"How Violent Sex Eased My PTSD"

Mon, 07/04/2011 - 08:17
Submitted by Carlin Ross

Mac Mcclelland is a journalist. She spent several months interviewing rape victims in Haiti and developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - not good for a journalist. Therapy...yoga...nothing worked.  Mac describes how violent sex helped ease ger PTSD:

"We'd done this sort of thing before. But at dinner I'd told him, voice shaking, about my PTSD. This time, the fight would be rougher and the stakes higher. And so he paused. "Okay," he said. "I love you, okay?" I said, I know, okay. And with that he was on me, forcing my arms to my sides, then pinning them over my head, sliding a hand up under my shirt when I couldn't stop him. The control I'd lost made my torso scream with anxiety; I cried out desperately as I kicked myself free. But it didn't matter how many times I managed to knock him over to the other side of the bed. He's got 60 pounds on me, plus the luxuries of patience and fearlessness. When I got out from under him and started to scramble away, he simply caught me by a leg or an upper arm or my hair and dragged me back. By the time he pinned me by my neck with one forearm so I was forced to use both hands to free up space between his elbow and my windpipe, I'd largely exhausted myself.

And just like that, I'd lost. It's what I was looking for, of course. But my body—my hard-fighting, adrenaline-drenched body—reacted by exploding into terrible panic. The comforting but debilitating blanket of tension that'd for weeks been wrapped around my chest solidified into a brick. Then the weight of his body, and of the inevitability of my defeat, descended on my ribcage. My worn-out muscles went so taut that they ached. I stopped breathing.

I did not enjoy it in the way a person getting screwed normally would. But as it became clear that I could endure it, I started to take deeper breaths. And my mind stayed there, stayed present even when it became painful, even when he suddenly smothered me with a pillow, not to asphyxiate me but so that he didn't break my jaw when he drew his elbow back and slammed his fist into my face. Two, three, four times. My body felt devastated but relieved; I'd lost, but survived. After he climbed off me, he gathered me up in his arms. I broke into a thousand pieces on his chest, sobbing so hard that my ribs felt like they were coming loose.

In a few months, I'd feel ready to go back to Haiti. It would become pretty rare for a movie rape scene to trigger immediate, whiplash-inducing weeping. The flashbacks and the gagging fits would, for the most part, have ceased. A few months after that, I would report from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where every interview would be about sexual violence or murder, but I would function just fine. I'd see the French peacekeeper again in another country, where his big weight would feel appropriately weighty as I engaged him in absurdly sweet—like, European-earnest—sex."

I love her honesty. She could have sugar coated it or alluded to the specifics of her violent sex but she put it all out there. There's no shame in talking honestly about our sexuality.  

Editor in Chief & Keeper of All Things Betty Dodson

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Potentially dangerous

Mon, 07/04/2011 - 09:48
Nau (not verified)

It's great that Mac was able to get through her PTSD, but I wouldn't like to see violent sex like this as a treatment for it. It seems too risky - I think the potential for increasing the PTSD symptoms would be quite high. I hear a lot about rape victims having triggers that cause some nasty anxiety symptoms. I suspect something similar might occur if this is suggested as a treatment. "Do no harm"

I agree with the above

Thu, 05/03/2012 - 04:41
Ms Sally (not verified)

I agree with the above comment- although I think its okay for some people to explore with treatment to find one that is right for them, personally with my own PTSD the most important thing was me learning that I had control over my body again and to trust and accept sexual feelings. For some people depending on who they are, the state of recovery they are at, what type of epxeriences they have had, I think violence could potentially confuse them or make some symptoms worsen.

I can relate to the statement in the article that refers to what it says about 'not enjoying sex' but 'having to endure it' to come to terms to be able to enjoy it again. However I dont think that violence is a necessary part of that. It comes down to cognitive focus and preserverence, consentual sex which is done on their terms and being with someone who is safety conscious about the situation. If you are consenting for someone to be violent towards you it still needs to be clear that the ball is in your court and that the violence is done on your terms. Sometimes people might be very comfortable and trust their sexual partner/s to know the limits, but it might not always be like that.  

I know that for me personally sex positive theory was probbaly the most crucial aspect of my recovery. 

ouch, this isn't role-play

magdalena-oldchild's picture
Sun, 09/01/2013 - 03:46

it's more like re-enacting and it can be very dangerous. Turns on the endorphins and triggers tears, but at what price?
I know some will disagree.
And if you are talking about secondary ptsd, which comes from hearing the stories of sexually abused people, you might suffer less from this than they would. But what if your ptsd comes from having suffered the same things yourself. There is a powerful thread between pain and pleasure. Because most sexual activity feels good. But not all of it is good. Some is retraining the same neural pathways.
And some people can't endure gentle sex because their abusers were gentle. Such a complex deal. And you get immune to endorphens. They don't come to your aid and real injury can happen. Not an easy answer but these are important questions.

It's all about exposure

Sun, 09/29/2013 - 00:02
Kat Scans (not verified)

When I was little, I got molested. It gave me pretty bad PTSD, but I repressed most of the specifics of the memory (to this day, I only remember the beginning and end). But, when I got older, and started watching movies with sex scenes, talking with friends, etc, my PTSD got triggered. At first, I didn't know what it was, but I would have these whole-body freak outs. Shaking (not like a shiver, like a seizure), uncontrollable crying, inability to breathe, gagging, nigthmares etc etc. Now, I never asked somebody to help me out by reenacting like Mac did, but what I did do is take time to think about a sex act. It would trigger a PTSD episode. I would ride it out. Then, some time later, when I was feeling okay, I would do it again. Sometimes, I would read stories people had written about their own experiences or watch a movie with a violent scene in it to make it trigger. I discovered that every time, it was a little bit better. I was very systematic. Now, I don't get a reaction at all unless something takes me really bad by surprise.
I guess the lesson is that re-living something in a safe place helps us fear it less.