Last week I wrote the first installment in the Expectation of Sex series in which I discussed the issue of expectation in the context of sexual misconduct and shared my own personal experience. Since that post, even more accusations of sexual misconduct have surfaced – it’s almost overwhelming to even keep considering the implications and impact these stories have on our own lives.
But please, do not shy away.
This is not an issue that can be dismissed as powerful men with inflamed egos. This behavior is seen in our own workplaces, on our own school campuses, maybe even in our own homes.
My first post discussed the expectation that causes individuals to act on sexual impulses without conversation or asking for consent. But there is another underlying motivation that is far more selfish and sinister:
This part of the equation is much more difficult to talk about. On the one hand, those who are in abusive relationships don’t want to believe that the person they love or respect could really be so selfishly motivated. And on the other hand, abusers themselves may not understand the psychological reason behind their actions and will deny that power is part of their motivation. And lastly, we as compassionate people, are hesitant to label abusers as power-hungry monsters.
Last week I shared an experience from my relationship with an ex-boyfriend that left me scarred and ashamed. I wish I could tell you that the rest of our relationship grew out of love, respect and understanding. But that was not the case.
Maybe a week or two after we began dating, my boyfriend took me to a drive-in movie. I had never been and was excited to see the movies that were playing. We pulled up to a parking spot in the back and he asked me if I wanted to sit in the back seat so it would be easier to cuddle. I agreed.
I don’t remember how long it took for him to start kissing me and taking off my clothes. I protested but he quieted me with shushes and “it’s ok”s. Before I knew it, he began pressing his fingers inside of me. I quickly said no – no, no, no, no – but it was only met with more “shhhh”s and “it’s ok”s. Again, I experienced a deep and paralyzing fear.
The shame I felt kept me silent. He told me he loved me – he told me he wanted to marry me. So I believed him. I believed that this was what love was. I believed that this was how relationships worked. Because he told me so.
He began driving me to random parking lots, just so I could get him off. It became a routine. I remember the dread when I thought he was taking me home but instead would pull into a parking lot and park the car – and just look at me. If I asked him if I could just go home, if I told him I felt uncomfortable or that I didn’t want to ‘make out’, he would guilt me into giving him what he wanted, claiming ‘blue balls’, and that it was my fault.
The worst part was the way he twisted my words and my thoughts until I was the one apologizing anytime I brought up how unhappy I was. And he convinced me I was sorry. I was sorry that I wasn’t thinking about him enough, that I wasn’t thinking about what he needed, or that I hadn’t considered how stressed he was.
He would sugarcoat everything in the sweetest of words, leaving me convinced of his love but feeling hollow and spent.
This wasn’t just the action of someone simply expecting physicality in a relationship. The expectation of sex was definitely part of the issue – but this went beyond that. This was action with the intent of gaining control and making me feel powerless and submissive. These were words that forced me to abandon myself and serve him in the name of ‘love’.
In the years of reflection I’ve spent looking back on these experiences, and from the stories I’ve heard from other survivors of abuse, I truly believe that most abusers do not fully grasp the consequences of their actions. Many times, abusers struggle with mental illness, personality disorders and histories of past trauma that cause them to act out in selfish and sinister ways.
Let me be clear – this does not excuse their actions. But it can help us understand them.
It is my heart that we speak openly about abuse and sexuality, and learn together how to see when abuse is happening, to us and those around us. It is my heart that those trapped in dark and lonely relationships find freedom and wholeness through genuine and honest love. It is my heart that abusers are called out and held accountable for their actions.
And I’ve learned that it is also my heart that these men and women, trapped by malicious and misaligned thinking, are counseled and educated that they too may learn how to love deeply and truly.
In writing these blog posts, I’ve often been overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the conversation. There is no easy solution. There are no pithy creeds to declare. The realities are complex and full of pain and regret.
But beyond that, I’ve been more hopeful than ever that as we speak out against darkness, the light will overcome. That as we learn to expect respect in our relationships, genuine and heartfelt love will overcome. And as we look towards heaven for guidance and grace, hope will transcend the darkest of situations and bring us all into a glorious freedom.
Are you unsure of how to have these conversations about sex with your significant other? With your kids? With your family? Make sure to follow Vanessa’s blog for the next installments of The Expectation of Sex series.
Vanessa is still conducting interviews for her upcoming book Prince or Poison: Identifying the Difference Between Love and Abuse. If you would like to share your story with Vanessa, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to make a contribution to Vanessa’s research and book expenses, please visit here.