A very brave subject to discuss in an open forum. Talking about sex as part of living with an abusive partner is difficult. What gives me the courage is talking with another survivor.
Sadly, she and I were leading almost parallel lives during the same period of time. Our children were baptized together, go to the same school and also lead parallel lives. As my story became public she had already exited her marriage and had begun making a life for herself and her daughter. As I started sharing the rest of my story and what had been going on behind closed doors, she reached out to me. We have begun to reconnect and recently met face to face. We had a relatively short window between child activities so I was surprised when our comparison of experiences moved quickly on to the subject of sex.
We can read and talk about the damaging effects of name calling, social isolation, financial minipulation, and all the other controlling behaviors of an emotional abuser. None is so intimately internalized and damaging as the experiences of having sex with him.
Making love is a time when two people lay bare their souls, express their love for one another and are quite possibly the most vulnerable they will ever be. I am certain I have 100% agreement with abused women there is not much love in our experience. No tender loving embrace, no romantic gestures, no sweet nothings whispered in your ear.
It is a demand. To the uninitiated one that might seem easy to ignore: just say no, don’t sleep with him. Realistically it is inevitable, sometimes forced. So we learn how to protect ourselves by burying any emotion and just being present physically. I developed an uncanny ability to detach during sex. In my mind I went other places. In healthy relationships sexual intimacy is a time to connect on a very deep level. It is counter intuitive to feel nothing – neither positive nor negative. Our reality is vulnerability becomes a liability to survival.
Sex for the abuser is yet another opportunity to exert more control under the guise of loving us. The continual breaking down of self worth does not suddenly cease in bed. I knew any expression, gesture, emotion, even interest would be made ugly and used as a weapon outside the bedroom. I was not free to express myself safely, and learned to not express myself at all.
As my rediscovered friend tells it “another thing that comes from loveless sex is beginning to believe that all I was worth, indeed, all I deserved was to be ‘put upon’. To be made fun of, to be called names, to be degraded…I thought that was all I deserved. The name calling started to ring in my head.”
It is easy to see why a lot of women may remain so scarred they will never take the chance again. It is very risky but I am a dreamer and quite certain that love does cure all. Not the kind of distorted control I knew. Real love. Kindness, affection, respect. I live in hope that given the right teacher I can learn to trust again, allow myself the innocence of vulnerability, to let myself be loved.
“Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this.”
Lamentations 3:21 (NLT)