Looking over, I was shocked to see my husband’s body wracked with violent sobs. I’d never seen him cry so hard. All I could do was put my arms around him and try to hold him together. “Sorry,” he said, reaching for a tissue. “I’ve never told anyone before that she raped me. For forty years, I kept that secret.” His eyes were full of unshed tears.
[TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Abuse]
Born to a young single mother, Rhys’ mom worked two jobs to keep a roof over his head and bread in his mouth. While she worked, she left her young son in the care of her teenage sister.
He was just an innocent baby of four years old when the abuse started. “She took off all my clothes,” he remembers. “I thought she was going to give me a bath, but she didn’t.”
His eyes fill with tears again as he sighs deeply, averts his gaze and says quietly, “Modryb (Aunt) pushed me backwards onto the bed and straddled me.” He dabs his eyes and exclaims, “She got me off! I didn’t even know what was happening, but it seemed wrong. It felt like it was bad.”
What can a wife say? I just held his hand and finally asked, “Did it only happen one time?”
“No,” he says sadly. “I think I’ve blocked it, but it definitely happened more than once. Looking back, I think Modryb had been raped by her dad when she was young. She continued the legacy of sexual abuse and incest with me.”
Female vs Male Rape
While the so-called “surprising” news of Harvey Weinstein’s unfettered career of sexual abuse, harassment, intimidation and rape has been unfolding, actors James Van Der Beek and Terry Crews also broke their silence on being groped by highly placed men in Hollywood. While surprising because they were adults when it happened, male-on-male and male-on-female sexual abuse is a paradigm we hear of often.
What is much more rare is female-on-male sexual abuse. Rarely does one hear a story or see a headline about it. Vividly I recall making the naive statement, “I don’t think men can be raped by women. How would it even work?” and Rhy’s snapping at me, “Yes! They can!” His vehemence shocked me. It made no sense back then. Now I know why he reacted with so much drama.
Putting the Pieces Together
When Rhys and I married, I had no idea he had ever been the victim of sexual abuse by either gender. But knowing he grew up attending Catholic mass, it was natural to ask him if he’d ever been molested by a priest. Rhys said “no” and there the matter dropped. So you can imagine my shock when he burst into tears and the story came tumbling out.
Rhys has coped and tried to heal from the abuse in his own quiet way. Sometimes he ran, working for a time in NSW just to leave all the terrible memories behind in Wales. “But,” he says sadly, “running doesn’t work. Each new place feels fresh and free for awhile, but sooner or later, the pain catches up with you.” Soon he returned to Cardiff which he says will always feel like home to him.
As a new wife, I asked him how old he was when he lost his virginity. “I was eighteen,” he said sadly. “It was not a good experience. She was very aggressive.”
Since his shocking revelation, I’ve helped him put the pieces together. Like explaining to him that he lost his virginity when he was four, not eighteen. He’d never thought of it that way! And as he’s come to better understand the effects of being raped, I also came to understand him better as a man, husband and lover. Traits I’d overlooked as idiosyncrasies began to fall into place.
For example, when we’re intimate, Rhys doesn’t like for me to be on top. Now it makes sense. It causes flashbacks for him of when he was four and again when he was eighteen. Frankly, sex is tainted for him and he’s sidelined it in his life, choosing to forget about sex entirely rather than try to seduce me.
As an innocent four year old, he didn’t have the vocabulary to know or name what had happened to him. It was years before he heard the term “sex” and connected it to the horrible, shameful events of his young childhood. As a result, he seldom initiates, seeming almost relieved to find I’m seldom in the mood. He’s been very open and forthcoming about the safety he finds in “solo sex” in front of a computer screen. “It has nothing do with you, Ivy,” he says, “I’m not cheating on you. But porn is my safe place. Somehow to resets my brain.” Given his background, I totally understand and am glad he doesn’t hide it from me.
Understanding the Family
Even as pieces of the puzzle called “Rhys” fall into place, the pieces of his puzzling family also fall into place. Like that cheque that arrived in the mail from his aunt when we were a few pounds short. “She feels guilty for what she did,” he says. “That’s why she helps out now and then.” Damn! And here I thought she was just being kind.
I’ve met her. Met the woman who raped my husband, committed incest and stole his virginity. But that was long before the truth burst out of him in a torrent of tears. Now, I look back on our meeting and shudder. How could she look into my eyes, smile, reach out and shake my hand knowing what she did to my husband all those years ago? How could she!? How can she live with herself!?
It explains the strained, weird vibes I sensed between Rhys and his aunt. Even more, it explains the extremely weird, strained, strange vibes between his aunt and his rapist grandfather. Why neither could look the other in the eye. They behaved as though the other weren’t there, averting their gaze, standing around awkwardly and silently. Incest does that.
Suddenly, everything makes sense.
If Your Man Was Raped
If your man is also the victim of rape, by men or women, be very kind to him. While you may want to scream, “Why didn’t you tell me!?!” keep that cry to yourself. What he needs is your warmth, understanding, empathy, love and care. He’s lived with a lifetime of shame that he didn’t deserve. Love him through it. If you find him preferring “solo sex” in front of the computer, try to be understanding. It has nothing to do with you, your attractiveness, your sexiness. Don’t shame him more. The last thing he needs is more shame, more pain, more rejection.
Understand that you may need to be the one who seduces him, who initiates sex. But be gentle. Don’t rush him and definitely don’t force him. He may get performance anxiety. And if he can’t perform, don’t make him feel less-of-a-man for it. Just cuddle and kiss, no pressure, no expectations, no disappointment. You may get lucky after all. And when you do, definitely avoid the positions that trigger his flashbacks.
If you, gentlemen, were a victim of rape, please share it anonymously in the Comments section below. Your courage in sharing your story will bring a blessing of healing to other men, just like yourself, who have silently born the pain and shame of being raped by a female. There are more of you out there than you realize!