Lena Dunham Opens Up About College Date Rape Experience, Recovery

Lena Dunham spoke about a traumatic experience she had with date rape in college. Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage

Lena Dunham has built her persona on being a no-holds-barred writer, actress, and director, willing to put a comedic or critical spin on the most personal or off-limits topics and bringing them to light. While promoting her memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned," on Monday, Sept. 29, however, she revealed that there are some subjects even she has trouble addressing. 

"There were a few things in this book that I was terrified to put into the world," Dunham, 28, said in an interview with NPR's Terry Gross on Fresh Air. "The chapter about date rape in the book was a really, really terrifying thing for me to put into the world."

"It was a painful experience physically and emotionally, and one I spent a long time trying to reconcile," the Girls creator continued. "At the time that it happened, it wasn't something that I was able to be honest about. I was able to share pieces, but I sort of used the lens of humor, which has always been my default mode, to try to talk around it."

With her new book, the Oberlin College grad has found her voice and was able to talk about the rape. "I said I spent so much time scared," she said. "I spent so much time ashamed, I don't feel that way anymore. And it's not because of my job, it's not because of my boyfriend, it's not because of feminism — though all those things helped — it's because I told the story. And I still feel like myself and I feel less alone."

The Emmy-nominated Dunham, who has been dating fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff for two years, went on to explain that she didn't come to terms with the assault until long after it took place.

"I think I had just felt that something was very wrong," she said of her immediate understanding. "I had felt that something had happened and I remember thinking 'Can I ever be the same?'… I was at a party, drunk, waiting for attention — and somehow that felt like such a shameful starting-off point that I didn't know how to reconcile what had come after. But I knew that it wasn't right and I knew in some way that this experience had been forced on me." 

"When I shared it with my best friend and she used the term 'you were raped' at the time, I sort of laughed at her and thought like, you know, what an ambulance-chasing drama queen," Dunham continued. "[I] later felt this incredible gratitude for her for giving me that, giving me that gift of that kind of certainty that she had. I think that a lot of times when I felt at my lowest about it, those words in some way actually lifted me up because I felt that somebody was justifying the pain of my experience."

The Happy Christmas star told Gross that the trauma affected the rest of her time in college. 

"I didn't really go to anymore parties," Dunham explained. "I just stopped going… I basically didn't have a drink for the rest of college… I really removed myself from that world. I don't know if I would've told you at the time, 'Oh, I'm doing this to keep myself safe,' but obviously in hindsight… I basically removed myself from the social world as I'd known it. I spent a lot of time, which I talk about in the book, trying to figure out what my sexual preferences were and whether they in any way aligned with this experience I had had, whether there was any part of me that had, in quotes, 'wanted that.' It took me a long time of self-examination, hearing about other people's sort of sexual evolutions and realizing, oh, that's not something that happens to everyone. And when it does happen, they're allowed to mourn it and feel pain about it — hearing that helped me."

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.