears caused not by pain but panic, and see it was his beautiful brown eyes looking at me and not the sick coal eyes of my rapist. I had to constantly realign myself with my surroundings. To remind myself where I am, who I am with, that I love the person I am with, and that I am allowed to enjoy this. We had sex more and it got easier, but I still got panic attacks after – or during; panic attacks that couldn’t be controlled by reminding myself of where I am and who I was with.

This man deserves a medal for what I put him through; he really was a mental punching bag, and I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to watch the person that you are having great sex with start sobbing half way through, through no fault of his own. I can’t imagine what blows his ego must have felt, but he was strong for me, even when I wouldn’t let him touch me. I would just lie curled up as close to myself as possible – if he tried to comfort me I would flinch. I knew it was him, the guy I loved, but rape is complicated, difficult, and traumatic.

He wasn’t my forever despite how much he helped me, and he will always be an important part of my story and recovery. I can have sex now – for the most part - without having massive panic attacks. I owe him my future sex life, and if it hadn’t been for him, who knows when I would have had sex. I could have gone many years without finding someone who was able to help me like he did. The fear is still there, and I truly believe it will never leave me. However, I must thank this man for taking me from a broken girl, scared of love, to a woman who can own her body with little fear of being out of control.

I’m a feminist. I know the trope of the prince saving the princess is not what we need and not what happens. I am a strong woman who needed help to be saved, and I owe him so much for that. This was not something I could have done alone.

Sex for me is complicated. I still cannot find myself strong enough to have a hook-up and it’s a part of university culture I will struggle with, but I have learned things about myself: things I have had to adjust because of my rape, things my friends won’t understand. Most likely, I will have to be open with every partner that I have about my situation, and most likely I will have to tell them my coping mechanisms in case something arises.

I will probably find it a lot harder to be with guys and stay with them because of this issue. Not because of the rape itself but as a consequence of it – and that is both empowering to know and scary to hear. Empowering because I know my rape doesn’t define me, but scary because there is a real-life effect I must live with because of it. But now I know. I can have sex – and I can fucking enjoy it.