'You are a coward.'
She muffled the words, as if they were meant to quietly humiliate me. It didn’t mean much. My emotions were on an outrageous rollercoaster-like fireworks exhibition in the middle of my mind. I didn’t have a name for what had just transpired. But a decade later, it came to me.
I was 20 years old. She called me that because I refused to orgasm inside her. The sex felt like a botched robbery attempt. Hasty, short, rough and cold.
She tried to make me do things. Like…
It’s hard to say.
I was 30 years old when it occurred to me that I’d been raped. That word, consent, can be fragile. Because what do you tell kids who were manipulated into sex and they were forced to do things they didn’t want to when their brains froze? It happened to many boys but they grow up with the silence eating them from inside.
And after that, I caught something that blazed my groins, later learning she had an STI. She was 5 years older.
The desperate loneliness of proving to myself that I was no coward led me into a rabbit hole four months later; caught in a cycle of buying cheap sex, experimentation with up to three women per night, on different schedules. I was hungry and down in the dumps, pretending to keep it together; yet I was spiraling out of control.
I spent a year at home as my parents sourced for my university fees. Those months were the continuation of a disturbingly reckless sex life, that rolled on for three long years. Until sex lost its lustre. It tasted bitter on my tongue. It felt dirty on my hands.
I woke up from that slumber at 24, when I fell in love. Even then my demons latched on devastatingly. I endured hideous mental raptures, lacking language to express what ghosts of depression haunted me, and where they took me, what they made me become.
I had my first therapy session at 30, after a suicide ideation episode. I felt something needed attention but it was beyond my explanation. The sessions tore me apart. I had to face the ugly torments to their daunting roots.
My therapist mentioned sexual trauma. It had a name. That thing had a name. The thing that wouldn’t let me rest had a name. In the culture I grew up in, sexual exploits earned you popularity and bravado. Nobody said unhealthy and risky sex is dangerous. Men mocked me saying I was too hard on myself when I shared these stories. They horrified me, but it sounded like banter to them. I was astonished. They were people I looked up to. It was utterly confusing.
Hypersexuality is a trauma response. It ceases being experimenting when you stop having safe sex, disregarding the risks you put you and your partner(s) through. The notion that having multiple sex partners for a man as a symbol of power, self and/or social acceptance is heavily misguiding.
The messaging around men’s domineering worldviews on sex comes at a cost for their health. Many of us battle childhood traumas resulting from violent upbringing and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that altered our brains. As renowned Dutch psychiatrist, Bassel van der Kolk, says, the body keeps the score. Unhealthy coping mechanisms could destroy us.
Our definitions of masculinity are dangerously knotted with risky sexual behaviour, childhood trauma and mental health in a treacherous tapestry. This is an enigma we must demystify, to live more peaceable, balanced, healthy, meaningful lives.