When my son was breastfeeding today he pointed at my nipple and said 'dirty' (I think because the nipple had wrinkled up). 'No it's clean', I replied, slightly surprised by his comment but not too phased. Then it struck me, like a bolt of lightning, I actually meant it. For the first time in my life I really believed my breasts were clean.
That might sound strange to you, but for many, many years I considered my breasts to be dirty. Not literally - I am quite a regular showerer thank you - but that's how they made me feel. If I was someone where I felt uncomfortable, walking through a quiet park alone at dusk, or down a quiet street after dark, it was my breasts I focused on. It was my breasts that I hated when the boys would make jokes about them in class and make me feel different from the other girls. They were like a red flashing light, attracting would be perverts.
If this is sounding familiar to you then maybe you are also one of the one in three females in the UK who have experienced a sexual assault in their lifetime. That's a shocking statistic for a country that claims to have half decent rights for girls and women. It's a statistic that shows we have a long, long way to go.
I was sexually assaulted when I was entering my teenage years. No-one really talks about what it's like to live with the aftermath of that and, no doubt, it's different for everyone. For me, the impact of that day stayed with me throughout my life. Whether it was a fear of a stranger, or a belief that boys, including boys I liked, were only interested in me for my breasts (or, as I got older, for sex). Those feelings were there. Day in, day out. Year in, year out. Sometimes I used that to my advantage, putting them on show for a nightout. Sometimes I wanted nothing more than to make them disappear and would hide them away under big baggy jumpers in the hope that no one would notice them.
Then I had a child. Suddenly I was expected to breastfeed in public, hell, now I wanted to breastfeed in public - it was my right and my son's too. In the beginning I was genuinely concerned the first time a male friend came round. What would he think if (when) I started breastfeeding my little one in front of him (it was going to happen, he was just days old and seemed to need feeding every twenty minutes). But quickly I realised it didn't matter. No-one cared. Really, my breasts weren't that interesting.
Now, two years down the line, I realise the fears I attached to my breasts have gone. All those (subconscious) associations I made between my breasts and it being my fault I was attacked, have disappeared. Now I don't feel like my breasts are dirty. Now I feel pride that they have given life to my son from the day he was born; they have nurtured him and comforted him for two years. That is why I have breasts. Not to attract men - men I want, or men I don't want. And although my breastfeeding journey (with this little boy at least) is coming to an end, it's amazing to realise what change it has made for me. I only hope it stays that way.
The Survivors Trust is the national umbrella agency for over 130 charities in the UK that provide support and advice to people who have suffered sexual abuse. Their website provides details of local charities who can support you.