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Time Heals All Wounds (especially with therapy and patience)

answered 11:39 PM EST, Sun November 13, 2011
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I feel really awful to be writing this, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately and I think I need to reach out to try to get some answers and I am just not really sure where to go or to ask to get them.

I have been with my girlfriend for 2 years. I am 23 and she is 21. I really love her. She’s smart and funny and she is someone I can imagine spending the rest of my life with. Unfortunately, she was raped when she was 17. That is how she lost her virginity.

I was getting really frustrated in the early days by how slowly our relationship was developing sexually and eventually she told me of her traumatic experience and that she had never been with another person other than the man who raped her. She eventually decided about a year ago that she was ready to try having sex and we did, but it was hard for her and we have only done it a handful of times since then.

I feel really low to be thinking this, but I am not sure that I can stay in this relationship if this is the only kind of physical relationship we are ever going to be able to have. I thought I could overlook this but it is really becoming a problem for me to have sex only once every couple of months or less. I want to be supportive for her but I need to know that this is going to get better if I am going to continue to get more serious with her. Do rape victims usually become able to have normal sex lives after enough time passes?

Nan Karl Says...

Nan Karl N. Karl
MSW, LCSW

Great question to ask. Please don't beat yourself up for asking it. You have every right to a wonderful and fulfilling relationship, and that includes healthy sexuality (for both of you). My first question for you regards whether or not your girlfriend has had therapy for her sexual assault. I hope she has, as rape is a devastating trauma.

If you and she have only had sex a handful of times in the last year, one of two things is operating for her. Either she has a much lower sex drive than you do or she is still anxious and upset about the previous assault. My guess is the latter. 

Talk with her. Let her know that you really love her and that you can easily imagine spending the rest of your life with her. At the same time, let her know that it is important to you to share your love for her through physical intimacy. Suggest that the two of you see a counselor to work on this to see how to best resolve it.

Yes, rape survivors are able to have wonderful intimacy in their lives. But not until they have resolved their trauma first. Sexual assault therapy is available (usually for free) in almost every area. You can go to www.rainn.org to find a therapist in your area and to get information on rape. 

Many rape survivors suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, reliving the rape through flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, nightmares, etc. Often times even consensual sexual relations may trigger this. It is essential to get help with this and work through the emotional and physical trauma.

In the meantime, educate yourself about being a partner of a sexual assault survivor. There are several books written for men living with survivors of sexual abuse, including Ken Graber's, "Ghosts in the Bedroom: A Guide for Partners of Incest Survivors" (much of which would be relevant to a rape victim) and Laura Davis' book, "Allies in Healing". A wonderful book for your girlfriend to read is Sharice Lee's, "The Survivor's Guide". There are many excellent recovery books written for survivors and pro-survivors (the term given to people like you, who want to help survivors of sexual assault).

Above all else, open up communication with your girlfriend so that she knows that you are concerned about her. Helping her overcome this terrible trauma while letting her know that you are completely supportive of her is perhaps one of the most loving gifts you can give her. And be patient and non-judgmental. Therapy takes time. 

Good luck to you both!

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Nan Karl - MSW, LCSW
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