Sexual Molestation

When I was approximately 5 years of age, a babysitter initiated a reciprocal kissing game that involved our genitals. When it was my turn to kiss her, I was frightened by her pubic hair. She used considerable force to try to make contact between my head and her genitals, but eventually stopped as I continued to struggle.

After that, during sleepovers with girls my own age, I initiated a similar game. This type of response is far from uncommon - it involves a kind of acting out of the original incident in an attempt to understand it. This probably occurred with a total of 4 different girls during the years I was 5-10. By age 10 I became more consciously aware that it was wrong, and that I shouldn't do it any more. Before that, I was aware it must be hidden from parents, and I did not try to force other girls, but was hyperaware of the potential receptivity of specific girls. I was the initiator, and the other girls often did display at least initial reluctance, but also curiosity, and some arousal. I myself experienced what I would classify now as arousal.

As a teenager, I was never tempted or compelled to initiate a similar game with any child that I babysat (or with siblings). However, there were a couple of occasions when I tried to express to girls my own age that I was open to sexual contact (but was met with lack of reciprocal interest).

It does not seem to me that the initial molestation had a deleterious effect on me. My acting it out, however, might have had a deleterious effect on those I knew in childhood. I have had no contact with any of these girls for a very long time, and don't know. With each girl, there were very few instances of the behaviour, and sometimes it only occurred once. If I am identifying with the perpetrator, it may have resulted in me underestimating my own original discomfort and that of the girls my age - I may be seen as justifying my actions and invalidating what those girls went through.

The result of it for me seems to have been that I grew up with the idea that it was natural or pleasurable for adult females to interact sexually, but that consent was essential. I also thought it might be 'normal' for children to experiment sexually amongst themselves.

I do not remember the initial experience as traumatizing, and I do not remember feeling powerless. I seem to recall feeling curious, experiencing arousal, and also some fear. I may not be consciously aware of some of the effects.

Without knowing how to articulate it at the time, I had the idea that the babysitter had grown up in a highly sexualized atmosphere. I had a sense of guilt related to the unfairness of non-reciprocation. But I think also that I didn't feel powerless: a teenager could not force me to reciprocate. I may also have learned that a struggle that is too intense might trigger a guilt response in another, which might result in the end of the struggle. In other words, she could not continue to try to dominate. If her need to do so had been greater, the results for me might have been different. As far as I know, the incident was a one-time occurrence. She was not a regular babysitter. (We had many babysitters over the years.)

...The true things are too big or too small, or in any case always the wrong size to fit the template called language...

Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping

There is no way that any person who undergoes any kind of therapy, who studies psychiatry or psychology, or who talks to friends about their past does not have some awareness of and ideas about sexual abuse, what it constitutes, what effects it has, and to what extent we need to be sensitive to those who have experienced sexual abuse or trauma, including rape.

However, I think we also need to be aware that the entire framework of belief and discussion needs to be evalutated from time to time. Unquestionably, there are certain effects that have come to the forefront of public awareness through long years of people breaking the silence and coming forward with their experience. I don't think it's right to invalidate or trivialize what people have gone through. I do however think we need to think about how we might add to their problems through misunderstanding or even generalization, and I think also that we need to see the situation as more of a whole, all parts of the problem or pattern, the issues of all the participants, and to see all people's lives as more of a whole, rather than mainly in the context of a particular event. This is not about trivializing important events or dismissing them.

Often those who have experienced such abuse have trouble seeing it that way: even with society's support, they may think that there was something strange or different about their experience which puts them outside the clear borders. I think this is because it may be that the focus of an experience is not always complete fear and powerlessness, that there may be aspects of arousal, curiosity, pleasure, and there may be a sense of 'specialness' that is reminiscent of later adult relationships.

Most psychologists will agree that human beings are sexual throughout their lives - that there is some sexual expression during all phases of life. Our present society dictates that there is a line to be drawn, and that one of an adult's responsibilities is to be aware of that line at all times. And yet not all children mature physically, sexually or emotionally at exactly the same rate, so how can an exact age determined by law fit all?

In popular culture, there are many mixed messages regarding the actual age and maturity of a child. Girls in their early teens or even preteens may be chosen to be presented as adult models. In movies and on TV, teen girls are often presented as shorter and less developed than their mothers, when in reality, many girls are fully developed and have reached their full height in their early teens - which was certainly true in my case. I think the label of pedophilia is sometimes applied to those who are actually interested in females whose bodies have already developed - because the number which represents their age carries a misleading message. A person may not be psychologically ready for sex at age 13, but her appearance may be objectively classified as sexually attractive to adult men. Such a person does not really have the appearance of a 'child'. I don't think enough people are aware enough of this discrepancy.

As for my experiences with my father at the age of 13 onward, I think they fall into the category of covert incest. As I got older, I did notice that he had a pattern of discussing sex with preteen and teen girls (not boys - or at least not in the same ways), he was drawn to teaching children to ride horses (especially girls) and I witnessed him tickling or staring at them (young/teen girls).

He talked quite explicitly to me about sex when I was 13. I was already somewhat prepared for such discussion, since I had looked at a lot of his men's magazines, books about sex like the Joy of Sex, and was allowed to read grown-up thrillers or books in which explicit adult sex scenes were common, all since the age of 9-10. He also told dirty jokes, discussed his sex life with various women, including his girlfriend who was sleeping upstairs while we talked, and on one of these occasions, he asked me to sit on his lap while she slept upstairs. He often entered my bedroom (there was no lock on my door), and even physically dragged me out in my nightgown to feed horses when I was depressed. When he told me that my mother was in a coma and might die, he came into my room and sat on my bed, and when he tried to put his arms around me, I felt sickened, and didn't think his motives were strictly about consolation, and this caused me to immediately contain my grief or fear related to my mother - I had started to cry, but immediately got myself under control in that situation. When he made actual sexual advances after fracturing his skull, I definitely experienced the feeling of filth that won't wash off afterward - I could not scrub hard enough in the shower, and I was afraid that even though the door was locked, I was not 'safe'. At this point I was experiencing a sense of betrayal and loss of trust that would prove significant.

As for the technical details: he had tried to put his hand on my breast under my clothing, and he had tried to pull me on to his bed. He said my name repeatedly (this is another reason I wished to have a new name for myself). I pushed him away, and did not meet with a lot of resistance. He had just fractured his skull and was physically weakened. I was consciously able to realize that what had happened might be the result of the accident, but it made me in an instant reinterpret all previous behaviour as less innocent, and I even wondered if he was 'using' the accident as an excuse - an unexpected situation he could take advantage of without having to face consequences. It is possible that without all the other recent upheaval (the death of my mother, my abortion, moving house, changing schools), this event may not have had the same impact, but it is also possible that it was part of a bigger problem in that my father had not really been equipped to be a parent, and one way or another, he was likely to inflict damage.

Whatever the case and whatever the cause of my father's behaviour, it had an effect on me, and I was not able to handle this on my own. I ran away from home immediately. That is, after I had first called a doctor/the hospital to make sure someone knew about him or was seeing about him, and I had had a shower. I stayed for a while out in the country, in our now abandoned farmhouse, until my 'boyfriend''s sister offered to let me board with her and her husband.

When I have tried to describe these events to people, they have tended to think it wasn't all that bad. My on-again-off-again boyfriend just became angry and jealous, accusing me of liking it or provoking it (I think this was related to his own family dynamics), a school counsellor said he'd heard worse, and a few years later the oldest of my two brothers seemed to think I must be blowing it out of proportion.

It may be that I needed to find some reason that I could focus on that others would understand as a valid reason for my problems. I was as affected as anyone else by the increasing awareness of the problem of childhood sexual abuse. I think that my father's behaviour when it came to sex did affect me, but what I didn't understand at the time was that his behaviour in other areas also might have had as much or more of an effect, and that combined, the effects might have added up to significant confusion that I was not able to adequately process.

It seems to me that any effects in the long-term are more related to what happened with my father than with the babysitter. I didn't ever discuss the babysitter incident with adults (or friends), or at least I don't recall discussing it with anyone in my family or with any counsellor - I hadn't thought it 'signficant' enough, or I had thought other things were more important to talk about first, and no conversation ever went on long enough. Trust and powerlessness issues seem more connected to my relationship with my father. Low self-esteem seems connected to my relationships with both father and mother, and may have caused me to seek out, at least initially, abusive relationships - with a focus on complicated psychological abuse which I didn't recognize as abuse. My relationships with mother and father were significantly different to the ones my siblings had with them, and this perhaps relates to why my siblings did not attract or initiate similarly abusive relationships.

I think I grew up with mixed messages related to sexual norms, which on the one hand resulted in open-mindedness, but on the other made it confusing to navigate the 'real world' in terms of expectations related to relationships.

I am hyper-sensitive to the element of sex in all relationships. Whereas this may be something that for most people thankfully remains unconscious, I don't know how to separate sexual from non-sexual relationships, and have always found it difficult to hug people I don't want to have sex with. I have usually been able to do it without drawing attention to my discomfort, but the reality is that there might be something 'abnormal' or hypersensitive about my discomfort. I can understand to some extent what people get out of hugging, but I cannot get that same thing.

When I hear that women generally prefer the kissing and cuddling aspects of sex, I can't relate. If I don't have a lot of sexual chemistry with a person, these activities are not unpleasant, but there is a kind of frustration, as if release or connection is not possible. I also might feel restless after sexual activity, as if there is a need to be on my own for a while. I think that at least part of this relates to my personal appearance - in order to compensate for the horror of my ugliness, I realize that I have to act calm, natural, and exhibit a pleasing personality, and it is too difficult to try to pretend that I am not aware that this is what I am doing, but I think it also relates to difficulties with trusting others, or finding others who have a need for a compatible kind of intimacy. It seems to me that the compassion, warmth or 'love' that others offer lacks depth.

I don't actually believe that I have 'intimacy issues' in the sense that I am 'sick'. I think I have a greater capacity for intimacy than most people, and that I have not had contact with people who can go where I can go in this area. I remain open to the possibility of intimacy until it is clear that a relationship can go no further. Perhaps it is even a feminist approach: I have found it possible to enjoy the sexual aspects of a relationship without thinking it will lead to a long-term relationship. I approach each relationship as an individual thing, and try to accept it for what it is, not trying to make it into something it's not.

If the way that I communicate online is examined, I think it is evident that I put a lot of thought into things that most people dismiss, would prefer not to think about or discuss, and that I try very hard to understand. Should this be only seen as an example of pathology? Or is it possible for others to see that my needs in this area represent a valid alternative approach to life and relationships?

Most people are quite content to spend their lives creating an illusion of intimacy within which they can comfortably hide. In my relationships I try to strip away illusions, in order to uncover at least the potential for intimacy. My assessment is that my approach is both positive and proactive. I'm not denying my baggage and I'm not expecting someone to fix me. I'm trying out what makes sense to me to try, and I offer the information that I think is relevant, such that there is a possibility to experience a kind of intimacy that I would recognize as intimacy.















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