Now that I got out my reaction about the Sexuality for Survivors panel I want to tell you what was said.
I don’t believe any of the panelists truly agreed on “one” definition of what being a survivor is because for each of them surviving and thriving means so many different things: making it through another round of chemo, focusing on creating a documentary or even just learning to speak out about the trauma they experienced. But each in their own way is surviving and has survived the trauma they experienced and that by itself is incredibly powerful to witness.
Each of the panelists have heartbreaking stories of trauma which have all profoundly marked their sexuality.
Listening to Andrea speak of how she went through varying phases after each of her three violent rapes absolutely terrified me. After one instance of rape, she disassociated and went through a period she calls, the best sex of her life. At the moment, after her third trauma, she wants to be able to engage in sex but she just cannot so she remains sexless and channels her sexuality instead into speaking out against rape and making her documentary.
Stef, who has been dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, has come to appreciate living life to the fullest and advocating for women, breast cancer screening and charities. One of the things that resonated with me was her anecdote about stuffing ice packs in her bra after biopsies and having sex. Though she is still facing a double-mastectomy, Stef has decided her trauma will not define her sexuality. Through hair loss, sore breasts and chemo she has found a way to continue to express her sexuality. Interestingly enough Stef mentioned that she has begun to steer away from the typical Alpha-males she was once drawn to and now prefers a more sensitive partner; one who will understand and be supportive of certain limitations or feelings she may have because of treatment.
Julie was nervous. I know this because I heard her say it afterwards to Dr. Ruthie but she was still so incredibly brave in talking about the incest that happened to her as a child. Quite a bit of what Julie spoke about resonated with me. Not wanting to be viewed as a victim is quite important to me; it’s the reason I resisted even calling what happened to me rape. I feared people would look at me differently with pity or sadness. I am still struggling with that. As Julie spoke she mentioned not having a safe space where her story was heard and accepted as a child and again when she recently blogged about it. Her community, the sports community, didn’t want to hear about that part of her experience. As she spoke, I could hear her struggle at times feeling as though she needed to justify herself. This was obvious when she said part of reclaiming her sexuality was simply acknowledging she’s a straight, “vanilla” woman and that’s ok. She no longer has to perform her sexuality to prove that she’s “normal” for others but rather she embraces what she likes about it.
Things that really struck me:
Andrea – “There is no such thing as a wrecked life.” These things happened, they changed the course of her life but her life isn’t wrecked. It affects her but her life still has purpose and meaning and she wants to make something positive out of what happened.
Dr. Ruthie – Between birth and death 80% of women will be violated. I’ve heard this type of statistic before but the number has never seemed so large or so real until now.
Stef – “Cancer and sex are not mutually exclusive.”
Julie – “It takes time to heal.” I posted about this previously but really that’s something I need to remind myself constantly.
All – Self-care has to be the #1 priority.