Ending an abusive relationship felt like being reborn: slowly, painfully, sharp as shattered glass. My body had been rearranged, Mr. Potato Head-style, into something new, simultaneously more sensitive and blunter, more empathic but liable to shut down unexpectedly—on the sidewalk, in the bedroom, in the grocery store.
Many of us, especially women and queer people, have survived some kind of sexual or intimate trauma. Our stories are unique, and all our experiences are valid. We might be sexually assaulted as an adult, or have a history of childhood sexual abuse. We might be traumatized from an experience of harassment, or from having our boundaries pushed in an unhealthy relationship.
Whatever our stories, sexual trauma can change how we experience our bodies, our desires, and our sense of self.
THERE IS A SCAR ACROSS Australia’s Western Desert. For millennia—no one is sure how many, though evidence of Aboriginal people’s presence in Australia stretches back 50,000 years—the Martu people used fire to hunt in the scraggly bush. In a practice called cultural burning, they set low blazes patient enough for small animals such as bettongs and wallabies to flee their burrows before the fire reached them. Years of cultural burning cleared underbrush, creating a patchy habitat preferred by the small animals Martu people most liked to hunt, while simultaneously preventing massive lightning fires from consuming the land.
For the Martu, these fires were so vital that they were a means of maintaining life itself. “They would say, ‘If we weren’t out here burning, things won’t exist,’” says Rebecca Bliege Bird, a Pennsylvania State anthropologist who has worked with the Martu for decades.
If you are a child of the 90s, you might remember Helga Pataki. She was blond, had a strangely shaped head like the rest of her peers, lived in New York City, and, most importantly, relentlessly bullied television’s cartoon sweetheart, everyone’s favorite oblong-noggined Arnold.
A character on the Nickelodeon kids’ show Hey, Arnold!, Helga typified the grade school bully, cruel in order to cover up emotions she didn’t want to admit she had. As viewers of the program know, Helga was only mean to Arnold because she was in love with him, complete with a shrine in her closet and a mockup of her love interest made of chewing gum. Helga’s behavior is so iconic to the generation that grew up on her TV show, it’s even earned its own Urban Dictionary entry: Helga Pataki Syndrome.
WHEN EUROPEANS FIRST REACHED RAPA Nui, or Easter Island, on Easter Day, 1722, they were awed to find around 1,000 imposing stone moai, or monoliths, carved in the shape of human beings. The statues overlooked a barren landscape. While archaeological evidence shows that Rapa Nui was once lushly forested, by the time Europeans reached the island, it had been clear-cut, devastated by human overuse, ecological change, or a bloody civil war. The population, which had once likely numbered in the tens of thousands, had been reduced to 3,000 at most.
Many of us have woken up from a sexy dream, throbbing with excitement. Some of us are even luckier, and can climax from nipple stimulation, or dry humping, or even intense genital-free makeouts. Sex worker, artist, sexologist, and world-famous sex legend Annie Sprinkle details seven types of female orgasm on her website, including some that happen without touch. But when my friend—an everyday, sex-positive lady—told me she could have orgasms without touching herself, I had to learn more.
THE BODIES WERE AT THE bottom of a well: 20 people, their hands, feet, and limbs removed, their skeletons cured in layers of clay and limestone. All but two of the victims, an adult man and an 18-month-old child, had been decapitated.* Their bones bore knife marks from the butchery, and burn marks from where they had been scorched to facilitate the removal of muscle and skin. “The person who was carrying this out wanted to destroy the physical entities of the victims as clearly as possible,” says Nicolaus Seefeld, a pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican archaeologist at the University of Bonn.
MIHO FUJITA WAS A HIGH-POWERED executive working at a Tokyo toy company. Miho Imada worked in traditional Noh theater. Chizuko Niikawa-Helton was in the fashion industry. But at some point in their careers, all three women had a realization: Their true passion was sake.
Since sake is the most iconic alcoholic drink of Japan, these career shifts may not seem notable. But besides their talent, something else sets Imada, Fujita, and Niikawa-Helton apart in the sake world: They’re women.
It feels strange to admit this, but when I first read that bisexual women are more vulnerable to sexual and intimate partner violence than people of other orientations, I felt relieved. It wasn’t the butterfly-winged relief of good news. It was the lightness of finally being able to breathe. Or perhaps, of feeling that I still couldn’t breathe, but at least I knew it wasn’t because my lungs were faulty: It was because our culture had never given us enough oxygen.
COPENHAGEN IS ABOUT TO BECOME the embodiment of grab-and-go snacking. In a recent vote, the City Council resolved to introduce free, portable, city-wide munchies: public fruit trees. They’ll opt to plant edibles, from blackberry bushes to apple trees, wherever city planning calls for greenery.
For Astrid Aller, a Copenhagen City Councilor from the Socialist People’s Party who helped spearhead the initiative, this interactive urban orchard is a way of connecting residents to their communities. “We think of the city as something that we all own,” she says. “We want all this collectively owned area to be something that people can use and interact with.”
Marie Kondo taught America how to clean out objects that don’t spark joy. But who can you turn to when you need to clean semen and menstrual blood off your couch after a hot romp and you only have an hour before your family arrives for dinner? Never fear: I’m here to help you tidy up all things messy and sexual.