The Sexual Abuse We Don’t Discuss
I’ve finally been able to admit it: I am a sexual abuse survivor.
But, it wasn’t a parent or adult who violated me in my childhood years. It was my husband, and I was a 25-year old adult woman. But this wasn’t physical abuse. He never beat me, put fear of death – or survival – into me with his fists or other implements. I just didn’t see the abuse for what it was until I was very thoroughly broken.
How did I miss it? Well, he it’s not like he wore a sign. He wasn’t the devil. He’d crawl on his hands and knees through molten glass to get to me or the kids if we needed him. He’s a man who would sell his last drop of blood if it meant giving his family another month of utilities—all without complaint. Back in the lean days, I discovered he was starving himself when a single box of macaroni and cheese had to serve as a whole meal for two adults and two kids.
In the beginning, sex between us was equal: I got mine and then he got his. I knew he had issues with women; his childhood and previous relationships were all abusive and at times, his attitude screamed “woman hater” but I didn’t believe it was targeted towards me. After all, I hadn’t done anything.
I’m not sure when the big trouble started because things changed only slightly in the beginning and seemingly for the better–the occasional request to wear lingerie for him; more frequent requests for blowjobs and discovering that him entering me from behind provided us both with a better experience.
But gradually, over a number of years, those things stopped being occasional, and became necessary for him to perform. I had to be wearing lingerie, or he would go flaccid. He said the naked body just didn’t do anything for him. When I would point out that this was a fairly recent problem, he just shrugged. I had to spend a large amount of time fellating him, or he couldn’t get an erection at all. I had to be facing away from him or he’d lose steam. But, he liked that position best; the others didn’t do it for him, he said. I remember giving him a 45-minute blowjob that resulted in him rolling me over onto my stomach, entering me and lasting for 90 seconds before he came. He apologized profusely, admitted he was being selfish, and verbally beat himself up, turning the evening into a major downer before weakly offering me a handjob. He was actually surprised when I declined.
Pleasure for me was found in two areas: either self-service, or accidental. It amazed me how he could prefer to have me lying on my stomach while he knelt straddling my legs when that position seemed so uncomfortable for him. It never failed that as I began to approach orgasm and told him so, he would conveniently need to shift his weight off one knee, his foot that he’d propped against the floor would slip, or he’d suddenly get a hip cramp. Radically altering his position, angle and speed was just enough to ruin my approaching orgasm. But, if I didn’t tell him I was getting close, I had a chance at it.
If I confronted him, it would cause a period of erectile dysfunction that would last until I was willing to “try” anything to make it better. I didn’t know men had that much control, but apparently he did. I just knew that our sex had to be mindblowing for him to get and maintain an erection long enough to orgasm, and even that worked so rarely I didn’t see it for the manipulation it was.
Eventually my self-esteem plummeted.
My naked body caused my husband to lose his erection. Sex had to be all on me; if he became distracted even slightly from the sensations I was providing, he’d lose his erection. An impatient driver honking his horn a block away would cause his erection to wilt and it was my responsibility to get it back to life. I had to escalate the roleplaying in order to keep him from getting bored. This ordeal was causing more and more psychological damage as time went on. I couldn’t bear even to look at myself in the mirror or allow him to see me if I weren’t completely covered up.
The thing is, outside the bedroom, he was as sweet, generous, kind, caring and loving as a man could be. But take off his pants, and he became a selfish monster. That’s why it was so hard to see it; who expects a woman-hating abuser to only act out in the bedroom? I wish I could say I was suspicious that he was manipulating me with these ED episodes. But I wasn’t. I just thought he was getting older and we’d work around his limitations.
Sex wasn’t between us, at all. It was me dressing up, putting on makeup and stiletto heels and performing pleasurable acts on him. He never touched me, spoke beyond issuing demands, or even looked at me because doing those things would make him lose his erection.
Then one night, everything exploded.
We were having sex in the usual position, and I was close to orgasm. I told him and he instantly, wordlessly, changed his position, angle, and speed of his thrusts. I assumed he hadn’t heard me, and when I realized I was close a second time (which almost never happened), I told him again, making sure to speak loudly enough to be heard. He immediately changed position. At that moment I knew – he was doing it deliberately. I was stunned. He knew what meeting his needs had done to my self-image and cost me sexually. He knew how much damage he was causing and I truly believed he felt as horribly guilty as he said he did. But then to learn he was purposefully stealing the one thing I had left, the one thing he hadn’t demanded I give up–the incredibly rare and accidental orgasm? That was the end of the line.
The problem is, by then, I was nothing but monster bait.
I couldn’t imagine attracting a normal, healthy man. I had too much baggage. I didn’t trust myself to spot a monster before it was too late. I’d spent too many years living with (and making excuses for) one without seeing it. It took two years of therapy to get to the point where I could see the possibility of trusting anyone, including myself, again. Nobody could help me; they all thought I was crazy for leaving such a wonderful husband who loved me so much. I spent more time defending my decision than I did healing for the first year.
And then I stopped defending myself and started learning.
Here’s what I now know:
If your partner makes you feel ugly, disgusting, or revolting, they are abusing you.
If they make you feel like they’re doing you a favor by touching you, they are abusing you.
If they suddenly have so many “needs” that the only way to satisfy them is to give up your own needs being met, they are abusing you.
No matter how wonderful they are outside the bedroom, even if they don’t hit you or make your skin bleed; if they make your soul bleed, they are abusing you.
Please, get out and don’t worry what anyone thinks.
After two years of therapy, I can finally see that I have something of value to a partner. More importantly, I can see that a partner might have something of value to offer me. It’s good to be generous with yourself, but first you have to be generous to yourself.