To write this post I’m going to have to be blunt. More blunt than I ever have; it doesn’t work to write in vague words or suggestions. My brain is telling me this is a thing that shouldn’t be public, this is too personal, too graphic; societal standards of decency would say to keep this quiet. But I am a survivor, and I’ve fucking earned the right to talk about what happened to me. This is potentially more triggering than normal.
I think the thing that might be the most damaging about our beliefs in childhood innocence is that we survivors of child sexual abuse grow up knowing intimately what sex does to a child’s body and how a child’s body responds to it, and yet nobody talks about it and nobody thinks it’s real. We grow up thinking we are the freaks, we are the sick and twisted ones, who have horrible, monstrous bodies capable of feeling and reacting to sex in a way no other child does, because everything and everyone has taught us that children’s bodies are inherently non-sexual. That children’s bodies have no nerve endings or arousal; there is this cultural understanding and implicit teaching that before puberty our genitals are just like our hands or feet for all their capability of sexual pleasure. If other survivors think like I thought, we believe that the “good” abused children are ones who feel nothing but pain when they are being abused. And think that the abuse is tied specifically too our feelings; that somehow our abuser knew we had these terrible impure sexual feelings and capabilities inside of us. Sometimes I believe my father was punishing me for those feelings, trying to “fix” them out of me.
I wrote this in a post before, but one of the defining reasons I didn’t believe that my memories of my father abusing me were true were because the truth of them hinged on remembering , even possibly blurring into body memories, orgasm. But no kid is capable of that, right? That’s what I told myself. That’s what I believed, and it was doing active research to prove its impossibility that I found out otherwise. I can’t imagine that I am alone in this, and yet even sharing this is sometimes met with people saying, “oh but I don’t think children are capable of that.”
And what that does to me is make me think, “maybe others aren’t, but I was.” And despite those who say they wouldn’t disbelieve survivors, there is still this implicit idea that the “experts” know more about our bodies we who lived through it ever would. If I describe what I felt, I’m the one in the wrong for not understanding how these things work.
I grew up thinking that there was something too sexual about me. I didn’t have those words, but I knew that feeling. If other kids were naturally pure and incapable of sexual feelings, what did that make me? A freak. Someone who was evil and disgusting, where other children – even those who were sexually abused as well – were pure and innocent.
Even the child-fied “it feels good” sometimes acknowledgment of children’s experiences don’t really cover it.
Here’s my secret: I got off on pain. Or rather, my father knew just how to hurt me so my body would still respond in just that way. I promised to be blunt, but I can’t say some of the things he did right now. Pain and pleasure and fear and arousal and power and orgasm are all mixed up and swirled together, the lines blurred, the feelings similar.
When I talk about my rape fantasies as a child – fantasies of knives and fingernails and blood, and well, torture – I don’t know if I’ve ever made it clear that these were my fantasies for pleasure. These were the things that made me feel aroused. In my earliest memories, I would wake up in the morning with an insatiable need to fantasize about these things and only once my arousal gave way to exhaustion could I even think of moving. I feel aroused when I read other survivors stories. I feel aroused when I talk about my own, and I wonder every single time do I like this? Or even more scary Did this really happen to me or am I just making it up because I get off on it?
Here’s another secret about me: I’m terrified of my body. I call it a secret only because I’ve never found the words to describe how many years of my life I have spent in suicidal panic over it, only because I still feel ashamed that I can’t get over this terror. It goes far beyond the abuse, far beyond anything that I can fit into a nice neat explanation of why. I can’t even talk about what I find so terrifying because to do that would require me to name the parts of myself I have to mentally avoid at all costs. My body is a horror story to me; the kind of grotesque revulsion and shock you’d feel seeing the scariest, most disgusting, and inhuman monster jump out in front of you, that’s what my body is to me.
I write that because it is that terror, and that terror alone, that has kept me from reenacting my fantasies and my memories on myself. Oh, how I’ve wanted to. When I was younger, and thinking that all of this was just invented by me, I thought that maybe god had given me this fear to ensure that I wouldn’t sin, since obviously my disgusting nature wanted it so badly. I wanted to so badly once when I was about six or seven, I started grabbing at my genitals, and it was only that terror that stopped me.
And even with those fears, I’ve found ways to do harmful things, ways to reenact fantasies and memories out on myself in recent years. Nothing that would cause damage (the terror of my body stops me from doing that), but certainly pain. Pain is familiar, and, to be blunt, pain or at least the idea, the fantasy, of pain, is the only thing that gets me off. And up until that moment, it’s pleasurable, relieving, cathartic, for whatever reason I’m somehow able to separate myself from anything that happened to me, even if I’m replaying fantasy or memory. Until that orgasm, when body memory and current feelings blur together, when all those feelings I felt as a child being forced to experience pain as pleasure come back and I spiral down into a triggered, regressed mess.
Writing this I feel those same feelings of arousal, and body memories of pain. I am not the “good” survivor who reacts purely with disgust and revulsion at my memories and flashbacks. There is also arousal, excitement, and anticipation. There always has been. The “games” my brother would play with me, I agreed to because I liked the feeling, even when it was painful. Maybe even especially when it was painful – the things my brother did were nothing compared to my father, by the time I was nine the pain my brother inflicted didn’t even cause me to flinch. It felt good. That’s why I said okay.
I’m writing this because I thought I was alone for the longest time. I told no one about my fantasies or the way rape and violence made my body respond. When I started talking about the sexual abuse, I never told anyone that it made me feel these complicated feelings of arousal and pleasure with the pain and the fear. I thought I was alone, I thought I was a freak, I thought that there was something strange and evil about my body that a child could have such sexual thoughts and feelings, that I as a teenager and then adult could not be “good” enough to not feel these kinds of things over my memories of sexual abuse. I kept my fantasies to myself for the longest time, I saw myself as dark and evil and sinful and inhuman that I obsessed and found pleasure over these things. I thought, and still sometimes think, that my father knew about his sexually deviant child and the sexual abuse was his way of punishing and correcting me for being so fucked up that I liked pain. I thought that I was an abuser, just as bad as my father and brother who hurt me, because I had these thoughts and desires.
But now I am less sure that I am alone, and more sure that this is one of those things that many survivors like me keep inside as their shameful secret, as their thing that they don’t talk about for fear of being discredited, or worse, the fear that we really are these sick and perverted people, that if we tell this, everyone will be able to say that we are just like the people who hurt us. I’m writing this because I still have my own shameful secrets that I never see survivors talk about, and I feel freakish and alone for them. I’m writing this because if someone could have told younger me that children’s bodies are normal for and capable of sexually responding to sexual abuse, that my feelings of arousal and my fantasies are a common aspect of being a survivor whose abuser inflicted both pain and pleasure, a common thing considering the power dynamics and emotional experience of sexual abuse, maybe I would have felt less terrified of myself and the inside of my head.
I’m writing to other survivors like me to say – I don’t know if I believe it myself yet, but you’re not evil and wrong and gross for these feelings. You have a body, you’ve always had a body, this is how bodies are. Even our bodies when we were children, even our bodies if our sexual abuse was painful or not, even if our sexual abusers used fear and power and control or if they used love and coercion and “doesn’t this feel good?” manipulation to get us to comply. Pleasure with sex is a thing that happens, whether we wanted it or not, whether we had a choice or not to consent. It’s the evil of others, our abusers (well, at the very least mine) who used our pleasure and orgasm to shame us into silence, a failure of a society that pretends away the sex that’s involved with sexual abuse, and ignores and disbelieves that a child’s body is capable of sexual responses in favor of “innocence.”
At the very least, you’re not alone.