Survivors of sexual assault deserve spaces to discuss sex and desire. Without them, we’re left alone in our quest for an orgasm.
This essay contains discussions of sexual violence, and mentions r/pe and molestation.
“Did you cum?”
Without thinking, I said, “Yes.”
I took a deep breath. And confessed.
“Okay, I didn’t. I don’t know why I lied just now.”
“Loni,” my partner giggled before leaving the room.
This wasn’t the first time I’d lied to a sex partner about my orgasm, or lack thereof. Honestly, the only reason I caught myself and told the truth is because I’d just learned that Wear Your Voice Magazine had accepted my pitch for a personal essay about my noble quest for an orgasm. I pitched this personal essay because I wanted to be honest. If I couldn’t be honest about my orgasm with one sex partner now, there was no way I could be as vulnerable as this essay requires.
I have been sexually violated multiple times in my life, both as a child and during my college years. In my childhood, a family member violated me. In my adulthood, it was two strangers. My response to the assaults was increased sexual activity. I exclusively had sex with cisgender, heterosexual men. I exclusively had sex that would be categorized as “unsafe.” I exclusively met these partners through decisions that would be considered “risky.”
I made these decisions because my assaulters had been cisgender, heterosexual men who had not worn condoms. Like many survivors, I had internalized the victim-blaming narratives of rape culture, and I believed that things like “risky decisions” were why I had been molested and raped in the first place. I remember thinking to myself, “Rape me once shame on you, rape me twice shame on me.” I understood sexual violence as experiences that were never the victim’s fault, but after surviving two as well as childhood sexual assault, I was unable to extend myself mercy. As many survivors do, I clung to ways to blame myself and was debilitated by the shame. I thought that by replicating sexual encounters that mirrored my assaults, I could reclaim my power and end the cycle of abuse.
But the result was just more trauma. My failed attempts at reclaiming my power unfortunately led to yet another assault, which absolutely devastated me and completely changed me. From that point on, I was not just unattracted to men, I was terrified of them. I couldn’t even work with men on academic projects. I still find my heart rate increasing and sweat pouring down my back when I walk down the street alone, even if it’s midday and in the safest of neighborhoods.
While I have taken opportunities since these assaults to discuss their impacts, specifically the ways in which I have blamed myself for each of them, there is still so much shame that I just haven’t found a place to talk about. There are tons of support groups for sexual assault survivors that are great for sorting through the general shame surrounding our experiences. What I have yet to find a source of support for is the aftermath – the point after you acknowledge what happened to you and you want to have healthy, casual sexual relationships.
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I have yet to find somewhere I can explain how my shame about these violations of my body have informed my sexual preferences, my sexual appetite, and my new inability to experience sexual pleasure or orgasm. Once I register sexual pleasure, my mind immediately responds by resurfacing memories of my rapes. When I first tried to talk about the fact that I’ve found myself unable to orgasm since my last assault, I was met with only patronizing ideas about the “asexuality of rape survivors” – the idea that, after being raped, survivors lose interest in sex and choose to no longer engage in it. Though this is a reality for a small population of survivors, this concept seems to be relatively popular in support groups, and I believe it is deeply problematic, not only for rape survivors like me, but also for the asexual community.
Asexuality is not a decision to not partake in sexual activities. People on the asexuality spectrum do not experience sexual attraction or can only experience sexual attraction under specific conditions. Some asexual people are sex-repulsed and/or don’t have sex at all. Some asexual people do have sex and experience sexual arousal. Asexuality is about attraction, it is not a coerced disinterest in and/or fear of sex and sexual relationships. Asexuality is not what I am experiencing, and it’s irresponsible and unfair to call it that.
To imply that what I’m feeling is some sort of “episodic asexuality” is to suggest that: 1) asexuality is a response to rape rather than a queer identity, and 2) my experiences are as trivial and universal as the common cold and someday, when I least expect it, the floodgates will open and I’ll squirt everywhere like a capri sun pouch. Both ideas are as illogical as they are alienating and belittling of vulnerable communities.
I already carry the burden of being a survivor of sexual violence in a society that refuses to hold rapists accountable. I should not have to also experience the shame over having such a belittling, marginalizing phrase forced upon me. I am tired of acquiring new shame to internalize. While I still am unsure what to name this experience or why my body and mind are playing these tricks with me and my orgasm, I am certain that I will no longer accept this misrepresentation of the spectrum of asexuality as a bullshit explanation for my trauma-based response.
In sex-positive and survivor-centered work, we must hold ourselves accountable and cultivate spaces that go beyond a mere reclamation or rejection of victimhood and survivorship; we need to cultivate spaces for the rediscovery of sexuality for those who desire it and setting healthy sexual boundaries. The scarcity of space for survivors to talk about sex and desire following sexual trauma is why I have been unable to have a helpful conversation about my continued quest for an orgasm. This is also why I made the decision to fake it for so long, but the only thing more daunting than a life of fake orgasms is that if I do not do the heavy-lifting of bringing my narrative forward that these spaces will remain as deprecating as when I entered them.
Indigo is a queer, non-binary, Afro-Puerto Rican community organizer. At their alma mater, Hofstra University, they founded the Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition and have since then written several personal essays discussing the intersections of race, gender identity, and queerness. They are currently pursuing their degree in public interest law at CUNY School of Law.
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