Sex, sexual pleasure, erotica and survivorship

By The Disobedient Survivors

As survivors and people who have experienced rape and sexual assault there is a huge taboo and uncomfortability when we talk about sex, sexual liberation, sexual objectification, erotica and kink. 
This uncomfortability often comes not from us, but from others’ misconceptions of rape and sexual violence. 
In the criminal justice system, to be seen as a ‘credible victim’ – particularly for women – you shouldn’t enjoy sex, have a lot of sex, engage in kink or erotica of any kind as it is used against you and your case. In basic terms the court assumes if you are a sexual person you were probably “asking for it”.
This attitude is particularly dangerous as it links sex and rape as if they are in the same category. Rape is sexualised violence forced on someone with violence without their consent. Sex is consenting people enjoying pleasure together. The difference is critical. If someone was murdered with a kitchen knife you wouldn’t say “was it murder or was it just cooking?” and you wouldn’t bring up their whole culinary past and say “well, they were in the kitchen when it happened and they did really like cooking, I think they were even a chef at one point, maybe they encouraged it”. 
There is so much stigma and shame about sexual pleasure as survivors. The sooner we start to differentiate clearly between rape and sex, the sooner we can move on from victim blaming and survivor stereotyping to address the real problems. 
We should focus on consent (rather than links between rape and sex) to start to dismantle the assumptions about what a survivor should look like and how we should behave.
Even within support services sex, sexuality and kink is not a topic that is spoken about positively and is avoided in support groups. It is often assumed many of us will not want sex or feel sexual after rape. Although this can unquestionably be true for some, many – ourselves included – feel that sex is so opposite to rape that having consensual, exciting, loving sex is not triggering at all and in fact is an incredibly important part of healing and building resilience. For us it is the stereotypes and associations of the two being linked by the criminal justice system, within our language, within the media and support services that has created these dangerous ideas and attitudes around rape survivors and how we view our sex lives. 
We need to normalise the idea that survivors (and everyone) can enjoy sex, pleasure, erotica and kink, can be sex workers and strippers, can enjoy having lots of sex with multiple partners, can have casual sex or sex with their partner and can enjoy porn or work in porn. We can also be asexual or not want sex and it have nothing to do with our trauma. We are not suggesting that nobody experiences triggers through sex after rape, but we need to start showing that it is also possible and normal not to. At the moment the narrative is that of a “broken” survivor who shouldn’t want to have sex and the “perfect victim” by society’s standards is someone who previously didn’t engage in any sex or enjoy it even with their partner/s!
There is also a lot of misplaced blame and misconceptions that comes from women’s organisations and feminist groups who feel sexual objectification of women, porn and sex work is wrong. We both used to share this view when we were younger. We believed women were harmed through images of women as sexual objects, through how women are represented within porn and through how women are expected to perform within sex work. 
While sexism, gender inequality and gender-based violence is still ingrained in our society, we need to start looking at the bigger picture. It is too narrow minded to just think that it is simply porn, objectification and sex work that is wrong. It is not the platform that is wrong but instead how it is used. What we need to look at is whether or not full consent exists within these dynamics and within these structures, not blame the platform or medium it exists within. 
Porn is simply an erotic art form and it is because it has been misused people see it as harmful. Erotic media in all forms, when everyone involved is consenting and happy it is an exciting and pleasurable space and we should be trying to shift the focus to consent and ethics rather than just trying to shut it down. 
Sex work is work and is not the same as trafficking. Sex work is a choice, trafficking and sexual exploitation is forced. If people are consenting, safe and choose to be doing sex work, we should be  fully supporting that choice. Many women and survivors choose this work and want to do this work and we need to support these decisions by supporting sex workers’ rights and fighting for the environment so that everyone is able to work safely.
Sexual objectification has been used negatively, the media uses women’s bodies dishonestly and inappropriately to sell things or create harmful stereotypes. Women have also been coerced into creating imagery they don’t agree with. This is clearly not ok. However, sexual objectification can be liberating too; to be able to strip everything back and view someone just as an object of pleasure and desire just for that moment and to have that focus on just the sensual and erotic – whether in the bedroom or in a photo or video – can be healthy and exciting as long as we all have control and choice. Many women want to authentically sexually objectify themselves, be objectified or objectify a consenting partner and we should support that as long as power dynamics are understood and everybody is consenting with freedom and joy.
Sex and sexual liberation is powerful. We should be allowed to objectify ourselves and each other if we want, allowed to have kinks, allowed to sell sex. We should be able to wear what we want and it not be used against us if someone attacks us with sexual assault or rape. 
So many of us love sex, kink and exploring sex and sexuality freely and we shouldn’t be judged for that, particularly as female survivors. We all should be able to talk about it without making others feel uncomfortable. We want to create environments where nobody feels uncomfortable because female pleasure and sexual desires are finally normalised.
We want to live in a society where we women and survivors are not labelled slags, hoes, slappers and whores (negatively) for enjoying sex – titles we have begun to love and reclaim – but are accepted and celebrated. Let’s frame the conversation into one where consent is the basic starting point.
We want to create a society where we are respected for our choices, consent is sexy, our boundaries are heard and where the erotic world is exciting, safe, beautiful and delicious.