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Mena Suvari says she was manipulated into sex when she was involved in a past toxic relationship.
The American Beauty actress, 43, opened up about surviving sexual abuse and drug addiction in her 2021 memoir The Great Peace. Now, Suvari, who shares 1-year-old son Christopher with husband Michael Hope, is reflecting on how an abusive relationship twisted her perspective on sex plus how she came to realize she was not "not being loved," as she wrote in the book.
Suvari recently told The Guardian her abusive ex would have her recruit women for threesomes, and she later spoke with one of the women: "I said, 'I want you to know that I never wanted to do any of those things'. She was surprised. She said, 'Oh, he told me you wanted to do that.' "
"It was a huge eye-opener for me, how I was being manipulated and I had no idea. The circumstances had been created for me, and I was just swallowed up by it," said Suvari.
"I've never wanted to speak negatively about things that can be very healthy for other people. I was not given the choice or the permission to do it, and that's what was so destructive for me," she said of threesomes. "It's a very messed up thing when you experience sexual abuse, because part of it is ... like, satisfying. But then the other part is an absolute nightmare, so you're confused, you don't know what's right."
Suvari said that aspect "still weighs on me" since she "never got the opportunity to discover myself in that way" sexually. "All of that was lost for me," she explained.
Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage Mena Suvari
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Suvari told PEOPLE last year about finding solace in her acting work. After her role in 1999's American Pie brought her to fame, she was cast as Angela, the teenage cheerleader in American Beauty who is the object of a middle-aged man's obsession, played by Kevin Spacey. The role brought her acclaim and a BAFTA nomination for best supporting actress.
"It was a beautiful experience, being given the opportunity to work and express myself right when I needed I to save me," she said of making American Beauty. Still, Suvari admitted, she often felt she was living a double life, "functioning on the outside and on the inside, desperately trying to heal."
Today, the actress works with disadvantaged youth at Vista Del Mar in California, sharing her story "in hopes to always shine light and inspire."
"This is what I have learned about myself," she told PEOPLE. "And for the first time, I'm giving myself permission and finding the voice I wished I'd had."
Suvari said to The Guardian that reader response to her memoir was "bittersweet" because "it felt beautiful to feel seen and heard, but it was heartbreaking to hear that others had identified in similar ways. I didn't want that for them, but overall I feel very proud. We're living in the craziest time, the world's on fire, but at the same time things are a lot more open. I always hoped that [the book] could help create some kind of change and initiate further conversation."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.