Specialized ProfessionArousal/Orgasm in Sexual Assault: IAmA Psychotherapist, Founder/Director of Sexual Assault Awareness, (and local mod), Back to Talk Taboo, #MeToo & Answer Your Q's on SA!
Feb 20th 2018 by ChildTherapist • 24 Questions • 693 Points
Hello again Reddit!
This is my thank you to Reddit, as much of what I've accomplished would not have happened without your support! As SAA moves into 2018, it seemed timely to once more address this under-discussed aspect:
The idea of having an orgasm or feeling arousal during rape or molestation is a confusing and difficult one for many people, both survivors and secondary-survivors (friends/family). Many do not believe it's possible for a woman or man to achieve orgasm during rape or other kinds of sexual assault. Some believe having an orgasm under these circumstances means that it wasn't a "real" rape or the woman/man "wanted" it. Addressing arousal and orgasm in SA is the final taboo in sexualized trauma; the thing no one wants to talk about. Understanding the psychology and neuro-biology underlying the victims' response to sexual assault will remove the shame and stigma, so a lot more healing can happen.
My clients have seen this, my professional colleagues are beginning to acknowledge this, and now, I hope once more, Reddit will too!
I’m Andrew Pari, LCSW, a.k.a. ChildTherapist, trauma/sexual assault specialist, and Founder/Director of Sexual Assault Awareness (SAA). It’s been over 4 years since I last posted on this topic and I’m so proud that it remains the largest online discussion on sexualized violence, thanks to all of you! Here's the prior post for reference: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1w4d7m/orgasm_and_arousal_during_rape_or_sexual_assault/
Mod-Approved Proof: https://twitter.com/SexAssaultAware/status/966000078505746433
Since our last talk, I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to do so many things to raise awareness on sexualized violence & victim response, such as:
trained & presented at some of the top organizations dedicated to eliminating sexualized violence, including End Violence Against Women Int’l (www.evaintl.org), the Conference on Crimes Against Women (www.conferencecaw.org), and the Institute on Violence, Abuse, & Trauma (www.ivatcenters.org),
- educated thousands of forensic & mental health professionals, military & law enforcement around the world from New York to Hawaii to Washington D.C. to Switzerland to Korea,
- partnering with a university on the first formal study on arousal/orgasm in sexualized violence. We are very excited about this! Shoutout to Kayla Bunderson who's leading the charge on this important study!,
- continuing 20 years of direct work with SA survivors, and getting over myself to begin providing tele-therapy for women in areas where the work I do isn't readily available, including service and outreach to CSECY and sex industry professionals,
and, hopefully, completing the book that folks have been asking me about for years.
I have a strong cup of coffee, my cat, and I'm ready to continue our talk. (And just to save some time: a duck-sized horse. I LOVE duck!)
Note: I will answer first-order (left-side) questions as it’s difficult to attempt tracking deviating comments. Don't be afraid to think your question may be offensive, as long as it isn’t deliberately so. I'd rather have a frank talk than leave people with false ideas.
EDIT: 1pm CA time I'm heading off for awhile, but will continue to answer your questions as the day goes on. If you have a personal issue you want to talk about, feel free to PM me or visit our website: www.sexualassaultawareness.org. Thank you, Reddit!
EDIT2: 4pm CA time: Back to get through as many questions as I can. I'm receiving a number of PMs and plan to get to ALL of you. Please feel free to PM me, but just know it may be a day or two before I can reply.
EDIT3: 7:30pm CA time: Taking off again. Will check in again before going to sleep. I'll continue answering questions when I have time as long as you are asking them!
Good day, AP.
I've discussed this with a number of male victims of rape or sexual assault, of my acquaintance. Quite a few have said that their perpetrators (either sex) deliberately tried to provoke a physical reaction from them, for various reasons. In other words, the victim's arousal or orgasm wasn't an incidental aspect of the assault, but one of its main purposes.
Have you seen much evidence of this in the course of your professional work?
I see this more with child survivors than adults, but a yes to both. With children, male or female, part of the grooming process is to make them feel involved and complicit, a partner in their own abuse. One tool abusers use is to elicit sexual responses; erections/ejaculation in males, lubrication/orgasm in females.
It's a terrible and cruel act as it leaves many victims believing they seduced, wanted, partnered in their abuse, which simply isn't true.
And to be clear, despite my Reddit handle, the majority of my work is with adolescent through adult females, though I have worked with children as well.
I've experienced arousal whilst I was sexually assaulted, but I guess the most troubling thing was in that moment, I wasn't able to tell him to stop or to push him away. He then asked, "you like it don't you? Don't lie", to which I didn't respond.
I guess my question is - is it absolutely not possible that I wanted it?
These are such difficult questions to answer and why therapy really is so important to recovery. I hate to sound like some ancient philosopher, but my answer truly doesn't matter. Only yours does.
Is it possible for someone to have genuinely enjoyed their abuse, reflecting on it afterwards? Sure. I've absolutely worked with women for whom that was true. As we say, there really is no right response to sexual assault.
In your case though, it sounds like you experienced a very normal freeze reaction, that most people don't know is normal. Your body is geared towards survival. For women, one element of survival in pre-history was lubricating and orgasming in response to sexual attack, so that you wouldn't die from injuries. Because we largely associate orgasm with pleasure, we get very confused afterwards about what that response meant. It meant your body was saving itself.
A qualified sexual trauma specialist could help you really answer your question though.
I have a question, I'm a gay man who was sexually assaulted by an old man (I was 18 he was 55) and we were friends up to that point and had sex before, but when he wanted to one time I said no and he didn't take that for an answer. I didn't enjoy it but I ejectioned as well, now he is serving 50 years in state jail for what he did to me a several others and I feel conflicted and confused. I didn't want to have sex but he was also a friend, I know he would have done something like this to more people but he was very convincing that I enjoyed it and being further away from that moment it feels harder to figure it out. Is guilt in this situation normal? Should I feel guilty or rest assured that I did the right thing?
Thanks for you time
Such a hard question to answer because these are your feelings. They deserve the time for you to process and understand them. It's easy for me to say with certainty that you did the right thing in standing up for yourself and protecting others from a known perpetrator. But does my certainty result in yours?
Real Question Though. You once stated on Facebook that the #metoo movement was a "trendy hashtag" in the larger conversation of Sexual Assault. Is this something you still feel?
It's always difficult to hold nuanced discussion when there are strong movements and passion behind those movements.
What I was reflecting in that post was that many voices, those of my clients, women in the sex industry, and women in online spaces, felt marginalized by #metoo. Not that the movement itself was trendy, but that we must center ALL women and survivors. Historically, women had to present a certain way to be a "good victim." Usually white, pure, Christian, upper-middle class, etc.
Women of color, the poor, women in sex work were always seen as "unrapeable" because of who they are. Acknowledging them was my intent with the post. And apologies if that came across poorly.
Currently part of the system puts burden of proof on the victim.
Honestly the system often puts a great deal of the burden of proof on a victim. This is true for many crimes, but obviously in the case of an abuse victim it presents unique problems.
A situation that is easy to abuse when a jury of peers is not aware of many facets of victim response. And a victim is easily triggered.
Ex: when a jury of your peers is not aware of SA neuroscience and victim responses that are normal - such as delaying reporting, they may just assume its a case of regret, case closed. Thats not fair for the victim in this case / from my POV. But it is due process.
In cases where this may come up, it may be wise for the prosecution to employ an expert witness to explain these concepts to the jury.
There is still a heavy bias towards non logical stories equating to lies for most people.
This is actually what made me want to comment. I definitely can't speak for the general populace, but prosecuters and detectives don't necessarily think that non-logical stories are lies. They're just saddled with needing to reach an extremely high burden of proof, and that can be very challenging in many of these cases. The inability to do so can make a victim feeling no one believes them.
One reason I do expert testimony in this area. To educate the jury (and judges and attorneys) on what victim response really looks like, not the myths people buy into.
I remember getting this question last time and I think the answer is the same. Young woman about 17 yrs old who had been essentially a sex slave to her father and older brothers from 11 yrs old. Finally removed from her home and entered treatment. It's been years but last time I saw her she was doing very well.
One case I discuss at seminars is a woman who compulsively repeated her trauma by deliberately putting herself in situations to be raped. Sadly she was successful at this many many times before entering treatment. She is also doing well now.