For Husbands, Boyfriends, And Sexual Partners Of Survivors

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For the sexual partners of victims, there is likely to be a temporary disruption of sexual activity. Difficulties may be especially apparent if the rape was extremely violent or involved multiple attackers. Most victims experience temporary changes in their sexual responsiveness, and are concerned over the emotional responses of their partners (you).

If you are insensitive to her needs, it may make the resumption of sex seem rape-like, reminding her of the incident. It is not uncommon for victims to have flashbacks during sexual relations. Likewise, males often are insecure about their sexual performance, especially if the victim seems reluctant or displeased. They may even show flashes of anger or frustration when their advances are rejected, or when she becomes withdrawn and anxious during sex, but you should understand that these responses are not criticisms of you…yet your angry reactions to them might make her feel criticized.

As her partner, you should ask yourself, “How can I effectively communicate with the woman I love when she has been victimized?” Here are some suggestions to help:

  • She needs to be given every opportunity to regain her sense of personal control, especially in decision-making about sex. Do not demand or pressure or guilt her into sexual activity, and be calmly sweet to her when she declines. Don’t even flinch when she declines, and even make it easy for her to say no. Smile, gaze into her eyes, caress her shoulder, and simply tell her you love her, and you understand. “When you’re ready. I’m fine, and there’s no pressure. This is up to you, okay?” Even being given that power and care by her mate can be a strong boost in her recovery, because it brings her closer to a partner who respects her decision, and isn’t seeking sexuality for his own selfishness.
  • Do not be angry with her or doubt your adequacy if she appears less responsive than normal. It may be that certain cues present during the rape (smell of alcohol or cigarettes, certain music, certain place or time of day, even the “anniversary” each year of the rape) inhibit responsiveness. A willingness to alter your patterns will help your relationship.
  • Just as you would not pressure her into sex, also be careful not to withhold your displays of intimacy. Understandably, some males will assume that victims have a diminished interest in sex and therefore becomes emotionally withdrawn from her. Or you may assume she doesn’t want to be touched at all, but gently caressing her hand or arm can be soothing if she desires them. It is important that she knows you are respecting her right to decline sex, not that you are pulling away from her. If you become silent or sulk or pout, she may interpret that you consider her “polluted” or “tarnished” by the rape, as if she has lost her specialness to you. Ask permission to cuddle, offer backrubs, use gentle touches and talk to her about what non-sexual contact you want to do: “I want to pet your hair. I want to kiss your cheek. I’d like to hold your hand.”
  • Be patient. Rape can cause physical pain, erratic menstrual periods, and discomfort. When the time for sex comes, be tender and slow. There are even some sexual techniques that are helpful: gazing into her eyes and smiling during intercourse, whispering the words “I love you…I love you so much…” over and over (and over and over), cradling her head or hands, and being willing to stop without feeling insulted if it just isn’t working out. Be ready to give up and try again another time if it turns out this time wasn’t quite right yet.

Husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers, and other males can be significant in a woman’s recovery from rape. In fact, half of women who ever report their rapes turn to a male as their first source of trust, help, and advice. Helping men understand rape is critical to helping victims recover from rape. You play a major role in helping a loved one recover. There are no miracle cures and it is not likely that you’ll know everything it takes to “make it all right” again. But by being patient, supportive, and non-judgmental you will be communicating the most important message: your unconditional love. Trust that she is strong enough to do the rest on her own.


Adapted from A Man’s Guide To Helping A Woman Who Has Been Raped.

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