A familiar word. A common word. A word many who were sexually abused use to describe themselves. Like many things today, “dirty” is considered a good thing, something to joke about…but for us, it’s a deep cause of hurt and shame.
This shame leads us towards extreme behaviors. One extreme, the more socially accepted and expected of the two, is the one hiding behind layers of clothes and principles: puritanical, hating sex, hating marriage, hating the opposite gender, and sometimes (not always) becoming a celibate (sexual anorexia the books call it, when in this unhealthy context). Other victims/survivors of sexual abuse “wear their pain” in a different fashion, with promiscuity (dressing and acting in an openly immodest fashion), and problems with porn, sex, masturbation, etc. Most prostitutes have been sexually abused at some point of their lives, sadly often as children.
After something so deeply a part of us has been hurt, used, and mistreated, it’s easy to see why these and other maladaptive behaviors appear in our lives.
I know it’s common, and why. That doesn’t make it any easier a topic. I wonder what they would think of me, what you will think of me…but I believe in telling the whole truth, especially if sharing it could help someone, maybe even also myself.
Sexual addiction/compulsion (an unhealthy fixation on masturbation, porn, or some other sexual activity) is one of the signs one can use to tell if one’s child was sexual abused. When it starts at such a young age, it adds more possibility, especially if he/she knows things, says and does things, that an adult or older child must have taught him/her.
To be fair (before anyone panics), this can also be started on accident: a little child could innocently feel him/herself, realize it feels pleasurable, and so would keep doing it. This is a little like the child who stumbles on porn, growing to have an addiction. Some people today would just say it’s a normal, healthy habit to have; a magazine said it’s actually unhealthy not to masturbate or have sex, while another(?) encouraged mothers to fondle their sons as babies to “help them get started”. Compulsive masturbation and other sexual addictions in and of itself, therefore, doesn’t necessarily mean a child is sexually abused.
For me, this was my secret life since I was first sexually abused at 5-years-old. It was a mindless behavior at first. Sometimes it was a momentary escape from reality and/or my emotions. Sometimes it helped me sleep. Sometimes it was an expression of anger or sadness. Almost always, though, it was something I had to do. “No,” was not even an option. My “No”s were never heeded in my young life, whether it was sexual abuse or non-sexual abuse; it dropped from my vocabulary. If it ever were a time to revive the old term for masturbation, self-abuse, it would be then.
It got worse when men got involved (those first abusers being female); that’s when self-harm came into the picture. Sexual self harm is exactly what it sounds like, and is something many of us suffer in silence – there’s a stigma about it, just as it is a stigma to lean towards the extreme of sexual addiction/compulsion after abuse instead of sexual anorexia. While my manner of self-harm wasn’t as violent as some are, it was purposeful. And painful.
Then, in high-school before the memories came back, about the time I learned in religion class the difference between “purity” and “impurity” when I was 16. It was like with the forbidden fruit in Eden: my eyes were suddenly opened. I suddenly realized what I was doing all those years, what my parents let me watch when I was little, what I was reading and watching online. It was around this time that I finally started to feel the deeply buried shame, horror, and sorrow that I’d completely numbed myself to.
From then onwards, I tried to surround myself with anything “pure”. Try as I might, as hard as I tried to scrub this stain I felt on my very deepest self, I could never be clean.
I’d cry every time I’d fall into doing it again, feeling that same shame, horror, and sorrow like it was the abuse that just happened instead of just reliving it. I’d feel so bad, I’d wish for death, for something catastrophically bad to happen to my sexual organs. I’d wish I were an Angel, a pure spirit that doesn’t have to worry about things like bodies, gender, sex, or sin. I’d ask God over and over again why he made me a girl, a girl with a sexual body people can hurt and abuse.
…I don’t know why I’m a girl. I don’t know why I’m human. I don’t know when I can finally feel not dirty, no matter what dirty things my abusers said and did to make me feel that way.
What I do know is that I am a girl, I am human. I don’t fully understand what it means to be either of these things, but I learn, if slowly.
A muddied flower is still a flower, and mud can wash off.