Written by Amanda Tayte-Tait
TW: Rape & Sex After Sexual Trauma
“There is nothing worse than an action that taints your life the way rape does. Always in the back of your mind, the root of self-doubt, self-hate, self-pity, anger, fear, panic and even when you feel you are rising from it, something triggers a memory and you are thrown back in hell.” –At What Age Does My Body Belong To Me.
Our minds may forget, but our bodies do not and nothing prepared me for the different ways in which rape would forever taint my relationship with sex.
The last time I was triggered during sex was about two years ago. It hit me like a surprise. This was with the same person I had been with for more than a year but yet when it hit, I felt pain. I didn’t expect it and my body just froze. I couldn’t speak and for that moment it felt like I was right back in that situation. I started crying uncontrollably as he held me and for a while, I didn’t know what to say or what to do because I was worried about how he would react instead of how I was feeling.
This was my relationship with sex for a very long time. I was always worried and often spent the whole time frozen in my head, worried about whether the other person was getting pleasure because I never felt like pleasure was something that I deserved.
Sex, in my head, was something reserved for the pleasure of men.
Sex and Purity Culture
Purity culture taught me that rape was my fault and even when it wasn’t, I was damaged because of it. There was no running away from the shame that was discussing the reason I was not a virgin. The shock, the awe and the instant shifts in people’s voices like they could see the rape written all over my face.
‘Losing’ my virginity was never a decision I had the pleasure of making. That decision was taken away from me, not just once, but twice. That didn’t stop the fact that I wasn’t a virgin from following me around like a dark cloud for the first half of my life. Purity culture simply stated that I was worth less and would not be chosen for marriage. I shared this traumatic experience with an ex and he reinforced my biggest fears. He convinced me that his rape was out of love, using words often echoed by the media, my culture, my religion and even my family.
For a long time, I walked around with this shame. It took a one-night stand to finally give me the courage to walk away. This stranger not only asked me for permission, but he waited to hear me say yes. I was 15 and hookup culture was just starting. In my head, I thought that maybe if I said yes then I would never get hurt. Sexual liberation in the media looked like women who weren’t afraid to have sex. Women who could also have multiple partners. This is what I thought my ticket to freedom would be but it wasn’t.
The Sexual Liberation Movement
The sexual liberation movement made me feel comfortable with my inability to say no instead of coming face to face with the idea that I was looking for love in all of the wrong places.
After meeting men who were brazen enough to declare that, ‘my body was born to fuck’, I felt like the only true way to escape was by taking back the power. I wanted to be the one in control, to never be in a place where I could be hurt again, but most of all I just wanted someone, anyone, to love me for more than just my body.
What I didn’t know was how.
After having that one-night stand, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like a victim. The eyes I received from people turned from shame and pity, to contempt; sometimes judgement, but oftentimes envy. The more I began to have sex, the more questions about sex I received. And the more people told me I was lucky to be so free and cool to be so sex-positive.
Sex positivity was all the rage.
I was stuck in this world where I wore what I wanted and could have sex with who I wanted but inside, I felt as empty as ever. I said I loved sex so loudly and so often that for a long time I wasn’t even sure whether it was the world I was trying to convince or if it was all a crippling self-delusion. After different encounters, I would find myself crying in shame whilst trying to hide the pain. What was meant to be something pleasurable became this tool to punish me in the way the world told me I deserved to be punished.
I wanted to belong to a community and here is where I thought my home could be. Purity culture had swallowed and spit me out but the sexual liberation movement was damaging me in new ways that I didn’t even think were possible.
In truth, I was just as afraid of being labelled, ‘pure’ as I was of being labelled a ‘whore.’
In this YouTube comment, WendyGB says it best – “Lately, I have been thinking about how men have been sexually liberated for much longer than women, but this liberation has never been about exploiting or exposing their bodies. So why is this, in particular, the centre of the women’s liberation movement? Not only are the men the ones being more financially benefited in these industries but they are also the main consumer. At times, it feels like women as a community decided that if our bodies are going to be exploited anyway, we might as well gain something out of this. I don’t know how you all feel, but this doesn’t feel empowering to me. As much as this benefits women it feels like it benefits other people much more. I guess that is okay, but also, how fucking convenient.”
The so-called power I felt was being given to me came at a cost. None of the media I was consuming were giving me a way out that didn’t make me feel like all that I was, was my body and my worth was determined by how little or how much sex I was having. No matter which side you were coming from, whether it was that sex was important and women needed to be pure or that sex was just fun and women should be having sex as much and as often as men, why did this have to be the only way?
It took me 24 years to finally sit myself down and permit myself to say no. No, to a culture that dictated that I was only worth love as a virgin. No to a culture that dictated that to be free I had to have as much sex as possible. No to a culture that dictated my worth in relation to how men felt about my body and according to their rules of what was and what wasn’t okay.
Now I live in a world where I feel empowered to admit that I do love sex but also admit that I enjoy it within the confines of my relationship. I feel empowered to admit that I want to have sex as a way to express love and share love and that I am my happiest when I have the room to express it with someone I love.
I live in an in-between state where I believe the most liberating thing is choice. The choice to have sex as much as you want. The choice to say no and not be interested in sex at all. The choice to have/want sex on some days and not want it at all on others. I’m done with living in a world that can only express one or the other extreme because we are so much more than just our bodies.
Sexual liberation as a movement was brought to me under the guise of hook-up culture. This has taught me that the opposite isn’t always the best solution. We need to get to a place where we encourage people to find pleasure in the ways that suit them, instead of defining sexual liberation in this one-size-fits-all package.
Sexual liberation for me came when I realised that I needed to reach a place of acceptance. Whilst the healing journey would last me the rest of my life, I’ve found joy in knowing that what felt good for me didn’t have to be what was right for anyone else.
Author Bio: Amanda Tayte-Tait, aka Amanda Marufu, is a feminist, tech entrepreneur, TV producer, freelance writer, and author of “At What Age Does My Body Belong To Me?”. She has been published by The Feminist Leadership Journal, Amaka Studio, Black Ballad, Document Women, In Her Words, Meeting Of Minds, and countless other platforms, dedicating her life to using media and tech to spread awareness and change lives.