Storytime: Coming Out as a Survivor, or, How Kink Saved my (Sex) Life

10 Oct

Now for something completely different: Story time.

Trigger warning: I will be talking about issues surrounding sexual assault and survivor sexuality.

I lost my virginity as a teenager to a fellow teenager who ignored the word “no.”  The experience left me confused, and having lost my power in that situation, I had no idea how to re-gain it. I was frozen, and so it happened again several times over the course of the next month. Years later I told my mother about this, in a heartfelt apology for being an extremely difficult young person in and out of therapy and ER visits, and narrowly avoiding institutionalization. I first talked to somebody about it five years later, when a university professor shared her survivor story with the class, and thus was the first step in healing.

Over the next few years, I dabbled in providing assistance to survivors, lecturing on my experiences, and talking to specialty therapists. Somewhere in there I realized: I was terrified of sex. As in, I stayed in an unhealthy relationship for years, just out of my fear of having to have a new sex partner, who might hurt me, who I didn’t trust, and when sex did happen, it was hard for me to enjoy it. This frustrated me, and, being the bullheaded person that I am, I decided I was going to stop being afraid. That’s when I realized a critical missing piece in our conversations about sexuality as a culture, one that drove me to the career path I follow now: There are a lot of resources for people interested in learning how to assert a “no,” but there is a lack of readily available information who people who want to learn how to say “yes.”

I started toying with my sexuality. I went through periods of chastity, periods of promiscuity, a few serious loving relationships, a lot of one night stands, all in my quest to understand my sexuality and how I related to it. I became fringe-involved in the BDSM/kink community, but for a long time remained too confused and kind of scared to delve deeper. At that point, I knew I was interested in the trappings of kink (leather is sexy!) but had yet to be exposed to concepts such as the ones I covered a few posts ago, about negotiation and consent.  Three years ago, just as I was beginning to take bold steps in the direction of healthy, happy, consensual sexuality, a longtime friend and fellow kinkster sexually assaulted me, and I, barely aware of what was happening (I was drugged), defaulted to “I just need to make it through this” mode. I was powerless to stop it in that moment, overwhelmed by shock and fuzzy-headedness.

This really pissed me off. Instead of breaking down, it just strengthened my resolve to figure out healthy sex. I boycotted sexuality for the most part, and took to books: my preferred way of figuring out life. Over the next two years, I learned about the heart of kink- going beyond whips and chains and the like, and looking at the importance of negotiating consent, and negotiating sex acts. I also learned about the power of kink to take back possession of scary or triggering sex acts. I started exploring partner sexuality again, with pleasingly healthy results. I have purposely put myself in situations that scare me, because I am annoyed and angry that somebody ruined that sexual potential for me, and I want to learn how to enjoy it again. Negotiating an emotionally difficult sexual act requires a lot of trust and a very caring partner. Ultimately, being in a situation that once hurt me, but this time having total control (knowing I had set it up intentionally, having the power of a safe word to stop it if I wanted to), has helped me heal immensely. It has helped me take back an experience.

I think we, as a general public, have a lot to learn from the ideal BDSM/kink approach to negotiation and consent. Because the world of BDSM is full of virtually limitless sexual possibilities, ideally nothing is ever assumed. Unlike the popular media depictions of sex, which follow a certain script (wine and dine her, have some kissing, heavy petting, take off clothes, etc etc), kinksters need to carefully state what they want and don’t want, and the people involved must respect that exactly for a healthy and happy scene.

It is my firmly held belief that even very vanilla sex acts should be negotiated, consent should be verbally established before increasing intimate contact, people should have the power to stop a sex act if they need and not be made to feel guilty or ashamed for it, and that guilt-tripping and other coercive emotions have no place in the bedroom. This is why I think we must talk about kink. Rape culture and the idea of assumed consent is not going anywhere unless we start to challenge it, and mainstream the process of negotiating and establishing consent.

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One Response to “Storytime: Coming Out as a Survivor, or, How Kink Saved my (Sex) Life”

  1. David Equality Topping October 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Wow! This is really great Constantina. To hear your story and see the work you’re doing now – it’s inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

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