How Masturbation Helped Me Heal From Sexual Assault

Content notice: sexual assault.

It happened to my mom, three of my best friends, and then it finally happened to me.

Like so many women, I never imagined I’d face such a terrible violation, let alone that I would have to struggle to recover.

What began as consensual sex a late Saturday night with Jack*, a man I was casually dating, quickly turned into something against my will. I found myself lying in a bed with someone I thought respected me, but when I asked him to stop being rough, I could see in his eyes that my words weren’t registering.

A chill went down my spine.

I was suddenly at the mercy of a wealthy man who was exceptionally strong, 22 years older than me, and, evidently, very unstable.

By the time I made it to his bathroom, I was covered in bruises and saw blood dripping down my breasts.

“You better take that [morning after] pill, because I don’t need this fucking drama in my life,” Jack exclaimed dismissively.

I quickly threw on my clothes and grabbed my bag. In a moment, I was in a very grand lobby, calling the police. I was disoriented. My legs felt numb, and I was shaking so violently I could barely hold my phone.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

“…I think I’ve just been raped.”

Five cop cars arrived within minutes. The only officer who didn’t look at me with disdain was a Danish man with a heavy accent. Once the police took my statement and called an ambulance, Jack was arrested and taken to jail.

Several hours later, I was still in the hospital giving an exhaustive interview with two male investigators, having photos taken of my injuries, providing evidence for a rape kit, and swallowing anti-retrovirals.

After the investigators left, I lay in bed watching the sun come up. Then it hit me — I was now part of that dreaded statistic, the one in six American women who’ve survived attempted or completed rape.

My mom had been dead for nearly a decade, and it was the first time I wished she were there to hold my hand.

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Despite the hellish hours that followed my assault, returning home the following afternoon to take a shower was the most harrowing part. I couldn’t look in the mirror, and I wanted to vomit every time I found a foreign pubic hair caught in mine.

I cried in disgust at the overwhelming sense of powerlessness I felt. I was angrier with myself than I was with Jack. Like many survivors immediately following sexual assault, I experienced shock and denial, as well as nightmares that made me never want to sleep again.

I returned to work two weeks later, but had to go on disability after I couldn’t stop vomiting from the month-long course of Truvada. Then I lost my job.

The same day, one of the investigators called to inform me of Jack’s release. The District Attorney wasn’t taking the case because “there wasn’t enough evidence.” And while I was among the 46 per cent of people who report such violations (as is the stark reality in 97 per cent of cases), my attacker was never convicted.

The investigator also let me know that Jack was “very sorry and just so shocked.” The fact that he wasn’t a complete stranger and our initial encounters were consensual most likely worked against me.

Before hanging up, the investigator said, “I’d just be careful whose house you go to at one o’clock in the morning.”

The night it happened, the Danish cop offered me a cigarette. Then, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You don’t need to explain anything to anybody, or feel bad about going to anyone’s house at any time of the night, even for sex. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

It was comforting that at least one person wasn’t hell-bent on victim-blaming, but I still had to live with the aftermath — with myself — and with a system that ultimately rewards rapists.

After spending my days alone, afraid to leave my apartment or see anyone, I needed to figure out how to heal. However, I couldn’t postpone getting better until I was no longer waitlisted to see a special therapist for low-income trauma survivors. So I finally returned to acupuncture as a substitute for therapy.

During my first treatment after the incident, my acupuncturist placed a needle on the upper right side of my inner forearm. My mind had been blank before the prick, and it hadn’t hurt, but I suddenly began to cry uncontrollably.

I didn’t tell her what happened, but she said, “So many of your symptoms indicate trauma.”

I failed to hold back tears as pieces of that night began to return to me, but when it was over, some of the weight had been lifted.

They say the mind blocks out painful events as a protective mechanism, even though they affect us subconsciously. In psychology, they’re called repressed memories.

Apart from my frantic attempts to regain stability, the most difficult part of all this was learning how to be comfortable with my own body again — especially after fearing another person’s touch.

But that all changed one afternoon when I found myself lying in bed with an urge to masturbate.

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I can’t recall precisely how long after the incident it was, but I know it felt good. I breathed deeply and fought to block out any images of that fateful night. It was the first time, maybe ever, that I simply focused on myself, instead of getting off (as I usually do) by imagining being penetrated.

And it was the best orgasm I ever had — explosive and vindicating.

I was numb from my head to my toes and can only describe it as leaving my body, even though I couldn’t have been more present. Once I’d orgasmed, I remained on my back, staring at the ceiling.

I smiled, and then cried in relief. Some sense of normalcy was finally beginning to return.

Knowing that I could still be intimate with myself was reassuring and empowering. I feared that I’d remain a traumatized victim, but somehow, I had become a liberated survivor. I felt safe in my own body again, though I never believed I would be able to. I trusted myself again, when I believed I never could.

I even loved myself again when I believed I never could.

Apart from active self-care, the body still has its needs, and learning to satisfy those needs on my own was fulfilling on a soul level. Though I wasn’t ready to turn to anyone for intimacy just yet, I was ready to be with myself again — and that felt like the greatest gift.

My vagina became so much more than a sexual organ I was afraid to touch; my violation was no longer a disaster for which I felt responsible. I rediscovered my power after it had been taken from me. I finally began to feel alive again.

Survivors cope with violence in different ways. In this case, healing lay in my vagina, and the power of my own loving touch.

Image via tumblr.com.


This story originally appeared on Ravishly, a feminist news+culture website.

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