As far back as I can remember, I have always been shy. At school or college, I was never too open or outspoken in my social life, and I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 19. The relationship didn’t last too long, and when Alex and I broke up, it was partly because of my shyness. Most of the fights would arise because I didn’t want to go to parties and dinners with his friends.
But none of this prepared me for the new phase of shyness I was to enter after the relationship ended.
I couldn’t face sex
Little by little, I became even less sociable. I lost interest in dressing up for special occasions, and hardly bothered to iron my clothes or do my hair anymore. It wasn’t until two years had passed that I started another relationship, and that didn’t last long either. But this time the bone of contention was something unexpected and baffling as much to the guy as to myself. It was my stubborn refusal to get physical. I just couldn’t bring myself to be sexually intimate with him.
This came as a surprise to me, because it had never been an issue in my relationship with Alex. But the problem didn’t go away. It was the same with the next guy I dated, Victor. Every time we were about to get physical, somehow I just couldn’t handle it, and I would find myself coming up with some flimsy excuse. But Victor was different in the way he reacted to my discomfort. He was more patient and understanding in the way he dealt with the situation.
Uncovering the reason
One day I was staying over at his place watching a movie, when suddenly he hit the pause button and said, 'we need to talk.'
It was the first time someone brought up my newly-developed discomfort with physical intimacy openly. I ended up in a puddle of tears, but I couldn’t thank him enough for beginning that conversation. It was only then that I even consciously acknowledged the problem – and tried to find the reasons for it.
Somewhere at the back of my mind I already knew. But could it really be the only reason? I hadn’t put two and two together.
It was this. A terrible incident in my life soon after I graduated from college. I was going home from work one evening, when out of nowhere, a man started to grope me. He manhandled me, molested me, his hands all over me.
Thankfully help arrived just a few minutes later in the form of a couple passing by. They helped attract attention to the scene and soon the molester made a run for his life for fear of being lynched by the mob that had begun to assemble.
Some of the people were kind enough to escort me home. It was following their advice and my own instinct that I didn’t really talk about this incident much with anybody, especially not with my family. And I don’t remember really thinking about it after a month or so had passed. I persuaded myself that it wasn’t important.
Re-owning my body
Thanks to that conversation I had with Victor, my image of the entire incident changed. I stopped trying to suppress the memory of it, and realized it was the real reason for the changes in my behaviour.
Victor encouraged me to join online clubs for victims of molestation and sexual harassment.
Talking to others who had been through similar experiences helped me understand how that sexual assault was shaping my body image.
I began to realize that I had started neglecting and disowning my own body. I felt like my body was dirty and defiled.
Victor also suggested I should started seeing a counsellor. The sessions taught me how beneath the layer of conscious thoughts, my mind had formed its own response to the traumatic event, affecting me more deeply than I had realised. But gradually I started to regain my confidence and sense of ownership of my body.
I’m so grateful for meeting Victor, who was a catalyst for change and a guiding force through the process or recovery. Little by little, I was able to open up again to the joy and warmth of physical intimacy with him.
Spreading the word
Today, I try to do my bit to spread awareness about the importance of speaking out and discussing such incidents among young people, however I can. More power to conversation! More power to hope and healing!
The names of the people in this article have been changed to protect their privacy. The people in the photo are not those who feature in the article.
Have you suffered sexual assault or another kind of sexual abuse? Like Andrea says, conversation can start the healing process. Please don’t hesitate to seek help from our forum.