It took me a really long time to identify as a survivor of sexual assault, mostly because it took me a really long time to understand that I had experienced sexual assault in my first marriage.
I knew that things were really bad between the two of us.
I knew that I often felt unsafe, that I often felt coerced, and that I often engaged in sexual activities that I didn’t really want to engage in, but I didn’t really understand that any of that constituted sexual assault until I started to learn about consent and hear the stories of other survivors.
I fell in love with the man who would become my first husband when I was only 13 years old. He was the tall, dark, and broody. He was an artist. He was mysterious, with an edge of danger. He had a tragic past that he only hinted at.
I was infatuated, and then I fell in love.
We loved each other in that way only high schoolers can love each other: with a passion so hot it scorches the souls of both of the people involved. Our relationship was chaos, a rollercoaster ride of manic highs when we loved each other so much that we couldn’t imagine being apart, and piteous lows when we couldn’t imagine how we could stay together when it hurt so much.
We fought all the time, but we always kissed and made up.
We always had each other’s backs, even when we shouldn’t have. We believed that we were destined. We convinced each other that no one else would ever love us the way we loved each other. And we clung to each other long after we should have let go.
When we had sex the first time, it was perfect, and I believed it sealed our fate.
I had given myself to him entirely; I was his and he was mine.
As our sexual relationship blossomed, I found that he had a kinky side, which I found overwhelmingly sexy. He introduced me to the world of BDSM and I loved it, at first.
But we were both unprepared for the sexual exploration we were engaged in. I wish I’d known something, anything, about consent. I wish I’d known how to use my voice. I wish I’d known how to say “no,” or “I don’t like that,” or “stop.”
I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to do everything he asked me to.
And I wish I’d known that even people who love us can sexually assault us.
As time went on, I became more and more uncomfortable with the things he was asking me to try in the bedroom. But I loved him so much, and I just wanted to make him happy, so I did them anyway. I pushed the discomfort down deep, which was made easier by the fact that I was drinking a lot and doing a lot of drugs.
There were times when I did voice my discomfort, but “changed my mind” after we fought over my objections. I didn’t know I was being coerced. I always told myself that I was in charge, that I really did want these things, that I really did want him. When we lie to ourselves in our own voices, we begin to believe our lies, and suddenly, there’s nothing wrong.
After a while, I stopped objecting at all.
I didn’t want to fight with him. It was easier to just go with it. So, I shut off my mind and while my body engaged in things I didn’t want.
In spite of our massively unhealthy sexual relationship, I still loved him immensely. We got married when I was 19 years old, and I truly believed I would be with him for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, we never confronted the fact that our relationship was severely toxic, inside and outside the bedroom.
Once we were married, things got even worse. We fought all the time, and he began to leverage BDSM as punishment for our conflicts. And I believed that I deserved to be punished. I believed that I deserved to be hurt.
So, I let him hurt me, in our marital bed.
I want to pause for a second to make it clear that I have nothing against the BDSM community, and that my experience is not an accurate portrayal of what goes on in the BDSM community. Responsible BDSM communities are centered around active, enthusiastic consent. My ex and I hadn’t really been taught anything about consent. We went on this sexual expedition without the knowledge necessary to do it safely or responsibly, and my mental and emotional health suffered greatly because of our lack of understanding.
Soon, our relationship completely fell apart, and we’re both accountable for that. We were both emotionally abusive. At times we were both physically abusive. We loved each other so much, but we couldn’t separate loving each other from hurting each other, and eventually, I left.
We divorced only a few years after we got married.
It took me a really long time to talk to anyone about what happened in our relationship. Luckily, I found some other survivors, who helped me process. They were the ones who helped me identify that I had been sexually assaulted by my ex-husband and that I was a survivor as well. I thought that because I didn’t say no I couldn’t have been assaulted, but they taught me that wasn’t true.
They taught me about active, enthusiastic consent, and they taught me how to use my voice, so I’d never have to do anything I didn’t want to do again. They taught me that consent is more than saying “no.” They taught me that my consent was taken from me through coercion and that my consent was compromised because I believed that I had to do these things for the man who loved me.
So many women out there don’t know that they are being sexually assaulted by the people that love them because they don’t understand what it means to truly consent to a sexual encounter. They think that if they don’t say no, they’re agreeing to whatever happens to them, which makes it their fault.
This isn’t true.
I know, because I had to learn it the hard way, through processing my own sexual assault.
I hope that one day we live in a world where every woman and girl understands that her consent is required for every sexual encounter and that every man and boy asks for consent. I hope that one day we won’t have to live in a world where women don’t know that they are survivors of sexual assault.
Unfortunately, we’re a long way away from that world.