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Recovering from rape a long process

A variety of experts state that, to a rapist, rape is about violence and not sex.

To a survivor, it’s about both.

There is a stereotype regarding rape victims that we should be shying away from sex and curling up into fetal positions to escape touch.

Yes, that is the typical response, but not the only one. There are no normal responses for a person who has been the victim of a sexual assault.

There are some people who crave the sexual contact for various reasons.

“I think it was something I needed. I needed to prove to myself that I could have sex with someone because I wanted to, not because I had to,” said Melanie Stewart, creator of Hope Heals, a Web site for survivors of sexual assault located at www.hopeheals.me.uk.

Wendy Maltz, a licensed clinical social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist, and certified sex therapist works with people who have been through sexual trauma. Her Web site, www.healthysex.com lists a number of ways to help progress to a point where sex is possible after an assault.

For some of us, it’s not so much a problem of having sex, but a problem of having healthy sex.

Almost five years ago, I found comfort in the arms of a man who would become my husband; comfort I needed after I was raped.

It was way too soon because of emotional trauma and physical injuries and, in hindsight, it probably gave us more issues to get past than it did to help make things okay between us, but recognizing such behaviors is vital to healing, according to Maltz’s Web site.

“You can’t build a new foundation for healthy sex until you’ve gotten rid of sexual behaviors that could undermine healing,” Maltz said. “Sexual behaviors that need to go, typically include: having sex when you don’t want to, unsafe and risky sex, extramarital affairs, promiscuous sex, violent/degrading sex, compulsive sex and engaging in abusive sexual fantasies.”

A side of sexual reactions rarely studied after a rape, Stewart says the type of reaction may have something to do with how sex was portrayed before a rape.

“I’d always had a somewhat messed up view of sex that probably had a lot to do with being abused as a kid. I started having sex very early at thirteen years old. It was just something I did rather than have done to me,” Stewart said.

The Student Assault Resource Center at the University of Montana-Missoula gives a pamphlet out to try and help people understand what has happened to them and includes promiscuity as a common reaction of rape.

“Being raped doesn’t mean you will never have a normal sex life. It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy having sex when YOU decide that you’re ready,” according to the SARC pamphlet.

Stewart agrees, recalling the first time she had sex with her boyfriend three weeks after her rape.

“It wasn’t a great success. I ended up curled in a ball sobbing, but I started it. I think I wanted to prove I was okay,” Stewart said.

They didn’t have sex again for four months and after that she made the decision to go to a counselor and get help.

A couple of months later, everything changed thanks to the advice and treatment of the therapist.

“Within 8 to 9 months of my rape I actually had the best sex I’d ever had up until that point,” Stewart said.

My husband and I also had a series of issues to conquer in the bedroom, something I didn’t acknowledge for a very long time because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

While our sex life was satisfying for awhile, it took four months for the issues to hit full force and our time in the bedroom was strictly limited to sleeping.

While Stewart and I had different reasons for getting into bed after rape, both were potentially dangerous to furthering healing.

But why is it that so much damage can be done by what we do with our bodies in the privacy of our own bedrooms?

“Our sexuality is the most intimate, private aspect of who we are. Our sexuality has to do with how we feel about being male or female, and how comfortable we are with our body, our genitals, and our sexual thoughts, expressions, and relationships,” Maltz said.

Stewart and I both sought help to discover a healthy sexual relationship with our partners, but one of the problems to get over first was the guilt at wanting to be in bed with someone at all.

“The urge to have sex is a normal part of life, and rape doesn’t mean that the urge to have sex just suddenly gets turned off. It can be worth sitting down and thinking about why you want to have sex but you should never feel ashamed for having a normal healthy sexual desire,” Stewart said.

Five years later, for both Stewart and me, we learned that sex can be good again. Her six-month-old daughter and my eight-month-old son are evidence of that.

Taking back our bedroom was a way to relinquish a hold our rapists still had on our lives.

“You can repair the damage done to you in the past. You can look forward to a new surge of self-respect, personal contentment and emotional intimacy. When you reclaim your sexuality, you reclaim yourself,” Maltz said.

Send comments, questions and ideas to Chandra Niklewski at cniklew@bgsu.

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