Sexual response or orgasm during sexual assault is the best-kept and most deeply shameful secret of many victims and survivors. Unfortunately, some people believe that if a victim experiences arousal while being raped, that person must have enjoyed being raped. Some others believe that arousal is synonymous with consent. However, consent is not given by a person’s body parts, it is verbally given by a sober, informed, non-coerced partner. And since vaginas and penises can’t speak, it’s safe to say that they cannot give consent.
If you are a survivor, and you experienced pleasure, no matter how little, it’s important that you understand that sexual response in sexual assault is extremely common, it is also well-documented and nothing for you to be ashamed of.
Below is some information from researchers and professionals about sexual arousal and sexual assault:
Rape and Sexual Arousal:
Rape is not always violent. Some survivors surrender to protect themselves or their loved ones. Sometimes, victims are intoxicated, drugged, physically or mentally incapacitated, or in a position without power. Some victims (doubly horribly) are children. Rape does not always include penile penetration. Some rapists are married to their victims. Some rapists are women. Some women rape men. And sometimes, while the act that is always a violation is going on, a rape victim will experience increasingly intense physical sensations leading to an orgasm. Yes, it does happen.
Aphrodite Matsakis has this to say about sexual arousal or orgasm in rape:
“Before you chastise yourself for one minute, remember that your sexual organs do not have a brain. They cannot distinguish between a mauling rapist and the gentle touch of a lover. They simply react to stimulation the way they were physically designed to respond. If you climaxed or had some other sexual response to the rape, this does not mean that you enjoyed it.”
And it isn’t just about you and the way your body responded either. It may also have been one of the range of dirty tricks rapists use to get their victims to feel responsible. Diana Russell writes that “Some rapists think they’re lovers” (These rapists) think that if a woman is stimulated in ‘just the right way’ she will enjoy it. The incident may seem more important if the rapist believes he has turned the woman on physically, particularly if it is against her will. Getting the victim to respond physically may also alleviate the rapist’s guilt feelings.”
This means that, even if you had a spontaneous response, or it was deliberately induced by the rapist, it doesn’t mean that you asked to be raped or liked it. It was not your fault.
Marital/Partner Rape and Sexual Arousal:
According to Marital Rape researchers David Finkelhor and Kersti Yllo, some women in their study reported that they had experienced pleasure during the rapes, particularly in cases of repeated rape. They summarized that this appears to be an “adaptive response” that makes repeated rape more survivable.
In addition, some women question whether they were raped at all, or whether their partners had a right to take from them what had been enjoyed in the past. This is especially confusing for Christian women who have been told that they lose the right to their bodies once they get married. Some others may feel guilty and shame about feeling pleasure in between episodes of rape, they may feel as if they are “sick” to have enjoyed sex with somebody who was also raping them. Therefore, marital/intimate partner rape is very traumatizing, because the victim finds it difficult to reconcile a partner who rapes them with the someone who has promised to love and care for them, and even shows affection sometimes. It is also common for victims to try to “forget” abusive episodes and respond to their partners when they are approached with affection. This is nothing for you to be ashamed of. Domestic abuse, which often involves rape, is an extension of the rapist/abuser’s power over you.
Child Sexual Abuse and Sexual Arousal:
Child sexual abuse is not only a touching offence. There are other events and activities that lead up to an abuser touching or having sex with a child. This is called the grooming process. Every pedophile has a grooming process that centers around breaking down a child’s defenses and inhibitions to the physical sexual act. Seducing or stimulating a child for the child to accommodate the abuse and feel complicit in it is extremely common. Sometimes, abusers would stimulate a child and then tell the child that s/he is “bad, disgusting, or a slut” for having a response. This is horribly scarring, and completely false and unjust.
If you were sexually abused as a child, then it’s important you remember that you were victimized by somebody who had knowledge of how to touch and manipulate you for their own gratification, ensuring that your shame and (false) sense of complicity rendered you less likely to disclose the abuse to anyone. It is only one of the dynamics of the abuse, and not a testament of you being bad or a slut. As you heal, you will come to fully realize that you have been carrying the shame and responsibility of the abuser all along; part of the healing process is giving back that shame and the responsibility for all of the abuse, including the responses, back to the abuser.
Quick points to note:
- You are not alone. Sexual response to sexual assault is common.
- Sexual response to sexual assault does not mean that you liked or enjoyed it. The disgust and repulsion you feel, is enough to make you understand that.
- Sexual response is not the reason the perpetrator assaulted you. Regardless of what your body did and how it responded, the perpetrator alone is responsible for assaulting you.
- For male survivors, if you were sexually assaulted by a same-sex perpetrator, then please understand that responding to sexual assault physically doesn’t mean you are “gay.”
- No child is a slut. Reject the belief that you are if you’ve been feeling this way since the abuse, especially If the perpetrator implied that you are one. You are not tainted, and you are not damaged goods.
- Matsakis, A. I Can’t Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors, New Harbinger Publications Inc, California, 1992
- Russell, D. The Politics of Rape: The Victim’s Perspective, Stein and Day, New York, 1975
- Eastel, P. and McOrmond-Plummer, L. Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2006