The Space In Between

  • Reading time:5 mins read

My experience and emotional association with sex is of the most profound violation of my sense of self. It has been too big, too strong for me to bear without melting down. And until now I didn’t have the tools to start to understand. It was just screaming.

The thing about sex is, it’s a powerful kind of communication. It serves to connect the mind and body of each participant more viscerally than nearly anything, then to align those wholes to a united sense of being amongst the parties. There’s this intense oneness and recognition.

That is, if it goes well. The problem is, in being so very intimate it tends to entail putting people at their most vulnerable. The level of trust and acceptance has to be close to absolute, or some of that circuitry is going to fire off all wrong. Possibly to horrific result.

When people aren’t on the same page, have different apprehensions of what’s happening and expectations for how things will play out, that can quickly create massive problems. When the terms are non-negotiable and compulsory, then the violence to one’s personhood is indescribable.

Consent is a difficult topic, as it gives the impression that it is so simple. The basic outline feels self-evident, right. It’s easy to explain, makes for good slogans and mantras. But practice is way weirder, because it involves human beings and each of us houses our own world.

It’s difficult to have informed consent unless everyone understands what they’re agreeing to the same way, fully accepts the other, and is willing to reassess at every step of the process. If you’re working cross-purposes, you can inflict some life-changing damage on someone.

In my case there have been a couple of severe bottlenecks. The obvious one is the point between me and the other, where there has always been this presumption and a total lack of willingness to clarify or explain or listen or negotiate. If they have to tell me anything, I fail.

The less obvious bottleneck is within me, between my mind and my body. There has been this basic dissociation my whole life. The wires just haven’t been connected, and the practical elements of my presentation and my physiology and assumed behavior horrified my basic inner self. Like, I wasn’t on the same page as myself, never mind on the same page as them. And even if I were a whole functioning person, I’d still be faced with a near total refusal from my partner to communicate or compromise on the most basic of wants. I still had to know everything.

I’m a girl of course. Never haven’t been. I’m very much a bottom, to the core of my understanding of life. I am autistic, and need assumptions spelled out to me. I am aroace, so though I am able to fuck and to feel enough affection for another as to open that possibility, I don’t myself experience those attractions in the way an allo would (I presume). So if you go in expecting a very different situation from me, refuse to tell me your terms and assumptions, refuse to adapt in any way, and punish me if I fail to adequately perform your gauntlet? It’s not going to go well. And every step of trying to coerce me into your anticipated roles, every moment of refusing to work with or listen to or respect me for who I am, it only forces that wedge in my sense of being all the deeper, increases my basic horror toward everything.

Being told and shown how disgusting and awful and broken and wrong I am, at my most absolutely vulnerable? Making out that brokenness and wrongness as being so foul as to be the offending party, like I’ve done something wicked to you through the failure of my very existence?

I have had anxiety attacks. Full-blown panic attacks where I’ve felt like I was actually dying. I’ve run and cried and cowered and hid. And I was never not in the wrong for showing any of that. How dare I. When I’ve held together, I’ve mostly faked orgasm and gotten out quickly. Not because of any lack of affection for them, or lack of arousal, or lack of sensitivity to whatever needs I was failing to meet. But because I was in that much pain. And I had no terms to begin to address it. And they didn’t care. My pain was itself disgusting to them.

I don’t know what to call this situation. I don’t have a model for it. I’ve never heard anyone talk about this dynamic. But, there’s something about all of this, and the basic premise of the surrounding relationships, that creates for me deep questions of consent. It feels wrong.

The amount of disgust and inhumanity I’ve absorbed to the core of my being from all this, the amount of terror I have learned to associate with sex, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully come to terms with it. I carry it around every day. I just start crying and shaking for no reason.

Part of that is their disregard. Part of that has been my lack of a working relationship with myself and understanding of myself as a whole person. And part is just the sheer power of the kind of connection that sex represents. Which can be remarkable, nurturing. Affirming.

Or, it can be that.

It’s something like seven years since the final time I had sex, and the nightmare has never gotten better. But I may have a few tools now to start to understand it a little. Slowly. Some of those tools are less than weeks old. So this is super shaky. But, I think I may have a beginning.