A Continuum of Sexual Experiences Among Substance-Involved Sexual Assault Survivors

Erin B O'Callaghan
Substance-involved sexual assault represents about half of all sexual assaults and results in negative mental health outcomes, lower levels of help-seeking, and higher levels of self-blame. Much of this is due to societal beliefs about drinking women as well as rape myths about victim substance use during an assault. Rather than seeking to understand the complexity of sexual experiences involving substances, both researchers and the law deem substance-involved sex as risky and/or sexual
more » ... This is problematic given that 1) many people report engaging in substance-involved sex and enjoying it and 2) it implies that substance use is the root of the issue rather than the systems that create sexual violence. This study sought to critique the binary understanding of sexual violence through a qualitative interview study of a diverse, community sample of substance-involved sexual assault survivors (N = 34). Specifically, this study explored the experiences of substance-involved sexual assault survivors through a survivor-centered approach, inquiring about both their sexual assault experiences as well as their pleasurable and/or wanted sexual experiences. Utilizing thematic analysis and a flexible coding approach, there were three overall themes for this study with associated subthemes: descriptions of impairment, survivor's sexual experiences, and a continuum of substance-involved sexual experiences. Survivors described feelings of impairment due to substance use that were distinct from quantitative impairment categories identified in past research and that dealt with mental, physical, and emotional symptoms. Survivors felt that their sex lives were impacted negatively due to the assault and described changes in sexual pleasure and communication after the assault. Finally, survivors who used substances during sex described pleasurable experiences that were clearly distinct from their sexual assault experiences and helped survivors to be able to compare these experiences. Implications for research, practice, and po [...]
doi:10.25417/uic.21516747.v1 fatcat:xsz4kjmtu5b6jozz5gvmjvrpsu