Get Real! Healing from Rape

Welcome to Get Real!, Scarleteen's Q&A column on RH Reality Check! Get Real! is a sex-ed advice column for teens that reminds us all to never forget our "first" – real sex-ed that is! Scarleteen is the web’s most popular source for young adult sex education. RH Reality Check is thrilled to partner with Scarleteen to feature its founder, the queen of the Q&A, Heather Corinna, in this new bimonthly column for young people, their parents and professional sexual and reproductive health advocates.

If you’re a teen needing answers to your questions about sex, sexuality, dating, or your sexual health, this is the column for you! And if you’ve got your own questions that need answers or you just want to engage with others your own age on these issues, head over to Scarleteen’s message boards! RH Reality Check cannot accept any questions for Heather or Scarleteen’s fine volunteer staff so please visit Scarleteen for more information.

This week, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Heather answers questions from a young woman who was forced to have sex.

Worried asks:

I was forced to have sex a few days ago and I'm worried I could have caught something. I have this itch that feels like it's on the walls of my vagina and I can't scratch it because, obviously, it's internal and I don't wanna make myself bleed. Does any infection have symptoms of an itch like that?

My boyfriend decided to take my virginity by force but can I call it rape? He is my boyfriend, but I didn't think I was ready for sex and he pushed it on me that night with a guilt trip. Please help.

Heather answers:

Worried: there's no one kind of person, or kind of role, that gives someone a free pass to have sex on us or to us when it isn't what we want. If a husband forces or coerces his wife into sex when sex is not what she wants, it's not consensual, and it is then a sexual abuse or an assault: a rape. If a boyfriend forces or coerces his girlfriend into sex when sex is not what she wants, it's not consensual, and it is then a sexual abuse or an assault: a rape.

Most rapes occur with people a victim knows, be they an acquaintance, a friend, a family member, a neighbor or an intimate partner, like a boyfriend or spouse. The idea that rape is only about strangers is flawed: that happens too, but it's actually far less common than rape with a rapist known, and often well-known. So, your boyfriend doesn't get a pass here, and if you felt you were forced to engage in something sexual, it doesn't make sense to call it sex, because sex is something two people willingly share together — not something one person does to the other against their will. A healthy partner for you (for anyone) will not enjoy any kind of sex unless the other person is also willing, also very much wants to have sex of any kind, and is also enjoying themselves, physically and emotionally. A healthy partner who cares for and respects you won't guilt-trip another person into sex or force them into sex because they'll know that is not going to result in their partner feeling good, during or afterwards, and someone who cares about you wants you to feel good: you being upset will make them upset, rather than being something they can dismiss to serve their own needs.

I would encourage you to separate yourself from this boyfriend, or at the very least, to avoid being alone with him. This isn't someone safe for you when it comes to sex, and it's likely also not someone healthy for you overall. Anyone who would force or coerce you into sex isn't someone who truly cares for you or who views you with a basic, human respect. And someone who will do that once will very likely do it again. I know that it's really hard to face the fact that someone you cared for would do you harm, easy to try to rationalize away or deny (because no one wants to believe a boyfriend would harm them), and it's going to take some work and support to deal with this and work through it for yourself, but what's most important, before anything else, is being sure that you get yourself out of harm's way.

As far as your symptoms go, while some sexually transmitted infections can cause feelings of itching, STIs don't tend to manifest symptoms quite that quickly. But Trichomoniasis, for instance, is one of the most common STIs in young adults, and when there are symptoms — many STIs don't show obvious symptoms for many people at any point — itching is among them. You may also have a yeast infection which is unrelated to this incident, but which was exascerbated because of forced or unwanted sex — when we're unaroused or not lubricated, intercourse certainly can irritate our genitals. Or, you may be just feeling itchy because of general genital irritation.

Either way, you'd be smart to go ahead and get seen by a sexual healthcare provider. If the sex was unprotected, you can guard against unwanted pregnancy with emergency contraception: it can be used up to 120 hours, or five days, after a risk. Condom or no condom, you'll also want a full screening for STIs simply because this did happen, so those risks are present, and given you're having a symptom, I'd get screened just to find out what it is and if you need treatment early. Even a simple yeast infection is something you'll need to treat, and you'd want to: no one wants to be itching like that, it's uncomfortable. You can get that care either through your general care physician, through a private gynecologist, or at a public general or sexual health clinic.

Lastly, this does sound like something you could choose to report as a crime if that is something you wanted to. You could do that in your sexual healthcare provider's office or at a police station. If you're not sure what you want in that regard, or just need some one-on-one support, I highly recommend using the resources RAINN can provide, by phone or online. You can get someone to talk to there, as well as referrals to support or reporting resources local to you. You can get in touch with them by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE or online here.

Here are a few extra links for you:

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  • anna-clark

    Heather, I'm such a fan of your work and I'm thrilled to see your voice in this space! Thank you!

  • invalid-0

    To the young lady that wrote Heather, please take Heather’s advice immediately. There is no time to waste. I know it is hard for you right now, but your boyfriend, not you, should be ashamed of himself and his behavior! You are the victim here and you need to be able to talk face to face with someone who cares about how you work through this. The sooner you get help, the better your recovery will be.

    This is a major turning point in your life; seek the help you need so that it will be easier for you.

    Be at peace, and God is with you!

  • invalid-0

    What happened above was clearly rape.

  • invalid-0

    Heather the work you do is so inspiring and priceless. Everywhere I turn these days there you are! I love it – you go girl!