From a young age, having sexual fantasies was endlessly difficult for me.
While classmates told me in secret about what they thought Justin Timberlake’s dick looked like, I just couldn’t relate. At first, I thought this was because I was gay, since I was only attracted to girls. But even when, and especially if, girls were the topic of conversation (usually amongst my guy friends), I still couldn’t imagine it. I realize now that’s because sexuality has never felt safe for me, at least not until recently.
When I was 8, a babysitter and trusted friend of the family took multiple inappropriate photos of me and cornered me as I sat on the toilet, asking to see my genitals as my shivering thighs clenched tight. Since then, my body and my sexuality have not only felt unsafe, but also felt disgustingly obscene to me. Despite my growing sex drive as I aged, the intense nausea that sexual fantasy and porn caused me prevented much of my exploration and experimentation. The sexual realm of my headspace was too filled with memories of trauma, only worsened by the sexual assault I experienced in college. And with scenes of abuse clouding my head so much, both consciously and unconsciously, there was not much room left for fantasy. Because in a state of mind where fear and violation are the ruling feelings, being able to embrace playfulness and a lack of inhibition can feel impossible.
With flashbacks being an uncomfortable part of my everyday reality at the time, distancing myself as much as I can from sexuality and vulnerability felt imperative. I couldn’t begin to fathom such details like sexual preferences and fantasies, and I loathed myself and my body because of it. I wanted to feel connected and fulfilled in sex with myself and others, but I just couldn’t manage anything closer than arms-length.
Becoming aware of and exploring my fantasies became possible for me only after I started to clear the metaphorical attic of my traumatized past. Through cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma-focused counseling, some of the burden of my past has been removed from the front of my mind, making room for something better. I discovered I love BDSM, rejecting any shame or confusion I initially had over this preference as a survivor of assault. I began letting myself sexually fantasize, though it still feels uncomfortable sometimes. And with these fantasies, I can act out fun and sexy role plays with my partner. Sex feels so much more satisfying and full of agency now, and I never thought I’d get to say that. I feel that I can explore the deepest parts of myself, my desires and my insecurities without breaching my sense of safety. In a way, the playfulness that fantasy and BDSM allows has only further aided my recovery from trauma.
The fact that I got better doesn’t erase my experiences. My trauma will always be with me, and I still sometimes get triggered. That’s to be expected. But I’ve learned that regardless of whether or not you’ve been sexually exploited and disempowered in the past, you have the ability and the right to regain sexual agency and enjoyment.
The abuse at the hands of folks I couldn’t trust didn’t break me. I have myself and my loving fiancé to trust to keep me safe and help me stay present in my sexuality.
Your body and experiences are usually not under your control, but your expansive love and creativity through fantasy is. Or at least it can be if you work at it long enough. Two years ago, I challenged myself to be playful and innovative in my sex and fantasy, and I’m definitely better for it.