Monday, December 3, 2012

Rape: Surviving It and the Myth of Body Betrayal

We’ve got to talk a bit about rape. Not a comfortable or easy subject to wrap one’s brain around; much less so to be a survivor.

But more than the usual discourse about the nature of rape, - “it’s a crime of violence in the assertion of power,” “it’s not about sexual desire at all,” - we need to also talk more about what happens in the extended aftermath, two years or ten years or how ever many years later. We need to talk about how we relate to our own female bodies, long after the fact.

We should start, I guess, with an obvious premise, that one is never the same after a rape, and that, while most of us heal and go on with our days, no one ever forgets. I’m proud beyond measure of women doing the endless, soul-affirming work that’s often required in order to rebuild their lives. I’m especially proud of those who seek whatever help they might need in re-establishing their trust in a benevolent Universe that nurtures and watches over us all.

More frequently than I can say, it’s my sober privilege to stand before a room full of women, (and sometimes a couple of men), and listen as women tell how they managed to survive being raped. Believe me when I say that the courage with which they speak, and the multidimensional grotesquery they describe, makes me want to wrap my arms around them, every single time. 

But I’ll tell you right now what really breaks my heart. It’s when I hear these courageous women - whether they fought their attackers or couldn’t  -  express guilt, shame and confusion about how their bodies betrayed them.


The first time I heard this I was stunned, I’ll admit it.

“How did your body betray you?” I asked the speaker.

Her response was brief but excruciating to hear.

“I got wet,” she replied, lowering her embarrassed gaze. “As awful as it was, through the terror and the anger. And as much as his penis inside me made me want to vomit, I got wet.”

So let’s get one thing straight, okay? And let's do so before I lose it, and begin ranting about a system that allows women to reach the age of maturity without access to vital information about our bodies, information that might impart just a tiny smidgen of peace as we try to cobble our lives together after being raped. 

Vaginal tissues lubricating during a rape is a normal, involuntary adaptive response. In other words, “getting wet” is an automatic reaction. And the truth is  that we can’t control it, regardless of how painful or vicious or terrifying the experience. In no way does it mean we’re enjoying the rape. In no way does it mean that we secretly wanted it. But vaginal lubrication that happens during the violence does so for a very good reason, nonetheless.

Far from the delusional babblings of knuckle-dragging old men who think that there’s a distinction to be made between “forcible” rape and any other kind of unwanted vaginal penetration, all rape, by definition, involves force. Fortunately, then, evolutionary adaptations have provided “getting wet” as the body’s natural protective response, since lubricated vaginal tissues are less prone to being severely injured than dry ones are, particularly by the extreme force and violence that are characteristic of rape.

This is certainly not to say that the female body has any way at all of “shutting that whole thing down” as the knuckle-draggers have recently, and falsely, attested about the possibility of getting pregnant due to rape. But it is to say that lubricating during rape is the body’s valiant attempt to protect us, not betray us, and for that we ought to honor it, really.

A normal, natural attempt by the body at self-protection. Exquisitely automatic. Completely beyond our control…

So for those of us who’ve been there, let the shame go, let the confusion go, let the guilt - all of it - go. 

And thank you for surviving. I wish you peace.

photo credit: <a href="">United Nations Photo</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

photo credit: <a href="">Erminig Gwenn</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

photo credit: Studio5Graphics <a href="">DSC_0184</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>


  1. While browsing around survivor sites (as they give me comfort and abstraction from my childhood) I happened upon this post.

    Reading the title “Surviving It: Rape and the Myth of Body Betrayal” I became infuriated.

    Is this correct? Is an educated woman daring to imply that the natural, biological and thankfully semi-involuntary reaction of the human body to stimuli is a myth?

    A little background: I am man in my early 40’s. I am also the physically mature (excluding my psychological development, for obvious reasons) result of many coerced, childhood sexual interactions with Female, male, family, friends, adults, peers, etc.. Most of which I found to be very physically pleasurable.

    Obviously, my physical reaction to the stimuli was exactly the same regardless of whether I found the situation pleasurable, non-pleasurable, terrifying or horribly traumatic. Of course, the end result (usually an orgasm) was dependent on the intent of the abuser. Fortunately, most of my abusers were intent on pleasure… either mine or theirs.

    Back to your blog: I was prepared to read that lubrication and even orgasm during rape were clear indications of latent, sexually-submissive desire. Oh, was I ready to write a hateful response.

    I quickly discovered that your frustration was over the self-loathing and shame that women feel as a result of their natural biological functions. As through it was a subconscious awareness of some repressed desire. I stand corrected!

    You imply that it’s a defense mechanism; I tend to “think” that (not being a woman) the reaction is simply the reaction to stimuli and that the result (although beneficial, given the situation) is ancillary.

    Regardless, I applaud you for both the blog and your obviously heart-felt desire to help women understand their body's reaction and forgive themselves for something that never warranted self-judgment in the first place…. A very well written blog…



  2. Me being a man will not say that I understand how a women may feel during or after a rape. But I do have a few female friends who have mentioned that they have been raped. None of them ever appeared to think it was okay, they gave me the impression that they were not expecting this to happen to them. Two young ladies were raped by their x boyfriends. When they told me that I just listened and did not ask any questions. I did not know what to say to them, but I admired them for being able to keep going after their ordeal. One of the women was able to forgive their rapist x boyfriend and not file charges against him. He also is the father of her two children. I think people have changed a little about what is rape or consent, and back in the day it was probably more rape than consent. This is an area I don't have much knowledge about.