In the fall of 2012, I was just getting over my first serious break-up. My college boyfriend and I ended things a few months before graduation, and it left both of us pretty emotionally wrecked. By September, I was living back at home and thought I was ready to start dating again. I signed up for OkCupid, started talking to a few guys, and soon planned to meet one. We’ll call him A.

There are so many times I look back on that “first date” (which wasn’t even a date) and wrongfully think I was, in a way, “asking for it”. (Side note: I know the victim is never asking for it and I would never accuse another victim of doing the same thing. But the feeling of guilt is still there.) I guess all of my friends and family were just happy that I was finally moving the eff on from my ex, because no one told me it was a bad idea to meet up at his house for the first date. Heck, he lived at home with his parents, too, and they would be there, albeit in another part of the house. What was the worst that could go wrong?

I’m not going to go into details about what happened that night, or what happened throughout the rest of our short relationship. A and I dated for a little over a month, and it wasn’t until I broke it off with him (because he was a selfish, abusive asshole) that I realized just how abusive he really was. It clicked that I had said “no” on occasions, and that he had ignored that no, even saying, “I’m not a rapist!” the more adamant I became. There was even a time we were engaging in consensual sex and he flipped me over and pinned me down so that I was nearly suffocated. I guess I could’ve screamed for him to stop, but I felt too embarrassed and confused. Was this just kinky sex? Or something else? Now I know that it was rape, and that A, the manipulative jerk that he was, used his words and behavior to make it seem like something else. He might have even truly believed it was consensual in his own deluded mind. Who knows?

I’ve come a long way in the past four years, but I’ve only recently realized I’ve been unable to have sober sex since. Even with that college ex who I’ve been off and on with a number of times since then. I’ve had a boyfriend or two, and we always kept things to everything but sex for one reason or another. We’d text:

I really wanted to fuck you.

“Me too. I wish you had.”

You just seemed so shy.

“Next time. ;)”

But that next time would never come. Thankfully, all of the men in my life since A have been “good guys” by which I mean decent human beings. Even if they were fuckboys who ghosted or otherwise did something crappy, there was never any pressure. I’ve even told every guy I’ve been intimate with since then that I’ve been raped. There’s something very freeing about opening up with a partner. It helps me know I can trust them.

Still, I’ve yet to take that final leap. It’s as though I need that drunken bravado to let go of my inhibitions and give in. But at twenty-six, I’m finding myself ready for a serious relationship again. A long-term one that might lead to a family, even. I’m starting to date seriously, telling men that I want a boyfriend. And I know that that means I have to be ready for sober sex.

I’m nervous. But I’m excited, too. I don’t know when the sober sex will happen, and I’m not going to limit myself to it by any means. Everyone loves a drunken booty call, after all, and I’m not going to deprive myself of the pleasure of intimacy due to my hang-ups.

I spent a long time after my rape avoiding sexual intimacy (with the exception of my ex, who I trusted). I love sex, so I’m done with that part of my life. But I need to face my fears head-on and connect with someone while I’m clear-headed again, even if that means I have to wait for “the one”, and even if that means I have to drunkenly make out with a few frogs on the way.

For me, sex is a big part of romantic love, and guess what? I’m ready to fall in love again. I just need a partner who is willing to take baby steps with me along the way… And maybe get wasted with me a few times early on, for good measure.