[Trigger warning: sexual assault, brief mention of CSA and incest]
In my research on sexual assault, I came across a concept that I recognized.
The first friend I told in person about what happened between me and M (we’ll call her Leila) stopped me, and asked me tentatively, “Have you ever been sexually abused?”
I said no. It had been less than a month since it happened, and I did not recognize any of what he had done as abusive. I was taking full blame for everything. And I was used to being asked that question by people who don’t accept asexuality as an option; coming from Leila, who had been totally accepting of it up until now, the question was confusing.
“Oh… I ask because I was.” She didn’t tell me exactly what happened, and I didn’t press her to explain any more than she wanted to. I gleaned that it was most likely child sexual abuse, done to her by one of her relatives, whom she said she’d forgiven.
Thinking back on it now, her behavior makes a little more sense. Leila always told stories about how crazy she was in high school. How promiscuous. How many drugs she did. How she ended up going to the alternative high school for bad kids, taking remedial classes, because she got in trouble at school so often. “I was such a fuck-up,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t deserve the family I have, they’ve put up with so much shit from me.” She had a bright, perpetually cheery disposition. She was—is still, I’m sure, though I haven’t talked to her in a long while—the kind of person who always chooses to look at the positive in everything. Outgoing, lovable, the life of the party. She was the one who could always be convinced to try the crazy stunts, whether or not there was a game of truth or dare in progress. She was a people-pleaser; she would do or say what the people around her wanted her to, even if it meant she was expressing two contradictory opinions at the same time. She talked about all the sex she had like it was totally awesome, and from what I gathered, she had a friend with benefits. I doubt she was anywhere near as promiscuous in college as she had been in high school, but she often told stories about her wild sexual escapades.
But she told me a secret that night. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “I don’t even like sex.”
I didn’t understand then why she would do it so often if she didn’t even like it, and pretend to everyone else that she did. But I realize now that it is common among survivors of sexual assault to become the party girl, the wild one, the one pretending to enjoy herself as her friends crack endless jokes about the size of her breasts and give pet names to her vagina. Some seek out men who will have violent sex with them as a way of reliving the trauma (as a way of expressing their grief), or punishing themselves. They do it not because they really want it, but because they feel it’s what they deserve. I think it should be distinguished from BDSM, just to keep things clear—it does not follow the standard of “safe, sane, and consensual” so while it might be constructed as kinky and fun, it’s actually a form of self-inflicted violence. (I put that in quotes, btw, because there is some discussion about whether it’s an appropriate motto and an alternative standard has been proposed, but according to either one, it would still not pass muster.)
I’m going to say that I doubt that it’s just survivors of sexual assault who tend to use sex as a form of self-injury, and that I suspect that asexuals may be a group more prone than others to do this. What with all the negativity and disbelief coming from society as a whole, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think that maybe some asexuals think that there is something deeply broken and wrong about themselves, and in a desperate search to make themselves feel what they think they’re supposed to feel, and a frustrated attempt to punish themselves for not feeling it, they lash out at themselves in this way. I think it’s also something that people have a very hard time recognizing as a form of self-injury, because it’s not technically something that a people physically do to themselves, but rather self-harm by proxy.
Although I have read some posts by asexuals that (in retrospect) make me suspect this might have been going on, I’ve never really seen it recognized within the asexual community as a form of self-injury and discussed in that light, so I thought I should post this, at least to maybe make others aware of the issue. Anyone who has experience with this is welcome to share their thoughts.
Personally, this is one issue that I hope that future studies of asexuality will address.
[Update: This post has gotten a lot of traffic lately, and I just want to direct any visitors who may be dealing with this issue to this post, which might help.]