I was raped about a year ago, as a virgin, at age 20. At 21, I still have yet to have consensual sex. At first, I was very affected by the rape, but a year later, I just want to put it behind me and have a normal sex life. I wast a virgin not for religious or moral reasons, but simply because I had not yet had a serious relationship. I really want to start having sex; I have a high libido and feel that I am missing out on something great, but I have been hesitant to get intimate with guys, because I’m afraid I will scare them away if I tell them I was raped and that I’ve never had consensual sex (this has happened before).
I have recently started dating around, but I’m having anxiety because I know in adult relationships, sex happens quickly, and I don’t think I could have sex with a guy before we’re exclusive and especially without him understanding my situation. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but more often than not, a man and a woman will have sex during the ‘dating’ phase before they decide to become exclusive, right?) Ideally, I would like to wait to have sex until I’m in a relationship, but I feel like I will have to explain the rape to justify my wanting to wait. In addition, while I don’t feel “traumatized” by my rape, I am still affected by it to some degree and would need a guy to be sensitive to that. So, at what point in dating a guy (in his late 20s) would it be appropriate for me to tell him about my rape? How can I manage to keep things at my pace until that point? And how can I present my situation as not to overwhelm him but still be honest about the extent to which it still affects me? — Survivor
First of all, I’m very sorry to hear about your rape, and I will tell you the same thing I told another rape survivor who wrote to me last year with a similar question: if you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you speak to a therapist, preferably one who specializes in rape counseling. Much more than I can help you in a short column, a counselor can help you deal with any lingering feelings of anger, sadness, rage and fear. Even if you don’t feel “traumatized” by your experience, these are issues and feelings that you may have buried and haven’t let yourself feel yet. Even if you have, counseling will certainly help you process them in a way that allows to you move on and have “happy, healthy relationships not only with men, but with yourself and the world around you.” Before you entrust your story with a potential boyfriend, it’s really important that you allow a trained professional help you decide how and with whom to share your story.
What I wrote in my column last year can be applied to you now: “A qualified counselor can give you the tools you need for sharing your news with potential mates and dealing with their reactions. For the record, I do think the news should be shared with someone you plan to have a committed relationship with, but you need to learn when and how to share the news, first. In the meantime, I assume you’ve shared the story of your rape with your parents and close friends you trust, but if you haven’t, begin there. Start with people who have known you a long time and whose support and encouragement you can trust. While they may not have the professional tools a counselor has, they can complement the work you’ll be doing in therapy and support you on your road to healing.”
Now, while a counselor can give you tools that help you share story with potential boyfriends, it’s up to you to decide when and with whom to share it. I cannot stress this enough: sex or the desire to have sex is not a good enough reason to share your personal story with someone. In fact, both the decision to have sex and to share your story should only be made when you really trust someone. Just because some people have casual sex does not mean that everyone has casual sex or that you have to to secure a boyfriend. I’d give this advice to you whether you’d been raped or not: any guy who pressures you into having sex before you’re ready is not worth one second of your time. End of story. It doesn’t matter if it takes you months before you’re ready. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t ready until marriage. A man who respects you and is invested in having a relationship with you will wait if that’s your wish. That’s how you’ll know you can trust him. I’d also suggest that at 21, you widen your dating net and include guys who are closer to your age rather than just those in their “late 20s.” Not only does casting a wider net yield a bigger pool of men to choose from, younger, more sexually inexperienced guys may be more inclined to wait for sex, too.
Now, in case I haven’t made it clear enough: you do not owe any guy any explanation for waiting for sex other than you aren’t ready yet. That’s it. He doesn’t need to know that you were raped. He doesn’t need to know that you’ve never had consensual sex. He doesn’t even need to know how long it’s going to take before you are ready. All he needs to know is that you aren’t ready now. If he can’t respect that, he isn’t worth your time. Eventually, as you begin to trust him more, you’ll want to share these private parts — um, literally and figuratively — with him. And, again, a professional counselor can help you determine when and how the best way to do that might be. I hope this goes without saying, but when you decide you’re ready for sex, make sure you are both tested first and use protection!
Finally, the rape survivor who wrote to me last year wrote an update several months after reading my advice. Sharing her story with me and reading supportive reader comments helped her to open up with people in her life. She even contributed her story for a series on sexual assault in her college newspaper. Doing so, she said, helped her heal and to put her rape behind her. I hope in sharing your story — even just with us — you begin reaching a similar sense of closure and healing.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.