On September 13, 2007, I made a post on my agent’s blog. It was a post I’d been working on for some time. And by time, I mean that over the course of at least a year, I’d discussed the topic at length with my husband, close friends, and my agent. I wavered between coming out into the open or staying hidden in the warmth and safety of keeping my own counsel.
I wrote my post for one reason only. I wanted to help other women like me. Even if it’s only one woman who comes to believe in herself again, then standing with my soul naked and vulnerable in public will be worth it. My post on how my writing has helped in my ongoing healing process is directly below. This has been modified slightly from my original post, simply because this issue has been brought to the forefront by other more powerful voices than mine. A fact that puts me in awe of these courageous women.
Additionally, it’s important to note that my writing below is more of a cathartic exercise for me than a lecture someone needs to read. I wrote it for other survivors of sexual assault, but I also wrote it for me. Every word I write is cathartic.
Survive — Ask For Help
National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-4673
Help is available 24/7
- Every two and a half minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted.
- One in six American women are victims of sexual assault, and one in 33 men.
Erotic Romance and Healing
Monica Burns ©
September 13, 2007
May 26, 2019 (Updated comments are in italics)
Romance. I’ve been reading it since I was 12 years old. The first time I “fell in love” was when I read a Harlequin Romance. I think the name of that book was Beat of a Different Drum. Others romance books followed, and I believed in love’s happily ever after with all my heart. I believed it right up until the night I was raped by the man who’d taken me out for the evening and then decided he was entitled to something he wasn’t.
[EDITED] Right now, you’re probably nodding in empathy, sympathy, or sisterhood. When I wrote this in 2007, I did so teary eyed, wondering how to frame my words in way that make sense and yet didn’t sound maudlin. I remember staring at the screen wondering if sharing my experience was the right thing to do. Wondering if I really had the courage to post something so deeply personal. It was a direct confrontation with all the emotional ugliness that still lingers inside me. I also had no doubts that there would be sympathetic people, those who would blame me for what happened, and those who would be cruel. [END EDIT]
So why tell my story? I’ve considered doing so for some time now. I would read something about forced seduction [in romance] or hear about the blurred line between erotic romance and erotica [most readers now know the difference]. I’d express my belief that while love and hope are constant themes running through romance, there is still a strong “fantasy” component in romance books. In all of those instances, I knew my experience had played a major role in shaping my opinions, but fear kept me from speaking out. I knew I’d be vulnerable, and I don’t particularly like people seeing the chinks in my armor. [EDITED] I still don’t and my personality on social media is deliberately cheerful and optimistic, because I don’t like bringing others down into my own snake pit. However, like most clowns, I battle the demons alone. [END EDIT]
But little things prodded me closer toward this moment. Things like a friend reading one of my novellas then telling me afterward that while reading my book she felt sexy for the first time in her life. I’d already begun to acknowledge that my writing was helping me overcome some of my sexuality issues, but here was a new twist. My writing had helped another woman feel sexy and beautiful. I found it to be a damn powerful statement. It made me wonder what sharing my experience might do to help more women feel better about themselves.
Women like me who have great difficulty trusting anyone, who resist physical intimacy and who question their self-worth [More than 40 years later I still sometimes question my value as a person]. I wanted to share the message that it’s possible to survive rape or domestic abuse and eventually develop a healthy romantic relationship with someone who loves you. I wanted to help other women understand that sex can be beautiful, fun, playful, loving, and wonderful despite the past.
Was my “sex isn’t bad” revelation easy to come by? Hell no! I’ve been married 21 years, and my biggest challenges throughout my marriage have been trust and intimacy. I struggle with those demons on a daily basis, and on occasion my husband has paid a high price because of my struggle.
[EDITED] Until recently, I didn’t realize that the price I’d paid was as just as high, if not higher. Not every man is capable of understanding that their comments, behavior, and attitude can have a negative impact on a survivor’s mental health and trust level. I’d believed for years that it was unreasonable to ask or expect certain emotional needs from someone who’s not capable of seeing to far beneath the surface. Writing this edited section is another step forward in my healing, but my admission is not without cost. There are more demons to slay, and there are still limits to my ability to share painful revelations openly. Even when you’re with someone who loves you physical intimacy is based in deep emotional trust. [END EDIT]
I’ve had family comment that they don’t understand how I can write explicit sex considering my past. Trust me; no one’s was more surprised by that than me. I didn’t expect writing erotic romance to be therapeutic, but it has been. It’s helped me reclaim some of my self-worth. As an erotic romance writer, I believe that love and hope are integral themes in romance books. I can believe in those themes and yet remain true to my belief that strong fantasy elements are always prevalent in romance books. There’s always the happy ever after, there’s the hot, hunky hero and the lovely, sexy heroine. They both have issues, but they manage to work them out in the span of a book. They ride off into the sunset, leaving the reader with that feel good sensation. In real life, it doesn’t always work that way, but that’s why I think romance books are so important. They give us hope. The make us feel good. They make us either believe in love or they give us hope that love might actually exist somewhere out there.
With erotic romance in particular, there is an even more powerful message. Erotic romance gives a woman a choice. She’s empowered to read on or put a book down. She’s able to explore her feelings about sex in a safe environment. In other words, she’s in charge. [SHE HAS A CHOICE.] If a book’s content becomes too intense, walking away is perfectly fine. Erotic romance gives women permission to be vulnerable and explore subject matter that may be difficult for them. It’s a safety net for the reader who’s making a choice, not having something forced on her. When it comes to writing erotic romance, it’s safe because I simply delete anything I find frightening or uncomfortable.
[It also allows me to express my belief that the heroes I write aren’t afraid to show their women how deeply they are loved outside of the bedroom. Sex is always better if love is demonstrated daily in other emotional ways that aren’t sexually physical.]
Has writing erotic romance washed away all my pain—all of the darkness? No. It’s not some magical elixir. I’ll always carry the pain and darkness of the rape inside me. What my writing has done is empowered me. I’m able to take back some of what was stolen from me. [I’ve also come to realize that with each new revelation I can expect more from a relationship. It’s okay to demand certain things. It’s okay to put me first and others second.]
EDITED : May 26, 2019
After I posted my addendum below, an individual reached out to gently pointed out that there are people who are identified as assailants who are innocent. I believe that without any doubt. But I also know the number of those cases are rare. Only 2%-10% are false. That is not only a relatively small number, the odds of a conviction and/or harsh sentence is low. Consider Brock Turner who was caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and identified as having done so by two other men. Turner was sentenced to six months jail time, but HE ONLY SERVED THREE MONTHS. The rest of his three year sentence was on probation. What sort of justice is that for the woman he assaulted? Her life has been changed forever.
I also firmly believe in the statement that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Wrongful convictions are unavoidable in a legal system such as ours, but are a small price to pay for our right to legal representation and a fair trial by our peers. However, when someone is seeking to hold a seat on the highest court in the land, they should be above reproach. There should be nothing in their background, behavior, opinion, or demeanor suggests they are anything less than an individual of high ethical principles and good moral standing. IMHO, Brett Kavanaugh displayed none of those qualities as a nominee to the Supreme Court. It’s important for me to point out that my choice to side with Dr. Ford was based on more than just my personal experience. I watched the hearings, and everything about his testimony was questionable. In fact, numerous conservative and professional organizations objected to his nomincation, including the American Bar Association. While I understand that people are innocent until proven guilty, Kavanaugh did receive a public trial. His peers judged him and found him wanting, and yet partisanship ensured that a man of low moral fiber, questionable legal judgement was seated on the highest court in the land. So I stand by my opinion to believe Dr. Ford and hold Brett Kavanaugh guilty of acts for which he’ll see no more consequences than Clarence Thomas has.
ADDENDUM: September 17, 2018
The news of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s assault of a woman years ago in high school has my stomach churning. I’m physically ill because people, predominantly men, are STILL questioning why a woman would wait more than 30 years to come forward with a serious allegation of sexual assault.
That last sentence above is WHY sexual assault/harassment survivors don’t come forward immediately. People judge your credibility whether you make your accusation immediately or years later. Dr. Christine Ford, Dr. Anita Hill, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Stormy Daniels, and far too many others to count have been treated like this. This includes men assaulted by priests or in a gym locker room.
Waiting a long time to come forward is a common denominator among sexual assault survivors. Survivors (and I use that word because I refuse to be anything less) experience isolation, shame, fear, a deep lack of self-worth, depression, suicidal thoughts, and more. It took me seven years to tell anyone about my rape. Take note of that number because the first people I told were my parents. I’d told no one else prior to that moment. [And if I’d not been drunk, I doubt they would have ever known.] Waiting seven years to tell the people I loved (and who loved me) that I’d been raped emphasizes how fucking difficult it is to share your story with loved ones. Doing it in the light of public opinion is a horrifying prospect.
You, not your assailant, will be judged. Disbelievers will make it about what you did wrong. People will suggest it’s your fault for drinking too much. [They’ll say why did you let him into your room to begin with? Why did you go to the party?] People will believe it’s your fault your attacker didn’t have the goddamn fucking self-control to stay off of you. Worst of all, the shaming works. You find yourself wondering if it was, in fact, your fault. Did you say something that gave the assailant the wrong idea? How vehemently did you say the word no? Did you fight hard enough? [Those questions are ones every sexual assault survivor is faced with if they publicly denounce their assailant. It’s one of the reasons why the survivor doesn’t tell anyone right away tell anyone to avoid becoming the guilty party.]
More than ten years ago, the post above defended my right and choice to write erotic romance and open-door sex in my books. Today, this addendum tells people to stop questioning the credibility of women (or men) who’ve survived and come forward about their sexual assault. Instead, start asking WHY so many men still think it’s okay to demand sex from a woman. Start asking WHY people continue to blame the woman when she did nothing wrong. Start asking WHY victims are the ones put on trial, not their assailants. Start asking the hard questions, and stop sweeping it under the rug. Survivors are NOT going to stand for it anymore. The line in the sand is drawn here and now.