By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Every April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the national theme for this month in 2014 is “Healthy Sexuality & Young People.” In recognition of this month, we at See the Triumph are turning our attention to the theme of “Healthy Sexuality, Healthy Relationships.”
Throughout this month, stay connected with us for resources and blog posts that will address the following two main messages we’re focusing on:
First, sexuality is one of the most intimate parts of couples’ relationships. Because of this, it’s an aspect of relationships that leaves many people feeling vulnerable. Also, there’s a certain degree of trust and safety that’s needed for people to share the most intimate aspects of themselves with another person.
The connections between healthy sexuality and healthy relationships have been on my mind a lot lately, as I’ve been working on a book on sexuality counseling. Although most of my work focuses on intimate partner violence and other forms of family violence, I’ve had a secondary focus on sexuality that includes teaching a graduate-level course on the subject, as well as some research studies. The further I’ve gotten with the book, the more I see how closely sexuality and safety in relationships are related. These connections include the dynamics of sexual abuse, the potential for sexual assault within intimate relationships, and the impact impact of trauma on sexual decision-making.
Beyond those issues, I also think there are more subtle connections between sexuality and overall safety and health within relationships. In particular, I view sexuality as one of the domains in which power and control dynamics can play out in abusive relationships. We’ll explore these issues more throughout this month. However, for now, I want to emphasize that I view healthy sexuality as a critical component of an overall healthy relationship. This goes beyond actual sexual behaviors to include the ways that people communicate about sex and physical affection, how decisions about safety and sexual health are made, and partners’ sexual self-esteem.
Our second main message for this month stems from an ongoing need to recognize that sexual abuse can be a part of overall relationship abuse patterns. In my experience, sexual abuse seems to be more hidden and less recognized than physical abuse, and even emotional abuse, within intimate relationships.
Later this month, we’ll have a full blog post on what we learned about sexual abuse within intimate partner violence through the research that informed See the Triumph. A large percentage of our original sample faced sexual abuse, and many of them described serious sexual trauma at the hands of their abusers.
However, sexual abuse within intimate relationships is a difficult dimension of abuse to understand. It seems that more efforts are needed to make sure that people understand that relationship commitment does not grant free and unrestricted use of one’s partner’s body. One of the topics we’ll cover this month is enthusiastic consent. Ideas like enthusiastic consent underscore the importance of honoring each partner’s choices and rights within the sexual domain of their relationship.
Overall, our aim for this month is to explore the interconnections between healthy sexuality and healthy relationships. We hope you’ll share your ideas and resources on this topic with us throughout this month!