The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Understanding Your Reaction to Sexual Assault: Triggers & Pleasure

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

CAUTION: This post is speaking to sexual assault victims.  Some graphic descriptions are used in order to address specific concerns regarding molestation experiences.

You’ve been sexually assaulted. Maybe you were subjected to some form of molestation, or maybe you were full on raped. Either way, in the midst of that enormously upsetting moment, you were distressed to notice that part of you actually enjoyed the sensations you were experiencing. What on earth does this mean? If your penis erects in the middle of some man touching it, does that mean you’re some little pervert who actually enjoys being molested? If you feel some tingly rush of excitement when a man fondles your breasts or starts taking off your clothes, does that mean that you actually enjoy being violated? If you start having an orgasm in the middle of being raped, or if you find that part of you wants to prolong the experience of being groped, does that mean you’re sick and twisted? If you are currently stressing over these kinds of concerns, then this post is going to help to put your mind at ease.

UNDERSTANDING EARTHSUIT MECHANICS

The amazingly complex machine that you see in the mirror is what we call your earthsuit, and it is the vehicle that your soul is using to get around in and interact with this physical dimension that God has placed you in. Your earthsuit has three main elements to it: physical, emotional, and mental. These elements work like three strands of yarn that have been braided together. If you pull on any individual strand, all of the strands move. You can’t just pull on one strand without the whole rope reacting, because the strands are so tightly interwoven with each other. This is how it works with your earthsuit. When any single element of you is affected, all three elements respond. For example, let’s say you’re in a doctor’s office and the doctor is going to give you a shot. Having the needle prick your skin is a physical sensation, but you don’t just react to this experience in a physical way. You react in a mental and emotional way as well. When you see that needle, you might start feeling fear—that’s an emotional response. Then maybe you start worrying that the needle isn’t clean or that the drug won’t work—that’s a mental response. And when the needle actually pricks your skin, you feel pain—that’s a physical response.

Now let’s think about our three braided strands again. If you pull on one strand very gently, the whole rope moves gently. But suppose you pull on a different strand very hard—what happens to the rope then? The whole thing gets jerked hard. This is how it works with your earthsuit, as well. If one element of your earthsuit has an intense experience, the other two elements are impacted strongly as well. Let’s say the needle the doctor uses is very thin and it hardly hurts at all going in. When the physical part of your earthsuit reports very minor pain, your emotional and mental elements calm down. But if the shot turns out to be very painful, then the physical part of your earthsuit sends a loud complaint to your brain, and your emotional and mental elements respond with heightened distress. The three elements of your earthsuit are like three best friends who revolve around each other and depend on each other. If one is in trouble, the other two panic as well. If one is having a grand time, the other two join in the celebration.

Now you are not your earthsuit, you are the soul inside of your suit. Your soul is like the driver of a car. If the car malfunctions and starts swerving all over the road, the driver feels threatened and scared. If the driver suddenly feels ill and starts yanking the wheel all over the place, the car ends up crashing into something. The car and the driver both affect each other, but they don’t control each other. This is how it is with your soul and your earthsuit. If your earthsuit is in trouble, your soul feels very distressed, and vice versa. But your soul can’t control how your earthsuit responds to things, and your soul can’t control what your earthsuit likes.

When you taste a certain food, what determines whether your tongue says “yum” or “yuck”? Your earthsuit makes this call, and your earthsuit is reacting to preferences which God has programmed into it. Your soul has no say over how your earthsuit feels about food. Your earthsuit likes what it likes and it wants what it wants. Your earthsuit couldn’t care less if your soul approves its preferences or not—your earthsuit is a machine with a mind of its own.

Now your skin is covered in nerves, and some of those nerves are far more sensitive than others. If someone takes a feather and brushes it over your knee cap, your nerves are probably going to shrug it off. But if they take that same feather and brush the sole of your foot, the nerves located there are going to get much more excited and you’ll experience what humans call a tickling sensation. Tickling is one of those sensations we just don’t have control over. Every earthsuit has ticklish zones, and those zones are much more reactive to physical touch than non-ticklish zones. When someone touches you where you’re ticklish, you find yourself jumping before you can even think. It’s an automatic reaction that’s simply wired in. You might hate being ticklish—that doesn’t change anything. You might really dislike the person who is trying to tickle you—that doesn’t change anything. The physical sensation of being tickled is very strong and very startling and if someone knows where your ticklish spots are, they can tickle you anytime and there’s just nothing you can do to make your nerves ignore the sensation.

Now if a food tastes good to you, that’s nice, but it doesn’t get in the way of your ability to function. Tickling is different. A strong tickling sensation is so distracting that you just can’t think around it. You can’t sit around contemplating the movie you recently watched while someone’s tickling you. You can’t hold up your end of a conversation on the phone. Tickling is what we might call a crisis sensation because it is so intense that it stops you in your tracks and forces you to move all of your attention onto what is happening to your nerves.

SEXUAL AROUSAL & EROGENOUS ZONES

The kind of sexual arousal you experience when someone is sexually abusing you is another kind of crisis sensation. Just as every earthsuit has ticklish zones, every earthsuit also has erogenous zones. When someone starts stimulating the nerves in one of your erogenous zones, you will experience sexual arousal. And just as you had no say over your ticklish zones, you didn’t get to choose your erogenous zones. God chose your erogenous zones for you, and He didn’t ask for your input.

Now some erogenous zones are pretty common to all humans—like your whole genital area. But there are some variances as well. Some erogenous zones are what we might call stationary zones because they are always associated with arousal. An example here is the male penis or the female clitoris. But other erogenous zones are spontaneous zones because they can suddenly form based on what kind of situation you’re in. For example, your stomach might not usually be an erogenous zone for you. Your stomach just feels like a neutral zone—it registers touch the same way your hands do, but being touched on your stomach doesn’t make you think of sex. But then the day comes when your coach corners you in the locker room and slowly reaches his hand up your shirt. Suddenly the feeling of his hand on your stomach makes you feel sexually aroused. What’s going on here? Well, remember that your earthsuit has three elements which all influence each other: physical, mental, and emotional. When your logical mind suddenly realizes that someone is making sexual advances on you, it panics. The panic then spreads to your emotions, and that results in your whole physical body going on red alert. By the time your abuser touches you, the anticipation of sexual violation is so intense in your mind, that your physical body can suddenly turn the first point of contact into a spontaneous erogenous zone. Suddenly your dad putting his hand on your arm or the feeling of your older brother touching your face starts making feelings of sexual arousal rush through your genitals. This is a result of those three elements of your earthsuit freaking out together and causing each other to react to the concept of sexual arousal. It is not something you have control over. These are instinctive responses that come over you as fast as jumping does when you’re suddenly tickled.

UNDERSTANDING TRIGGERS

Sexual assault is a severe earthsuit trauma which has a very strong and lasting impact on all three elements of your being. Sexual assault can be triggered three different ways. The three elements of your earthsuit are like three dominoes. If we stand the dominoes up in a row on a table top, then we just have to knock one over and they will all fall down. It doesn’t matter which order we place the dominoes in. We could put the emotional domino on the end, or we could start with the mental or physical domino. No matter which one we start the row with, one little tap will send that domino crashing into the second one, the second one will crash into the third, and in an instant they will all fall down. This is how it works with the elements of your earthsuit: once one element feels like it is in crisis, it takes the other two elements down with it.

SINGLE TRIGGER ASSAULTS

What you believe about someone’s intentions towards you has a powerful effect on how you respond to their interactions with you. Once the mental trigger of assault is flipped, you end up feeling assaulted in every element, even if no physical contact happens. For example, the teacher who you really admire makes a comment about how nice your breasts look. Your mind interprets this inappropriate comment as a sexual come on and suddenly you feel all gross and violated. The next time you’re around that teacher, you imagine that he’s lusting after you and you feel physically ill. The teacher never touched you physically, but he flipped a mental trigger that has made you feel sexually violated.

Or maybe you’re in the exam room with a urologist for a routine checkup. Everything is going fine until you suddenly feel your penis getting aroused by the way he’s physically touching it. The man hasn’t made any verbal comments, but the way he’s touching you is making you feel involuntarily aroused. Suddenly you’re feeling coerced, and since everyone can see what’s happening, your emotions register acute humiliation and your mind goes into a panic. Is the doctor really trying to violate your personal space? You’re too upset to care. This is what is difficult about single trigger assaults: we can end up feeling assaulted when no one was trying to assault us. And once we associate someone with sexual violation, we feel intensely distressed around that person and we aggressively look for evidence that they are being inappropriate with us.

TRAUMA FLASHBACKS

Once you have been sexually violated once, you become especially vulnerable to single trigger assaults in the future. Sexual violation is such an intense and deeply disturbing experience, that all it takes is one element of that experience to be recreated and suddenly you are feeling assaulted all over again. For example, your father rapes you. This isn’t a single trigger assault, this is a full on attack. He is physically forcing sexual intercourse on you, he is being very clear about his motivations to violate you, and he is emotionally dominating you. Once you have been traumatized this way, you are naturally freaked about it happening again, so your defenses go on high alert and you start guarding all three elements of your earthsuit in a very panicked and paranoid sort of way. It’s rather like being attacked by a dog and then walking down a street a while later and hearing a low growl in the bushes. The dog who attacked you did a lot of growling, so now all it takes is the sound of a growl to make you flash back to what happened, mentally associate the two events, and leap to the conclusion that you’re in danger of being attacked a second time.

This is the kind of logic that’s going on in your earthsuit when your nice boyfriend goes to stroke your cheek and you freak out. Because he inadvertently uses a motion that reminds you of how your father touched you the day that he raped you, your mind instantly associates the two events and throws the panic switch in all three elements of your complex system. Your mind, emotions, and body then all fly to the defensive and you start screaming at your boyfriend to get away from you as you grab your purse and run out of the house in a state of emotional panic. Your boyfriend didn’t mean to harm you, and he’s such a gentleman that he would never consider violating you, but he accidentally flipped a trigger for you and now you’re having a very hard time calming down. This is very natural post-trauma behavior: we find ourselves freaking out over the littlest things because in our minds, those little things are associated with epic traumas that we haven’t yet recovered from. The emotional meltdowns you suddenly go into that seem so unreasonable to other people are your earthsuit’s very logical response to feeling immensely threatened.

Why is it important to understand these principles? Because then you can start to make better choices and you can become receptive to receiving help. Take your nice boyfriend who is now feeling extremely upset and confused about what happened. If you understand that you have unprocessed trauma from the past which your earthsuit is very paranoid about re-experiencing, you can become open to the possibility that your boyfriend really isn’t out to trash you. Learning how to separate the past from the present is a critical step in the healing process.

ENJOYING ASSAULT

Now that you understand about erogenous zones, various triggers, and your earthsuit’s three main components, let’s talk about the disturbing fact that part of you enjoyed the experience of being assaulted. This is a very common and natural experience for assault victims, and it does not mean you are screwed up. To alleviate any guilt and shame that you might be feeling over this issue, let’s talk about how pleasure enters into the assault experience.

You have three main components to your earthsuit: mental, emotional, and physical.   Each one of these elements has intense needs which you naturally look to fulfill through human interactions. For example, your physical body needs physical touch. This isn’t something you chose, it’s the way God designed your earthsuit. Positive physical touch is extremely important to the overall well-being of humans. In an ideal world, parents would fill this need for their children by giving them a lot of physical affection when they are growing up. There is a big difference between parental affection, friendship affection, and romantic affection. Major problems arise when parental figures start to dish out romantic affection. This is not something that they should do, yet it happens a lot, hence we end up with a lot of kids growing up in homes where they feel they were coerced into submitting to sexual abuse.

Now physical needs are just one kind of need you have. You also have intense needs for emotional affirmation and mental stimulation. The less satisfied you are in one or more of these areas, the greater your pleasure with sexual violation can be. This has nothing to do with you being a pervert. It has everything to do with basic need mechanics.

Give a glass of water to a man who is feeling fine and a man who is feeling desperately thirsty, and who is going to get more enjoyment out of it? Clearly the man who feels an intense need for hydration is going to get a lot more pleasure and satisfaction out of drinking the water. Does this make him a pervert? Not at all. He was set up to have a more enjoyable experience by going into the experience with greater needs. The same dynamic is at work in cases of sexual assault. Take Paul, the teenager whose father is hardly ever home. When Paul’s father is home, he is always yelling at Paul and finding excuses to hit him. Years of this kind of treatment have left Paul feeling very starved out in the physical and emotional elements of his being. He craves emotional affirmation from a male parental figure, and he also longs for positive physical touch from a male.

Youth Pastor Jones is the first parental male figure to ever throw Paul some crumbs of emotional affirmation. Paul’s intense emotional needs cause him to rapidly bond to Pastor Jones. When Pastor Jones invites Paul over to his house one night for “man time,” Paul is elated. Paul feels intensely drawn towards Pastor Jones because Pastor Jones is meeting a critical core need in Paul’s life. When Paul is alone with his hero and Pastor Jones starts putting sexual moves on Paul, how is Paul going to react? The mental element of Paul is going to panic and feel repulsed by the inappropriateness of Pastor Jones’ behavior. But the physical element of Paul is going to feel conflicted. On one hand, Pastor Jones is invading Paul’s physical space. As a general rule, Paul is very repulsed by anyone handling his genitals. But when Pastor Jones starts to do this, Paul gets hit with an intense mix of pleasure and repulsion. Not only does he crave physical touch from a male figure, but Pastor Jones is touching one of Paul’s erogenous zones, and this triggers a very pleasurable sensation in his neural system that Paul has no control over. At the same time, Pastor Jones is complimenting Paul, and this makes Paul feel emotionally affirmed, even though his logical mind knows that the compliments are inappropriate.

It is because Paul went into this situation with some desperate internal needs that he will experience some very deep pleasure at the same time as he is feeling extremely repulsed and violated. These conflicting emotions result in intense confusion, which is a very common feeling for sexual assault victims. Confusion results from us wanting two conflicting things at the same time. Paul’s earthsuit wants to keep experiencing the positive neural sensations that Pastor Jones is triggering, but at the same time, it wants to defend itself from violation. Shame is when we feel bad about doing or liking something that we know is wrong. In Paul’s logical mind, he knows that sexual molestation is wrong, that Pastor Jones is being very inappropriate, and that he shouldn’t be cooperating. But he also feels totally frozen to the spot and wanting to prolong the experience because he is suddenly experiencing some very deep core needs being met. Paul is like a desperately thirsty man who is handed a cup of sweet tasting poison. Someone says, “Don’t drink it, it’s bad for you.” But Paul is so thirsty that he does drink it, and he enjoys it because it tastes good and it relieves the burning pain in his parched throat.

So how should we view Paul in this scenario? Is he being a pervert? No, he’s being completely overwhelmed by an earthsuit that is in intense conflict. Paul is not to blame in this situation. Pastor Jones is intentionally taking advantage of Paul’s obvious vulnerability and using the intensity of Paul’s needs as a means of crippling his defenses. The more needy humans are, the easier they are to control, and this means they are easier to abuse. Paul has zero control over how his earthsuit is responding to all of the sensations he’s getting blasted with. Paul will always feel sexually aroused by someone stroking his penis. This is simply not something he can control—it is wired in. Yet to keep their victims under control, sexual abusers will often try to get their victims to feel bad about things which are totally beyond their control. You didn’t choose the location of your erogenous zones. You can’t help the fact that you crave physical touch and emotional affirmation. Even if you are not as desperate as Paul when you are assaulted, you will still experience physical pleasure by someone touching your erogenous zones.

Unless you are dealing with a purely violent and injurious sexual assault, it is pretty impossible not to feel some sense of pleasure during sexual abuse. This kind of assault targets the most intense pleasure centers on your earthsuit. Even if there is some physical pain involved, the very fact that someone is interacting with you on a sexual level can easily trigger a very intense emotional rush that is hard to get over. Adrenaline rushes are very addictive by themselves. Throw sexual arousal into the mix, and you’ve got a very intense experience on your hands which you are going to have very mixed feelings about. Part of you will feel totally repulsed, the other part of you will feel intensely stimulated. Depending on how depleted your core needs are, it’s easy to end up in a place where you start trying to psych yourself into liking what is being done to you, especially if you feel like you are trapped. When your father keeps making you go to bed with him, and it’s the only time he’s ever showing you any kind of affection, your core needs for emotional affirmation and physical touch from a male figure will create a desperation factor that will spike your pleasure of the experience, especially if your father is not being too violent. But even in cases of violence, intense core needs can cause you to fixate on the pleasurable aspects of the situation and keep you coming back for more. Here’s where we get the girl who puts up with her boyfriend raping her and smacking her around because she’s so desperate for the affirmation he gives her between volleys. The point is this: experiencing pleasure in sexual assault situations is simply not something you need to feel ashamed about.

As we’ve been explaining, there are two ways that pleasure becomes a factor in the experience of sexual assault. First there is physiological wiring: the stimulation of your erogenous zones will result in some degree of pleasure. Then there is the pleasure that comes from experiencing a core need being satisfied, and core needs vary greatly from person to person. Both of these are instinctive forms of pleasure: they happen before you can think and they occur regardless of whether you want them to or not. Understanding how automatic these things are can help you overcome the humiliation of feeling controlled by your molester. When your brother gets your penis to erect against your will, he’s just using basic anatomical wiring against you. This is not a sign that you’re giving in to him, or that you agree with what is happening or that you’re some doormat who loves being felt up. If you want to make a man jump, poke him hard with a pin, and he’ll jump whether he wants to or not. But should you then try to say that the fact that the man reacted so strongly to the prick proves that you can control him, well that’s just you trying to claim power that you don’t have.

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL

So how much power does your abuser have over you? If someone can turn you on sexually, does that mean he has acquired total mastery over you? Certainly not. For starters, you are not your earthsuit. You are the soul inside of the suit. The fact that someone can manipulate your suit does not in any way mean they have gained control over your soul, and this is very important to realize.

Abusers count on you mentally assigning them more control than they have: this is a critical part of their game. But once you understand some of the basic earthsuit mechanics that we’ve been discussing, you can start to see that your soul is entirely separate from your suit and that your soul’s choices don’t have to be dictated by what your earthsuit is doing. Your abuser wants to lead you down a logical path of “Part of you enjoys this, therefore you want it, therefore you are going to obey me.” This is the ideal situation for an abuser: to get you to the point where you are actually craving the abuse in a masochistic sort of way. But this is where you can realize that your soul has a will of its own and the ability to make different choices. Your earthsuit might enjoy the feelings of arousal that your abuser triggers, but your soul can say, “I’m worth more than this. You’re taking advantage of me and robbing me of things that are not yours to take. I don’t have to keep putting up with this garbage. My earthsuit’s reactions do not define who I am.”

There are two kinds of domination: soul domination and earthsuit domination. Your abuser wants you to blur the lines between these two things and make you believe that once your earthsuit is being manipulated, your soul must fall in line. But no, just as a driver’s thoughts are not dictated by what his car is doing, your soul’s preferences do not have to be dictated by what your earthsuit wants. Your soul can recognize that anyone who is taking advantage of your earthsuit and manipulating it for their own selfish gain is not someone who is respecting you as a person, therefore they are not someone you are going to submit to on a soul level. The physical part of your earthsuit might like the feeling of being molested, but your soul can say, “This person is abusing me and I don’t have to keep cooperating with them. I don’t have to accept that the options they are giving me are the only options that I have.”

Sexual abusers are often addicted to the rush they get from sexually degrading others. This means that you are like a drug to them. They need you and they feel dependent on you. This is why they try to use threats and fear to keep you from exposing them. Often abusers are not at all prepared to carry out the threats they make—that’s why they work so hard to keep you from testing them by heaping on the guilt and shame. Here is where you need to realize that you are not some piece of expendable trash. You don’t have to agree to keep being degraded just so that your family won’t be broken up or so that someone’s reputation won’t be destroyed. Often speaking up is the best thing you can do and it’s also an important step towards recovery to see yourself standing up for yourself.

But what happens if you can’t speak up? We would be naïve to pretend such situations do not exist. So what about when you are totally stuck in a situation in which you really don’t see any way out? Well, so far we’ve been focusing on earthsuit mechanics to show you why you don’t need to blame yourself for partly enjoying the feeling of being sexually violated. But now let’s talk about a far more important topic: God’s involvement in this situation.

PRISONER SITUATIONS

It is always possible to make positive gains, even in prisoner situations. When external factors can’t be improved, the focus needs to be turned inward. You need to recognize that your soul can make choices independently of your earthsuit and that your soul’s choices have the greatest impact on who you are. You also need to realize that God is with you in your situation, and that your soul has total access to Him. Your abuser cannot come between you and God, and since God has absolute control over the entire situation, your abuser cannot ever gain total mastery over you.

Seeking God’s guidance in this situation and asking Him to make you all that He wants you to be is critical to thriving on a soul level. When we are trapped in extremely stressful and degrading situations, we need to not stall around by refusing to submit to God. Intense trials can either pitch us into darkness or transform us into towers of strength. It’s rather like being stuck on a battlefield with live ammo flying inches over your head. You might not get along well with your commanding officer as a general rule, but you do know that he has way more battle experience than you, and that his wisdom in handling such things is far superior to yours. This means the smartest thing you can do is drop your petty disagreements with him, and rush to obey any order he gives you.

UNDERSTANDING PURPOSE

Intense trials come in many forms, and they are always about God stepping up our motivation to aggressively pursue a better relationship with Him. Life is about pleasing our Makers (Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), and until we get serious about pursuing that goal, we are missing the point of everything. Since God reigns with absolute control over all things, no situation is hopeless. Even the most impossible traps can be forced open by Him.

Sexual assault doesn’t happen at random because evil people are running amuck behind God’s back. It didn’t happen to you because you are intrinsically flawed or because God thinks you are expendable. Sexual assault, like all other trials, is an event which God brings into our lives on purpose to drive us towards a positive spiritual end. To reap the positive gains from these very traumatic experiences, we need to seek God’s wisdom on how to handle them. The fact that He is involved does not mean He expects us to act like doormats for our abusers. Sometimes the lesson He wants to teach us is how to stand up for ourselves and refuse to cooperate with someone who attempts to put inappropriate moves on us. Other times we are caught completely off guard, our abuser triumphs in the moment, but God then uses that experience to teach us other critical lessons.

With God, no trial is accidental or ill-timed. If we are willing to submit to God’s Authority in our lives and trust in His good Character and positive intentions towards us, we can move closer to Him even in the midst of very negative circumstances. Our situations never control us. God always gives us some degree of choice, even if that choice is limited to how we are going to respond to Him in the privacy of our own souls. With God’s help, we can learn to see our experience of assault in a radically different light than that of some crushing domination which has forever marred us. We do not have to spend our entire lives in a crippled state. Instead, we can choose to cooperate with God’s efforts to grow us and experience how fully He can redeem our negative experiences.

Experiencing assault is supposed to change us. The goal is not to go back to who we were before we were ever assaulted, but to cooperate with God’s methods to change us into better people because of what we went through. This is how maturity works for all humans: God puts us through difficult experiences, those experiences negatively alter us, and He turns those negative alterations into positives.

Spiritual maturity can be likened to medical surgery: new injuries are inflicted in order to resolve an internal crisis. And just as a skillful surgeon can radically improve his patient’s quality of life by strategically inflicting him with new injuries, so also, God expertly weaves trials and traumas into our lives to bring about radical changes in us—changes that turn us into far better people than we were before. As humans, do we like the fact that God uses pain to grow us? Not at all. We would much prefer that He skip the misery altogether and run this Creation quite differently. But since we cannot change the way God operates, we would be wise to accept the instruction He gives us and cooperate with the methods that He has chosen to use.

In this world, sexual assault abounds, as do opportunities to be benefited by it. At some point we need to decide to move our focus off of what has been taken from us and start pursuing all that God is willing to give us. You can recover from assault. You can not only recover, you can thrive. It all starts with a willingness to give yourself into God’s hands and ask Him to have His way in your life.

FURTHER READING:
Understanding Your Passive Response to Assault: A Lack of Resistance Does Not Indicate Cowardice or Enjoyment
Recovering from Abuse: Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation
Dealing with Trauma: Protecting Yourself from Bad Counselors

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