October 5, 2022

SEX ON THURSDAY | Trigger Warning: An Assault Story

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Content warning: The following contains a detailed account of a sexual assault.

I suppose I could call what happened to me a “soft rape.” At least, those are the words I muttered when I first tried to explain the event to a few close friends. This all happened at the very beginning of the summer — forgive me for waiting a while before I write about my assault in the school newspaper — so I’ve had some time to mull over just how “soft” the whole thing really was. I mean, it was the sort of thing that doesn’t seem bad enough to call it plain “rape” without feeling like I might be overly victimizing myself. But in ways it certainly was bad enough — it’s complicated, as these things often are.

My sort-of-rapist was someone I knew well, and who I had a lot of affection for. An older guy I’d been seeing on and off for almost a full year, he had been a reliable source of good conversation, good sex, vehicular transportation to Trader Joe’s and back, and comfortable, casual intimacy. We never saw each other exclusively or “dated” or even really discussed our fuckbuddyship in the third person. But our relationship seemed, to me at least, to sit solidly on the evenness between what we each wanted out of it, on the balanced care and respect we had for one another, and on a mutual trust in the continuation of that care and respect for as long as we continued to see each other. 

So the night he violated me, I experienced loss at a few different levels. Any faith I had in his respect for me dissolved immediately, as of course did the entire partnership between us. And I didn’t know it then, but my ability to trust future sexual companions had taken a bit of a blow.

Looking back on them now, the events of the night and the order in which they occurred are blurry to say the least — many parts stored in my memory now only as blank segments of emotional turmoil with physical pain periodically piercing through. But here’s some of what I do remember. 

We hadn’t seen each other in a couple months, by far the longest we’d gone without having sex. I enjoyed his unusually aggressive advances during the initial car ride, taking them only as an endearing indication of his excitement to see me again. We opened his apartment door and entered the living room, where we always used to talk or eat or play with his cat or make out or smoke weed or some combination thereof for hours before we moved things to the bedroom. But this time he scooped me up and took me straight to his bed.

I tried to make nonsexy conversation as he carried me — telling him about my racial capitalism class that past semester — and told him I wanted to go find and greet the cat first. But when he laid me down, took off his pants and then tried to pull mine down too, I knew my hints had gone either unnoticed (unlikely, as he’s typically responsive to them) or utterly disregarded. I grabbed my waistband and tried to pull my jeans back up from just under my hip bones. I distinctly remember him keeping his hands where they were and continuing to pull downwards for several seconds so that I was using quite a bit of effort just to keep my waistband from moving any lower. 

As forceful as my grip may have been on my jeans, my brain at this point hadn’t gripped the reality of my situation. Surprised at what was happening and unsure of what would happen next, I remember I was still doubtful that he’d go much further than this — that this situation would become anything all that extreme. I don’t think I was saying much of anything then, figuring my physical opposition was expression enough. I gave up and grabbed at my underwear instead, salvaging what little coverage I could as he pulled my pants all the way off. He backed off for a moment to take the rest of his clothes off, at which point I remember saying his name and sternly telling him to “chill out.” 

But in a way I’d never seen from him before, he acted as if I was saying and doing nothing at all — which, I might add, would in fact have still not been enough to demonstrate consent and warrant his behavior. He grabbed at my underwear as if to pull them down, and I grabbed at them again, anticipating another scuffle. That was the first time that night that I told him to “stop.” He didn’t pull downwards, but he didn’t let go either. The next few seconds felt much longer than that as I said his name multiple times in a harsh but unquestionably fearful tone, waiting for him to initiate a tug-of-war I knew I wouldn’t win. But he did let go, and then he sort of smirked and sighed and said he was sorry. At that point I was visibly shaken and my mind and body sort of frozen over in shock. He started rubbing and kissing and hugging me, whispering “sorry” between kisses as if it turned him on to have made me so distressed. 

There was more kissing and hugging and before I knew it there was groping and fingering — none of which I wanted but none of which I had enough energy left to resist against. It’s difficult for me to explain how we ended up having vaginal sex twice that night, before he fell asleep and I lay crying silently next to him. Exhausted into a state of numb near-indifference, I was convinced it would be easier to let him bust his nut and fall asleep than to keep fending him off for what might have been hours more. So I fake-moaned and -groaned and played along. I tried my hardest to forget I’d never consented to any of this so that I might start to feel some sexual stimulation — at least enough to provide a little lubrication and relieve the stabbing sensation in my dry vagina. It helped that the edible I’d eaten earlier was finally hitting. 

 I felt a lot of unpleasant things all at once that night, among them searing pain in my vagina, the sort of heartbreak felt at the abrupt ending of a valued relationship, and an overwhelming sense of scared shock and powerlessness that had me fighting tears on the spot. But obscuring this knot of pain and grief was and still is a cloud of confusion — about what exactly he did, and about whether or not he’d have done it if I’d demonstrated my nonconsent more clearly or more repeatedly. About why, after years and years of “yes means yes” sex ed, I’m still stuck pondering the possible inadequacy of my “no.” 

Brat Baby is a student at Cornell University. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Pillow Princess Diaries runs alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester.