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I am reading Jodi Picoult’s book, The Tenth Circle, for my book club. I did not know that this was a book about teen rape when we decided to read this book. If I had, I would have voted to read another book this month. I am slammed with my new job and won’t come up for air until June 2, so this is not the best timing for reading a book about rape.

Nevertheless, I am reading it while I work out at the gym in the early mornings, and I am enjoying it despite its serious content. The book delves into the many facets of teen rape. You have a 14-year-old girl who was dating a 17-year-old boy with her parents’ consent (which I, personally, cannot imagine supporting as a parent). He broke up with her. This was her first crush, and she is having a hard time getting over him, so she follows her best friend’s stupid advice to make him jealous by engaging in dangerous behaviors.

In a nutshell, the 14-year-old girl attends a sex party at her friend’s house (where the ex-boyfriend is invited). They are playing the “Rainbow Game” – a game I had never heard of but will now be preventing my son from going to any unsupervised parties!! – where each girl wears a different colored lipstick and performs oral sex on different boys. The boy sporting the most colors on his “rainbow” wins the game. Yuck!

Anyhow, the girl participates in the “game” one time and then throws up. After everyone else leaves, it is just her, the 14-year-old friend, the ex-boyfriend, and another 17-year-old boy. The girl is wearing a sheer shirt, low-rise jeans with no underwear, and plays strip poker with the boys. The other couple goes upstairs. One thing leads to another. The girl just wants to kiss and make out (“second base”) with her ex-boyfriend. He interprets all of the above as consent to sex and rapes her. The rest of the book (or at least as far as I have read) explores the many facets of this scenario – sadly one that happens frequently at teen parties and on college campuses.

The 14-year-old girl never said yes to sex and was a virgin. Her reaction to the sexual contact is the same as other rape victims – deep shame, feeling dirty, dressing in baggy clothing, insomnia, etc. There is no question that her reaction is of one a rape victim.

The 17-year-old boy was at a sex party where all of the girls (including the 14-year-old girl) were providing all of the boys with oral sex. She was in a sheer blouse with no underwear, kissing him, and taking off her bra for him. Both had also been drinking. From his perspective, all was consensual. His reaction is dumbfounded.

How can the same act be absolutely devastating to one party and viewed as completely consensual by the other? I was in a similar situation with an ex-boyfriend in college (minus the sex party – we were alone in his dorm room talking about whether we could work things out). He took things farther than I wanted. I dissociated. He performed intercourse on my body – something I did not want, did not ask for, and had repeatedly told him that I was not ready for because I believed I was a virgin. He saw it as consensual. I gained 30 lbs and experienced numerous trauma aftereffects. I was terrified of him and was never alone with him again. He expressed befuddlement at my “rejection” since we had finally “consummated” our relationship.

How can the same act between the two parties involved be so different? How could he truly believe that sex was consensual when her reaction was with trauma?

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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My second most popular blog entry on my blog is one entitled Orgasm during Rape or Other Form of Sexual Abuse. That blog entry has quite a few comments posted by child abuse survivors who experienced orgasms while they were being raped or sexually abused.

Last week, a reader posted the following question:

How are you all dealing with the conflicting emotions? Everything I see written here, practically, screams out that you all loved what was happening at the time, and mostly feel bad because society says it’s bad. I’m asking you all, because you are the only ones that really know, is it bad?

I think this is a legitimate question that needs to be answered.

The short answer is no, I did not “enjoy” the orgasms during sexual abuse. Most of mine happened when my mother was orally raping me. I experimented with similar sexual contact consensually with a boyfriend. While my body achieved an orgasm very quickly, it made my head feel like it was going to explode, and I felt a very strong desire to harm myself. That is not “enjoying” an orgasm.

When people who were never sexually abused experience orgasms, they feel good. They feel a release of tension and feel peaceful afterward. This is not the case with a person who has been sexually abused. After the orgasm happens, the sexual abuse survivor feels sick to her stomach. She feels deep shame and hatred toward her body.

When a child who is being sexually abused “wants” an orgasm, it is kind of like looking for the least painful form of abuse to experience in the moment. The child feels shame, terror, and self-loathing as the sexual abuse is happening. The orgasm is a temporary reprieve from those feelings, but then those feelings come crashing down immediately afterward in spades.

After the orgasm, the child is not lying in his bed feeling good about himself. All does not feel right with the world. The child feels deep shame – the shame from the abuse and then the shame from “enjoying” part of the abuse. It causes the child to question whether she really wanted the abuse after all. She knows that she didn’t, but her body reacted to it, so then maybe she did??

And then orgasms and shame get intertwined in the abused child’s head. The child grows into an adult who cannot have a fulfilling consensual sexual relationship because pleasure and pain are still intertwined. She hates her body for having orgasms, and then she hates her body if she doesn’t have them. Every sexual encounter becomes a challenge because it sets her up for more self-loathing.

And then the sexual abuse survivor finds that she is only able to achieve an orgasm if she reenacts the sexual abuse, either physically or in her head. Straight sex cannot achieve an orgasm, but degradation during sex can. Discovering that you cannot achieve an orgasm during sex unless you feel degraded only adds fuel to the fire.

There is nothing positive about a child experiencing an orgasm during rape or sexual abuse. It only further complicates the child’s life.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Orgasms during Rape and Sexual Abuse

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda BernhardtI frequently see people struggle with the fact that their bodies reacted to a rape or other form of sexual abuse by having an orgasm. People wrestle with whether the sexual abuse could have been “that bad” if they had an orgasm during it. Also, some people who first began having orgasms during sexual abuse as young children question whether this means that they were some sort of “bad seed” who brought the sexual abuse on themselves.

It is actually quite common for a person’s body to react to sexual abuse or rape with an orgasm. This does not mean that you wanted the sexual contact or that you enjoyed it. This is simply an indicator that your body was working the way it was designed to work.

Human beings are born into the world wired to respond to sexual contact. Baby boys often get erections during a diaper change, even without any unnecessary contact involved in the cleaning process. Young children frequently touch their “private” areas, not to achieve orgasm like post-pubescent people do but just because it feels good.

When a child’s body is stimulated through sexual contact, it will sometimes react to that stimulation by having an orgasm. This does not mean that the sexual contact was welcome.

The child’s reaction to having a “good” feeling in the midst of bad feelings can be very confusing to the child. The child does not feel the same sense of pleasure and relaxation afterward as an adult does after consensual sex. Instead, the child is left with conflicting emotions. Some people wind up hating their own bodies for betraying them by reacting to sexual abuse with an orgasm.

This can lead into issues in adulthood. A person who had orgasms as a child while being sexually abused can confuse orgasms with abuse, so when they enter into a consensual sexual relationship, they have confused feelings when they have orgasms. They might wind up hating themselves when they climax but then also hating themselves when they don’t, which causes any sexual interaction to become very stressful for them. It can be challenging for an adult survivor of sexual abuse to separate out a “good” orgasm from a “bad” one.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Sexual Aggression in the Sexually Abused Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

+++++ Trigger warning for the comments +++++

Some of the comments contain triggering comments. I cannot figure out how to add a trigger warning to them, and I don’t want to remove them and “silence” the people posting the comments. If you are in a bad place, please use caution in reading the comments. – Faith

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt I was watching the television show Numb3rs this weekend. The episode was about rape. I always struggle with whether or not to watch a show about rape because the scenes can be triggering for me. However, I also like to know what is being presented about rape to the general public, so I usually wind up watching the show, anyhow.

This episode ended with a rape victim asking if rape really was “soul murder.” I had never heard that term before, and I found it interesting.

I do not believe that rape is “soul murder” because I do not believe that our souls can be murdered. I believe that each of us is born with a body, soul, and spirit. Our bodies are (obviously) our physical selves. I believe our souls are part of the divine – the part that God breathed into Adam that carries a piece of God inside of all of us. That part of ourselves cannot be damaged. I believe that it is our spirits that are damaged by rape and child abuse.

So, is rape “spirit murder”? I would say no, although I do believe that rape is “spirit wounding.” I do not believe that anyone has the power to “murder” another person’s spirit. Of course, there are those who try to accomplish this, but ultimately only we can murder our own spirits. Only we can chose not to heal.

I believe that emotional healing or spirit healing is possible for all people, but we must choose to heal. I do not believe that another person can murder my spirit because then that takes away my power. I can (and did) fragment my spirit to save myself, but only I had the power to do that.

So, I would have to disagree with the character on Numb3rs. Her soul was not murdered. Instead, her spirit was wounded, but she has the power to heal it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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