How Exploring BDSM Helped Me Get Past My Assault

I felt powerless when my boyfriend attacked me. Desperate to take back control of my world, I found power in BDSM, writes Kate O’Kelly.
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The first time Harry* and I slept together, it was romantic. But this second time was, to him, an opportunity to push the boundaries. He loved nothing more.

With little to no foreplay, he had sex with me. I at least expected conversation after, but even that didn’t happen; as soon as he finished, he smirked, said goodnight and rolled over. I loved him but, in an instant, he’d made me feel used. So I nudged him.

Harry ignored me, pretending to have fallen asleep. He’d treated me like nothing more than a sex toy. So I nudged him again. And again.

Continuing to ignore me, he moved to a different part of the apartment we were staying in. When I followed, in what felt like a flash, he grabbed me by the neck and slapped me across the face.

“Shut up!” he shouted.

I screamed. I had never felt fear like it.

“The first time I tried BDSM, with a new partner, I was scared. After all, the last time a man had put his hands around my neck.”

After, his interpretation of events was that while he had maybe gone “a bit alpha”, he’d acted in self-defence. He gaslighted me to the point where, within a few weeks, I agreed.

Harry was the most physically built man. Even when he was being romantic, his every movement had a power to it. I soon discovered he liked rough sex. I’d never done it before, but I gave it a go, for him.

He pushed way past those boundaries again, months later. Trying to fall asleep next to him, I heard a click, felt our bedroom light up, and found myself screaming again.

Harry had put a lighter to my hair. He said it was a joke. Everything was a joke to him, and I don’t think he contemplated for a moment how serious his actions could have been.

I managed to extinguish the fire under the covers, but that night my anxiety morphed from a general sense of dread into tangible checking and avoidance. Harry had made me feel so powerless that I was desperate to take back control of my world.

In the years after Harry, I struggled sexually. I had even been known to follow up with casual partners to check that I had had their full consent (knowing full well it made me look crazy).

So the first time I tried BDSM, with a new partner, I was scared. After all, the last time a man had put his hands around my neck, I was terrified. But I knew I had to push past the fear to really enjoy it, and I knew I wanted to prove to myself that this bad experience wasn’t going to control me.

“For the first time in years, I felt like I wasn’t broken.”

I quickly found out I enjoyed being tied up with a rope, watching him carefully tie knots around my arms and feet – tight, but not too tight. I learned that the only red line I had was simple and understandable: I could not let a man slap me across the face. I trusted my new partner absolutely, and doing so a powerful feeling. Despite everything I’d been through, I could still trust a man. For the first time in years, I felt like I wasn’t broken.

“I can be quite rough, but I have to check if you’re into it,” said another man shortly after we started seeing each other.

“I am,” I assured him. I was confident now in my ability to articulate my boundaries.

He pushed the boundaries of BDSM more than I’d experienced before, choking me to the point where I wasn’t sure I couldn’t handle it. As I struggled to breathe, I realised my submission to this man had nothing to do with sex – my willingness to submit was really about control. Since my abusive relationship, I’d tried to control my world absolutely, but now I realised that only giving that power to someone else would set me free from my past. BDSM, it turned out, was the unlikely key to getting over what I hope remains the worst experience of my life.

Last weekend, I had a one-night stand – let’s call him Freddie*. We never had penetrative sex, but there was something interesting about him, something about the way he looked into my eyes. I don’t know why, but while I got him off, I put my hand over his mouth, a little roughly.

“I’ve never had a woman do that before... but I liked it,” Freddie said.

With one hand around his penis and another over his mouth, my neck was exposed. And I don’t know why, but this time I wanted him to grab it.

Six years after that first assault, I was powerful. I wasn’t scared any more.

Kate O’Kelly is a journalist, writing under a pseudonym. *Names changed