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As a childhood sex abuse survivor, sex will never be easy

A bonafide country girl, Brook Bolen is a reluctant urban transplant living with her husband, daughter, and pitbulls in the heart of the Dirty South. She is routinely miffed to discover more people don't count cornbread and beans as thei...

My brother sexually abused me, and that memory is always just around the corner

As I approach the end of my 30s, I realize I’ve spent nearly half my life dealing with the myriad of devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse has had on my life, particularly over my own sexual agency and pleasure.

In the murky, incredibly troubled interim between college and two different graduate schools, I went without sex for over four years. Though I tried and failed at casual sex, I was sexual with committed, monogamous partners. I’d always been able to be sexual at the onset of a relationship — before I felt a partner really knew me and saw how broken and soiled I am — but once our connection became too strong or we were too intimate, I’d pull away sexually. This began mentally and bled over into the physical — though I was performing sexually, both my body and my mind were somewhere else entirely. With my first real boyfriend, my initial sexual receptiveness and enthusiasm faded into nothing, an issue that became simply too exhausting for me to broach. And honestly, I didn’t really know how. I didn’t understand my libido, self-esteem, self-loathing and self-sabotaging tendencies, especially in relation to my sexuality. In the deepest, darkest corners of my terminally broken heart, I couldn’t trust someone to truly love me. Love, trust, power, my body and sex, as I’d learned from my brother, were things that will destroy you.

More: My PTSD comes from a different kind of war

During those dark, sexless years, I sought out counseling services from the universities I attended. The betrayal, shame and grief I felt tortured me to the point where I was suicidal at times. I read books on childhood sexual trauma, met other survivors and began trying to make sense of it all at what felt like a glacier’s pace. It was only after all this that I was able to start working toward a healthy life, one that included sex I was mentally and physically present for. I refused to have sex with a partner if I couldn’t be there emotionally.

There’s no doubt that the fact that I’ve never felt anything but completely supported by my husband is a huge contributing factor to our success as a couple. It sounds cliché, but it’s true: Fireworks of cosmic and carnal varieties blazed when we met and connected. Here was someone who was truly my equal, my partner, my truest love, my safe place. I’m grateful those same sparks still fly today despite the fact that what I never thought would or could happen sometimes does: There are times when my childhood sexual abuse affects my sexual relationship with my husband.

It’s fairly rare, and its intensity is nowhere near the same, but there have been times with my husband when an innocent touch or innocuous movement pains me, transports me back to the dark, where I was the adoring, annoying little sister all alone with my brother, who I loved and trusted, whose abuse — for an especially fun, sadistic twist — involved watching and re-creating porn videos. Those moments transport me back to the thick of the abuse. I liken it to Alice going down the rabbit hole. I feel like I go way down deep inside myself, where I am numb and alone and safe.

More: The PTSD diagnosis that saved my relationship

It’s the ultimate in cognitive dissonance — having something as beautiful as what I have with my husband be tainted by my brother’s vile actions. It makes me feel like I am dying; it makes my heart ache and throb so violently. But despite my husband’s constant support and our mutual attraction for each other, it’s also inevitable, because I have been very nearly destroyed by my brother.

As 40 draws near, I wonder and worry about what I will find in the coming decades. Will l struggle with the effects my brother’s abuse left on me for the rest of my days? I expect so. I have to remind myself that while I’ve been affected by the abuse, I am not broken by it. Even when I struggle, it gets easier with time to see this truth. My history of childhood sexual abuse is simply a fact about me — it’s as much a part of who I am as are my green eyes, Southern drawl and incredible good fortune at finding someone who truly loves, supports and accepts me for who I am.

Sexual abuse history or not, there’s nothing on Earth that’s sexier than that.

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