Watching I May Destroy You made me reevaluate my past sexual experiences

I’ve had a number of ‘bad’ sexual experiences. These were occasions where I would wake up the next day with a stranger in my bed and, after kicking them out, I’d get a coffee and text my closest friends about another awful one night stand, riddled with emojis and exclamation marks too.

While some of those experiences were indeed just bad, and nothing more, some of them went beyond that — it wasn’t until watching I May Destroy You that I really considered that those experiences migrated into the murky realm of sexual assault.

Michaela Coel’s groundbreaking BBC programme burst onto our screens in early July to critical acclaim. The show starts with Michaela Coel’s character, Arabella, getting spiked in a club and remembering glimpses of a man having sex with her.

In episode five, Arabella is assaulted again but this time it is more of a grey area. Her sexual partner removes the condom without her knowledge and has sex with her “bareback”. She is forced to buy the morning after pill but does not consider this to be an assault in the traditional sense. Later, she comes to the realisation that it is assault after conversing with a police officer and announces that he is a rapist. This was a profound storyline for me to watch — the same thing happened to me.

I slept with a guy, whom I didn’t particularly like or even enjoy having sex with but I did trust him, earlier this year and he did not put on a condom despite my continued insistence of wearing protection and my intoxicated state (he was not drunk). At the time, I was uncomfortable with what happened but it didn’t register with me that I had been sexually assaulted. Michaela Coel changed that.

Reevaluating my past sexual experiences through the lens of I May Destroy You has been a difficult experience, but it has led me to see that sexual assault is all too common in today’s world.

We want to believe that the world has evolved, that misogyny and rape culture is nowhere near as bad as it was one hundred years ago but it’s simply not true. Rape culture is ever present, and sexual assaults happen often — “20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault by the age of 16” according to Rape Crisis England & Wales.

In both Arabella’s second assault and mine, we trusted the person we were with to respect our boundaries and afterwards, we were gaslighted into believing “it wasn’t a big deal.” But it is a big deal, it is a violation of our bodies and of the circumstances in which we gave our consent.

I May Destroy You has done me a great service — I now know that this experience wasn’t just bad, it was unacceptable and next time, I’ll know how to deal with it.

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Michele Theil

I am a freelance journalist based in London writing about culture, LGBT+ rights, race, women and their intersections.