How I Have Sex: ‘I Would Start Shaking…It’s Actually Very Scary For the Other Person’
In How I Have Sex, we bring you candid retellings of people’s sexual lives that explore the multidimensional nature of this human experience. In this installment, 23-year-old M. recounts her experience dealing with a chronic seizure disorder while navigating her sex life.
This piece explores sexual abuse and its mental health consequences. In reading further, please keep in mind the content of the article below could cause emotional distress.
I was abused as a child when I was 10 years old. I also had an abusive boyfriend when I was 16. Growing up, I had no idea about pleasure. I had the worst idea of sex. I have PTSD, due to which I have a seizure disorder. Because whenever I encounter anything related to a flashback into my childhood, I get triggered. My body stops listening to my mind, and it starts having spasms. It all started when I was 18.
Because of a lack of sexual knowledge, the idea of masturbation was also extremely hurtful to me. I would want to do it, but after every single time, I would curl up and cry. It would continue for a very long time until I could shake it off or I could fall asleep. Even before I realized what was happening, and before I began therapy, I knew something was up, though I didn’t stop having sex because of it. I used to prioritize being more giving to my partner, where at the end of it all I would get is more and more hurt. Every single time I had sex, the time I was abused would play in my mind. The other person would be completely unaware of it.
Even when my mind wanted sex, I knew I wanted it, my body told me not to. I would start shaking, and the other person would be concerned. It’s actually very scary for the other person. You also feel guilty for putting them through it. I was more concerned about the person; my first instinct would be to empathize with them. This, of course, then led to severe anxiety.
I was never my first priority. With me, it’s always been the idea that I’m completely and utterly disgusting, because whatever happened in my childhood, I was told, was because of me. To the level that I needed to punish myself so much that I thought about it until it made me sick, and that was my punishment for the disgusting act I committed. But after therapy, I started having these conversations with my partners, telling them I might have a seizure, and what they needed to do in case I did. I am always open about it, because, well, people are going to find out. This conversation is not very light. I would tell them what positions I’m not comfortable with because they’re the ones in which I was abused as a kid. No filthy talk, because even the word ‘fuck’ can trigger me. That one’s tricky because I never know how far that trigger will take me. Even the act of waking up in a different place in the morning — you know the time when you’re just coming to, and you might not know where you are — can make my body un-sync with my mind. In the moment, if I see something unfriendly, it can put me into an anxiety attack, which can put me in a seizure — and all of this can happen in the span of two minutes. It could be the smell of a certain kind of alcohol the person has drunk, or the fact that they had smoked, or their perfume, or a certain kind of shoe the person was wearing — all of these can be triggers depending on how they relate to my memories.
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But when you’re in a state of hypervigilance, when the red light is on morning through evening, your body gets triggered sometimes simply because it’s tired. I tell my partners who they can call if it happens, and that they need to put me on my right side and leave me alone.
About two and a half years ago, I started going to therapy. I was scared of having sex to an extent, even though I was still having it. But I was introduced to the entire concept that maybe it can be better if I have proper conversations with the other person. I realized I can only have sex with people I know really well, that I’m comfortable to the point of sending nudes, that there needs to be an extensive level of trust between us. Because when the trust is established, the chances of me having a seizure reduce. Communication is definitely the first thing. As much as I’m attracted to them, no bad boys for me. I need to trust the person is not going to take advantage of me. You have all kinds of people who pretend to be forward, but then they need to be okay with my history. People who understand mental health issues have the highest energy of understanding when they need to back off and give me space. They need to not try and fix things.
I do have moments where I go and do what I want. I know some ways I can manage my trigger. A lot of therapy, a lot of CBT. At one point, I had to grow up. I love engaging in BDSM, love getting tied up. But it’s not an act I can do, unless I know the person over a long period of time. I don’t have any other choice; I cannot act out my teenage fantasies. I’ve had partners I was very close to tell me they weren’t going to have sex with me just because they were scared of hurting me again. I know it’s going to get better, but it’s not going to get better immediately.
Surprisingly, with everything that’s happened, I like being tied up, using sex toys. It depends on the person. The idea of sex is something I’m open to, as well as expanding my understanding of pleasure right now. I love exploring and I love people who talk with me during sex, being not just dominant, but also a bit submissive. I love it when the other person can assume a candid role, and do nothing but the foreplay when all your pleasurable zones are going on alert.
I’ve always had a fantasy of gagging up the guy. I wasn’t sure if it has to do with my past experiences, so I never went ahead with it. I wasn’t sure if it’s a way of acting out to recreate the kind of dominance I experienced when I was abused. I’m not sure if that fantasy of mine is purely innocent, if that’s my own way of having some control over the scenario.
For me, pleasure with women is easy, and definitely easier than with men. Even if it’s not vanilla sex, my mind sees it as vanilla sex. It’s happy, jovial, because women also tend to be more in tune with their body. That puts me in a very comfortable spot. The women I’ve been with, even when I was acting a bit strange or wasn’t comfortable, they were better at reading me. My attraction with women feels safe. If it’s a man, I tend to overthink, remain hupervigilant, constantly worry if he could turn out to be another monster. But with women, I don’t have that fear.
I’ve evolved from having no idea about pleasure to thinking sex is equal to when the man has all the control, to a place where I know pleasure is accessible to me. And that’s the thing about pleasure — there are no bounds. You can always explore more.