The physical realities of rape

I won’t lie, when I started this blog I had a vague idea about the topics I wanted to discuss, and this was one that I knew was essential, but that I wasn’t looking forward to writing. So I’m just going to get it out of the way, rip the plaster off, until I can discuss it a bit more profoundly.

Rape hurts. I mean physically. The emotional ramifications are more numerous certainly, but it would be silly to ignore the very real physical stuff: it hurts. And it hurts in lots of different ways. There was the pain of being hit, of someone grabbing my throat and tightening their grip, of my knees hitting the floor from a height. It was immediate pain, and curiously familiar – being smacked in the face was a shocking new experience for me, but I recognised the pain from being hit in the shins by hockey balls, and walking somewhat clumsily into a lamp post. I knew it.

Then there were new types. The inevitable pain the first time someone penetrated me, tearing into my body. And this incredibly foreign feeling of pain deep, deep within me, as he slammed into my pelvic region, again, again, again.

Just a few months before I had been studying for a psychology A level, and listening to my teacher as she discussed the process of rape. She talked in a matter-of-fact way about how most rapists were turned on by the struggle, and that to avoid further damage to yourself, the best thing to do was to go slack, or even to feign enjoyment. She told us that the only moment of weakness was the only time he had one hand on you, when he undid his flies.

I still respect her for having the balls to talk about that level of brutality in such a prissy, protective independent girls’ school. But it’s difficult to hide a grim smile when I think about how little it applied to me. I struggled, and I wept, and I tried to scream, and at no point did a rational thought enter my mind except “God, when will this end? Get him off me. GET HIM OFF ME.” About halfway through, I just screwed my eyes shut and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.

So that was the initial pain. That night, I was aware of what happened to me for a few hours, as I sobbed into a pillow and tried to make myself small, to wrap myself inside of me. When I woke up, it was gone. Not the memory, just the emotion. I woke up, and I felt stiff, and in pain, with the sorest throat I had ever had, feeling deeply, deeply unnerved and uncomfortable with myself. This will sound incredible, but not once did I attribute that to what had happened the night before. I didn’t know where it had come from. I spent a day exploring the island of Gozo being as silent and far away from my mum as possible.

The pain in my pelvis and throat stayed the longest, but gradually faded. Eventually, I only had the occasional twinge of sharp pain in my abdomen, whenever I twisted quickly or moved awkwardly. And the pain stayed away for four months, until the next time someone penetrated me, someone I was deeply in love with. There wasn’t much pain that time – it didn’t last very long – but on the subsequent occasions when we explored each other, I discovered I had to be very, very careful when he was inside me. If he went too deep the pain was intense, almost bringing tears to my eyes. I was nonplussed, assumed it was a virginity thing, that I just needed time to ‘open up’. As that relationship ended as a result of my flagrant infidelity and I slept with more and more men, the pain never went away. It was always there, and sometimes I protected myself, pushed them away, and at others simply closed my eyes and didn’t say a word, letting them hurt me.

Months later, as I finally began to think about what had happened to me, I realised the connection. I also reasoned that there was no way that the pain could still be from the rape itself – it had to be psychological, since anything else would already have healed. I began to regain control, to only trust a few people with my body, to those who I could explain things to, and they were cautious with me. This June, I finally told my parents the full extent of my adventure in Malta, and upon my return from university, they shipped me off to doctors under slight protest. The doctors did some tests, and their poking and prodding was excruciating. It had been almost four years, and the pain had not gone away. At all.

The results came back, and they told me I had a form of pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. An infection had been there for four years, eating away at me. After two weeks of fun injections and enough pills to turn me into a rattlesnake, they asked me back for another examination. That morning I was an emotional wreck, and I suddenly realised how terrified I was that it hadn’t worked, that it was psychological after all, that their diagnosis had been wrong. My mum had to convince me to fulfil my appointment. The doctor poked and prodded, and I cried again. She was really concerned, because I was crying more than I had originally, but I finally managed to explain, when I got my breath back, that there was no pain, and I that I was sobbing embarrassingly huge tears of relief and delight at the realisation that for the first time in my life, I could have sex without it hurting.

I’ve had sex twice since, with my (now ex) boyfriend. Throughout, I couldn’t stop thinking “My god. This doesn’t hurt. Do you realise? It doesn’t hurt!” Being free of that pain lifted something huge from me that had been there for years.

So. Tip of the day. No matter how long it’s been, if it still hurts, if anything hurts, go to a doctor. They might not be able to help. But they might be able to. And god, it’s fabulous.

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  1. #1 by sources? on November 15, 2011 - 8:23 am

    Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds nearly identical to mine actually, but my rape was three years ago. I always tried to ignore the pain but in the last month it’s gotten so bad. It really helped me to read that someone went through nearly the exact same thing I did and the problem was fixed. One thing I’m terrified of is that I may be infertile as a result. How bad was your scar damage, if I may ask? Did you have any lasting effects like chronic pelvic pain?

  2. #2 by ivebeenstrippedbythis on November 26, 2011 - 5:49 pm

    I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to this! Hopeless memory :/

    Please, please go and see a doctor – it’s scary, and frankly unpleasant as hell to have someone down there when you’re feeling so vulnerable, but it was SO worth it. Over a year on from my treatment, I’m fine. I have a small area of scar tissue which is painful, but it’s tiny and is only a problem in certain, ah, positions, which I have since learnt to avoid! I really hope you go and see someone – take someone with you who can hold your hand and tell you to breathe deeply. At least then, you’ll have the answer. Good luck!

  3. #3 by Mikka on January 22, 2015 - 7:12 pm

    You probably won’t see this because you posted this such a long time ago, but I wanted to thank you for posting your story. I understand this must have taken so much guts to put this up here and I really thank you for that. I hope that you have continued to get better and you are doing well. You are very brave.

  4. #4 by lanouveau on July 7, 2016 - 6:07 am

    I am struck by so many aspects of your story, but thinking further, I had to come back and comment about one particular aspect of your story that reflects an insidious and harmful aspect of culture… dare I say the dreaded “rape culture” – which is that we expect first-time sex to be painful. This expectation is harmful on so many levels, and my heart goes out to you, that you, like so many women, thought it was “normal” or as you put it “a virginity thing,” to have pain. Your partners didn’t seem to think it was alarming that you had pain either. You suffered with an infection for FOUR YEARS, in part due to this myth. My GOD, how awful. I had PID once, for a couple days, and it was excruciating (I attribute it entirely to the one and only time I used a ribbed condom). The truth is, sex doesn’t ever have to be, and shouldn’t ever be, painful, even the very first time. So why does it happen? To quote Psychology Today, it is a result of “Rushed, nonsensual, poorly lubricated, piston-like intercourse (which) might abrade sensitive vaginal tissue enough to cause bleeding.” Ouch. To flip the coin, if a woman were causing pain to a man’s penis during intercourse, I can’t imagine her ‘continuing on’ until she comes -I imagine her stopping right away and being distressed about her partner. I can’t imagine a man thinking it normal to have a bruised and bleeding penis. Our cultures have taught men and women that painful intercourse is somehow okay, if its the woman in pain. What!? I feel so stupid, that it took reading your article to put two and two together. I saw this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM79UBTwfsg) video about the myth of the hymen a few months ago, and just read your account, and the ramifications just cascaded in front if me. I am glad you are speaking up about rape, and I hope you forgive this rant. It is not directed toward you in any way, but toward the impact of rape culture, and your writing made me feel comfortable enough that I could express it here. Thank you. A couple more articles.. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-sex/201103/the-hymen-membrane-widely-misunderstood, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cristen-conger/sex-myth_b_1154683.html

  5. #5 by Jason Carrington on November 20, 2017 - 4:51 pm

    Thank you.

    I know it’s years past when you wrote this, but thank you.

    I’m a male survivor, I’ve dealt with it for most of my life completely alone. I thought I never really had the right to seek support or even talk about what happened to me.

    I saw some points of this post that echoed my own experience. The pain, the thoughts running through your head. It helped me to see my abuse for what it really was. It helped me to open up about things.

    I hope you look back at this and see how your writing – and you’re a damn good writer especially in the face of the subject matter – has helped people to reconnect and heal. And I hope that you are doing the same.

  1. Shhhh, Keep Rape a Secret

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