Sexual assault survivor needs help with intimate relationships


I was raped by my best friend a few years ago. I was a virgin then, and still, years later, I can't seem to "go all the way" with anyone. How can I stop freaking out and messing up relationships?

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for taking the time to share this information and reach out for help. It can be difficult for some to verbalize after they’ve been assaulted, so it’s important to recognize the strength it takes to share your experience. It’s not uncommon to experience long-term emotional impacts after a traumatic experience such as rape. However, being too hard on yourself for “messing up relationships” could inhibit your ability to give yourself the time you need to heal. Being in an emotionally or sexually intimate relationship following a traumatic event can also be difficult, especially if there are unresolved feelings from the assault you experienced. It's not uncommon for survivors to know the perpetrator. Experiencing violence perpetrated by your best friend may make processing this even more challenging. The loss of trust and betrayal often accompanying these events can make it difficult to be intimate with others—as you have shared. If you feel ready, you might consider speaking with a mental health professional so they can help you develop some strategies to begin healing from what happened to you and allow you to be intimate with future partner(s) when and if it’s right for you. 

If you find that you’re putting pressure on yourself to move through the healing process quickly, know that kindness and patience are some of the best things you can offer yourself. Everybody’s experience after a sexual assault is different, and there is no correct timeline that dictates when people are ready to become intimate with others. Changing your mind after becoming intimate with someone is also totally okay. Some days your comfort level may be just holding hands, some days you may be comfortable with more, and on other days, you may not want any physical contact at all. Although it may feel challenging, taking steps to acknowledge what you do or don't feel ready for may help you quell that inner critic. 

In terms of “going all the way”, try to remember that if your partner is requiring or pressuring physical intimacy from you, it might be a sign of an incompatible relationship. It can be paramount in your healing journey for you to feel comfortable with how the relationship is progressing and supported by your new partner(s). Do you feel like your partner is someone you could have an open dialogue with about your comfort level? Do you feel prepared to start the conversation? If you are feeling up to it, speaking with your partner about your boundaries may allow you to feel more comfortable with where the relationship is or isn’t going, physically. 

You mention that you're afraid of "freaking out" and "messing up", but keep in mind that in thriving relationships, whether they involve sex or not, partners rely on clear and mutual communication and respect. If this feels like something that may be difficult for you, how do you feel about talking to a mental health professional about your experience? It may be beneficial to further process your past experience with a mental health professional (if you aren't already). Doing so may help you figure out in what ways the experience and other factors may be impacting the intimacy in your relationships. A mental health professional may be able to help you feel more comfortable and prepared to take the next step (whatever it may be for you) when you’re ready. 

If you're not ready to process your experience with a mental health professional or would like to consider other options for support or assistance, there are several organizations that can provide support and resources: 

No matter how you choose to move forward, you have the right to be in a relationship with someone who will respect your boundaries and healing process. You also have the right to space and time to process what you've experienced so you can be intimate with whoever you wish, on a timeline that's right for you. 

Last updated Apr 07, 2023
Originally published Oct 31, 1997