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How S&M Sex Helped Me Heal from My Rape

Author Jane Devin overcame fear to embrace an unlikely ally.

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In the months that followed, I found myself healing not only from my history of rape, but also years of child abuse, in some very unexpected ways. Mentally and emotionally, I was rewiring old thoughts and fears, some of which I’d never verbalized:

  • If given any power, men will cause great suffering.
  • I cannot trust people. Trust will lead to pain.
  • If I let someone in too deeply, they will hurt me.
  • If I am vulnerable, I will be victimized.
  • My sex is a curse.
  • My body is a curse.
  • I must always be vigilant and on-guard.

The physical aspects of a BDSM relationship offered a tangibility that talk therapy could not. Instead of mere thought or theory—instead of struggling to change hardwired perceptions on a purely mental scale—my relationship with Michael was giving me actual, incontrovertible proof that I could trust someone emotionally and physically. Unlike a vanilla relationship, BDSM consistently challenges limits and pushes boundaries. Every “session” with Michael was another test, another experiment in which trust might either fail or hold. That it not only held, but grew exponentially, was healing in every single way. Sexually, I’d never felt more powerful. The shedding of shame and fear allowed me to let go and really feel my body’s pleasure without the restraint of self-consciousness or the need to be in control. I became more aware of my body’s responses, and less concerned with how I might look or how someone else might perceive me. All those things that might otherwise hide in a person’s bedroom—including socially learned lessons about what’s normal and what’s not; purity and deviance; sluts and shame; right and wrong—went flying out the window. There was only me and Michael, our bodies and imaginations, and a world of trust.

Trust is the sexiest thing one can bring to the bedroom. It far eclipses any of the usual accoutrements. Whatever else might turn someone on is secondary to this life-affirming, sex-positive element. For those who have been victims, the relearning of trust can be difficult, especially when social judgments are internalized and carry over, even subconsciously, into the realm of sexuality. As a survivor and feminist, I remember questioning whether it was even okay for me to enjoy sex at all—if my enjoyment of sex, non-violently and consensually, somehow made me complicit in my own victimization, or if it made me a passive contributor to the rape culture. I understand how absurd those questions seem now, but they—and a thousand painstaking others—were part of my recovery.

♦◊♦

When my relationship with Michael ended, I didn’t feel a need to carry BDSM into my relationships with other people (although certainly some aspects still come into play). I felt healed in ways that I don’t think any other type of relationship could have offered me. BDSM allowed me to break down great, big walls and trust another person, a man no less, on an almost supernatural level. The fear I had built around all men, not just my rapists, dissipated. I no longer viewed the entire sex of men as a dangerous entity. Moreover, the sexual identity that had been thwarted by childhood rape became clear: I was gay, and felt freer to be gay than ever before. I no longer cared so much about the possible judgments or recriminations of others. The partitions were no longer divided along black and white lines of what was socially acceptable and what was not. I felt like I had fought a long and noble battle for my sexual freedom and had won. I was no longer willing to make concessions for the scars inflicted by rapists, or to be bound by any convention that was not in my own best interests.

 
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