Collecting Baggage

suitcases-on-the-bridge-030 Photo : Take One Girl And A Camera Too

Commentary on sexual violence seems to have reached an all time high, thanks to a certain novel turned movie.  In my opinion, this is a good thing.  Whether or not the film in question will be an Oscar contender, it has opened a dialogue on a subject that is as uncomfortable to discuss as it is unfathomable.

I recently came across an article that seems to have turned the conversation on sexual assault and women’s safety on its head.

Goode Magazine published an article in June of 2011 written by reporter Mac McClellon titled “I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me On This:  How Violent Sex Helped Ease my PTSD.”  The author describes her exposure to vicarious trauma while working in Haiti; during her time there, she bore witness to another woman struggling in the aftermath of rape and she herself perceived a threat to her safety and wellbeing in day to day interactions with others.

She describes returning home and wrestling with intrusive thoughts; being diagnosed with PTSD and beginning therapy.  She very bluntly writes at the time, “All I want is to have incredibly violent sex.”

I thought:

This is brave.  This is selfish.  This is irresponsible.  This.  This is…


My understanding and interpretation of how the brain works, with regard to trauma, goes something like this:

All of the information we are exposed to is processed in the brain by linking the new information to existing memory networks.  In simpler terms, we make sense of things based on our past experiences.

The reason that trauma causes disruption in everyday life is because the brain does not have a pre-existing memory network to make sense of the senseless.

So this trauma, this horrible thing, is left to just float around with nothing to attach to.  This results in flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance and an array of other disruptive and unpleasant symptoms.

Back to the article –

Once I was able to get over the initial shock of this writer’s raw confession, I was able to think about what she was trying to accomplish. I thought – it makes sense.  It is a rational response to an irrational situation.

Not being able to understand the pain, the violation, the undoing that is sexual assault while looking the horrific act in the face; its like watching others burn while you only feel the heat of the fire – might you put your hand in the flame?

I do not think that violent sex is the treatment answer for persons who have experienced sexual trauma. As a trauma-informed mental health professional, I would ascertain that the desire to put oneself in an aggressive situation is indicative of the need for trauma-informed therapy.

I have worked with persons with mental illness for about six years and have come to appreciate the power of both societal stigma as well as personal hesitation when it comes to addressing emotional issues.  When working with my Clients, I often find myself using the “Whack-A-Mole” metaphor– you can smack those feelings down like you would a mole in the game but they’re going to pop right back up in other places.  I would not be surprised if the author later began manifesting symptoms in other areas – anything from headaches to insomnia – all while thinking experimenting with forcible sex was a cure.

The article is written is such a way that makes the author’s journey not only relateable but also validating; because of the brain’s desire to make sense of the senseless, I would assume entertaining the idea of exploring violent sex is more common than one would think.  With this in mind, I again would encourage anyone struggling to cope with an intense emotion reaction to seek out a safe place to process those feelings.  Collecting traumatic stories or holding on to traumatic experiences can affect the body in the same way as collecting extra baggage – eventually, the body will succumb to the weight.

Intrigued?  Ms. McClennon’s article can be found here – please be advised that the content may trigger those who have experienced strong emotional response when reading about sexual violence.  Please share your thoughts!


Lily is a social worker, a mom, a wife who likes to eat apples and bananas, play peekaboo and will occasionally make it to work on time.