Should I tell my partner I was raped when I was a virgin?
Well, the thing is that I have this boyfriend. He is twenty and I am seventeen. I really like, and am falling in love with, him. We have discussed sex, and he isn't a virgin, and neither am I, but I lied and said I was. I really want to tell him, but I'm afraid he'll get mad. My first time was with a guy who I had a crush on, and we went on a date, and he raped me. In my heart, I'm still a virgin, but, in definition, I am not. Should I tell my boyfriend?
Thank you for your courage in reaching out and asking about this situation. It's never okay or acceptable for someone to exercise power and control over another person by raping them, regardless of if any dates or crushes were involved. It may be helpful to consider the various conceptualizations of virginity in deciding what it means for you. For many people, virginity is a social construct designed to control bodies with vaginas. For others, it's a sacred and loving experience with someone special. In many conceptualizations, rape wouldn't be considered sex, and therefore you would still be considered a virgin if that's something that matters to you. Regardless of how you make meaning of the term, disclosing past sexual trauma with new or future partners can be difficult and anxiety-inducing. Ultimately, the decision to share is up to you and not required for the relationship to last. However, you might find that this conversation brings you and your partner closer together emotionally and provides additional support for the process of healing from trauma. Read on for more on the conceptualization of virginity and then communication strategies for your current and future partners about traumatic or harmful sexual experiences you may have had in the past.
There isn't consensus around any one definition of "virginity." Rather, virginity tends to mean different things to different people. Many definitions revolve around categorizing sexual acts, some of which may constitute virginity, others of which may not depending on the criteria selected to constitute the definition. Under any of these related definitions, you may think about your experience of rape and how you feel about its categorization. For what it's worth, many people would categorize rape as an act of violence and not sex, and therefore affirm its separation from considerations related to virginity. Ultimately, that call is yours and only yours to make. For more on virginity, check out the question on the definition of a virgin in the Go Ask Alice! archives.
In considering strategies for disclosing past sexual trauma with current and future partners, it may be helpful to consider disclosure more broadly first. Survivors choose to share about their experiences with certain people for a variety of reasons. Many choose to keep the information to themselves or among a small number of close friends and family or other members of their social network with whom they feel closest to and who have little/no connection with the person who harmed them. In one study, the majority of responses to sexual assault disclosure were considered positive. Most friends and family reacted by providing emotional support and firm belief in the survivor. Negative reactions, such as distraction or differential treatment, were the least common observed responses. While survivors often choose not to disclose due to fear of shame, blame, or lack of secrecy, the reality is that many people provide support that may be crucial for overcoming the emotional trauma experienced.
Though you haven't yet had sex with your partner, it appears to be a topic you're considering. It's common for sexuality to be affected by sexual assault. Due to past trauma, sexual encounters may become emotionally triggering. It may drive an increased or decreased desire for sex. These additional emotions have the potential to increase strain on an intimate relationship if not intentionally handled. Fortunately, however, having a supportive sexual partner decreases the likelihood of facing these problems.
Ultimately, sharing this information with your partner may feel like a big decision. You may first consider the network you have supporting you as you work to heal from this experience. Do you have support from friends or family? Have you connected with a mental health professional who who may be able to help counsel you through this difficult conversation? While support from your partner is important, having additional avenues that you can rely on are important too. When you've established that, you may then consider your decision to share with your partner. You mentioned that you fear your boyfriend will be mad. Outside of this situation, do you feel support and trust with him? What about nonjudgement? All of these characteristics may set this conversation up for success. The key is to remember that there's no right or wrong way to tell them about your experience. You can share however little or much you'd like to share. Doing so in a private location where you both can pay full attention to one another will also allow you both to show up for each other in ways that hopefully align with what you value as individuals and as a couple. You could also your partner to carve out a specific time to talk ahead of time so he knows that you'll be having a more serious conversation. This can also give him a little more time to be prepared. It may be helpful to note that your partner may feel a range of emotions when you tell them, from anger and confusion to shock and guilt. They may need some time to process what you've shared, or they may have the right words in that same moment. Considering some tips and information from the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)) may also help you prepare to have this conversation if and when you're feeling ready.
If you feel that your partner is supportive and trusting, telling them may bring you two closer and make you feel more supported. However, if you aren't yet ready to disclose this information to anyone, consider this list of resources that may provide helpful information and support.
Take care of yourself,
Originally published Nov 13, 1998
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