Sex and Violence: Sexual intimacy with an abusive partner

by Avril D’Arcy

Sexual relationships within an environment of abuse, is an incredibly complex topic of conversation. Apart from conversations that I have personally instigated, I don’t know that I’ve come across discussion in this area. While academically I am sure there has been research, I found little consolation or conversation about something that, after I had left my boyfriend, I needed to talk about. While counsellors and therapists are an incredible source for healing, my need to feel valued and understood often lies in the understanding of the ‘civilians’ in my life. As any taboo subject, sex will generally be greeted with giggles, disgust or clinical evaluation. While I understand that people can feel awkward or uncomfortable, they will never feel as uncomfortable as the women who have had or are having sexual relationships with an abusive partner. While I have many lasting, latent emotions surrounding my experience of abuse, this one of the last areas I have tried to come to terms with. It is also one of the areas that I have found myself carrying over into new relationships. To be deemed as useless, treated as an object and told that I had a role to fulfill, sex became a daily worry.

When are we going to stop believing that violence has different faces? The inevitability of damage caused by abuse of any kind should have taught us that it is all the same demon: power, entitlement, dehumanisation, objectification, sexualisation, control, bullying. It is all violence; it is all the mask of a violent mind.

I recently went to the launch of a campaign against the purchase of sex and the sex  trade. I thought the subject matter didn’t personally affect me, but I wanted to show my support. I wasn’t expecting to identify with the stories told or the issues discussed. I was very wrong. As a woman who has suffered abuse, I thought I had sufficiently compartmentalised my experiences. The stories and theories put forth changed my mind. Although everyone’s story is unique, I am no different to any other woman that has suffered gender based violence. There is a common denominator in all of our stories: Male privilege, male entitlement, and the suffering of women through men’s hands. I stand with my sisters who have had their lives changed through a tapestry of male-torment none of us thought would happen to us. There is no isolated incident. I am no better or worse than any other woman who has had their lives dictated or directed by a man who told us he would make it better. He would make the pain go away, if we did what he said.

I didn’t expect to identify with these women in the way I did. The idea of consent is much more far reaching than we allow ourselves to contemplate. Suspending the right of consent; suspending the idea that we hold bodily autonomy, the idea of male entitlement to sex with any partner is frequent and pervasive and is blamed on the uncontrollable male libido. Why wouldn’t I do anything to fulfil my partner’s desires, regardless of my own feelings or my own comfort levels? This is what I owed him; this is what I was supposed to do to make him happy. My mood didn’t matter; he didn’t care whether my mood was there. I became an object of his power and control, a metaphor for his male sexuality and his prowess. If I didn’t do this, I didn’t really love him. He was trying to fill a hole in his psyche and personality that he couldn’t fill himself. His power and the aggression with which he grew to express his sexuality and needs became overbearing and overwhelming. I was screamed at for not staying awake for him. I suffered the manipulative anguish and anger he would express in coercing me to act in ways I wasn’t comfortable. Sex was no longer an expression of love, but a means of distraction, a means to placate, a means to suspend another bad mood or another explosive argument and another two weeks of being ignored or taunted.

There were times when I drank to not care that I would have to sleep with him. There were times when I drank so that I would fall asleep and not have to come up with another excuse. There were times I pretended to be asleep, to have my period, to feel ill and there were times when I had sex with him because I had run out of options. Sometimes I spurred him on, just so he would finish.

There were also times when I missed the intimacy of a loving healthy relationship and tried to find that old friend of making love to my boyfriend. But the underlying feeling that I would be in trouble if I didn’t was never far away and would often ruin any genuine affection we shared. There were also times that I needed the comfort of sex and pleasure to feel better about a bad day with my boyfriend: To try and find some sort of physical love, comfort and affection through sex instead of the nasty arguments and name calling. If I could find him in the bedroom, maybe I could find him outside it.

Sometimes it was just a matter of wanting comfort, to be loved. If I could just please him somehow, I can get to the other side. It will be over soon.

I had no input however. I wasn’t allowed to comment during sex at all, lest I be accused of putting him down or turning him off. If I giggled, I was accused of laughing at him, if I didn’t make enough noise, I didn’t care. As in other areas of our relationship, sex had ever-moving goalposts and rules that I couldn’t keep up with. Once you start using your body for anything other than pleasure or love, once they have been taken out of the equation, it is very hard hold your self-worth or value. In using your body for the validation of another person, we inhabit a very dark place that has seriously damaging consequences.

I know I am not alone in the way I feel about this. I know other women have experienced the same things and have had to cope with it alone. I know that it is not talked about and that it is difficult. But the silence deafens me. I don’t want to be isolated in this, I don’t want to be pushed towards doctors and care agencies. I want the people I know to understand what this does to a person, in the hopes that it doesn’t happen to another. As a survivor of rape, as a survivor of abuse, I stand beside my sisters and ask for the enlightenment of men and boys and the pledge to not harm another.

Every day there are women that are going through this experience. Maybe they are planning to leave their partner, and have to engage in sexual intimacy in order to maintain an appearance of normality. There are women that are using their bodies to distract and disarm their abusive partners. There are women that are trying to avoid pregnancy with partners who refuse to use contraception. I know of many women that have been scolded for even the suggestion of using, in particular condoms, as if this was a matter of trust. Then there are men that break that trust by removing condoms without their partner’s knowledge. The phrase barefoot and pregnant didn’t come out of nowhere. I have many vivid memories of having to defend my fear over unplanned pregnancy, as if in some way I was insulting my partner. Why wouldn’t I want his child, regardless of anything else going in our lives at that moment? We were in love weren’t we? His ego was so inflated that apparently he would ‘know if he were to get me pregnant’ and would get angry with me at the thought of wasting money on anything as irrelevant as emergency contraception. In addition to that, infidelity is also commonplace with abusive partners, and as such, other major health worries come into play.

I’m not sure when the time will come where I don’t balk at the memory of waking up with my partner already on top of me, the memories of being told I wasn’t good enough if he wasn’t satisfied or the many memories whereby I felt more object than person. I do know however that we need to be able to talk about this aspect of life with an abusive partner. There are women who are engaging in sexual activity to avoid being hit, being shouted at, being hurt in any number of ways. It often seems like the easier option to forgo one’s own comfort to placate an aggressive partner. The system of manipulation and coercion is never more present than in the sexual relationship with an abusive partner. The feeling of responsibility lies with the women, of entitlement with the man: this dynamic becomes so poisonous that you begin to believe their twisted logics. Without open conversation on perceived male sexual entitlement and consent, we are only getting half the story. Violence takes many forms and abuse is at epidemic proportions.  Just because he’s not hitting you, doesn’t mean he’s not hurting you.

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15 Responses to Sex and Violence: Sexual intimacy with an abusive partner

  1. Michelle Carey says:

    Avril,
    you have just written my story and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your experience.

  2. OitaJapan says:

    This is what I would call a very good article. It is very abhorent at the way some males treat their gfs like sexual slaves, and it is something that we all need 2 stand up for. But sex is not the only thing that is important in a relationship. if a guy does not know this, then he is not worth at all at end of day.

    Havin read your previous blog, my heart really goes out 2 you for what you suffer in the past, nobody did deserve that or had a right 2 do all of those awful things 2 you, he abused you in so many ways, phsyical, mental, sexual, psyscho, there are 2 many men like this, and this campaign is a great way 2 highlight it.

    This is specially the case when we talk about men who do not see a problem in their action, and think it’s big joke, taunt u and treat u like objects and some kind of sex slave. When you find right man, he will understand ur issues from what that past ******* did 2 u, and naturally all should b fine and he will help u every step of the way.

    I do think however, that it is v.important that it takes a lot 4 a man 2 come out and admit that they have problem and we should surely not try 2 demonise men who want 2 get help for their problem. Rehabilitation is v.important in this, to stop the cycle going round and round. If a man does not want 2 admit their failings or issues however, their is ultimately no future and a woman should leave.

    But remember, not every1 is the same, and my colleague certainly isn’t, but we’re left 2 pick up the pieces from it from being compared 2 such people, when he should b getting engaged. Of course sumthing needs 2 be done about the guys u highlighted in the excellent piece, but at the same time, we have to b careful not to scare women into think guys r like this who actually r not.

  3. Yvonne Alpan says:

    Thank you for this very well observed piece and such a taboo subject matter …this has always been a problem for me to resolve, after an abusive partnership, sex was never quiet been the same for me.

  4. Irene D'Arcy says:

    Amazing piece Avril- so very proud of you for standing up and being the voice of a multitude. You speak for those for whom speech is not an easily wrested freedom, not least some of those close to you. And for that especially – thank you. You are not simply a hero- you are a beacon xxx

  5. Dora O'Callaghan says:

    So very true… As I underwent that and much much more
    Sex was the bargaining tool for him taking me to watch an entertainer whom.i LOVED to perform…if he drove me to varios interstate towns for my courses
    If the trade was not performed that night..
    He would get violent snd literally kick ne out of the marital bed so he called it
    I watched porno movies of bastislity to make him happy and stop the violence
    If fviolence resulted..he would tell the children ask yiur mum why he s angry at me
    If she was a GOOD MUM..zi wouldn’t have yo get angry
    Every woman I know in a Violent Marriage wish their husbands would DIE…yo get peace…
    But they NEVER DO
    THEY ARR TOO EVIL
    I underwent Domestic Violence…
    And I was s NURSE…A VOLUNTEER POLICE OFFICER AND CAUGHT IN A VIOLENT MARRIAGE I didn’t know how to get out of…until…
    God sent me s BEST FRIEND who was in the Public entertainment scene…
    The day he stood up in defense for me to tell my husband…
    He SHOULD NOT BE HITTING AND ABUSING A WOMAN…
    WAs the day my physical violence stopped…but not my VERBAL AND SEXU AS L VIOLENCE…
    But of course…this Best Friend was chased wirh a kitchen knife as he was BREAKING UP OUR GOOD MARRIAGE…
    How warped is his thinking..
    Sll these men should be put in a room and gaased to death
    They serve NO PURPOSE IN LIFR..and their Mothers too..
    For bringing a MONSTER into thr world to make another human’s life intolerable ty o fill their void their mothers instilled in them

  6. Catherine Naughton says:

    He striped me of my sexuality,
    He made me feel dirty and cheap.
    He interrogated, humiliated then raped me,
    But in his eyes I was the one in the wrong
    His sense of entitlement dominated, his needs were paramount,
    I was just an object, a toy to manipulate and bend to his will
    He made it so I couldn’t trust my memories or thoughts
    He tried to destroy me, to make me a nothing, but he failed
    Deep down inside my bruised soul remained intact
    When I finally escaped his clutches, freed from his invisible chains
    Supportive arms of family and friends surrounded me
    Enabling me to find and nourish my soul,
    Today after years of recovery, I flourish,
    That is his punishment for his insidious crime.

  7. LizzieLayton says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, you are an incredibly courageous person. I cannot thank you enough for speaking out. This aspect of violence is all to often overlooked. I am a survivor of intimate partner sexual violence. I also became a counsellor helping other women with similar experiences to myself. You may find the following links helpful. http://www.aphroditewounded.org/ Real Rape, Real Pain http://ow.ly/OhPfp Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A Multidisciplinary Guide to Improving Services and Support For Survivors of Rape and Abuse http://ow.ly/OhPlC I wish you well on your healing journey sister and for all those who have had similar experiences and read or comment on this article. X

  8. Hi Avril, That is a VERY good article. Do you think I could have permission to reproduce it at least in part on Hidden Hurt (www.hiddenhurt.co.uk) as I feel it fills a gap within the sexual abuse section. I would obviously, be more than happy to give you full credit for the bits used and include a link back to your blog. What do you think? Just contact me at contact@hiddenhurt.co.uk and let me know how you feel about it.

  9. Ronan O'Hagan says:

    What a terrible story, nobody should have to put up with any of that, honestly the bastard who did all of this to you should be put in prison or go into a psychattric house, I have no time for people who degrade women and treat them like objects like that, you know I think of all types of abuse, this is the worst one, none of them are plesant and none of them are acceptable, but honestly, this type shows that someone is not valued as even a person, more like an object for their own pleasure.

    Having read your other article as well, I cannot begin to imagine what you must have been going through, and how hard it is to trust people since htose terrible things which all happened to you, it must be very hard to ever trust another man again and because of your bad experiences surely they leave scars that will stay with you for the rest of your life and effect your decision making. But I’m sure there are good people out there, one day that will show you that not all mean are like this bastards and osme of them out there are genuine.

    No relationship is perfect and no relationship doesn’t have it’s problems, but the type of things you have been through is off the scale in comparison to most relationships, it’s much more extreme, much more extreme and honestly I feel sorry for you, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to go through all of that, it must almost destroy you inside. But both women and males need to be strong, not let these bastards break us, and instead show them that they won’t allow them to control us, or spread fear. They want to divide people, make you ashamed of yourselves even though they are the people responsible, and we must not let them do that.

    We do that by trying our best not to compare others we know to the bastards who hurt us in the first place, trying to overcome the psychological scars that are impacted on us by these events from the past, and trying to ocme to terms with it and most of all doing all we can to make sur ethe bastards who sexually abuse an innocent, sweet, nice and genuine peoples body, go where they belong and save other ladies from the likes of these men, so other women do not have their innocence taken away. The less of these men there is, the less victims we will have, and the less victims and abusers, the less women that will be scared of the same happening to them.

    But it’s understandable that some people are not going to come forward and report this for whatever reason or leave, and for that reason it’s important that however much we like it, even if these bastards get put in priuson, one day they are going to be out, so education, rehabilitaiton and courses, strategies and ways to try and make the men see the error of their ways and change them, really have to play a part in this. You can support the victims all you like, but you need to stop the abuse form happening in the first place and this is why you need to deal with the reasons behind it and the men involved as well.

    One of my best friends was in an abusive relationship with a guy who actually realised he had a problem, one of the very few rare guys who did. Thankfully it did not turn into a sexually abusive relationship, but there was some issues of the odd lash out of frustration, shouting and arguing, which cleasly showed an agression and/or anger issue. Many people said that she should leave him, me included. But he went to classes, he went to councilling together with his now wife, they resolved the issues, and whilst they still have arguments, there has been no more violence ever since in the 5 years that have passed.

    What this proves that people CAN be rehabiliated if they want to be. A man that does not want to be rehabilitated is a lost cause, certainly. But the benefit of rehabilitating men, where possible, where they want it is, simply, that this man is less likely to be a repeat offender or move on to more serious types of abuse in the future. Meaning that even if the relationship does end with his current partner because of his issue, there may be one less offender out there. Just telling a girl to get out of the relationship, and leavve the man, doesn’t really resolve the problem in society, since the chances are said man could move on to his next target, and the same numer of abusers are still out there.

    So in short, my heart goes out to the writer for the terrible situation and abuse she happened, but if we are to ever erradicate this fully, we need to have a way of educating, rehabiulidating and thereby reducing the number of men with issues leading to this, if we ever want to decrease it, since it’s my belief that the people who want to deal with their issues can be rehabilitated, the far bigger problem, is how we deal with the more extreme offenders, who simply don’t care or see any wrongdoing in their behaviour, since they are a far bigger danger to society than the people who stand up to their own issues and want to stop, as the former group cannot be easily helped whilst the later may be able to be assisted with their issues.

  10. mckenna gray says:

    This is a story about my life. I cried reading this entire thing. I have a child with my abuser. And no one believes me that I was raped. This spoke to me on so many levels.

  11. Francesca says:

    I identify in all you have written. I have had two children in this way but people even therapists look uncomfortable when they realise that the abuse started with the first child and I went on to have another two. Thank you for putting into words how this can happen and how does it feel.

  12. Marie says:

    Wish I had your strength, there isn’t a week goes by that I don’t get some sort of a flashback reminding me of his face, the things he did, the things he said, my feeling of helplessness, self-hate, and guilt. I’ve spoken to three people about it, one (a close male friend) who accused me of lying, the second (female friend) saw me as weak – why didn’t I just leave, and the third (my sister) held me in her arms as I cried asking myself why I let him treat me that way. He went on to do the same to another girl and was reported to the police – nothing happened. I want so badly to both report him and forget about it but reporting brings it back into my life and I haven’t been able to get over it yet. I read these articles and they make me feel so much better, I’m not weak, it wasn’t just me, I didn’t know that wasn’t normal, I didn’t know to expect more from a relationship. Thank you very much for writing this!

  13. Nearlybel says:

    The hurt, degradation and humiliation these psychopaths, narcissists, cluster b personality types, inflict on us is immeasurable, both individually and societal. These abusers are not men, men would never do this to women. They are not men because they are not human, they are brilliant mimics, they mirror and project but they have no feelings for others, no compassion, no empathy, inside they are black holes of nothingness, a vacuum that to function must feed off us, human beings. They target us, being, whatever we want them to be, they are fascinating to us, hypnotising us with their words and once we are hooked then the victimisation unleashes, everything thought they have, every word they speak, every action they take, all with the intention to hurt, humiliate, and hinder. Your fears and nightmares become your reality, your hopes and dreams and plans become distant memories. He has you, he controls you, but you have no idea it’s him. Money and sex are the currency used, but it’s really only secondary, they disarm you, disable you and now they are going to destroy you. Methods vary, getting away with murder like graham Dwyer and oreilly, murder with drama and drink and drugs, self murder where we hate ourselves so much, our loved ones are better off without us, we end up as alcoholics, drug addicted, cos we were trying to get rid of that awful unbearable pain, we are in psychiatric hospitals, and we walk around operating normally, looking normal, but inside we don’t know what’s wrong with us, we can’t understand, it’s insidious. And when we learn and acknowledge it’s them, how unbelievable, who can understand when for years we couldn’t!!! And that’s how these pure evil characters operate, how can us humans believe? Us the victims are beginning to be heard, the spotlight is beginning to shine on these awful beings. There are a few good websites with great information on these disordered characters. This is one of them, all good wishes by those affected by these disordered characters xxx

  14. karen says:

    powerful

  15. Katsley says:

    Thanks for sharing.The subject is hard for outsiders to understand . Getting away is a start but having those close to you discount your truth is hard. You feel helpless when you have given your friend all the information and they choose to believe the manipulator. Can an abuser not abuse the next partner and have a healthy relationship without acknowledging the problem?

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