How Sexual Abuse May Be Complicating Your Sexuality: Part II

Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on How Sexual Abuse May Be Complicating Your Sexuality: Part II

(It should be understood that the term “sexual abuse”, for the purposes of this post, includes more than just childhood sexual abuse and refers to any unwanted sexual experiences, regardless of age.) 

In the first part of this post, we looked at ways sexual abuse impacts sexuality. The amount of physical, emotional or mental health problems can be numerous and require professional attention. Let’s continue to look at how sexual abuse can impact the victim as laid out in The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Wendy Maltz and summarized below.

Having already explored 1) Attitudes about sex, 2) Sexual self-concept, and 3) Automatic reactions, let’s consider three more abuse factors that impact sexuality:

4. Sexual Behaviors

Abuse often leads to unhealthy patterns or compulsive sexual behavior. People sometimes connect sexual expression with secrecy and shame. Some will avoid sex altogether, while others will become preoccupied, or even reenact the abuse, in an attempt to resolve it.

Certain sexual behaviors may be negatively affecting your sexual functioning if your answer is yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Are you unable to initiate sex?
  • Do you avoid situations that could lead to sex?
  • Do you need to be intoxicated to really enjoy sex?
  • Are you confused about how or when to be sexual?
  • Are you confused about what kinds of touch or sex are appropriate?
  • Do you have sex even when you don’t want it?
  • Are you unable to say “no” when you don’t want sex?
  • Do you feel that you have no physical boundaries when it comes to sex?
  • Do you avoid using protection when having sex?
  • Is sex bought or used for economic gain?
  • Have you had more sex partners than are good for you?
  • Are you inclined to sexually act out in ways that hurt others?
  • Do you manipulate people into having sex with you?
  • Do you have more than one sexual partner at a time?

5. Intimate Relationships

Sexual abuse, not surprisingly, can make it difficult to establish healthy intimate relationships. It can interfere with your ability to choose a healthy partner or feel safe with a person that really does care about you. Emotional closeness and letting down your guard may be difficult for you. As well, your sexual abuse problems may lead to intimacy problems for your partner.

Difficulty engaging intimate relationships may be affecting your sexuality if your answer is yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Do you have difficulty communicating your sexual wants and needs to your partner?
  • Do you want to get away from your partner immediately after sex?
  • Are you afraid to be emotionally close to your partner?
  • Do you feel obligated to please your partner when it comes to sex?
  • Do you worry that your intimate partner is constantly unhappy with your sex-life?
  • Are you worried that your relationship would end if you stopped having sex?
  • Do you worry that your partner feels sexually rejected by you?
  • Is it difficult being sexual and intimate at the same time?
  • Do you have trouble remaining faithful to one partner?
  • Does your partner feel sexually pressured by you?
  • Are you unable to attract the kind of partner who would be good for you?
  • Do you worry that your partner would reject you if they knew your sexual history?

5. Sexual Functioning

Sexual abuse can lead to specific problems with sexual functioning such as feeling desire, becoming aroused, and reaching orgasm. These problems, experienced by both men and women, can interfere with intimacy and sexual satisfaction.

Problems with sexual functioning may exist if your answer is yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Is it difficult to become sexually aroused?
  • Do you have trouble feeling sexual sensation?
  • Do you avoid touching your genital area?
  • Is it difficult reaching orgasm when you stimulate yourself?
  • Is it difficult reaching orgasm with a partner?
  • Do you lack a desire for or interest in sex?
  • Do you over-control or strictly regulate sexual interactions?
  • Does sex seem generally unpleasurable?
  • Are the sexual activities with which you feel comfortable very limited?

This entire sexual abuse inventory is located in both Wendy Maltz’s book or online at the website Help for Adult Victims Of Child Abuse.

Things to Consider Regarding Your Sexual Abuse

  1. As you or a loved one read over this inventory, you may feel distressed at the number of symptoms you’re experiencing or at the number of categories that fit your situation. It’s important to remember that sexual symptoms are your body’s attempts to establish some sense of normalcy following the abnormal trauma of abuse.
  1. Recognize that certain symptoms may not mean to you what they mean to other abuse survivors. Some may be just annoyances, while others will feel overwhelming. Thus, you need only focus on those symptoms that are meaningful to you.
  1. Look for patterns. Following sexual abuse, behaviors tend to trend in one direction or another. You may lean toward sexually avoidant behaviors or toward more sexually aggressive, “acting out” activities.
  1. Understand that symptoms can change over time. Depending on where you are in your recovery or developmentally, the symptoms you experience may vary. For example, in your teens or twenties, you may be more prone to acting out while a settled relationship might give way to more avoidant activities.
  1. Seek help from a professional. Don’t let sex abuse symptoms overwhelm you. Talk to a therapist or someone you trust to figure out how to make the changes you want and who will help you move on.