Beth Ashley – Journalist, Writer, Artist

My name’s Beth, and I’m an editor, journalist and copywriter based in Hampshire. I’m an avid believer in 90s fashion, the revitalising power of dancing in my underwear, and I adore interesting memoirs written by women and non-binary people – especially if they’re about sex, friendship, or both.

Currently, I’m a sex & relationships columnist for Restless Magazine and a copywriter for a large tech company. I spend my 9-5 producing online tools and copywriting for small business owners to use, then spend my evenings, lunch times and weekends writing content for me (and for you!).

You can read my stream-of-consciousness tweets at @bethmayashley, watch me try to be a little more curated and pretty on Instagram, or shoot me an email at beth.ash_97@hotmail.co.uk.

You can still be sexy after sexual assault

photography by Kaye Ford

The ease of sex is taken for granted by anyone who hasn’t experienced sexual assault. It’s understandable; sex for most people is a simple part of life, as natural as falling asleep. For sexual violence survivors, things can turn out a little differently.

After I was sexually assaulted by a partner, I found the world of dating and sex incredibly confusing. Entering this domain without previous trauma can be complex enough, without the added fear of wondering whether things will be the same for you.

The biggest difficulty I experienced was the shame. I felt guilty for wanting sex, for wanting to hook up with someone, for desiring a body in close proximity to my own in the midst of a rape investigation. In hindsight, it sounds silly, but I felt my validity as a sexual assault survivor who wanted to be believed would be put into question if I behaved in the openly sexual way I had before.

Related: How to Rebuild Intimacy After Sexual Assault

Something every survivor should hear, but probably hasn’t, is that we’re allowed to feel sexy after sexual assault. We’re allowed to have sex without shame or guilt. We’re allowed to find our small pleasures, to experiment with enjoyment, to slip on some lingerie and admire ourselves. And if you’re not ready to be intimate with someone else, you’re allowed to feel pleasure alone without feeling guilty. Recovery looks different for everyone. For me, justice was about experiencing pleasure and enjoyment in a body that underwent pain, in a body that the world expected to crumble. I deserve to love my body, I can have sex without shame, and my validity as a survivor is not measured by discomfort or suffering.

Below, are some helpful tips from a fellow survivor, on how navigating your sex life can become a little easier.

Get Support

I think the most important thing to remember when you’re in this position, is that there’s no shame in asking for help. There’s such a disappointingly significant shame stigma surrounding sexual assault and victims speaking about it aloud. Fortunately, much of that has changed in the era of #MeToo, but we still have a long way to go.

It’s important to have people you trust who will comfort, protect or love you onboard with you. If you can, talk to your parents. Your teacher. Maybe a colleague. A friend. Your partner(s). If you have someone you feel safe with and can have a free-of-judgement discussion with, tell them how you’re feeling. If you need further options, there will be some links later on in this blog post for more specific support resources.  

Identify your sexual goals and boundaries

The most important part of anything I’m discussing in this post, is that you are in control. If you’re not ready to pursue relationships or have sex with another person yet, you don’t have to be. Don’t force yourself into situations you’re not ready to pursue because you think it’s what’s expected. Listen to yourself and understand what your personal goals are. Do you want a relationship? Great! Do you want to just have casual sex? Great! Want to spend some time single or maybe even stay single because it works for you? That is also great! 

If you are going to pursue sexual relationship(s) again after experiencing sexual assault, my main advice would be to understand what your boundaries are and voice them aloud. I don’t think you owe it to anyone to share your whole experience, but making your boundaries and concerns clear to a sexual partner allows you to keep some control and manage your sex life in a way that’s comfortable for you.

photography by Kaye Ford

Improve your relationship between your mind and body

This is something you may do alone, with someone else, or perhaps you’ll need professional support like CBT or psychotherapy to help you along the way. Whichever method works for you, ending the disassociation between your mind and your body and understanding that the two works best as a team, is incredibly effective for your mental health. A happy brain makes a happy sex life. 

Create positive sexual experiences on your own

Creating positive sensual experiences for when it’s just you can be healing for the mind, and help you familiarise yourself with what you like in isolation – without having to worry about anyone else. It can be empowering for assault survivors to treat trauma by getting to know their own bodies and taking control of them again. In our patriarchal system, women are brought up from a young age to believe that sexual experiences are for just for two people, and that are pleasures are activated through penetration via another person. This couldn’t be more untrue. When we take time to build positive sensual experiences on our own, we allow ourselves to understand the secret fact no-one wants us to know: that we don’t need another person to allow ourselves pleasure. It can be given to you, to you. 

Consider the alterations to your sexuality ‘developments’ rather than ‘changes’  

When I first began reclaiming my sexuality after sexual assault, I spent too much time mourning what I once enjoyed and had disappeared, instead of understanding what I loved now. What helped for me was a mental shift. I stopped considering my sexuality to have been through ‘changes’ and noted them as ‘developments’. I try to remember, even now, that my sexuality would have evolved, and I’d have embarked on new sexual journeys regardless of traumatic experiences. I’m just doing it a little earlier than expected.

Resources for Support:

The Counselling Directory

Rape Crisis

The Survivors Trust

In an effort to support sexual assault survivors as much as possible, myself and my lovely designer friend Molly Jameson have created stickers (and will soon be creating A5 prints) with empowering statements for survivors – all about breaking that pain narrative and owning pleasure. There are four designs, all included in one pack! See the product preview below and order your sticker pack today! All money made from this will be donated to Rape Crisis England.

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Beth Ashley
Beth Ashley

Writer/wronger. Provides words about mental health and feminism and runs this very blog. Copywriter for Godaddy and editor of Paperfox Literary Magazine.

Find me on: Web | Instagram

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