Sexual abuse is pervasive, unfortunately, and the age at which it happens has a profound effect on the recovery process for survivors. Turning the corner to experience a healthy, satisfying sex life can seem impossible. And sometimes, those who children trust the most to keep them safe end up letting them down in sexual assault situations, especially if a beloved family member is involved. The psychological issues that surface as a result of child sexual abuse can range from trust issues to anger problems to sexual disengagement or dissatisfaction. Fortunately, survivors of this abuse can go on to find sexual fulfillment, intimacy, and peace with their own vulnerability.
Issues That Arise From Childhood Sexual Abuse
People suffer after childhood sexual trauma in a variety of different ways. Some become particularly sexual in order to try to reclaim their bodies and consent. But done without therapy, these actions usually feel hollow and can lead to relationships that further damage the survivor’s mental health and self-esteem.
Others may find that they feel very distant from their sexuality, either by not experiencing arousal or fighting against any form of sexual feelings. Whether you abstain from sex or you dissociate during sex, these feelings let survivors avoid the negative memories of the abuse, but they don’t help the survivor grow toward a healthy sexuality.
In both of these instances, sex can feel like an obligation. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse very frequently put others’ sexual needs ahead of their own, almost unconsciously. Therapy can help people who identify with these scenarios start to unravel their relationship to sexuality and focus on their individual needs and wants before they begin sexual connections with other people.
Feeling Stuck in the Trauma
People who experienced sexual abuse at a young age often feel shattered or ruined by the experience. The idea that they could remain in the dark place of their thoughts, feelings, and complicated relationship with sex forever is discouraging. But these feelings only last so long as the trauma remains untreated, and with therapy, there is hope for recovery and a bright sexual future.
One of the difficult things about childhood sexual abuse is that those who were abused don’t have prior positive sexual experiences that they associate with joy. It can be more difficult to start to understand sex as a fulfilling, intimate part of life when it began as a source of great distress. When your earliest sexual memories are intimately integrated with pain and abuse, this creates a prototype for sexual dissatisfaction in the future.
Sexual trauma is called trauma because the body and mind relate to it much like a wound. Whereas most physical injuries can be cleaned and protected until they heal, most people don’t know how to take care of their mental health in the same way. But the truth is, certain habits will make the wound worse and others will help you really heal in permanent ways. Survivors need to disentangle which sexual behaviors are based on pleasure—and which are reactions born from the abuse.
Finding ways to enjoy touch in a relaxed situation can be difficult, but therapy helps make this possible by helping you untangle the memories of pain and move toward a pathway of pleasure. Tuning into your body, whether by taking a dance class or a self-defense class, and learning that your body is powerful and capable of desire can be incredibly empowering for people who were abused. Engage a therapist with experience in childhood sexual abuse, and you can begin the journey of recovery and realizing your sexual potential.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area. She works with various individuals to understand and improve their sexuality. Dr. Moali conducts personal consultation sessions in her Torrance and Hermosa Beach offices, or via a secure, online video-counseling platform. Click here to download the 101 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Hot checklist. Download her new ebook, How to Increase Your Libido – For Women, here.