Unsurprisingly, telling your new partner about a past sexual assault is tough. Here’s how we did it

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Unsurprisingly, telling your new partner about a past sexual assault is tough. Here’s how we did it

Some reactions were supportive, some hurtful

The beginnings of relationships are dotted with “firsts” markers, and opening up to an other who’s just become significant can be hard even when discussing fun, innocuous things. Fears of being judged and misunderstood are pretty damn common when you first start seriously dating a new partner.

Factor in deciding to open up about a past sexual assault, and the pressure feels crushing. Here’s how a few girls told their new partners and their reactions — both good, bad and indifferent.

“We dated for almost two months before having sex for a few different reasons, but before we did have sex, I wanted to be clear about why I may act a certain way because at the time I was still experiencing like clenching issues and stuff. Basically, we just laid in bed and I explained everything and we just cried together for a while. It was a really vulnerable moment for both of us and I don’t think everyone can be that close to someone so quickly. But I knew from that moment on that this was someone I could trust not only with my body but with my narrative and my emotions, and I wouldn’t trade that trust for anything.” — Heather, 20

“I was raped my senior year of high school, and my most recent ex was the first and only person I told in five years. We had been dating for a year and everything was great and we were tentatively  planning a future together until I told him. It doesn’t really have any impact on my day-to-day (maybe I just still haven’t fully comes to terms with it, I dunno) so I expected him to be surprised when I told him. He was indifferent, and barely acknowledged that I shared something so emotional with him. Later that week, he broke up with me and said he couldn’t be with someone who had that kind of baggage or might have ‘mental health issues’ down the line. I guess I dodged a bullet because he’s clearly an asshole, but the experience makes me think I won’t ever tell anyone again.” — Lauren, 24

“I was assaulted during the first few of months of college so it’s something I’ve had to tell a few of my boyfriends since. They’ve all been accepting of it. I think that because I had a good experience telling my first boyfriend after it, I didn’t feel as scared when telling others. I’m seeing someone now and I mentioned it in passing because of 13 Reasons Why and his reaction was by far the nicest I’ve received. He was in awe of my strength to go through it and then just unapologetically own the experience and battle through it.” — Kirstin, 23

“I was out with ‘friends’ and I got crossfaded for the first time. I got a text the next morning from one of the guys apologizing for the night before and asking “if I had my period” because there was blood on the condom.  I had no memory of having sex with him at all. I never reported him, but he transferred schools. I remember after that telling the next guy I was seeing about it and he was clearly weirded out and made a joke about whether I would ‘get too drunk and accuse him too.’ It turned me off from ever telling anyone again. since, I’ve only told friends or people i’m not planning on sleeping with.” — Taylor, 23

“I never know how to talk about it. But with every partner, I feel like I have to tell them more as a duty rather than for me, if that makes sense. I’m worried they’re going to find out so it’s better they hear it from me. It sometimes still effects me and I worry about telling them because it could affect our sex life by making me seem more vulnerable/less carefree like they’re treading on eggshells and worried about reminding me of it.” — Becca, 23

“My current boyfriend knew my last boyfriend and had the idea something wasn’t right.  It was shortly thereafter we started dating, and I explained to him what actually happened with my ex. His first response was and still is anger. He’s angry that people could do this and it happened to me for so long. His next response is to be caring. There are still days when memories overcome me, and he will just sit by me as I remember and forget again. I have nightmares, and he knows to wake me up. He responded better than I ever could have imagined and I’m so grateful for him to this day.” — Victoria, 19

“I told my boyfriend about my assault two weeks into knowing him because we were clearly going to be something serious and I wanted him to understand me. I had to explain that it takes me a while to get comfortable with new people because I’ve been assaulted by a former partner, so I’m not so trusting at first and touching me unexpectedly while I’m asleep is not allowed. He was very sensitive about it and understood. He’s been very gentle with me for the past 8 months we’ve been together and he’s been able to gradually help me get past my fears by never pressuring me and being respectful of my past.” — Georgia, 22

“For me, mental illness and sexual assault are inextricably linked, since I was sexually abused as a child. Because of that abuse, I have complex PTSD, Major Depression, and Depersonalization/Derealization disorder. Since then, I’ve been both assaulted and raped and emotionally abused in past relationships, all in college. I only recently came to terms with all of this, like within the last year and a half and my current boyfriend has been so supportive of me throughout it all. I was extremely afraid of telling him not because I think he’d judge me, but because it meant I’d have to acknowledge that it all was real and I’m so used to playing my cards close to my chest. He makes sure that I don’t feel pressured into answering any questions that he might ask. I think that that’s the best way to react, honestly. Just let your partner slowly (or quickly) air out all this information, while making it clear every step of the way that you’ll always be there for them — as long as that’s actually your intention. Sexual assault is difficult to come to terms with, as is mental illness, and future partners need to be sensitive about their language and open to learning more about these topics if they want to date a survivor/someone struggling with a mental illness.”  — Kim, 21

Names have been changed, and some submissions edited for length and clarity.

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