Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I had my period for less than two years before I was raped. During that time, I preferred to use pads, but I did know how to use a tampon and sometimes would.
Then I was raped and did not get my period for four full years. I didn’t use tampons or pads. I spent this time virtually denying the existence of my vagina.
Now I’ve had my period again for a bit over two years, and until today I have only used pads. But I’m doing a triathlon in July and my period tracker says it’s going to be day two of my period that day. That means I’m going to have to swim during my period.
That means I’m going to have to use a tampon.
The first time I got my period post-rape was just a week before I started dating my boyfriend. This is important because I was at the literal peak of my vagina-denial at that point. I had worried how I’d react when I presumably got my period once again, but I was much more nonchalant about it when it happened. I casually went to insert a tampon and was horrified that it was impossibly painful when I tried.
The key word here is tried, because I did not succeed. I was acutely remembering and reexperiencing what it felt like to be raped, and the shame of that was only heightened by my embarrassment that I was unable to insert the tampon.
But I didn’t give up right away, despite the tears I was crying through unrepressable flashbacks and flop sweat and anxiety-induced body heat. I really could not get the tampon inside of me. When I gave up I felt wholly inadequate, and since I had not yet realized I had been raped I felt even more pathetic for being affected in a new way by a stupid thing that happened four years ago.
That experience in itself was traumatic. Until the necessity of using a tampon for the triathlon emerged, I was pretty content to keep on pretending they don’t exist. But here we are.
Two days ago I tried and quickly failed and didn’t swim that morning and went back to sleep hopefully forever.
Today I really wanted to swim. So I watched some really bad videos clearly targeted at 12 year olds teaching them how to insert a tampon, and then I watched just a normal video that hopefully would distract and relax me while I pathetically tried to untense my hypersensitive groin muscles enough to put a little thing inside of me. And it sort of worked.
No, it did work.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Did I want to cheer for myself and feel free? Did I want to feel like a sufficient and “normal” human vagina-owner and not like a failure? I don’t know. But I don’t exactly think I expected the successful insertion of a tampon to be triggering. But it was.
All I could feel was powerless.
All I could hear was my rapist telling me he wanted to make my phone vibrate inside of me.
All I could see was him taking my phone out of my hands and holding it away so I couldn’t get it back from him and sometimes aiming towards my vagina with it.
All I could feel was me reaching to take my phone back from his hands and squirming away and tightly pressing my legs together when he tried to get it near my private parts.
All I could think was him winning. This was my rapist getting my phone inside me when I kept telling him not to.
All I could hear was him laughing.
And then at the same time I was back in my bathroom with a string hanging between my legs and all I wanted to do was cry.
And I cried a little, and I talked it out with my friend, and I ended my pity party early so I could swim.
And I swam. And I came back home and took the tampon out as fast as possible and only then did I feel free.
Still, I’m pretty sure it will only get easier each time, and someday I’ll be glad that when I want to, I can use a tampon and it won’t be a big event.
Even though that probably won’t be the case on the day of the triathlon, I know that day I won’t give up.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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