Sharing her story. Mena Suvari opened up about how experiencing sexual abuse affected her self-esteem and her perspective on sex — especially after being “manipulated” by a former partner.
The American Beauty actress, 43, first opened up about the relationship in her 2021 memoir, The Great Peace, writing, “I was not being loved. I was just a body, a receptacle for his desires.” In an interview with The Guardian published on Wednesday, July 27, Suvari alleged that her ex-boyfriend would act on those desires by manipulating her into finding women for them to have threesomes with.
“[When I ran into one of those women years later], I said, ‘I want you to know that I never wanted to do any of those things,’” the Six Feet Under alum recalled. “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.”
Suvari — who shares son Christopher, 15 months, with husband Michael Hope — added that she doesn’t judge others who choose to express their sexuality through threesomes but brings it up to illustrate that she never had that same option. “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. “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.”
The Rhode Island native, who also revealed in The Great Peace that she was sexually assaulted at the age of 12, added that the abuse she experienced throughout her life “still weighs on me because I never got the opportunity to discover myself in that way,” she told The Guardian. “[I can’t imagine having] dated throughout high school and then decided to consensually lose your virginity to one another. That sounds so beautiful to me. All of that was lost for me.”
Through her work, Suvari was ultimately able to find refuge from “the worst relationship of my life, where I was being extremely abused, explaining, “It was very dark for me at that time, [and filming] felt like a respite, because I could go to work and be important there.” Her career also offered her an actual escape from her ex when she left Los Angeles to shoot 2001’s Sugar & Spice in a different state after filming wrapped on 1999’s American Beauty.
The former model did not name the ex in question while discussing her relationship history. She met cinematographer Robert Brinkmann while making Sugar & Spice, and they tied the knot in March 2000. They split five years later, finalizing their divorce in May 2005. Two years later, Suvari began dating concert promoter Simone Sestito. They got married in Rome in June 2010 but separated one year later, with Suvari filing for divorce in January 2012. She married Hope in October 2018, nearly three years before the couple welcomed their son in April 2021.
In July 2021, Suvari revealed that she was hesitant to share her story with the world until she discovered old poetry and diaries from her childhood. “I felt completely compelled to finally talk, I felt like I needed to just breathe and I was tired of fighting, running, playing, acting,” she told USA Today at the time. “It just felt better to me to live my life authentically.”
While it’s “still uncomfortable” for the American Pie star to open up about her past, she told The Guardian that she’s happy she did. “It 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,” Suvari said about the response to her memoir. “I always hoped that [the book] could help create some kind of change and initiate further conversation.”
If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential support. If you have experienced sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for confidential support.