How To Have A Conversation About Being Sexually Assaulted In The Past With Your Partner

Sexual assault is a staggeringly common phenomenon. According to RAINN, one in six women has been or will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, and a sexual assault takes place in America every 68 seconds. If you've survived sexual assault, you are certainly not alone. Navigating dating and sexual encounters as a survivor can be one especially difficult aspect. Sexual assault is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder, and symptoms can be triggered in any intimate setting, even when you feel like you're on board (via VAWnet).


You might feel like you need to disclose your past sexual trauma to new partners before you become sexually involved, but the level of vulnerability required feels uncomfortable or even unfair. You may be willing to disclose but struggle to find the words or fear mentally reliving your story. Here's a guide to help you determine when and how to identify yourself as a sexual assault survivor to your partner.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Evaluate the relationship

There is no reason to feel obligated to share your sexual assault story with every person you have a first date or a flirty conversation with. If you're feeling the tug to disclose your survivor status to someone, take some time to ask yourself why. Are you invested in the progression of the relationship? Do you feel like it has already progressed? Are you moved by how trustworthy and supportive your partner has been in other areas? Is your sexual trauma having a negative effect on the relationship or on you through the lens of the relationship (via International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies)?


Pay attention to your partner's responses when they encounter stories about sexual violence in the news or on social media. Do they engage in victim blaming or questioning, or do they consistently show support for survivors? Do they engage in behavior that supports rape culture (via Inside Southern)? Think your decision through and only prepare to share your story if you feel truly compelled and safe — not just obligated.

Manage your expectations

The unfortunate truth is that there is no guarantee that your partner will react to receiving the knowledge that you've been sexually assaulted in a supportive way. While you shouldn't necessarily expect the worst, acknowledge that you might be met with doubt or intrusive questions. Your story could also trigger a trauma response from your partner, who may have experienced their own sexual trauma or may have been accused of sexual abuse in the past. As reported by Daily Mail, men are more likely than women to dismiss sexual assault or harassment as a misunderstanding.


If the thought of receiving a negative response from your partner is completely devastating to you, you may not be ready to share your truth. Instead, return to evaluating the relationship. If your sexual trauma isn't negatively affecting the relationship, there isn't necessarily any reason you need to disclose this information. However, if it is having a negative effect but you don't feel comfortable sharing it with your partner, consider that this may not be the best relationship for you). 

Reach out for support

If you've decided to go ahead with having a conversation with your partner about your sexual trauma, let a trusted friend, support group, or therapist know about your plan. You can find an online or local support group for survivors on the website of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Ask them to be on standby so you know that you have support waiting after the conversation is over, regardless of how it went. If your partner does not react as supportively as you would have hoped, you'll have compassion and safety waiting for you.


Even if the conversation goes as well as it possibly could, recounting your experience can be draining at best and severely triggering at worst. Even if your partner is offering support, you may not be fully comfortable with receiving it in this form yet. Reach out to your trusted support system and let it hold you up and help you through until you get more comfortable giving and receiving trauma support with your partner. 

Prepare yourself

Deciding to disclose to your partner that you've been sexually assaulted in the past is only one step in the process. Before you jump into the conversation, take some time to prepare yourself. Identifying yourself as a survivor can take a huge amount of courage. If you've never said it out loud before, consider practicing in the mirror. Take some time to center yourself and imagine how you'll "ride the waves" of feelings that come up when the conversation takes place, as detailed by Mindful.


Remind yourself why you've made this decision and try to get an idea of how much you're comfortable sharing. Letting your partner know that you've been sexually assaulted or abused in the past doesn't mean that you have to divulge details or tell your entire story. You get to decide how much you're comfortable talking about. Prepare to communicate assertively and set healthy boundaries around what you're not comfortable sharing yet. Then, decide in advance whether or not you're willing to explain yourself when you enforce them. 

Take control

A conversation about your sexual trauma should be one that you initiate and control. For instance, you should choose which type of communication feels most comfortable to you. Let your partner know that you'd like to discuss a sensitive topic with them. If a face-to-face exchange feels too vulnerable or intimidating, commit to a phone call, email, or text message instead. If you're an introvert, you may find that written communication feels more safe and expressive (via The New York Times). If you'd prefer that your partner only listens and keeps any questions or concerns to themselves until you've both had more time to process, tell them this upfront.


Your sexual assault story is yours to tell (or not to tell) and no one else's. Take the reins, uphold your boundaries, and structure the conversation in the way that feels safest to you. If your partner is the right one for you, they will respect your wishes and become an ally on your lifelong healing journey.