Trigger warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assualt.
“Did he penetrate you without your consent?” my psychologist asked. “Because that’s rape.”
I had just described my weekend to him. I had a weird hook-up, I said. I explained that I had sex with a friend of mine—a beautiful, curly-haired boy with long eyelashes and a gentle demeanor. But after I fell asleep, I woke up to the feeling of his penis inside me.
My psychologist looked at me with concern. I shook my head. “I wasn’t raped. I’ve been raped before. If that was rape I’d feel traumatized, and I don’t,” I said.
You’re wrong, said a voice inside me. I knew what rape was: I was sexually assaulted when I was younger, and I’d been doing anti-rape activism and writing for years. I knew my psychologist was right. You’re a hypocrite, the voice continued.
But admitting that I was raped meant I’d have to go back to square one and start healing again. I didn’t want to do that.
As soon as I got up and left my rapist’s bed, he realized what he had done. “I’m so sorry,” he said, as realization crept into the lines across his forehead. “Sian, I’m so sorry.”
It was the beginning of what would be months of apologies. He texted me an hour later to apologize, and an hour after that to tell me he’d stop texting me if that’s what I wanted. I didn’t respond.
Later that week, he texted that he needed to see me. “I need to know how to fix things,” the text read.
I allowed him to come to my residence to speak to me. While I waited for him to arrive, I frantically Googled “what to do if your rapist apologizes.” No good results turned up; I was completely without a blueprint on how to act and feel.
I frantically Googled ‘what to do if your rapist apologizes.’ No good results turned up.
He sat at my desk in my dorm room and started crying. He apologized to me profusely, and he told me he’d never do it again. He knew what he did wrong. He didn’t mean to hurt me. What more could I ask for? I thought.
As he tearily begged for forgiveness, my heart broke. None of my other rapists had ever asked for forgiveness. This means he’s different, right? This means it’s OK.
I hugged him to comfort him. That hug became a kiss. We ended up having sex for the next six hours.
It wasn’t that bad, I told myself as his face disappeared between my thighs. If it was that bad, I wouldn’t be able to sleep with him now.
I closed my eyes and found myself halfway between pleasure and confusion. I always thought of orgasms like a hurricane, with all my nerves twisting and turning and rising up out of my body. This time, I found myself in the eye of the storm, calm and numb, while my body twisted and turned around me.
When I was 12 years old, I was raped. Like many others, I self-harmed to deal with the trauma. I was self-destructive. I was full of anger and self-loathing. I cut into my thighs, took painfully hot showers, and scratched my skin open.
This time around, I thought I was doing well because I wasn’t doing those things. Looking back, I realize that choosing to sleep with my rapist was a part of another self-destructive pattern.
We’re taught that rapists are monsters.
Maybe this is why I didn’t expect to feel human feelings for my rapist. In some ways, those feelings were a form of denial. When I scrubbed away my memories of the assault, what remained was the attraction I felt toward him before.
The month that followed, I was all over him, my hands running through his corkscrew curls. I could’ve nearly told him I loved him. We were tangled and sweaty. The way he looked at me made me feel like I was worthy of everyone’s love, including my own.
I constantly thought to myself: What if I could relive the first night? If I went back in time and consented, it would have been a great story instead of a tragedy. Every time I said yes, I was trying to consent retroactively. For me, sleeping with him was the ultimate denial that he ever raped me.
A few weeks after our last sexual encounter, he started dating someone.
Sleeping with him was the ultimate denial that he ever raped me.
There was a part of me that felt rejected. Another part of me felt relieved—I didn’t have to sleep with him anymore. Our fling had ended without any pain or grand gestures. The relationship had disintegrated and disappeared from memory as if it never happened.
I wish the assault would do the same.
Every single person experiences rape differently. Some of us hate our rapists and some of us can’t. Sometimes people sleep with their rapists. Sometimes we date them. Sometimes we even marry them.
We seek healing in myriad ways. We don’t always find it, but we always, always deserve it.
We deserve it even when we try to heal by hurting ourselves, and no matter what kind of hurt it is. Self-harm can be in the form of cuts on your thighs or orgasms on your rapist’s futon.
You can’t consent in hindsight, and no amount of sex—consensual, amazing, mind-blowing sex—you have with your rapist will erase your sexual assault. You could carve the letters Y-E-S into their back a billion times; it won’t make you forget that you once didn’t get a chance to say yes.
Writer Nayyirah Waheed once wrote, “Apologize to your body. Maybe that’s where healing begins.” I try to apologize to myself for willingly entering such a confusing and harmful situation. Maybe one day I’ll stop apologizing and begin healing again.