By: Jenn Vicious
Jenn Vicious is the radical community’s Agony Aunt, providing life coaching and social etiquette answers for radical cultures. Need poly, kinky, or queer dating advice, need to to know what to wear to court or a family function (you know, one you have to look “respectable” at), want to understand what to and not to say in some contexts, ask Jenn Vicious.
I started a sexual relationship with a dear friend. She often talks about sex like it’s an ugly, awful thing (e.g. “Let’s do something shitty” , “I was being an asshole” instead of “I had sex” or “I feel gross” instead of “I’m turned on”). I know that she has a history of childhood sexual abuse, and this kind of talk really upsets me. I know that, as a cis-guy, it’s pretty easy for me to celebrate sex without qualification, and I want to be sensetive to her experience. Any advice would be great.
Thanks for being sensitive and caring in this situation. I think it is ok for you to bring your feelings up with her. The thing to remember when doing that is NOT to label her experience for her. So don’t say “It seems like you really hate sex and your body, probably because you were a victim of abuse.” Seriously, DO NOT FUCKING SAY THAT (or anything close to it). What you can say is: “Why do you say [whatever thing she says]?” And then shut up and listen to what she says. And then maybe say something along the lines of “Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable when you use negative words to describe something so awesome as our sexy time together.” Make it about having a conversation not getting her to change her mind.
Surviving sexual abuse is really hard, and being the partner of someone who has survived sexual abuse can be difficult in a different way. Listen to her, make sure that she is in control of her own experience, and be a good friend to her. If she says something really intense, or something you don’t know how to react to, be honest about that out loud: “I’m not sure how to respond” or “I need a minute to think about what you just said” or something. Many survivors have a hard time when met with silence after they share something difficult.
There are resources out there for partners of survivors. If you are going to be long-term friends or partners with this person, check out some of the resources available to survivors, but don’t think that reading some information means that you know about her experience or how she should handle it. Those resources are for you to educate yourself, if you choose. I also recommend checking out partner-specific resources like Support for Partners . For one survivor’s perspective, check out this blog post from Sword Dance Warrior.