Teen Talk

Helping a partner recover from sexual violence

Detroit Free Press

Dear Kelly,

I’ve been with my BF for 8 1/2 months and he’s always been really respectful and nice about everything and especially when it comes to sex. He’s always told me that he would wait for me to be ready and never pushed it because I thought we were both virgins. We’re both seniors and I know this relationship’s special and different and we are going to be together for a long time.

So a few nights ago I told him I was finally ready and he got really weird. Things were so weird I drove over and we went on a walk because I knew something was up. He told me that when he was 9 he was sexually abused a couple of times (not sure how many times but he said it happened over a few months time) by one of his older cousins’ good friends (a girl). He said that it’s a part of his life he wishes he could block out because it caused so much drama with his family because at first they denied it happened and took her side. Eventually it all came out and the police got involved and he said he had to do counseling for like two years to deal with everything that happened.

He’s now really afraid to have sex and isn’t sure what to do. He was crying, which isn’t something he ever does and I could tell how sad this whole thing made him. Also, I didn’t tell him this but I’m not sure now if he’s technically a virgin and if that changes things between us because we promised each other we would be each other’s first. I don’t want him to feel like he lied to me but I’m not sure how to take this and what if he changes his mind and doesn’t want to have sex now because of all the old memories.

I don’t know what to do or who to talk to about this. He told me that besides his family no one else has ever known including like his best friend who he was friends with when it happened and is still his best friend. I want to talk with someone because I’m so confused and want to say and do the right thing but I don’t want him to feel like I’m a blab and I’m breaking his trust.

Please help me.

Angel

Dear Angel,

This is a lot to absorb. It’s totally normal to feel confused and at a loss for words when someone shares something so deep and so painful. Trying to navigate this by yourself is difficult and you did the right thing by reaching out for advice.

Let’s start by acknowledging how much he must trust you to share this with you. Talking about something that has caused him and his whole family so much pain is not easy and not something he would trust just anyone to know. He must feel you are loving and accepting and that he could open up and share this deep wound from his childhood. Responding in a supportive and understanding way is essential to validating his feelings and making sure you are able to have good communication about this life event that still affects his today.

Let me clarify one thing – and there might be several different opinions on this – but having someone violate you sexually does not take away your virginity. Having sex willingly and with consent is losing one’s virginity. Being raped, assaulted or molested means it was without his consent and his personal choice was taken from him. When one is sexually abused, it means the person abused was a victim of someone else’s issues and not a consenting individual and therefore can still call themselves a virgin. He hasn’t chosen to have sex with anyone yet and has maintained his virginity.

Approach your boyfriend from a place of acceptance and compassion. Thank him for trusting you with such a personal and painful part of his life. Let him know your feelings about him have not changed and you care about him the same. Listen to what he needs right now: He’s not ready to have sex. Treat him the same way you would want someone to treat you if you were feeling the same. Be respectful, not pushy, and give him all the time and space he needs. Don’t make sex a big issue or make him feel ashamed or guilty about how he feels for taking the time he needs. Value him as a person and leave sex out of your relationship.

If you still feel overwhelmed or struggle with knowing what to do, ask him if it’s OK if you talk with a trusted adult like a school counselor, your mom or dad or someone like a youth pastor. Tell him it’s not because you want to talk about him but rather to talk about how to support him and help him in the best possible way. Tell him it will not be another teenager and it would only be someone you had complete trust in to maintain his confidentiality.

Likewise, encourage him to go talk with a professional counselor again to talk about how he is feeling. Being a 17- or 18-year-old brings up different feelings and emotions around the abuse than he may have had at 9 or 10. Having a safe place to process these new feelings can be vital to helping him move forward in a healthy manner and work through any issues he may be experiencing as a young adult. It is very normal for someone who has been abused to struggle with intimacy and the best way for him to figure it out is to talk it out.

Step back and be a good friend to him right now. Appreciate he trusted you enough to share this with you. Allow him to work on himself and his painful past without any pressure or stress. Validate his feelings and be fine with no sex, even if you feel you are ready. He is not and you need to honor this. Find someone safe for you to talk to and don’t try to work through this alone. Sometimes there are wounds that never show up on our bodies but that run deep and are incredibly painful. Finding loving people to help with these wounds brings survivors of sexual abuse one step closer to healing.

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