(The Root) —
“I am afraid to tell my boyfriend about my past. I was raped when I was in high school by someone I knew, and I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over it. I think about it sometimes when I’m intimate with my boyfriend, and then I don’t want to have sex anymore. This has been a problem in previous relationships as well. I know he’s getting frustrated with me, and I know I should say something, but I don’t know how. I’m afraid he’ll think I am making excuses. I love him and don’t want him to leave me because of this. I don’t know what to do to fix the problem.” –R.S.
It takes strength to admit when you are in over your head and to ask for help. I can hear the vulnerability in your letter, but I want you to know you are stronger than you imagine.
I am incredibly sorry for what happened to you. Catch that wording: “what happened to you.” I can tell that you hold a great deal of guilt and shame about being violated, which is entirely normal, but you do need to know that you are not responsible for being attacked; that was solely the responsibility of your attacker.
The only way to “fix the problem,” as you put it, is to seek therapy. For most women, rape is not something that they can just get over by letting time pass. The emotional trauma needs to be addressed head-on and with the assistance of a trained professional. If you’re unsure where to start, try the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. The folks there can direct you to a therapist in your area for individual or group counseling.
My first concern is getting you healthy for you, but understandably, you want to get better to maintain your relationship. I encourage you to be honest with your boyfriend about what you experienced. He doesn’t understand your reaction to sex and is likely feeling rejected. He may even suspect that you are cheating.
The best way to tell him is just to make it plain. Skip the suspense of “I need to talk to you” and scheduling an event for the conversation. Just catch him face-to-face when he’s not too busy and say, “There’s something I need to tell you,” and spill. Explain to him that’s why you react the way you do when you are intimate with him.
You will probably be surprised at his reaction, which, if he’s a halfway decent guy, won’t be rejection. He may become angry, a sort of protective reaction, and he may start sharing stories of women from his past who have been through the same ordeal or worse.
When I was in my early 20s, I was sexually assaulted by someone I trusted. One of my reactions to that trauma was to over-share and tell absolutely everyone I knew what happened. I needed to hear “It’s not your fault, D.” Much like you, I felt extraordinary guilt and kept telling myself I was stupid to put myself in the situation.
Something unexpected happened when I was doing all that talking. The guys — every single one of them — knew someone who had been assaulted or raped. Not all that surprising, since more than 60 percent of black girls have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18, according to the Black Women’s Blueprint. Where I expected judgment, I found sympathy and understanding.
Trust your boyfriend, whom you obviously really care about, to be a good guy and accept you — all of you — including the good, bad and traumatized. Allow him a chance to really know all of you and support you, too, as you finally address the pain you’ve been carrying.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.