by peaceful dumpling, February 7, 2022
I had never strayed far from a “vanilla” sex life until my ex-boyfriend slapped me in the face during a kiss. This was very early on in the relationship. I did not see it for the bright red flag it was. I balked, mouth agape and asked him, “What the hell was that?!” He simply told me “I thought you’d like it,” as if it was something so common it didn’t even cross his mind to ask.
Even though the slap was an unwelcome and unexpected intrusion, I brushed it off. The friend who introduced me to him told me he was into some kinky stuff, describing him as reminiscent of the man from 50 Shades of Grey. I ignored the violation. Maybe he was used to women who did that sort of stuff. We continued seeing each other, and he didn’t slap me again. At least, not until after he’d systematically groomed me into accepting it.
Now I understand the initial boundary violation for what it was: a test. He wanted to know what he could get away with. At first I had a strong reaction to physical abuse. However, he slowly broke down my boundaries, becoming increasingly violent and verbally abusive during sex.
Throughout the relationship he subtly emotionally abused me outside the bedroom, and outright physically assaulted me—but “only” during sex. It took me nearly two years to extricate myself from an extremely abusive relationship. I wholeheartedly believe I would have been able to clearly see the abuse, if not for the normalization of many of his behaviors by pornography.
I began to be disturbed by the things he said during sex. He called me a stupid sl*t, worthless, a slave. There was genuine hatred in his eyes when he strangled and hit me. If I brought up my discomfort with the things he said during sex, he casually brushed it off, saying it was “just sex, it doesn’t mean anything.” His excuse that he didn’t mean anything during sex seems to be fairly common among men.
It was as though he had two distinct personalities.
Immediately after sex he became a caring and loving partner. He would get me water, hold me, and act as though he hadn’t strangled me and told me he wanted to kill me. Within the BDSM community, this is known as “aftercare,” but I believe it is a form of trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is a psychological term for a deep connection with one’s abuser, especially when the abuse occurs as a cycle: periods of abuse and periods of regret or “fixed” behavior.
Outside the bedroom, we had a “normal” relationship. We went on romantic dates, hiking trips, adventured, made plans to go skydiving, and had regular board game nights with friends. When I got sick he took care of me. We were outwardly a happy couple. My family liked him, and my uncle even told me I should marry the guy. Nobody knew I’d tried leaving him twice, and he’d followed me in his car while I tried to find somewhere to hide. Nobody knew he’d held me down in our shared home and wouldn’t let me out the door until I threatened to scream. Nobody knew the police had been called by a good Samaritan after he wouldn’t stop following me. He ended up taking my dog so I’d have to go back to his place. I couldn’t leave. There was no way out, nowhere to go where I’d be safe. I couldn’t tell anyone. I stayed.
I remember the look on his face after he anally raped me. I was bleeding. Wide eyed, he profusely apologized. He claimed he didn’t think it hurt me—even though I had repeatedly cried “Stop!”
He hadn’t stopped. He promised me he wouldn’t do it again (he lied). There were tears in his eyes. I forgave him. I knew it was no accident but I couldn’t bring myself to face the fact that my partner raped me. It was easier to ignore the truth. He got carried away. It was an accident.
He loves me, he’s sorry.
The sexual and emotional abuse took a toll. I became depressed and withdrawn. When I mentioned I’d like to go back to university to finish my degree, he asked me, “Are you sure you can do it? I think it’ll just be a waste of money.” Maybe I really was too stupid. Worthless. I didn’t apply.
I made friends with a woman I worked with. My abuser didn’t like her, and would have panic attacks when I’d make plans to see her. He went out of town one weekend and I took the opportunity to meet up with my friend. After a few drinks I started crying. I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
I told her everything. He showed up at her house that night, stood outside her window and listened to us talk. I don’t know how long he watched us, but when we spotted him outside a jolt of fear ran down my spine. My friend’s male roommate forced him to leave. The woman I’d only known tangentially opened her home to me. She let me stay until I was able to move as far as possible from my abuser. I owe her my life and freedom.
After I left him I wrote about the harassment, emotional abuse, and coercive control I’d survived. He was calling me at least 30 times a day, texting incessantly. He called my own mother multiple times to tell her how “crazy” I was for leaving him after I blocked him. He got new numbers and continued to harass me. One of my close friends (ironically the woman who introduced us) refused to believe me because “he’s a great guy, you’re blowing this all out of proportion.” Public shame didn’t deter him from attempting to contact me. He claimed repeatedly he was moving across the country to be with me. Only after I threatened him with a restraining order did he stop contacting me. He was terrified of law enforcement, and cleverly hid his abuse within acceptable confines to escape legal consequences.
BDSM acts as a magnet for abusers. It’s an easy out, when your partner “consents” to being harmed. Even those who aren’t abusive may become desensitized to extremely abusive acts common in porn. Children are being exposed to porn, and internalizing what they see. Younger and younger girls are expected to accept violence during sex. Teen Vogue has written articles grooming young girls to accept BDSM, strangulation, and anal sex—so long as it’s “consensual.” Can one truly consent to an act that is expected as part of “normal” sex?
There have been cases of women being strangled to death during sex and men getting a slap on the wrist for it, because the woman “consented.” We Can’t Consent to This is a website dedicated to fighting the “rough sex” excuse, listing the stories of numerous dead women in the U.K. murdered by their partners. Most of the women listed were strangled to death by their male partner. According to Family Justice Center, “People who have been strangled are 7 times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner (past or present).”
Many people within the BDSM community claim strangulation is “safe,” and there is a correct way to safely cut blood flow to the brain. Women’s Health Magazine wrote an article describing “choking” (choking is a misnomer; strangulation is the proper term) as a thrilling and exciting way to spice up one’s sex life. Strangulation is posed as harmless fun.
But the truth is, there is no way to safely strangle someone.
Dr Helen Bichard of North Wales Brain Injury Service and The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust says of strangulation (also known as erotic asphyxiation): “I am extremely concerned by the cultural normalization of strangulation. Erotic asphyxiation should be as much of an oxymoron as erotic brain damage, because brain damage is the potential result. Much of the online advice is misguided; some of it is fatally wrong. When you compress the carotid artery you cut off oxygenated blood flow to the brain, and the brain therefore cannot function properly. Consciousness can be lost in as little as four seconds—a sign that the brain is being compromised. Any pressure to the artery can lead to dissection, in which blood clots can form and cause stroke, sometimes delayed by weeks.”
I’m sure there are those who will claim my ex wasn’t actually into BDSM, since he didn’t seem to care about consent. I may even be called a “kink shamer” for critiquing BDSM and its ability to disguise abuse. I’m not interested in shaming anyone.
I’d like to understand why “kink” is something that cannot be criticized or questioned, especially when the BDSM community is rife with abusers and women with stories like mine.
Why must we unquestioningly accept the hordes of men chomping at the bit to physically and sexually abuse women under the guise of “kink”? Obviously consent is an important issue but we can’t overlook the fact that the abuse of women is considered sexually rewarding to men. Can abuse truly be consented to, so long as it is relegated to the bedroom, or are we as a society playing with fire by normalizing the brutalization of women during sex?
It’s been years since I left him. I still have nightmares of being trapped in that house, that relationship. Now, I’m in a healthy relationship with a man who has never even raised his voice at me. Even so, I still have flashbacks to the terrorizing vulnerability I felt. The echoes of sexual abuse haunt me when my current partner tenderly caresses my neck in intimate moments. A flash of terror courses through me, despite the loveliness of the moment.