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This Is What Sex Is Like After Sexual Assault

"He did not take my body and my consent away from me. I still have that. I am still alive."

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We recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share how sexual assault impacted their sex lives, and what advice they have for other survivors.

Note: The following stories contain sometimes graphic descriptions of sexual assault, as well as mentions of self-harm and suicide.

The advice here is not meant to be a substitute for professional help. You can reach out to someone at the National Sexual Assault Hotline for free 24/7 by calling 1-800-656-HOPE. You can also visit RAINN.org for more resources.

And, above all, we believe you.

1. "Your body is yours and it is beautiful, and it can feel like your own again. You did nothing wrong."

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"I am a survivor of sexual violence. It will soon be the 10-year anniversary of when I was raped at 17 by my then-boyfriend and his best friend. I am writing this as a form of healing because although I would love to sit and write to you about how I had a specific cure that made me feel better, or a 'lightbult' moment, I do not.

This is healing, and it is a long process. I am still not healed and I may never be. I have sought countless advice from therapists, meditation experts, doctors, blogs, and rape counselors. Unfortunately, what has worked for me is time. I will not forget what happened to me, but it is part of my life and I am learning to have a positive relationship with it. If I had to give anyone any advice, it would be that there is no normal way to heal, so give yourself a break. Your body is yours and it is beautiful, and it can feel like your own again. You did nothing wrong."

—Lizzie, 27

2. "I don't even like hugs from my friends or family."

"I was sexually assaulted when I was 13 by one of my classmates who was also a good friend of mine. Ever since then, I haven't been comfortable with conversations about sex or anything related. I've managed to shut everyone out and I have become really uncomfortable with talking about myself, because this person has made me feel so disgusted with myself.

It's been six years but it still affects me every single day. It's near impossible for me to have any contact with anyone. I don't even like hugs from my friends or family. It's taken a toll on me, but more recently I've been learning to get past it so it doesn't tear me apart any more than it already has."

—Cameron

3. "I need the ability to take time away from typically 'romantic' things (hand holding, kissing, touching) if my PTSD is acting particularly nasty."

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"I'm a queer trans guy. I was sexually abused and assaulted multiple times over the course of about three years. As a result, I have PTSD. I get nightmares, night terrors, I can't sleep, and it's hard to have a relationship. That being said, I've been with my girlfriend for almost a year. We were best friends before we started dating. She was the first person I opened up to about being abused. Her support has been a large part of my recovery.

As for romantic and sexual aspects of relationships, personally, I'm upfront about my past with potential partners. I let them know exactly what I need. I need a bigger focus on consent. I need to be able to take things more slowly than what my partner may be used to. I need the ability to take time away from typically 'romantic' things (hand holding, kissing, touching) if my PTSD is acting particularly nasty. Sometimes, I have to ask my girlfriend to not even say 'I love you' because that can trigger my flashbacks. Sometimes, I have to go away for a bit so I can have the space to be angry, and have control over that anger."

—Anonymous

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4. "I still can't bottom because of the experience."

"I was sexually assaulted back in 2013 by a guy I randomly met at Wendy's. I was a customer and he was an employee. I had just gotten my own apartment and was excited to invite people over. I gave him my number and he contacted me a few days later asking if we could 'Netflix and chill' and get to know each other. Being naive, I said yes.

He pressured me into bottoming, which I was uncomfortable with. I told him to pull out and stop but he finished. Then he said he had somewhere to be. He took my phone, too. I ended up going to my ex's dorm and ended up at hospital that night and had a rape kit done once I realized what had happened. I was scared and angry for the next few months. Thankfully I made him use a condom and am STD-free. But I still can't bottom because of the experience."

—S.C.

5. "Every time I lay there afterwards wondering if it was the right thing and contemplate if I actually wanted it or if I just did it to please the other person."

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"When I was 15 I was raped in my sleep (while on a very sedating anti-psychotic) by my boyfriend at the time. It was very traumatic, being slapped awake by the police and having nothing on but Friday's underwear (it was Tuesday) around my ankles and feeling nothing but a burning pain in my vagina and anus. I dealt with being blamed (by my parents who didn't understand) for years.

To this day, it's very difficult to sleep next to another person. I've lost the ability to value my body and have a tendency to let others just do what they want. The scary and sick thing about it is that my body reacts and the other person thinks that I'm consenting because I'm physically aroused. But emotionally and mentally it's another thing entirely.

Every time I lay there afterwards wondering if it was the right thing and contemplate if I actually wanted it or if I just did it to please the other person. Most of the time, I realize I just wanted to please them. I feel no passion during sex with men. That's why I prefer the company of a female, it's more comfortable and safer to me. I would like to have my own children one day but fear that my lack of ability to connect will stop me."

—Anonymous

6. "Be unapologetic about your sexuality, and slowly win it back."

"I was sexually abused when I was 7 and it forced me to encounter my libido years before I normally would. I masturbated and orgasmed not knowing what they were and I always thought I was physically ill. Middle school rolled around and I eventually discovered what both were, but by that time I had already developed an intense shame regarding my sexuality.

I attempted suicide once, and had my second attempt days away when my mom saw the cuts. I was pushed into therapy and I distinctly remember telling the therapists that I wouldn't tell them anything by force. And that's what gave me my power back. It was small, but I began learning how to say no to anything I didn't want to do or didn't agree with.

The next tool I used to get better was masturbation. What was once an instinctual urge that made me feel disgusting was now something that made me feel empowered. I could make myself feel good, without anyone else taking that control away from me. It was my body, I could touch it, and no one else had that privilege unless I gave it to them. I read fan fictions that triggered me until the reaction slowly decreased. Self-imposed exposure therapy, if you will.

My advice to any survivors is to do anything that gives you your power back. Do the things you love, no matter how silly or trivial, simply because you enjoy them. Be unapologetic about your sexuality, and slowly win it back. Look at your body and think of how many amazing things it does for you. Give yourself permission to feel ashamed and lonely and isolated. And then slowly build your own ladder to climb out of that hole. You might fall back in, and that's okay. But continually reminding yourself that you love you is most important. Because no one can take that away from you."

—Anonymous

7. "You are constantly worried about whether or not retracting consent will be respected, or if you're going to have a breakdown midway."

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"Sex after assault is strange. On the one hand it can be empowering to enthusiastically consent with another person and take back your own sexuality and freedom, but at the same time you are constantly worried about whether or not retracting consent will be respected, or if you're going to have a breakdown midway.

Relationships are harder. It's much harder to think about deeply trusting someone emotionally after your trust in people has been destroyed. I don't want another person to be collateral in the fucked-up place that is my brain and my post-assault issues."

—Katie

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8. "I've only been in therapy for five months, but it has changed my life."

"I was assaulted by my stepdad of five years — a man who had raised me through my teens, who I genuinely considered a father figure. The impact that event had on my life was enormous. I felt disgusting. I developed depression and anxiety. I developed an alcohol problem to cope and adopted a 'high-risk' lifestyle. Basically I was trying to take back my sexuality and what he had taken from me by seeking attention from anyone. It ended my four-year relationship.

It took two years of this behavior for me to finally realize I had a problem. I told myself it was ok, I was tough, other assault and rape victims have it much worse. I didn't identify as a survivor or as a victim until I entered therapy at the end of a three-week party binge.

I've only been in therapy for five months, but it has changed my life. I smile now. I feel like when men want to talk to me or be nice to me, maybe they don't want to hurt me. They could be genuinely nice. I have my first crush in over two years. I've allowed someone in and not pushed them away. I am still working up the courage to tell my mom and my family, but I've learned that this is my story now, and I can tell it on my own terms, in my own time, and how I damn well please. The recovery is still in progress but I can for once see the light at the end of the tunnel and know at some point this event will no longer define my existence. It will merely be a point on a map."

—Anonymous

9. "Simply sharing the story is a part of reclaiming myself as a man and moving me toward the man I want to be someday."

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"My older cousin sexually assaulted me when I was about 8. I never told my family; only a couple of my friends know. We were both males and it scared me. I've recently come to terms with being homosexual, but from what I went through with that assault, I fought and denied it for so long — 24 years to be exact — because I connected it with what he did to me and how I felt about my sexual orientation.

Throughout my life I have struggled with anxiety, depression, and feelings of shame, numbness, or isolation stemming from the assaults. I've decided to take my life back by coming out to most my friends, but haven't worked up to telling my parents. I journal a lot in order to organize and work through my feelings more clearly. Surrounding myself with friends who understand and support me is what's helping me overcome my abuse. Simply sharing the story is a part of reclaiming myself as a man and moving me toward the man I want to be someday."

—Anonymous

10. "My sexual assault affected my sex life like a slow-burning fire."

"My sexual assault affected my sex life like a slow-burning fire. Immediately after it happened, I felt completely fine. I started dating my long-term boyfriend at 19 and we had sex all the time. I was extremely comfortable with my sexuality. But a little over a year later, I would freeze up in the middle of getting intimate with him. It's like my vagina would dry up on the spot. I began feeling like sex was no longer a give and take, it was only a give give give — all of it going to his needs. Having sex felt like being used; it felt like conceding to a reality I didn't want in the slightest. I began to withdraw from him, and, even worse, I would still agree to have sex even though it felt like the rape all over again, just because I felt like I was doing him a favor.

He always told me that he never wanted to have sex with me if I didn't enjoy it too. He was, and is, an incredible man, but I just couldn't come to terms with the forced intimacy anymore. I recently ended it with him after two and a half years, and the guilt that consumes me is sometimes too much to bear. I don't know if sex will ever feel like a consensual act again.

I finally feel that every sexual assault story is still valid, no matter the level of violence or the amount of trauma that occurs afterwards. Every woman's story matters."

—Amber

11. "I was left sexually dysfunctional after the abuse, but I found a patient and caring partner who always asked permission and respected my boundaries."

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"When I was in eighth grade I began dating an upperclassman that I knew through a mutual friend. We continued dating on and off until my junior year of high school. He ended up abusing me emotionally and mentally quite severely, but there was also physical and sexual abuse (and the threat of more) throughout the entire relationship. Afterwards, I was left with absolutely no self-esteem or self-worth to speak of.

I have tried very hard to start a fresh chapter of my life but I have still suffered from nightmares and anxiety for years. When I found out the abuser had moved back into our hometown I didn't even want to go visit my parents anymore because the last thing I want is to see him. Even knowing he is in the same state makes me uncomfortable.

My advice for others who have been sexually assaulted would be to talk about it with someone. If you are still in danger, you need to tell someone NOW. Don't worry about what others may think or about getting in trouble.

I was left sexually dysfunctional after the abuse, but I found a patient and caring partner who always asked permission and respected my boundaries. It was extremely important that I felt absolutely safe with my partner. After awhile, I began enjoying sex again. I won't say I don't have bad days occasionally, but you have to remember that it is OK to have a bad day. It doesn't mean tomorrow won't be lovely."

—Anonymous

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12. "I've never really been able to get my body to relax during sex."

"Through my freshman year of college, I was in a long-distance relationship. It started out good, as they typically do, but it slowly, then quickly devolved into an abusive one. It was mostly an emotionally abusive one, but components of sexual and physical abuse began to manifest. He stopped hearing me when I said I didn't want to, or got terrifyingly angry because 'I never used to be like this,' and eventually, I just learned to shut up and take it. Eventually, I got enough courage to get out, and my wonderful supportive friends kept me safe and took care of me during the following months.

I'm doing better now, thanks to therapy, distance, and friends, but physical and sexual intimacy has never been the same. I have to go through a laundry list of things that might happen with any potential partner if they accidentally do something, what to do if I have a panic attack, and how it's not their fault — I just haven't completely recovered from that trauma yet.

I always feel so guilty. I can tell that partners tend to treat me like something incredibly fragile. And I've never really been able to get my body to relax during sex. I also tend to make people jump through a lot more hoops than I used to, and rarely spend the night unless I completely trust the person, because I don't trust my ability to protect myself anymore."

—Anonymous

13. "A few years ago I started burlesque. I took my body back in a sexually healthy way, and I have never been happier."

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"My sexual assault happened during my freshman year of college. I had just come out as a gay man and was head over heels for this guy (we had known each other for a couple years). One night he texted me and told me to come over. I went to his friend's house with him and they started drinking. I told him I wasn't feeling comfortable and I would just have a water. He backed off a bit, but started pressuring me to drink again, saying things like, 'If you don't wanna get drunk why are you here?' and 'If you cared about me, you wouldn't say no.' I just wanted to hang out with him.

Cut to a few hours later. We are making out. He tries to go farther. I said no, I didn't want to. He started pressuring me again. Saying things like 'Just blow me. We can make out and blow each other.' Seemed harmless enough. More making out happens and he starts trying to initiate sex. I had never been a bottom before, and explicitly said no, I didn't want this. He kept going, saying, 'If you love me as much as you say you do, you'll do this to make me happy.' He kept pushing. Things blur together after that. He had started to hold me down and continued to have sex with me.

I hated myself for a long time and turned towards reckless sex with others. A few years ago I started burlesque. I took my body back in a sexually healthy way, and I have never been happier. I preform regularly and the troupe I work with is all about body positivity, knowing your own worth, and empowering yourself. I love it. Now I feel confident enough to tell this story, to tell others, and to speak out for those who have been assaulted and haven't found their own voices yet.

You are never a victim, and you were never in the wrong."

—John

14. "I had a random flashback and was overcome by a flood of emotion and ended up bursting into tears"

"When I was 17, my boyfriend at the time (now ex for obvious reasons) sexually assaulted me. We were in bed together, I had dozed off and woke up to his hands down my pants. In the moment I froze and didn't know what to do. I had always thought I would be the girl to confront the situation, but you never know how you will react in the moment.

Now two years later, I recently brought a guy back to my house after a night out. We didn't actually have sex, but while we were in bed together it just so happens that we were in the same position as the same night that my ex had sexually assaulted me. I had a random flashback and was overcome by a flood of emotion and ended up bursting into tears. I had to kick the guy out and called a friend over who spent a very long time calming and comforting me. I haven't thought of my ex in a long while, but it just goes to show that things like this can still impact you even years later."

—Anonymous

15. "Being with her has helped me heal from the assault in a way that no medication or counseling ever could."

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"Over the course of six months, I met and fell head over heels for my now girlfriend. When we first started becoming intimate, I would panic and dissociate, but she would hold me and talk me through it. She is always patient with me. Being with her has helped me heal from the assault in a way that no medication or counseling ever could. When we have sex, I trust that she will listen and respect me. And I trust her enough to try new things.

I've been with her about a year and panic attacks still happen from time to time. But I'm more comfortable in my sexuality than I ever have been. It's been almost three years since the assault, and I know I have much more healing to do — ignoring it and pretending it never happened is usually much easier to do. I have a hard time remembering that I'm a survivor, not a victim. I look back at that night and wish I had the will to say no or to push him off me. But I didn't. And that has to be okay."

—Michelle

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16. "I can communicate with my partner now. When trauma rears it's head during sex, I say something."

"My father is a pedophile. When I was 13, I found his stash of kiddie porn. I absorbed all of it through sobs. My parents got divorced shortly after.

I avoided sex until I was 18 when a woman at a party forced herself on me. I dissociated until she was done with my body. Then I dated her for a year. I thought this is what sex was. Pain, obligation, assaulting, empty.

I sought counseling at age 24 when I started having daily panic attacks. After two years of weekly sessions (thank you Canadian universal health care) I was able to reclaim my sexuality and be angry but forgiving of my past. I can communicate with my partner now. When trauma rears it's head during sex, I say something. It works. I know how to love fucking again. I'm so grateful."

—Juliet

17. "Seeing what my body was capable of in a way that wasn't sexual gave me something else to focus on and made me fall in love with my body in ways that eventually carried over to loving my body in the bedroom, too."

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"For me, the first step I had to take was to leave. It's difficult to leave an abusive relationship and even more so when you have children together. But after six years of forcing me to do things I didn't want to do, purposely having a hissy fit so I didn't have any choice but to have sex with him if I wanted to get any sleep, accusing me of cheating, and using intimidation tactics to get me into bed, I was done.

My journey into rediscovering my own body began with me admitting to myself that he repeatedly raped me throughout our relationship. Because I 'gave in,' I never considered what he was doing to me as rape until I saw a psychiatrist, and therefore didn't see it for how serious it was until we'd been separated for about a year.

I will also say that I started to masturbate regularly. TMI, maybe, but it really helped me see sex and my own sexuality in a way that wasn't shadowed by what he did, but as the one way I felt good that was completely reliant on myself. That's an incredibly empowering view, and it made me feel more like I was in control of how good I felt and less like he had the power to make me feel awful.

I also started doing yoga regularly; seeing what my body was capable of (which is a whole lot, I've discovered!) in a way that wasn't sexual gave me something else to focus on and made me fall in love with my body in ways that eventually carried over to loving my body in the bedroom, too."

—Aisha

18. "He did not take my body and my consent away from me. I still have that. I am still alive."

"I'm almost 19 years old. I am a pansexual, nonbinary, biological female. I was assaulted by my ex-boyfriend, who would go on to assault me three more times after that. One of the assaults occurred on my 17th birthday. Every year on my birthday I am too depressed to celebrate because my body was violated on that day. This disgusting boy took away my right as a human being to give consent of my own body.

After the relationship ended, I rekindled a relationship with another ex. I felt unclean and that he would be unclean if he touched me. Sex was a no-go for many, many months. And even when we did, he couldn't touch me in certain places or I would start crying. I tried taking showers to get the feeling of my attacker's hands off of me. When that didn't work I tried self harming. Cutting, burning, punching, anything to distract me from the feeling of him. I reported him to the police and nothing was done. I felt worthless. I couldn't even get justice for myself. I developed an addiction to prescription medication to try and numb what I was feeling.

It took me countless nights of popping pills, slicing my skin open, and crying to realize that it was not my fault at all. I was in a situation that I couldn't control. My body is still mine. He in fact did not take my body and my consent away from me. I still have that. I am still alive.

To every person out there who has been a victim of sexual assault: I believe you. It was not your fault. In time you will realize that. In time you will come out stronger than ever before. You may not be able to ever forget or get over it 100%, but you can and will get through it. I believe in you."

—Tyler

19. "It's not like wanting cake while you're on a diet, it's more like realizing you don't like cake anymore."

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"I was sexually assaulted by a male friend a year ago. I'm pansexual, kinky and polyamorous: Sex feels particularly important to me because my sexual identity is relatively unusual. When you don't grow up thinking about sex and relationships the way your peers do – when you get older and you're still coming out and explaining and defending your relationships over and over – sex can become very central to your identity. In my case, it was also particularly central to my social life, as I tend to mix with other kinky, poly people.

I was always aware that being assaulted wasn't my fault, but on a subconscious level, I couldn't shake the feeling that it somehow was. That, since a friend had assaulted me, it came down to my poor choice of friends. That maybe my debauched lifestyle meant it was inevitable I mixed with messed-up people. I don't think any of that.

After the assault, I tried to get back to a normal sex life as fast as possible, but it just hasn't happened: I've not felt any desire to have sex or take part in any BDSM. It's not like wanting cake while you're on a diet, it's more like realizing you don't like cake anymore. It's confusing, and feeling cut off from the identity that's shaped so much of my adult life is terrible. The fact that some of my peers — my open-minded peers with all their frank talk about sex! — judged me negatively for what happened has also made me less keen to associate with the labels and groups I've always identified with.

The single most significant thing that helped me was reporting the assault through a scheme offered by Rape Crisis centers, called Information Sharing. It's a way of passing information about an attacker to the police without giving the police your name. Your statement can't be used to prosecute the crime alone, but it helps them to build evidence against repeat offenders. In my case, the guy wasn't a repeat offender, but it was still helpful. I told a Rape Crisis staff member what had happened and she wrote a statement, and when she repeated it back to me it was agonizingly clear where the blame lay. I'm so grateful for that."

Beth

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20. "The best thing you can do for yourself is to get some help and confront the shit out of that little voice in your head."

"After an emotionally abusive and manipulative two-year relationship that resulted in numerous sexual assaults when I was in college, I was left feeling broken. I had no sex drive, no self-esteem, and was absolutely terrified at the idea of having sex again. Every relationship afterwards had been short because I was unable to stomach any intimate physical interactions due to the overwhelming panic, guilt, and shame that would follow. I began to just avoid any intimacy altogether.

It wasn't until four years later when I met a guy I deeply cared about that it occurred to me that I couldn't just numb myself and avoid the problem. His support and patience made me realize that I deserved better and that I never really dealt with the anxiety and fear; instead, I just buried it away and avoided setting it off.

I finally sought help at an Anxiety and Behavior Health Clinic that was available at my school. They diagnosed me with a mild form of PTSD and I spent eight months in therapy working to not avoid anxiety, but confront it. The little steps you take make a difference, but the biggest thing for me was realizing that what had happened to me was not my fault. I had no reason to feel ashamed or guilty, because I had done nothing wrong. Once that clicked in my brain it was much easier to build myself back up again. What I want other sexual assault victims to know is that you should never avoid that anxiety. Remember that every story is different, and things happen on a spectrum. Just because I wasn't held up at gunpoint doesn't mean I wasn't raped. And the best thing you can do for yourself is to get some help and confront the shit out of that little voice in your head. And remember that you are never ever alone."

—Anonymous

21. "Just last week I was able to hug a guy friend without tensing up, I was so proud of myself!"

Instagram: @pleasurepie / Via instagram.com

"I was raped on my 17th birthday by a friend's older brother, and sexually assaulted three months later by my ex-boyfriend's step brother. To say that these events gave me intimacy issues would be an understatement. It's hard for me to give hugs, cuddle, kiss people, etc. It kills me inside too because I see that the guys I'm with want me to cuddle with them and I want to so badly as well, but I just can't get past that mental hurdle to trust them enough. It's caused the end of my past two relationships.

Thankfully, I've finally found a therapist who is helping me with the intimacy issues and slowly but surely I'm making progress! Just last week I was able to hug a guy friend without tensing up, I was so proud of myself!"

—Sierra

22. "I was convinced I was a lesbian when I am really bisexual, because the thought of sex with men repulsed me."

"As a teenager, I was molested over a period of a few years. Because of this, I had come to be afraid of men to the point where I couldn't be touched.

I was convinced I was a lesbian when I am really bisexual, because the thought of sex with men repulsed me. I was still attracted to men, I was just afraid of them. Getting past my fear was partly letting time heal, partly talking about it, partly finding a man I can trust, and partly learning to defend myself. Molestation and rape are not the same thing, but molestation is still worth talking about."

—Anonymous

23. "Start out slow, like texting and talking over the phone to the person you're interested in."

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"I was a victim of sexual abuse as a kid, from the ages of 9 to 11. I was never raped, but molested and groomed. Now that I'm almost 19, I have not been able to form any relationships, and I now have a phobia of sex, PTSD, and manic depression. For the longest time, I felt guilty and weak because I didn't consider what happened to me 'bad enough' to have PTSD.

A couple of things that helped me a lot include finding songs that I can relate to and sometimes just having a good cry to to kind of let go ('Warrior' by Demi Lovato gets me every time). When I am in the middle of an anxiety/panic attack, I try to control my breathing and say to myself over and over, 'I am safe, I am going to be okay, this will pass.' It's tough, but I'm in the process of learning that intimacy is a natural thing.

Learn how to be patient with yourself. Start out slow, like texting and talking over the phone to the person you're interested in. If that's too much, let yourself know it's okay to take a step back and recognize that you'll get there someday. Also find a sort of community of people that you can openly talk to. I personally found one on Tumblr. And most importantly remember: We're all going to be okay."

—Anonymous

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24. "I find that since my assault happened in a relationship, I tend to push for sex in my current relationship.

"In Year 9 I had a boyfriend who I lost my virginity to. He ended up raping me. I was asleep when it started and pretended to stay asleep until he was done, and then went to sleep. I never pressed charges, and every time I went to leave him he would threaten to commit suicide. During one argument, we both got physical, I shoved him and he ended up throwing me back against the bed by my throat. I was with him for almost two years before it finally ended.

I now find that since my assault happened in a relationship, I tend to push for sex in my current relationship. I'm always the one to instigate and I think it's because I try to protect myself from being hurt again, so I am open sexually to everything, even if I don't really want to be."

—Chloe

25. "As stupid as it sounds, I watched SVU a lot. That show has so many episodes, I was pretty much able to hear Olivia Benson reassure me about every specific worry I had."

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"Twelve years ago, when I was 21, I passed out drunk at a party, and woke up naked and sore next to a guy who I thought was my friend. I remembered parts of what had happened and when I confronted him about it, he said nothing happened and I just ditched my clothes in the middle of the night, because I was hot. About a month later, I had a miscarriage. I've known I was a lesbian since I was 13, and that was the only time I've ever been with a man.

My best advice for being able to enjoy sex again is just to not second guess yourself and to speak up when you don't like something. I wasted a lot of time blaming myself for being drunk, not fighting back hard enough, etc. I attempted to go down on him at one point, thinking that he would leave me alone if he finished, but it didn't work. I called the suicide hotline a couple of times over that detail. I made things worse for myself by pretending to be okay with things that I definitely wasn't. I probably ruined my longest relationship that way.

Also, as stupid as it sounds, I watched SVU a lot. That show has so many episodes, I was pretty much able to hear Olivia Benson reassure me about every specific worry I had."

—Anonymous

26. "The fear that I feel when I'm in a sexual situation is paralyzing, however the only thing that bothers me more than my fear is the ignorance around sexual assault."

"When I was about 7 years old, I started being sexually assaulted by someone I was very close to and trusted very much. These incidents lasted about a year-and-a-half, and spanned from asking to see me do sexually explicit activities to actually being felt and molested. I had no idea that what was happening to me was wrong until my mom found out what was going on.

As for impacting my sex life, I've often felt compelled to rush things and take charge of situations that are out of my element so that I have some control over who is in my life. I'm now a 16-year-old lesbian who walks fast in public places and avoids eye contact with my male peers. I often have panic attacks mid-make-out sessions with my girlfriend. And as I watch as all my friends lose their virginity and enjoy their blooming sex lives, mine is clouded by fear, repressed memories, and a frustrated woman.

The fear that I feel when I'm in a sexual situation is paralyzing, however, the only thing that bothers me more than my fear is the ignorance around sexual assault. I'm not gay because I was assaulted. I'm gay because I fucking am. I wasn't assaulted because I dress provocatively, I was assaulted because assault isn't about sex, it's about power. And to everyone who says what you're going through isn't that big, I promise that all your feelings are valid even if you don't understand them."

—Anonymous

27. "I've always wondered whether my asexuality is due to the abuse from that one dude back when I was 6."

Instagram: @stitchculture / Via instagram.com

"I've always wondered whether my asexuality is due to the abuse from that one dude back when I was 6. But I've come to realize, even if it is due to the abuse, it doesn't make my asexuality less valid. If I do ever decide to settle down with someone, I know it will be someone who respects my boundaries and is okay with being sexless. I don't feel the need or desire to be 'fixed,' because I am not broken! Whether I am innately asexual or was driven to it due to the abuse, I have a full and vibrant life without sex and don't need to focus my life on trying to change that. The media may tell me it's weird to not have hookups or causal sex or even sex while in a committed relationship, but I know I can live without them and feel just as fulfilled with my life.

I sometimes still worry that my hazy memory of the incidents allow me to be more confident in my (a)sexuality than others might be, but I want everyone to know that regardless of the background of your sexuality, you are valid and you are believed and you are beautiful. You don't need to explain yourself to anyone. I want everyone to know that asexuality is real and nothing to be ashamed of. If you truly want to work on regaining or gaining sexual desire, go for it on your own terms with only what you feel comfortable with. Don't push yourself if you truly don't have any desire to engage in sexual behaviors though. Your asexuality is valid."

—Anonymous

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28. "I sometimes find it easier to orgasm when, in my head, I picture fake scenarios/fake people/celebrities, rather than what is happening to my body right now."

"About four years ago I was in an abusive relationship, emotional and physical, and it still affects me to this day.

I have now been with my current boyfriend (we'll call him Hugh) almost two years, and he is the most kind, gentle, understanding, and loving man I could imagine. But even so, being intimate can sometimes be incredibly hard for me. Even today, I sometimes find it easier to orgasm when, in my head, I picture fake scenarios/fake people/celebrities, rather than what is happening to my body right now with Hugh — a remnant, I think, of thinking of other things (anything else) while I was having (often forced, unwanted) sex with my ex.

I also sometimes prefer to 'do it myself' than to have sex with Hugh — not because I don't want to with him, but because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will never hurt myself in any way. I will only do what feels good, nothing more, nothing less.

Sometimes, now, I don’t even like when Hugh looks at me when we have sex. And there have been many times when I’ve cried afterwards, just because of the shame that still hits me when I have sex — a reminder of my past relationship, when shame was the main feeling. I still feel shame, even now, despite the rational part of my mind knowing sex is healthy and good and lovely if it's with the right person. I also find that I am overly eager to please — again, a remnant from my manipulative ex, who wanted me to do whatever he wanted, no matter if I wanted to or not."

—Isabel

29. "I buy underwear that makes me feel sexy because I finally want to feel sexy again."

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"I was sexually assaulted by someone I met at a party my sophomore year of college. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship at the time, and my boyfriend was the opposite of supportive. He pressured me into doing sexual things before I was ready and lashed out at me when I would get upset, have flashbacks, or become withdrawn after. I was a virgin when I was raped, and my boyfriend and I never had sex, although we did everything else.

Two and a half years later, after loads of therapy, personal growth, and ending my toxic relationship, I am starting to feel like myself again. But, the idea of having sex with anyone still scares the hell out of me — the idea of sex is still intimately intertwined with the night I was sexually assaulted. That feeling is compounded by a crazy fear of intimacy and letting people in.

However, I'm ready to start taking steps and getting myself back out there again, and I already feel empowered and a little more comfortable, which means the world at this point. I bought a vibrator and I LOVE it! I buy underwear that makes me feel sexy because I finally want to feel sexy again. I focused on me — I traveled, rediscovered things I love, found new hobbies, and made new friends, all while working through the traumatic experience. Finally, after becoming more comfortable with just being me again, I have begun to reclaim my own sexual power and it feels great. I tried before now, but I just wasn't ready. It wasn't my time, and that was okay."

—Anonymous

30. "I'm pretty sure that's the reason why I have vaginismus now."

"I'm a 21-year-old woman in college. When I was 18, I told my boyfriend that we'd have sex on prom night. Problem is, I wasn't attracted to him and I didn't understand how you needed to be aroused for sex to feel good. When he first penetrated me, I almost screamed because of how much it hurt. I told him to stop, but he guilt-tripped me and said we needed to keep going. I felt trapped and said fine, but I wasn't happy about it. It continued to be painful, but because I wanted to be 'a good girlfriend,' I didn't say anything.

I'm pretty sure that's the reason why I have vaginismus now. I can feel attraction, but as soon as someone tries to stick their dick in me, I can't do it anymore."

—Emma

31. "I loved the heavy emphasis on communication and consent in the BDSM community."

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"After my sexual assault my freshman year of college, I pushed it to the back of my mind and tried not to think about it, but it still affected my sex life whether I wanted it to or not. I gave up on my 'purity pledge' and started going to clubs to make out with guys. After my first serious boyfriend, the floodgates opened, and once I was having sex I couldn't be stopped (unless he said no of course — it's just a figure of speech to say that my libido was insatiable). I quickly found myself into kinky sex, and after we broke up, I explored it more freely.

I loved the heavy emphasis on communication and consent in the BDSM community. Being a submissive is often misunderstood as giving up all your power to another person, but really being submissive is the most empowered I've ever felt, which was really important while I was finally going through therapy to deal with my sexual assault and following issues. As a submissive you get to call the shots. What you like and don't like. You say a safe word and the whole room stops. Your Dom stops and checks up on you and takes care of you. If you're playing in a dungeon, the monitor checks up on you. I feel so safe, which has healed a lot of wounds.

Even crazier is that I'm into CNC (consensual non-consent)! Playing pretend with my partner who I love and trust with my life (literally!) makes me feel safe, and getting to kind of relive what happened to me but know I'm safe and can stop any time has been very cathartic."

—Anonymous

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32. "Rediscovering my sexuality felt like release. It was the last aspect of my life that my rapist got to define and I took that back, too."

"When I was in college I dated a man who, looking back, grew more sexually abusive as our relationship went on. He was my first sexual partner and he was pretty subtle about it when we were together, I just didn't see it. After we broke up, I moved and changed my phone number, but he somehow found my apartment and twice broke in to violently rape me at gunpoint.

Later, a friend and I started talking and eventually worked into a friends-with-benefits situation. It was perfect to help get my confidence back, because I wasn't worried about pleasing the love of my life, just a friend who could walk away anytime with no hard feelings or broken hearts. Sometimes the sex was outstanding and the exploration was exciting, other times things could be going well and I'd suddenly become terrified and stop everything or I wouldn't even be able to start. He was patient, respectful, and if he was frustrated he never showed it. But he also treated me like a woman; he didn't treat me like I was broken or fragile or naive, which was huge.

I've always been afraid that my rape would define me. I have told very few people about it (although not reporting him is still my biggest regret). Rediscovering my sexuality felt like release. It was the last aspect of my life that my rapist got to define and I took that back, too. I'm not sure my friend will ever understand how big a gift he gave me."

—Anonymous

33. "Sometimes, my boyfriend wants to give me a hug or kiss and even if I'm not actually opposed to it, I find myself saying no because I can."

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"I was abused by a family friend — husband of my babysitter. It's given me many strange triggers that I never understood until much later, like seeing movie credits and the grey fuzzy screen at the end when it shuts off. That white noise comforts most people, but to me? Complete terror and sickness.

I was lucky enough to find a partner who understands my fear and caution when it comes to sex. I struggle with it, but I know it's okay. I have the right to be scared and cautious.

One of the most empowering things for me is to say no. It doesn't really matter what it's for. Sometimes, my boyfriend wants to give me a hug or kiss and even if I'm not actually opposed to it, I find myself saying no because I can. When he immediately stops whatever it is, I feel a sense of relief because I know my 'no' matters. It's such a habit that sometimes I don't even know I do it until after the word comes out."

—Anonymous

34. "I now understand that what I choose to do sexually and my abuse are two different things. I now have a choice."

"I was sexually abused for most of my childhood. I knew about genitals and pornography before I knew what actual sex was. At age 15, my abuse ended. I was so messed up emotionally from everything that I thought masturbation/urges were wrong. I cursed myself for having urges and being curious, because I blurred the lines between the abuse and what was normal; I thought I was just as bad as him.

I wore a purity ring in high school and stayed a virgin for all four years, something I'm still proud of. I've been intimate with two guys, two guys I had strong feelings for, and it was never easy. It took a lot of patience and healing, but I now understand that what I choose to do sexually and my abuse are two different things. I now have a choice."

—Lindsey

35. "I have been with my new boyfriend for nearly three years now and I still haven’t been able to have sex with him."

Instagram: @radicalbuttons / Via instagram.com

"I am 22-year-old gay male and I was raped by my high school boyfriend for the first time when I was 15. He manipulated me into staying with him until I was 18 by convincing me I was worthless and crushing my self-esteem to the point where I felt like nobody loved me. When I went to university, I finally realized the poisonous nature of our relationship and I broke all ties with him, but not without consequences.

I have been with my new boyfriend for nearly three years now and I still haven’t been able to have sex with him. However, what’s even harder is that I still have an enormous amount of trouble actually revealing my true feelings and telling people, even those I trust the most, what I really want (whether it be about large decisions or even trivial things like deciding what to eat) as I was manipulated into believing what I wanted or how I felt didn’t matter for three years.

It’s been a long, revealing, and transformative journey, but my closest friends have made an enormous amount of difference in my life. I wasn’t ever given the opportunity to be counseled or educated about being a sexual assault victim, because I’m a male. I’m still not 100% better and I’m not sure I ever will be, however, I wouldn’t change what happened to me as I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through that. I am currently studying to be a youth counselor, and my ambition is to educate and help young people. I would encourage all young victims of sexual assault, including (especially) the males to seek some form of counseling, as doing it as part of my course was the most rewarding experience in terms of my personal growth and healing. I only wish I had the ability to do it when I was 15."

—Phillip

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36. "I'm much more closed off, and a lot of people who don't know what happened think that it's just because I settled down and got married, but it's not."

"Prior to my assault, intimacy was an area of life where I found a lot of joy and release from stress. I flirted a lot, loved nice lingerie, and was in touch with my sexuality. Since having been assaulted, I became much more reserved. I sometimes still blame myself for the assault because I was such a flirt. I was the kind of girl who wrote my number on bar napkins and slipped it to the cutest guy playing in the band. I flirted platonically with both men and women.

Now, it's hard to do any of that without feeling like it could be used against me. Now, I'm much more closed off, and a lot of people who don't know what happened think that it's just because I settled down and got married, but it's not. I feel like I lost a lot of myself. I can still find joy in intimacy, but it is also an area of extreme stress in my life, rather than an oasis from stress.

I'm still working on my issues every day. While I wish I could be as fun loving and freewheeling as I used to be, and while I wish I was still in college (I dropped out because of PTSD), I don't think I would go back and do it all over if I could. Not having PTSD would be great, but my life also has a lot of great things in it now that I can't imagine being possible if I hadn't experienced a major shift in how I was living my life. I have a superb husband and together we got a really great home and a really great cat. Obviously, that's not to say I'm happy about having been raped — I would totally light my rapist on fire if that was legal — I'm just saying that life has a way of working out if you just keep going."

—Vivienne

37. "There are people who have been affected in different ways, such as me and many others who experience trauma-induced hypersexuality."

Instagram: @pleasurepie / Via instagram.com

"I am a victim of COCSA (child on child sexual assault). I won't go into details but to this day, because of it, I am hypersexual. My sex drive is much higher than others, I experience alarming sexual fantasies. I honestly believe that if I am not sexually appealing, I am worthless, and if I cannot have sex, I will die.

Obviously, that led to many risky scenarios involving friends and strangers alike, and it took numerous scares to realize this wasn't something I should feel and that it was connected to my past abuse (memories of which I had repressed long before). I still do feel this way, but I am learning how to better handle it through therapy and a support network of people who understand.

Many know of assault victims who have trouble with being sexual again due to their trauma, but I feel that it is also important to show that there are people who have been affected in different ways, such as me and many others who experience trauma-induced hypersexuality."

—Leo

38. "You are valid, you deserve love, it was never your fault and never will be your fault. You deserve to live your best life."

"I'm a 19-year-old trans male. Sexual assault has made me reclusive, almost repulsed by any relationship once sex was involved. Sometimes just romance was enough to make me shove away from the person and want myself dead. I've felt like a toy, and still feel like a toy, and the way it has affected my perception of trust is depressing. I still feel like I owe my partners sex for love, and my consent will never matter so long as they're pleased.

I suffer from PTSD and frequent suicidal thoughts, both are affected by some of that trauma. I know that I have many years ahead of me, but I still can't see the potential for any relationship where I'm not being used for the only thing my abusers think I'm good for: which is sex. It has still taken me time to realize that my experiences are valid.

My best advice to survivors: Don't let fucking anyone tell you that you weren't hurt or traumatized. You are valid, you deserve love, it was never your fault and never will be your fault. You deserve to live your best life."

—Damian

39. "To other rape survivors I'd like to say: However you experience sex now is okay! Your body belongs to you and that means that your sex life is valid, however that may look."

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"I was in a sexually abusive relationship from about age 14 to age 17. This was my first love, first kiss, first sexual experience, first everything — so to have rape be my introduction to sex has really shaped my relationship with sex ever since. I was also raped by my best friend in college, and that was a huge setback in my path toward trusting people again and forming healthy relationships.

I have only had sex a handful of times since my high school relationship, and I've since decided that it's not really for me. I felt really conflicted about this for a while — would I have been asexual without these experiences, or am I permanently shaped by them? Am I damaged? Over time I came to realize that part of gaining agency over my own body was allowing myself to have whatever kind of sex I want, even if that means no sex at all. So to other rape survivors I'd like to say: However you experience sex now is okay! Your body belongs to you and that means that your sex life is valid, however that may look."

—Anonymous

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Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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