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Sex after sexual assault

Wednesday 11th April 2018

The road back.

 

Robert Tennent, as captured by one of his lovers.
Robert Tennent, as captured by one of his lovers.

Photo: Come Back to Bed

It took five months for Robert Tennent to have sex again, and it still didn’t feel right.

About a year-and-a-half ago, the 19-year-old AUT fashion student says he was sexually assaulted when he was invited to a friend’s flat.

“There’s a big gap where I don’t remember anything. I woke up bleeding and in pain.”

Robert didn’t go to the police. He considered it, but reasons not to overwhelmed him.

“I was scared and it sounded like such a long and lengthy process … he was a friend before that … I just didn’t want to see or hear from him ever again. I didn’t want to think about him. If I went to the police, I thought I wouldn’t ever be able to escape him,” he says.

“And because I was unconscious, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to tell a clear story.”

A difficult period followed. Robert asked himself the same questions, over and over.

“Maybe I said the wrong thing? Maybe I acted the wrong way? I was making excuses for him and trying to justify what happened.”

The idea of sex changed. His desire was gone.

Photo: Come Back to Bed/Robert Tennent

“I had only had sex four or five times before that night … I wasn’t ready to trust anyone. I thought deciding not to have sex again meant I was taking control and taking care of my body.”

He wondered if he was demi-sexual or grey-sexual. He didn’t feel himself.

Yet over time, he began opening up. He had conversations that helped him come to a realisation: “I couldn’t have predicted what had happened or changed it and it wasn’t my fault.”

After five months, Robert’s period of celibacy ended.

“I met someone I trusted, and when it came to having sex, it was fully consensual and he looked after me and made sure I was OK,” he says.

Afterwards, he felt compelled to ask to take a photo of the man.

“He looked so attractive, and he said ‘sure’ and covered his face. He took some photos of me too. I developed and looked at them a few weeks later and it felt like such a powerful thing,” Robert says.

Photo: Come Back to Bed/Robert Tennent

The joy of sex wasn’t instant, though. After the first time, he still wondered if it was for him.

“Every time I was touched, it would be a reminder of that physical pain. It would feel unnatural. I could barely imagine trusting someone that much again,” he says.

“I was still unable to disassociate sex with what happened, but after sleeping with more people, the feeling of sex eventually began to change and become more intimate.”

Robert also asked those men if he could take their photo. Some reciprocated.

“Some of the photos are blurry because one of us moved. Some are out of focus because the guy didn’t know how to use the camera properly. That makes them more real to me,” he says.

“These, initially, were never meant to be shown to anyone, let alone be published in a book.”

Yet a few months ago, with the consent of the men he photographed, Robert decided to do just that.

One of Robert's lovers.
One of Robert's images.

Photo: Come Back to Bed/Robert Tennent

Come Back to Bed is available for pre-order from today. There are photos of each of the men Robert has slept with over the past year, accompanied by dates and captions and stories of his time with them.

The stories are about how they met, how they said goodbye, and the feelings that were conjured each time.

Robert’s still not entirely sure why he started photographing his lovers, but he’s getting closer to the answer.

“When I look back at the images and think of the moments and intimacy I shared with these people, it provokes up such specific memories, not just in that split second when the flash went off.

“This was definitely a form of therapy for me.”

He insists he would never tell others to follow his path. His is a personal story, yet if it helps others confront their assault and begin to move forward, he says sharing it is everything.

“The more I had sex, the more I was able to chill out. ‘We’re both into this, we’ve both consented and it’s going to be fine,’ I would tell myself,” he says.

“I eventually realised this was something I could enjoy.”

With the release of his book drawing nearer, Robert says he’s been thinking about his experiences more and more.

“I’m happy right now and have no guilt - which is the most important thing for me.”

He says there aren’t constant mentions of his assault in Come Back to Bed.

“I wanted to put together something light and sexual and celebratory and something close to being a diary. The person I was when I started having sex again is so different to who I am now.”

“Come Back to Bed” is available for pre-order from today here.

The photos will be exhibited on Cross St in Auckland in mid-May.



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