Content warning: as the title suggests, there is (fairly heavy) mention of abuse in this article, plus mention of self harm. A quote of mine was featured in Metro this week and for editorial reasons, it was cut down. However, it did get me thinking about how my past has affected every aspect of my sexual, and indeed other, behaviours.
The quote in Metro (“13 women tell all about their first orgasm” by Violet Fenn, published Wednesday 9th August 2017) was:
“I was having fairly regular sex with my then boyfriend and didn’t understand why everyone thought sex was great. One night when drunk, I decided to find out what all the fuss regarding masturbation was about.
I’d never orgasmed at that point and didn’t know what to expect, how to touch myself or even that it was actually normal. I didn’t even come the first time.
However, it can’t have been that bad as I kept trying!
I liked the release; it was a lift of pressure from life just for that short time and it’s been an everyday habit ever since.”
The quote that I actually sent was:
“I was a late starter. I was 16, had been sexually assaulted by a leader at the local youth group and scared of my own body. I was having fairly regular sex with my then boyfriend and didn’t understand why everyone thought sex was great. One night when drunk, I decided to find out what all the fuss regarding masturbation was about. Perhaps that would be better? I’d never orgasmed at that point and didn’t know what to expect, how to touch myself or know that it was actually normal. I didn’t even come the first time, it was too emotionally complex. However, it can’t have been that bad as I kept trying and liked the release; it was a lift of pressure from life just for that short window of time and it became an every day habit ever since.”
And when I think about my desires, they are dark but they always were, ever since I can remember (back to early childhood) there were things that sent a thrill through me. Somehow, I knew my reactions weren’t normal so I never talked about them, suppressing the ideas as just that. Ideas. Things that couldn’t be implemented. And I’m hugely risk-averse. There’s a reason for that.
I was pushed to be highly independent by busy parents. They wanted me to be able to do things, to make their life easier and to be fair, mine. But they didn’t provide a safety net and I needed that. I didn’t have a happy childhood and the relationship I have with my family is complex at the best of times and it’s taken till I had the coaching to learn that it’s okay to trust my own instincts. I still need regular encouragement and reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, from people who I know and trust. And it is getting easier but I have a long way to go.
On the night of the abuse, my parents actively encouraged me to go out with the youth leader. They knew he was older, but they thought he could be trusted and as a barely-sixteen year old, I had no idea. I was desperately lacking in any confidence and used their judgement as a proxy for mine.
I didn’t tell anyone what happened for a long time. And when I did, I couched it in softer terms because I never said no at the time. It was very cleverly done. A perfect example of how to stay just on the right side of the law but in actual fact disguise that he was a paedophile. I doubted myself, developed huge self-loathing, bigger confidence issues and didn’t know how to handle it.
As I wrote in Counting Down:
“I first masturbated when I was 16. And it was definitely after I lost my virginity. The abuse made me scared of myself; I knew it was an ok thing to do, but I didn’t know what to do with my body and I didn’t quite feel the urges that everyone else described. I spent years touching myself through my knickers, learning how to bring myself to orgasm but never daring to play with myself directly. It felt… dirty, and not in a good way. I could orgasm relatively easily through PIV sex, but that was different, that was not self-induced.”
Looking back, I think it erased any sense of agency I had. I became a passive bystander. Coupled with my submissive thoughts/desires for control, it suited me. I could retreat into my head. But vanilla sex was boring, I was boring and I never truly engaged. I wrote more about this in “Sex Makes Me Anxious” and I need to still work through a lot of these feelings and behaviours:
“It’s overcoming ingrained habits, ones of self-protection and having to live my kink life vicariously while tolerating vanilla sex that’s not turned me on. […] So many years, I’ve been passive, letting it happen to me and not interacting. Not wanted to, being scared to. Wanting it just to be over for that session. Wondering “Is this it? What have I missed?” Sure there’s been the enjoyment of skin-on-skin and having that shared emotional connection, but the actual PIV just didn’t do it for me.”
I also learnt to self-harm around the time the abuse happened. It was a way of getting rid of the anger, the feelings of oppression and futility. It was always ‘just’ scratching but it gave me back a sense of control. And I liked the pain. It’s only a lot more recently that I’ve learnt, and accepted, that I have strong masochistic tendencies, but at the time it just felt right. Now, I happily get grounded from finding someone to hurt me in a controlled way, but for years, I self-administered and had a simultaneous sense of loathing at myself for what I was doing.
It took me over 23 years to forgive myself for something that wasn’t my fault. And to learn that my body and mind, with its reactions and quirks, fantasies and desires, icks and squicks, that the whole damn package is lovable, beautifully unique and most importantly, not defined by my past. It’s a work in progress and that’s more than okay.
Now that I’m able to express myself more easily and actively engage in the kink, I’m a lot happier but I still try to control things. Not necessarily topping from the bottom, but working out the limits so I can let go. It’s my risk-averse nature kicking in again. I wrote last week about how I like specificity and it is all about trying to simultaneously self-protect myself yet let my head go and just be in the moment.
There’s a lot to unpack. A lot of work to do. But I’m a perfectly imperfect work in progress. And progress I will. I ain’t stopping now.