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What a first kiss feels like after a sexual assault

Working up the courage to do this is something to celebrate. (Photo by Flickr user Jeremy Vandel)
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On Monday, Reddit user throwawayballet shared a victory with the world, “I like kissing again!”

The story, which surged to the top of the front page of the Internet, highlights a widespread but often private plight among survivors of sexual assault: Even the smallest gestures of affection can be difficult in the aftermath of trauma.

I was sexually assaulted at a party about a year ago, and as you might expect, it really messed me up. I haven't been on a date since, definitely haven't so much kissed a boy, and sometimes have panic attacks in dark or crowded spaces. Recovering from it has really been a process--I didn't talk to anyone about it until more than six months after it happened (I hardly admitted to myself that it had). Still not really ready for therapy, but good friends & advocates at my university have made a big difference.
Anyway, last night, I was at a dinner party. Hit it off with a cute guy and was basically dying to kiss him the whole time I was there. Talked for an hour and then, right before I left, I leaned in and kissed him.
It. Was. Great. He was cute and funny and warm and I floated all the way home.
I don't expect much to come of it, but I'm really really glad it happened. It just feels like such a victory. For the first time I'm starting to feel like I'm getting back to normal. I had a semi-romantic interaction with a guy, and he was in my personal space bubble, and he held my hand, and I genuinely enjoyed it. I didn't feel anxious or broken or afraid. Just happy.

About half of women who have endured sexual assault battle post traumatic stress disorder, according to the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey Report, which tracks the prevalence of mental disorders across populations.

An Australian study found 94 percent of female survivors reported experiencing symptoms -- panic attacks, nightmares, intense anxiety upon sexual contact -- in the first two weeks after an attack.

Another 2001 study in the Annual Review of Sex Research describes how experiencing rape can affect intimacy for at least a year: “Satisfaction and pleasure in sexual activities seem to diminish for a considerable group of victims,” the authors wrote. “Anger towards self, shame and guilt may predict sexual problems.”

Reclaiming desire can be challenging -- but not impossible. A caring partner can accelerate the process, the researchers noted in the 2001 study. Understanding you’re not alone is also important for recovery.

Courage, however it manifests, should be celebrated, the Reddit community proclaimed. Several users offered words of encouragement and their own stories, excerpted below:

Wrote Picturerazzi:

I'm a survivor and it was a longggggggggg time before I was comfortable with anyone touching my breasts including long term boyfriends. I can finally say that I'm comfortable with my fiancé touching, caressing, kissing my breasts (and I am enjoying it as well.) He has to make eye contact first so I'm prepared to relax about it and I'm going to be working on this in therapy but it's a huge step in my life.
You are making progress very quickly and that's so awesome and you are an example of our strength and resilience!

From opheliaks:

I was a victim years ago, sex is sorta of a chore I don’t mind doing. The only real pleasure I get out of it is seeing my partner satisfied. I'm more fullfilled with the whole cuddling cerebral aspects of the relationship
Strange twist my partner was sexually abused in the same manner and has a huge sexual appetite it took years for us to understand each other where we both could get what we wanted without the other being hurt.
Enough about me congrats and may the road of healing treat you well.

Rin_aonir said:

This is a wonderful story. I'm sorry for what happened to you before, but this step shows your healing process is working and that's fantastic. It's very hard to move on from such things. I have had a few different awful experiences. They all came from people I was dating or had previously dated. I'm not sure how it never turned me off to dating, but it did mess up my mentality and security when it came to dating. My victory is I have an amazing man in my life who knows about everything, accepts me for who I am (even with my many, many faults) and helps me work through everything that comes up. It's made me a better person and healed my heart and mind in ways I didn't realise could happen.

Wrote BeigeFantasies:

Well done! I'm so happy for you. for me personally, the biggest empowering moment was falling in love. I didn't think I was ever going to be able to be with anyone after what happened, but then I met my SO and even though it was terrifying at first, I realized I wasn't as broken as I'd thought. Every time I look at him it feels like a victory, because my rapist told me no one would ever love me, and after nearly two years of thinking he was right I now know just how wrong he was good on you for not letting what happened stop you from living your life.

tallhokiegirl said:

That's awesome! It's extremely difficult to resume normal intimacy after an assault but progress is so empowering and hopeful!
It took me awhile after my assault to feel good doing stuff with a guy again. I started dating a guy about a year after it happened when I still had not really addressed it or thought about it. I was kind of ignoring it. A few months into our relationship the dam finally broke and I started having nightmares and panic attacks and it was awful. My bf was supportive and most non-sex stuff with him made me feel better and didn't remind me of my assault. For sex though, I asked him to ask me if he could every time we had sex. It's been three years since then and he still always asks but now it's more sexy. Like, "may I?" The fact that I'm reassured that we both are consenting verbally totally relaxes me and lets us both enjoy it.


First of all, congratulations on getting your power back.
My ex-wife was raped in college, and she still had flashbacks 20 years later. It terrified and shamed me whenever I accidentally triggered one of those flashbacks, when all I was feeling was love and affection, and some asshole had ruined that for me and her years before. But she and I worked on it, and worked on ways around it. My mother and my sister were both raped, they worked around and over it, and still have their weird times.
Which is a roundabout introduction to this: if you have a flashback or a setback, remember that its a temporary thing - that you are still you, you still own your power.
And I wish you all the happiness in the world, because you (and everyone else!) deserves it. What happened to you was awful and against your will, but your happiness is your choice, and I hope that you choose to be happy!

And Picturerazzi responded:

We don't just say things like that willy-nilly. It's a huge deal when we feel safe. Huge.