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None of my earliest sexual experiences were consensual. Not really. Of course, I thought they were at the time, but I have since learned what consent actually is, and what situations do not qualify as consent. I did not properly learn this at the time; I don’t think I’d ever even heard the word consent applied to sexual situations until I was an adult. As a teen, I remember being educated about the purely physical qualities of sex; they gave us the basic biological facts. They warned us of the physical health risks and none of the other risks. They didn’t give us any knowledge of the psychological and emotional consequences of sex, not to mention the legal consequences. And in hindsight, the legal consequences exist for a reason. What I called “losing my virginity to the boy (19-year-old man) I was eventually going to marry,” was actually statutory rape.

At the age of 17, in my first-ever serious relationship, he pressured me into engaging in a lot of sexual acts. It started out as just hand stuff, and then oral sex, and then finally a few months into the relationship I had sexual intercourse with him for the first time. But with all of these things, it was always him asking, and me hesitating, and him asking again. And again. I did many things with him before I was ready. The actual penetrative sex was the biggest part of that, and obviously what meant the most to me, but by then my personal autonomy and the conservative values I had been raised with, which I had considered so important, had already been compromised in many other ways. I thought and felt as though I were his. What we did in that relationship we did because I felt pressured, and I loved him, and I felt as though I had to prove it to him in the physical way he was asking of me. No other way seemed like enough.

I already had low self-esteem, and was already wrapped up in this relationship simply because no boy had ever told me he loved me before. So, it was already not a very healthy relationship, but after sex with him became a regular part of my life, things just spiraled out of my control. I started to see myself as only my body; I lost all sight of my worth outside of what I was to him, and it seemed that all I was to him was my body. My relationship with this guy became my total center of identity, and the key component of that relationship was the physical intimacy that had been forced on me. Because I wasn’t ready for the physical intimacy, I participated in sexual acts with him but didn’t have any emotional intimacy during them, and so I felt completely empty inside. I know now that this emptiness was the seed of trauma taking root in my brain, because I wasn’t actually choosing any of it. The sexual acts that were a part of our relationship were about power and control, not about mutual affection and union. I was going along with what he wanted. I didn’t know what a true consensual sexual relationship was like – I’d never had one or heard it described – and so it never occurred to me that what I was experiencing was not it.

I slipped into depression very subtlety and swiftly; it first manifested itself as a total loss of appetite. As I said, my identity was wrapped up in this relationship and how he perceived my body, and so I became obsessed with working out and becoming thinner. I would sit at the dinner table and stare at my plate with no motivation. I lost twenty pounds in two months, unhealthily - I was a healthy weight of 124 and suddenly the scale read only 104. My mom was so worried. But by then I had already stopped sharing things with her, because I had betrayed the values she taught me. I never shared much of anything important with her ever again. This was another part of my depression as a result of this experience; I shut my family out and shut out most friends as well. As the relationship went on, I became increasingly more depressed because I did not know who I was anymore – it was like I had tunnel vision on him and our sexual relationship. I also became increasingly anxious and paranoid, since the stakes were now so high in my mind (I’d given up what I had been supposed to be saving for my future husband). I constantly worried about why he wasn’t responding to my messages, I had access to his social media accounts. I always worried that he was going to get bored of me. I constantly asked him if I was enough for him. I begged to be noticed for me, not just for my body. I begged to be cared about. Because if he didn’t care about me, who would? I certainly didn’t.

It ended soon enough. And to top off the physical abuse with virtual abuse, I saw on his social media account that after we broke up he had shared a photo of my body, which I had sent him, with another (older) man. Which is also a crime, but of course I did not know that at the time.

My depression and anxiety devolved into suicidal thoughts and self-harm. But I also decided that what I needed was a rebound, and so I chose to have sex with another guy shortly after we all graduated from high school, at a summer party. So I learned what consensual sex was. It felt good to ask for it for once. And I looked forward to college and a fresh start.

One week into freshman year of college, the feeling of starting at a new school and taking control of my life was almost euphoric. The first Saturday night of the semester, I took a trip into the city for a girl’s birthday dinner. We got back to campus late, around one or two in the morning. When I walked into my dorm building, a bunch of guys were sitting in the lobby and talking, and I introduced myself and sat down and talked with them. I wanted to meet everyone I could since it was a small university and like I said, euphoric. After a little while sitting there, two other guys came in the front door carrying a box of Bud Light Limes triumphantly, saying “We’re about to drink all night, who wants to drink all night with us?”. I hadn’t met these guys yet either, so I stood up and said “I’ll drink all night with you!” and went up to their dorm on the second floor. Because I wanted to make friends with as many people as possible, and it had been such a great night it didn’t even occur to me that anyone wouldn’t be kind and fun and friendly.

I sat upright on this guy’s bed watching something on Netflix with him and drinking one Bud Light Lime, which I discovered I didn’t even like. When whatever show we watched was over, I tried to say goodnight and that it was nice to meet him. He took my wrist in his hand and told me not to leave yet. I thought okay, why not stay for a few more minutes, but then when I tried to leave again, he grabbed my wrist again and so I sat down again. I looked at him and said “Really, this has been fun, but it’s super late so I’m calling it a night.” Because at this point it must have been like 4 in the morning. But when I tried to stand up again, he had a hold on my arm so I couldn’t even rise from the bed. I tried this two more times (a total of five tries), but each time he protested and physically restrained me from leaving. Finally, he pulled me down further on the bed, and I allowed him to pull my romper aside and have sex with me. I don’t even remember if we kissed. After a couple minutes, he left to go to the bathroom or whatever, and I laid there and just felt exhaustion seep over me. When he came back in, he looked surprised and asked me why I was still there. I probably mumbled something about being sleepy, but he then kicked me out and shut the door behind me. I stood in the hallway for a minute, feeling like what had just happened may or may not have happened to me. I felt as if it were something I had witnessed, not something that had been done to me. And I thought about the irony that I had just been trying to leave all along, and then when I gave him what he wanted he kicked me out.

I went to my room and slept, and the next day saw him in the cafeteria and he pretended not to know who I was. I told one friend about what happened to me, and he told me that I shouldn’t have been in the guy’s room and it was my fault for going there in the first place. After hearing that, I didn’t tell anyone else, either friends or university staff. I suppressed the experience and moved forward with school and other relationships, continued to work out often and tried my best to stay positive. I struggled with depression constantly but thought that by keeping myself busy I could overcome it. I always wanted to have something to look forward to so that I could get through, and so I planned to study abroad for a semester in Rome during my sophomore year. But in the meantime, I still had the rest of freshman year to struggle through.

In April of freshman year, I took a weekend trip to visit a guy friend at another university. He was a friend that I met during high school, when I had a boyfriend, but we stayed in touch a bit after high school. Whenever we met up on breaks during college we would mess around, make out, and perform oral sex on each other; that was as far as it ever went because he told me he had never had sex before. We planned that I would visit at his school for a weekend, and that I would just stay in his room with him, but we didn’t talk about what kinds of sexual activities either of us was expecting. When I got there, we started messing around and he paused and went in a desk drawer; when I asked what he was doing he said he was finding a condom so we could have sex. I started to say, “No, don’t get a condom because I don’t want to have sex,” but his roommate ended up walking in when I was halfway through my sentence. With his roommate interrupting, all my friend heard me say was “No, don’t get a condom -”.

Later that evening we went to a party together, and I had told him that 1800 Tequila was my favorite, so he got a huge bottle and we were sharing it between us. I definitely had way too much, but was having a fun night and felt comfortable. After the party, we went back to his room and got in bed, and I laid next to him facing him. The room was spinning and the tequila had made me very sleepy. I heard him tell me to turn around, and I thought to myself, “That’s a good idea, I’ll turn around because this is a small bed so then we can be more comfortable and I can go to sleep.” As soon as I turned around, I felt him reaching for my pants and pulling them down, and then he was inside me. I was very surprised but I just froze. As soon as he was done I went to sleep. In the morning I started to get worried and asked him if he had used a condom, and he told me no because earlier that day, he had heard me tell him not to get a condom out of his drawer. Big miscommunication I guess. I drove home, but ended up messaging him a couple weeks later about affirmative consent. I told him I had too much to drink that night and what he did was not okay. He was receptive, and apologized, but we’re not friends anymore.

All of these experiences took place when I was 17 and 18 years old (2015-2016). It is now almost five years later, and I am just beginning therapy. I buried my trauma for years, and it held me back from trusting others, having close relationships, and being vulnerable. This trauma held me back from fully living my life. I have decided not to let it hold me back any more.

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