real life

'For 21 years my husband has acted like he 'owns' my body. I've only just realised what this means.'

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault that may be distressing to some readers.

Two years ago, when I was 40, I did the whole cliché thing of writing a bucket list. For someone who has lived most of her life in church and made it her job to earnestly strive to be good, my list was a bit out there. For others this list might seem tame. My list included: 

Smoke some pot.

Go to a nudist beach.

Go skinny dipping.

Be a nude art model.

You may see the theme here – nudity and being free with my body, (within reason) took up the majority of my list.

My feelings of being trapped and a lack of freedom with my body I'm sure have a lot to do with being married at 20 – just a baby playing at being an adult. At the time of writing my list I had been married to my husband for 19 years and I had felt tight restrictions on myself and my body for the majority of that time.

Watch: The basics of sexual consent. Post continues below.

Video via YouTube/Rise Above.

Those feelings are also, I'm sure, a hangover effect from our fundamentalist Christian upbringing, where it was taught that a woman shouldn't deny her husband in any way, even (or especially) sex. 


That's some hard coding to try to rewire.

I was taught to believe that I needed to 'respect' my husband in all aspects. I was also taught that a man needed a lot of sex and, as his wife, it was my responsibility to ensure he was well taken care of in this way. Added to this was the fact that religion taught that masturbation was a sin – I feel like that funneled even more pressure onto me. I've often felt I shouldn't say no to sex.

Unfortunately, this deep coding has led to some instances where I said no repeatedly until I got tired and gave up, just laying there like I could have been anyone. It's taken me a long time to admit to myself that this constitutes sexual assault.

Read more: 'I was married for 15 years. Only after our divorce did I realise I'd never consented to sex.'

I may be able to hear his heartfelt apologies for these incidents, but it did something to me that my body can't seem to forget. My body tenses up because I don't feel entirely safe.

I did a lot of self-gaslighting, convincing myself these things never even happened in the first place, because I didn't want to face the truth. How can the man who I know loves me and is a great father also do this to me on many occasions? It wasn't until I was talking to my bestie that I was able to gently put some language around this. Sexual consent means that you give yourself freely, voluntarily and consciously without being pressured into it. Regardless of knowing it wasn't my husband's intent to hurt me, I did not give consent and therefore, it was assault.


So I found myself in this strange dichotomy. I knew my boundaries were not being respected, that my nos were being ignored. But I also had this deep sense, wrongly or rightly, that it was my responsibility to be available if he wanted sex. 

It was an incredibly hard space to be in. 

Around my 40th birthday, my life was rumbling in a big way. I had left my church of 10 years after a big scandal from the leadership. I had also decided to part ways with Christianity and was thinking possibly God too at that stage. I had big discussions with my parents about my upbringing and, for a time, had a severed relationship with them which left me absolutely distraught. Even though I was feeling pulled apart in so many ways I was also simultaneously starting to have the beginnings of confidence in myself that I had never had before. I was starting to put myself first in my own beautiful life. It started with some small truths. Yes when I meant yes, and no when I meant no. I wrote my list.

It's two years on from creating that list. Thanks to a friend I have some pot in the top of my wardrobe that I don't really know what to do with and nothing else on my list has been ticked off.

A few weeks ago, knowing that my husband would never be even slightly on board with it, I decided to try the nude art modeling. I found some different classes in my city and booked in to go to one, as a model. Despite knowing that I was actively choosing to hurt my husband – I felt alive. It got to the point where as much as I didn't want to hurt him; I wanted to do this for me. I needed to do this for myself. 


So I told him that was what I was doing. For the first time I didn't ask, I told him. I said I was sorry it was going to hurt him but that I needed to feel free in this way. I needed to know that my body is my body – not ours. 

Because 'ours' is how I have felt for a very long time.

Listen to This Glorious Mess: Qe The importance of learning consent in the family. Post continues after audio.

He cried, he repeatedly asked why I was trying to hurt us. As much as I explained again and again that I don't feel free to be me in our relationship and I wanted to do this for me and my happiness, he just couldn't process it. We all have different triggers and I know I had hit on one of his biggest ones. He's worthy of my patience with this, and I gave it to him while trying to talk calmly about it many times. Unfortunately for the longevity of our relationship, his process took weeks.

He's now at the point where he's accepted that I'm doing this and he says he's happy for me. I do also know that if I told him I decided I didn't want to anymore, he would be overjoyed and relieved. 

I know I have stretched him as far as he can go with this, and this result means I can leave the house for art class and know he's still talking to me, but it's also been a hard road to get here and I'm wondering if it's worth it. I know when I come home and have things I want to share about my experience, that he's not the one for that. That fact makes me sad, and also scared for our future.


So in a couple weeks' time I will be modelling for my first nude art class. I'm so excited I can't even stand it. The excitement isn't just to experience it – although doing something new and entirely different from the script I was given as a young person is very exciting for me. 

But underneath that is the most wonderful, new feeling of... choosing me. I'm putting my happiness first in a way that I haven't had the courage to before. It feels necessary to the evolution of me. Even regardless of the fact that I've chosen to hurt someone I love.

I recognise that it's a massive step for me personally. I'm starting to recognise my value, and embracing my truth, saying no when I mean no and yes when I mean yes. Remembering it's not my responsibility to say yes to sex every single time.

In reclaiming my body.

In reclaiming my life.

In choosing me.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 

Feature Image: Getty.