Right at the start of this blog I dealt with the physical aspects of rape. Talking about the emotional responses take up far more time, because they are many and wide-ranging. But now I would like to focus on just one area: the emotional impact on sensuality.
I’ve spoken before about the emotional distancing that I experienced following the rape: the memory hovered somewhere in the distance, but not in a cognitively useful way. It was there, but I didn’t acknowledge it, didn’t have a clear grasp of what had really gone on, and I certainly felt none of the raw emotion. This is something that I’ve always been good at. My subconscious has always been very good at protecting me, and I’m usually the last to realise when something is bothering me – I don’t feel stress or anxiety on the surface, but it manifests as insomnia. It’s a sure fire way of figuring out if anything’s wrong with me.
In a similar way, the general psychologist view of what happened to me after the rape is that the memory stayed with me – if hazily – whilst the terror and the anger associated with it was suppressed. However, it’s impossible to completely eradicate emotions as strong as those, so they showed themselves in other ways, as though upset that not enough notice was being paid to them.
One way was, of course, my charming habit of drinking myself into a stupor before engaging in a competitive round of bed-hopping. There was one more, which was noticeable only to a few: what happened to me during sex, and even more so, in the immediate aftermath. Unsurprisingly, the Australian boy was the first to notice this, since he was the first person I slept with after the rape. Every time we had sex, I would turn away, be very quiet, and not want to look at him. And every time, although he wouldn’t always catch it, I would have to wipe away silent tears.
As a psychology geek, he realised fairly early on that there was probably a reason for this, and he gently asked me about it quite a few times. I rarely gave a gentle response. No, nothing had happened to me. No, I had never experienced sexual violence. Nothing from my childhood. Nothing recently. I was fine.
We had a spectacular blow up about it one afternoon in Thailand – or rather, I blew up. What’s astonishing about this is that I truly believed my own words. I did think I was fine. The emotion was so far removed from the memory of the rape that it had become blurry, like a photo negative left out in the rain. It was a memory of nothing particularly important, and certainly of nothing damaging.
And so I carried on not dealing with the ramifications of my experience. A pattern emerged during my sexual encounters. I would relish the chase, the achievement of getting men into my bed, of being able to have a degree of control over them. And then I would realise that they were in my bed, and throughout the sex I would want them to hurry up and get the hell out, out of me, my body, and out of the room. To begin with I would always withdraw and silently weep. Gradually, the withdrawal lessened. I would be able to cope with the sex just fine, to mostly ignore the man inside me, but always the tears would come. They would come, but they would be without emotion. I didn’t feel sad, or scared, I just felt numb, and slightly bewildered at why these tears always appeared.
As my keel slowly righted and I began to have healthier sex with people I actually cared about, the tears remained. Even if it was just one or two shiny pearls, they would always slip out. I became excellent at hiding them, until more recently, as ‘people I was sleeping with’ became ‘person I was considering dating’, I decided to open up. The emotional and physical consequences proved difficult to hide in the longer-term. The two almost-partners of those months were well-chosen, because they both responded with absolute sensitivity at a time when I was terrified I would be told that I was too much work. And they remained gracious as weird little me apologetically wiped tears away after thoroughly pleasant sex.
Then came the boyfriend, the first commitment following the rape and the breakdown of my relationship with the Australian boy. My memory is awful, so I can’t be clear about the exact order of events, but I can tell you that this happened around the same time that I was writing the article for the student newspaper – when I was finally owning my experiences. One day, after sex – the sex which he had learnt to understand would always be followed by a little teariness – he wanted to chat and I told him to shut up. I told him to be quiet, because I was concentrating. And then, after an awkward twenty seconds, I burst into a big grin and gave him a hug. “No tears,” I said triumphantly. “I can control them now.” And now, I find I don’t even need to control them. They no longer come.