For years I have struggled to work out if mistakes, triumphs and pitfalls are normal of a woman navigating her 20s or if it is a subconsciously embedded into my mentality due to my hazed view on sex and relationships. It is well known and proven in studies that women who have been subject to sexual abuse are more likely to have dysfunctional views on sex and relationships. But how do we change this statistic?
Normal is the expected, usual, or typical condition, for this in view of relationships, what does normal look like for a woman in her 20s? For some it is textbook, maybe your childhood sweetheart is your forever love, maybe you are planning on your marriage date and how many kids to have. But if like me, and the other 95% of women in their 20s, you have absolutely no idea what you should be doing, and whatever that is, why aren’t you doing it? But I can’t help but wonder if many of the situations I find myself in, the relationships, career highs and crashes, are any of these an embedded subconscious pre-decision based on my suppressed battles concealed inside me.
Studies have shown that sexual assault victims are more likely to have dysfunctional future relationships. They show that victims may have an increased sexual appetite and potentially will hunt for the wrong kind of suitor to cope with the trauma. When looking for men in the future, we tend to go to what we know, and sadly as a result of an abusive past what we know is disrespect, discomfort and uncommunicative partners. A woman in her 20s might have a love of rough sex, don’t get me wrong, I understand that and that can be very healthy when practiced in the right situation, but rough sex I’ve practiced with partners has not always been of mutual understanding, leaving me feel dirty and used when I sober up to the reality. So, is this normal? No. Will I ever get to a point that I can full fill my sexual desires in a healthy and normal way? I hope so. Do I have to get used to this as a new normal? In this case, No. Its about working towards a new normal, understanding wants and needs, while practicing limitations and being strong enough to stand by those limitations.
I recently had two very different sexual encounters, with two different men a few months apart. The first, John, we both expressed how we like it rough, so we set limitations and boundaries previous to meeting. It started off fun, respectful, playful, but soon boundaries were ignored and limitations pushed. I felt unsafe and unhappy in my own home, which when he left I found myself once again scrubbing away at my body in the shower, hot washing my bedsheets and for the next few weeks vowing I would never have sex again. I know a lot of women have been in this situation. A few months later I found myself redownloading tinder to scratch an itch I’d been struggling to on my own. My guard up I started talking to a guy, lets call him Callum. He seemed kind. We both agreed for a friends with benefits thing. The whole time he told me how sexy I was, how beautiful my pussy tastes and this was the experience I had been looking for. We still played rough, but it felt kinder, more understanding and this time I felt comfortably satisfied when he left. So this got me thinking, why aren’t all men like this? Why do we choose men like John? But also why do men like John exist? Why is it on me as a woman trawling through potential lovers on tinder forced to pick a John when they should be more like Callum? This is where studies like Moshella (2020) come in to play, who says that sexual assault victims are more likely to subconsciously choose a John, because it is familiar. The disgust we feel from ourselves is a predisposed drug embedded into us after emotional trauma, we know its not good for us, we know we shouldn’t do it, yet we seek that high again. Its a cold sadistic comfort to what we know and understand how to do. We sometimes find it more difficult to say no and kick John out because he is so goddamn similar to our abuser, who we could never say no too.
When talking to my friends they don’t seem to have similar experiences of running the hot tap for hours trying to disinfect their skin after sex, so I wonder if this is just me, or if its a common thing for abuse survivors. This can’t be a normal thing for a woman in her 20s, and this is the kind of battle I’ve had through most of my sexual life. So i suppose this is the new normal for me in some ways, learning how to to pick the Callum’s, and standing strong when I encounter the Johns.
One of the things I learned as an adult, is to be independent within myself before chasing love. We are taught by any girly mag you read, any YouTube video of a woman who has broken up with her ex that, you have to love yourself before someone else can truly love you. I think that life lesson has resonated with me so well because I have always had a tricky time forming relationships, so I have had to learn to be independent, to trust my gut and do what pleases me. Of course this is a lesson I still have to conquer, (does anyone really ever conquer this?) but I am learning, and I feel like I have had a lot of energy available to focus on this, well, because I’ve had little choice.
We should be teaching women daily about respect for their bodies, that your vulva is powerful and it is a power you and you alone own. When that power is ripped from you it is extremely difficult to get that power back. So how do we get this power back? How do we stop being one of the statistics and learn how to love good. Is there a screening process? Boundaries. Boundaries are important for any relationship. When boundaries are defined and enforced, they can be learned to listen to and when they are broken it can be recognised as a red flag and action can be taken. Trusting your gut is such an understatement.
It is so hard to remember boundaries when you meet someone who promises the world, but it is even harder to enforce them. I believe that all women navigating their 20s need to have boundaries in relationships. Lines that should be drawn so that they remember who they are and don’t compromise on that self belief. We dream of a partner who wakes up every morning thinking “I’ve hit the jackpot” and falls asleep every night dreaming of you. Until we are certain that we can find that and get what we deserve then it is important to work on yourself, work on boundaries and work on being the best and most true version of yourself. Because that is important.
Writing this article I spent hours trawling internet sites, old magazines and books for “what does a healthy relationship look like for a woman in her 20s” and every page I searched, turned, pondered, showed the same thing... it doesn’t! Relationships for everyone in their 20s can be tricky. There is no right or wrong, no black and white. Even when you’re old, laying on your death bed pondering your life, no decision you make now will be scrutinised, because, its you, its what is shaping you everyday, to be who you are, that amazing woman who has had one hell of a life. Ok, sure, I’ll admit when reading research about how a woman’s future relationships can be effected by sexual violence, it doesn’t fill me with heart warming hope, but hell, who is to say that I need to be that statistic. We’ve all had pain in our life, every person you pass on the street has had a heavy heart at some point, but its about breaking the cycle and learning to change the statistics so that our children don’t grow up in this same hate filled world. I do believe that if you have had previous abuse in relationships it will prove to be harder to form healthier attachments as you grow, but that shouldn’t discourage us. Sure, things could always be different, but at least now, I am a strong as hell woman, shouting my opinion to anyone who will listen (and those who don’t), I am secure in myself and I am firey as hell. I fight a battle a lot wouldn’t even imagine every single day, but because of that battle I fight, and that unwillingness to let it win, I am me, making the best goddamn decisions I can.
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