Roe McDer­mott

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE - Roe McDer­mott is a writer and Ful­bright scholar with an MA in sex­u­al­ity stud­ies from San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity. She’s cur­rently un­der­tak­ing a PhD in gen­dered and sex­ual ci­ti­zen­ship at the Open Univer­sity and Ox­ford ASK ROE ROE McDER­MOTT

Dear Roe,

I was sex­u­ally as­saulted four years ago, and af­ter­wards didn’t have sex for about a year. These days, I’m do­ing a lot bet­ter emo­tion­ally.

How­ever, com­pared to my friends I have a lot more ca­sual sex than they do. I didn’t think any­thing of it un­til one of them asked was it a side- ef­fect of be­ing as­saulted. Now I’m wor­ried that my as­sault may have messed up my idea of sex, and that my sex­ual in­ter­ac­tions are be­ing af­fected by that.

I don’t know if I can trust my judg­ment when it comes to sex, and feel very con­fused. Sex­u­al­ity is a glo­ri­ous, com­pli­cated, mul­ti­fac­eted thing – for ev­ery­body. What­ever way your sex­u­al­ity man­i­fests and un­furls and evolves, it will be about so much more than your as­sault. Be­cause you are not de­fined by that.

Lots of peo­ple have things in their life that make their ex­pe­ri­ence of sex­u­al­ity con­fus­ing, and many peo­ple have sex with­out ex­am­in­ing or fully un­der­stand­ing their mo­ti­va­tions. But due to your as­sault, you and other peo­ple are more likely to pay at­ten­tion to your sex­ual be­hav­iour, and seek out ev­i­dence of dys­func­tion. The trope of sex­ual abuse sur­vivors be­ing hy­per­sex­ual can of­ten be a form of vic­tim- blam­ing, and ig­nores that lots of peo­ple en­joy fre­quent ca­sual sex, for myr­iad rea­sons.

For some sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence, ca­sual sex can of­fer a way of hav­ing con­sen­sual ex­pe­ri­ences that are in their con­trol, and thus dif­fer­ent from their as­sault. And that can be okay. Many peo­ple, not just sur­vivors, find ca­sual sex em­pow­er­ing, par­tic­u­larly if they, for what­ever rea­son, have pre­vi­ously felt dis­con­nected from their body or sex­u­al­ity. And as long as you are re­spect­ful of your part­ner and they’re also en­joy­ing them­selves, hav­ing ca­sual sex to re­con­nect with your­self and your sex­u­al­ity is no less valid a rea­son than any other.

Es­sen­tially, what makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween sex that is em­pow­er­ing, and sex that neg­a­tively af­fects your sense of well­be­ing, are your mo­ti­va­tions and how it makes you feel. Be hon­est about the rea­sons you’re hav­ing ca­sual sex, and look out for any red flags. Are you do­ing it be­cause it’s the only way you can feel val­ued? Are you us­ing sex to avoid emo­tional in­ti­macy? Are you hav­ing sex with peo­ple who make you feel un­safe or dis­re­spected, or don’t pri­ori­tise your plea­sure? Are you emo­tion­ally hurt­ing or dis­re­spect­ing your part­ners?

And, im­por­tantly: are you en­joy­ing the in­ter­ac­tions you’re hav­ing?

If you are en­joy­ing your sex life and are only con­cerned be­cause you’re more ac­tive than your friends, stop wor­ry­ing. Com­par­ing num­bers of sex­ual part­ners only re­sults in judg­ment and re­veals noth­ing about a per­son’s re­la­tion­ship with the act it­self. As you have ex­pe­ri­enced, many peo­ple who have trou­bled, com­pli­cated or un­healthy relationships with sex of­ten avoid it. Oth­ers may ex­pe­ri­ence neg­a­tive feel­ings to­wards sex within the con­fines of a com­mit­ted, monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ship. And so num­bers mean noth­ing.

We just un­for­tu­nately live in a so­ci­ety where women are judged if their num­ber is deemed to be “too high”. That’s so­ci­ety’s dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship with sex – not yours.

How­ever, if you do think that the ca­sual sex you are hav­ing may be im­pact­ing you neg­a­tively, I’d en­cour­age you to step back from part­nered sex for now, and ex­plore your sex­u­al­ity and self- es­teem on your own. I’m not sug­gest­ing this be­cause ca­sual sex is a prob­lem, but be­cause it’s of­ten harder to ex­am­ine a be­hav­iour while still en­gag­ing in it. Of­ten, we don’t re­alise our re­liance on ac­tiv­i­ties, sub­stances or cop­ing mech­a­nisms un­til we try to do with­out them. Tak­ing a break may al­low you to think about what it’s bring­ing to your life and whether it’s some­thing you want and en­joy, or if it has turned into some­thing you de­pend on, even though it might not be good for you right now.

I would also en­cour­age you to talk to a ther­a­pist. Again, not be­cause I think you hav­ing sex is in­her­ently a prob­lem that needs to be solved, but be­cause sur­viv­ing sex­ual as­sault is huge, and it could be help­ful to talk about it. A good ther­a­pist can also help you tease out ques­tions like this about your re­la­tion­ship with your sex­u­al­ity, as that re­la­tion­ship evolves.

Ther­apy can be in­valu­able for help­ing peo­ple nav­i­gate trauma and its af­ter­math, but it isn’t just about that. It’s also about men­tal health main­te­nance; help­ing peo­ple be­come aware of the pat­terns and dy­nam­ics in their lives, and de­vel­op­ing and main­tain­ing healthy cop­ing mech­a­nisms and relationships – with oth­ers and your­self. You say you have doubts about your judg­ment, and these could come from some un­re­solved feel­ings or it could just be you re­spond­ing to the judg­ment of your friends. Ei­ther way, speak­ing with a ther­a­pist and work­ing on re­gain­ing that trust in your­self seems like a great place to start.

You’ve been through and sur­vived sex­ual as­sault; you now de­serve to feel sup­ported and safe and happy. And if, upon re­flec­tion, you de­cide that the sex you’re cur­rently hav­ing is fun and em­pow­er­ing, my best ad­vice is to just keep en­joy­ing your­self. You have sur­vived. Now you get to thrive.

If you have a prob­lem or query you would like her to an­swer, you can sub­mit it anony­mously at irish­times. com/ dear­roe

su‘ r‘ The trope of sex­ual abuse vivors be­ing hy­per­sex­ual can of­ten be a form of vic­tim- blam­ing, and ig­nores that lots of peo­ple en­joy fre­quent ca­sual sex for myr­iad rea­sons

Are you us­ing sex to avoid emo­tional in­ti­macy? PHO­TO­GRAPH: WESTEND61/ GETTY IM­AGES

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