I Am A Sexual Survivor

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I Am A Sexual Survivor



CW: Mentions of sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, PTSD and self-harm.

When people say that your first love sticks with you forever, they’re not lying. Mine has been the monster in my closet for my entire life.

I was seven-years-old when I met the person who forged the foundation of my understanding of romanticised love. I thought I’d met a guardian who would protect me from the world’s evils. It didn’t turn out that way.

For three years I was groomed and abused by a family friend. My innocence stolen and my bodily autonomy corrupted, the chance to explore my sexuality naively was denied long before I ever consented to a sexual act.

My abuser carefully manipulated me to ensure that I was easier to abuse by grooming me to be passive; that sexual placidity has been hard to undo. Just like him, I learned to switch masks effortlessly and keep my true emotions concealed so that no one would know the truth.

His manipulation convinced me that I had some level of control over the abuse, which ensured that I lay the blame at my own feet when it abruptly ended. I thought I’d done something to anger him and that he was as disgusted by me as I was. The impact of the abuse left me vulnerable and reliant on male approval for validation.

As a young teenager, I lacked the tools to navigate a world full of sexual intimacy and I was swiftly sucked into dangerous situations. I knew what sexual acts were biologically but I didn’t know that emotions were supposed to be involved or that mutual respect was crucial. And, most damagingly, I had no clue what consent was. Essentially, I saw myself as a sexual object first and a person with rights second.

My first sexual experience outside of childhood abuse was another assault. Before I could even register what was happening to me, I clicked on that trusty mask and went into autopilot. My life had taught me that passivity was the key to survival at the hands of dangerous men. Afterwards, I quickly excused the behaviour of the 19-year-old adult who had preyed on a 14-year-old child.

A year later, I had penetrative sex for the first time with a 20-year-old, solidifying the trend of holding myself accountable for the actions of problematic men. Subsequently, I nicknamed the state I slipped into during sex “prostitute mode” after I saw Pretty Woman for the first time. Listening to Julia Roberts explain the mindset she’d switch to when servicing a john resonated with me more than any teen rom-com ever had.

The cycle of sexual chaos continued until I met my first serious boyfriend. He was the only person I’d dated who actually tried to reach me underneath the veneer I’d worked so hard to build. But I was still stuck in my own head. While I loved the pleasure of sexual intimacy, I was emotionally numbed. I only saw the need for sexual pleasure, because that’s all I’d been conditioned to do.

He saw the darkness I was hiding and convinced me to seek help and with counselling, I was able to connect intimacy and romantic feeling while having sex.

When we ended, I thought I’d conquered the abuse so nothing would ever get in the way of my sexuality again. I was wrong. I had awakened a deep-seated resistance to my sexuality, especially my high sex drive. Despite being a documented effect on survivors of sexual abuse, the intense shame broke me all over again.

Following another lapse into “prostitute mode” at 20, I hacked into my leg in a trance. I hadn’t self-harmed in years but I tore apart a razor and drew deep slashes into my skin before I could register what was happening. That incident became the last time I ever self-harmed.

As I looked down at the pool of blood, I knew something had to change. I was exacting revenge on myself for a crime I hadn’t committed. I had to break the cycle of self-abuse.

I tried to learn as much as I could about the sexuality of abuse survivors but all the books in the world couldn’t make me apply their logic to my life. So I found another way to embrace my sexuality, I started using other people for sex. I thought that was a good compromise.

Then I met someone who embraced all of me. It was revolutionary. He took me down a sexual rabbit hole and then slowly set me on a path up a mountain I had no idea I needed to climb. He stoked the fires and I poured on the gasoline. For the very first time, I fell into my sexuality and harnessed its power for myself.

The foundation of my sexuality was forged in a nightmare and I’ve fought for most of my life to counteract the effects. I clawed my way up and out of the pit I was thrown into and I’m still climbing higher every day.

I live with PTSD, I have nightmares so intense that I often procrastinate sleep to avoid them and every so often I accidentally slip back into old habits. It’s excruciating to confront the impact sexual abuse has on your life but it is crucial, even if it takes a lifetime.

I am stronger than the abuse. I am worthy of love and intimacy. I am a powerful person with agency, boundaries and bodily autonomy. I am a woman who embraces her sexuality. I am a sexual survivor and I am not ashamed.

One Comment so far:

  1. Maggie says:

    Hi Hannah, the way you have shared your story has utterly floored me, I have so much admiration and respect for these words and this project. Your bravery is inspiring and I think you have given me the push I needed to start exploring my own experience in my work, which has previously only ever crept in quietly, not announcing itself for what it really is. I was also seven when it began, I am now approaching 30 and still feel under his control. The flashbacks and nightmares still distort my life, and my sexuality. Of course I know now that I am far from alone, but the experience of reading your words and seeing your portraits here and on instagram is genuinely the first time I have actually *felt* less alone.

    With love and solidarity, Maggie x

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