I Was A Victim of Revenge Porn

A couple of years ago, I got an email from my roommate. The subject line read: “IS THIS YOU AND JOHN?!?!” I didn’t even need to open the email to know what had happened. I had made a sex tape with my ex, and now he had sent it to several of my close friends and family. I was pissed, I was hurt, but I was mostly embarrassed.

Since I was raised by an overprotective single mother, I had a strict schedule that consisted exclusively of school and home. I couldn’t have friends over, and I couldn’t go out like all of the other kids. That, coupled with the fact that I was naturally shy, meant that though many of my classmates were sexually active, I wasn’t exposed to sex. At the time, I took pride in this.

But during my junior year, I got a boyfriend, and I kept him a secret from my mom. John, also a junior, was an honor roll student who had the warmest smile I’d ever seen. Since we never got to see each other outside of school, sex was out of the question — French kissing and the occasional ass grab were as far as we went. Not that he asked me; he respected me too much to pressure me to lose my virginity before I was ready. He would often tell me that he wanted me to fall in love with him first. I wasn’t sure that I loved him, but I feared that if I ever did fall for him, I wouldn't be able to express it in a way that he needed. I wasn't raised in an affectionate household. My mother showed her love by keeping a roof over me and my sister's heads, rather than actually saying "I love you" every day. Now that I'm older, I realize that she honestly just had no time for coddling while trying to raise three daughters alone. That experience impacted my relationship with John.

It took him a long time to break through my emotional barriers. John was a romantic guy who loved the cutesy aspects of a relationship: the hand-holding, forehead kisses, texting late at night and calling me "love" or "lovebug." I, too, grew to love that part of our relationship, and him, but it freaked me out at first. But with time, I realized that I liked expressing my emotions.

The fall after we graduated, I went off to college near our hometown. John had a two-bedroom apartment near my school, so he asked me to move in with him. I was reluctant, but since my scholarship only paid for tuition and the financial crumbs my estranged father threw me each month weren’t enough for my own place, I agreed. We had a long talk about boundaries beforehand. I made it clear that living together didn't mean that we'd be hopping in bed anytime soon, and that even though I loved the idea of spending more time together, I probably wouldn't be moving in if I had another option.

Things were great at first, even though it felt like we were playing house. I was only taking 12 credit hours and didn’t have an active social life, so I had plenty of time to play the housewife. I loved taking care of him, because I was taught that that's how you showed people love — by making sure their needs are met, and vice versa. So, I cooked, cleaned, and catered to his every whim. But I didn’t mind, because he’d never shown me that he had a sense of entitlement. He appreciated everything I did for him and showered me with compliments.

We lived together for three months before John tried to have intercourse with me, keeping his promise that he’d never rush me. We did, however, experiment sexually — handjobs, massages, dry humping, oral sex, etc. But we didn’t have penis-in-vagina sex until right before Thanksgiving break. Our first time was a glorious, awkward mess of failed expectations, lots of laughter, and painful, painful intercourse. But he was super gentle and took his time with me. Afterward, we cuddled, and he told me that I was the most beautiful girl in the world. I was happy.

Over the next few months, we found our groove. The sex stopped hurting as much, and I started enjoying myself. I found myself opening up and wanting to become more adventurous in bed. So I suggested one night that we make a sex tape.

“What, are you crazy?”

“Yeah, we could delete it right after. I just want to see what we look like.”

It didn’t take much more than that to convince him. I was worried about recording it on a phone because of cloud storage, so we agreed to use my five-year-old digital camera.

I pulled out my fancy sheets, bought some trashy lingerie, set up my camera, and got to work. We both had major performance anxiety, but managed to stumble our way toward an orgasm (for him, at least). We were both so embarrassed that we couldn't even watch it for a week after we did it. But we had a good laugh once we did.

Not long after, our little bubble burst. He lost his job and couldn’t pay his rent, so he had to move back in with his parents. I also moved back home. My mother didn’t care that I was an adult; to her, under her roof, I was a child. She demanded that I gave her my class schedule and told me to be home within one hour of my last class each day unless I pre-approved it with her. I hated that my newfound freedom was being stripped away, but most importantly, I hated the negative impact it had on both my relationship with John and our new sex life. Seeing each other only in the day didn’t work as well as it had in high school. Our relationship dynamic had grown as we did. (In other words, we were horny and wanted to bone.) And even though I had expanded my sexual horizons, I still was not into having sex anywhere other than the privacy of a home.

I did manage to sneak him over a few times, but that got old quickly. My room was right next to my mom’s, so it was hard to get into it. Sex isn’t as much fun when you have to be quiet.

So, we broke up. Well, he broke up with me.

I was devastated. I thought that he loved me as much as he said he did. I also couldn’t understand why he’d waited so long to have sex with me, just to break up after two months of me living with my mother again. So I did what a girl who lost her first love does. I chopped off my hair, lost 10 pounds, and swore off men for nearly six months. He wanted to remain friends, but I couldn't bear to stay in contact.

A while later, I found a job, and then moved out of my mom’s and in with a friend. She needed someone to split the rent; I needed to get out from underneath my mother’s rules. Freedom at last.

Less than a week after the move, I received a heartfelt email from John apologizing for being a jerk. He claimed that he couldn't deal with not seeing me all of the time, so he broke it off for his mental health. I knew that it was a load of crap because he’d been posting photos of his new girl not long after we broke up. He wasn’t heartbroken; he was horny. The new girl provided what I no longer could, so he dropped me. When he found out I could theoretically have sex with him again, he thought that we should reconcile. It's one thing to find out that I didn't mean as much to him as I thought, but now he was insulting my intelligence, and that pissed me off.

In a rather lengthy email of my own, I told him that there was no chance of us ever being together again, and that I would rather have sex with a cactus than go back to him. It was obviously not the response he was hoping for. In the three years we had been together, I’d heard him curse only a handful of times, but the response he sent me was filled with more expletives and derogatory terms than you’d expect to hear from a sailor. "Ungrateful bitch," "slut," "porn star" — just to name a few.

He went on and on about how I owed him sex for waiting so long, and how he let me live with him rent-free for months (I paid for food and some of the utilities — an arrangement he and I had mutually agreed to at the start). But I didn’t owe him anything, especially not my body. I had sex with him because I was in love with him and felt that I could trust him. For a moment, I actually contemplated that someone was pranking me, because these emails couldn't possibly be from the same guy I'd grown to love over the past three years.

After I responded, I braced myself for another nasty email. It never came. For three whole weeks, I didn’t hear anything at all from him. Then I got the email from my roommate.

I went straight home and cried into my pillow. Then I withdrew from all of my classes, gave my roommate every penny I had to cover the next three months' rent, transferred to a community college 100 miles away, and never looked back.

I never confronted John because I was too ashamed. Not just because our private act had been made public — even though I was ashamed of that, too. Mostly, I was ashamed that I fell in love with someone who could betray me in such a way. I spent most of my life guarding my feelings from potential hurt. I was very meticulous about who I allowed close to me. And the first person I let in had crushed the trust that I had given him. Even though I was pissed at him for breaking up with me, I still harbored intense feelings of love for him, and even considered giving him another chance once I sent my initial email.

I'm not excusing John's actions. What he did was vile and cowardly. Something was obviously brewing deep inside of him that he got really great at hiding. Or maybe because I was blinded by love, I missed all of the warning signs. I beat myself up. But my emotions have leveled off with time's passing, and I've come to realize how toxic that thinking is. I'm only responsible for my actions and how I treat people. I can't police other people's emotional trauma which may or may not even exist, especially not over my own well-being.

After everything happened, it took over a year for me to even entertain the idea of dating again, much less falling in love. But I realized that by closing myself off, I was only punishing myself, so I accepted a dinner date with a guy named Cameron. The barriers I had up with John were nothing compared to the concrete walls that had formed around my heart following our breakup. I tried to enjoy myself, but I all I could think was, "What if he's seen my video?" "What if he's a friend of John and only asked me out to screw with me further?" I became so paranoid that I used to sit at my computer and cross reference Cameron's Facebook friends with John's account, hoping that I'd find some connection and have an excuse to break things off.

Eventually, I stopped torturing myself and decided that I would not live in fear for the rest of my life. So even though I was terrified, I decided to stop punishing Cameron for John's actions. And it's the best choice I could have made. I've been with my Cameron for close to eight months, and we're in a great place. I found love after the storm, and I'm stronger for it.