How Sexual Abuse May Be Complicating Your Sexuality

Posted by on Jan 15, 2017 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on How Sexual Abuse May Be Complicating Your Sexuality

(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.)

It’s well known that sexual abuse can have a profound impact on people who’ve experienced it. It is associated with a number of physical health problems as well as emotional or mental health challenges. And recently, especially in the last decade or two, there has been considerable interest in exploring the effects of sexual abuse on sexuality and sexual functioning.

When people are experiencing sexual symptoms, there are a few ways they might present.

Some people will develop sexual symptoms immediately. Others will develop symptoms gradually, over a long period of time. Still, others might not present with symptoms until years after the original instance of sexual abuse. And there are those whose symptoms resolve quickly.

However, for a lot of sufferers, symptoms are chronic, long-lasting, and do not go away on their own. They have to actively work at healing to address their symptoms.

Additionally, healing sexually is just one part of the recovery process. People also need to work through feelings or anger and fear regarding the abuse and work through their feelings about the abuser. Furthermore, sexual abuse victims must learn to take better care of themselves and feel better about who they are and how they see themselves to recover well.

For the most part, sexual healing can take place at any time during the overall recovery process. Once a person acknowledges that sexual abuse impacts their sexuality, the next step is to explore the extent to which it has done so.

The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Wendy Maltz describes six categories of symptoms people may experience as a result of sexual abuse. The following information will briefly summarize these categories to highlight how sexual abuse might affect you or a loved one sexually.

1. Attitudes about sex

Being abused can create distorted attitudes regarding sex. It can also become difficult to recognize the difference between abusive sex and healthy sex. The abuse experiences can contaminate healthy thinking, resulting in significant sexual negativity. This mindset upsets self-esteem, relationships, reactions, and more. Attitude is the foundation for everything.

Sexual Abuse may be affecting your attitude if your answer is yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Does sex feel like a duty?
  • Do you think sex feels dirty?
  • Does sex feel secretive?
  • Does sex feel humiliating?
  • Do you see sex as having an uneven distribution of power (with men being more powerful than women)?
  • Is sex something you do to get something you want?
  • Do you see sex as a game with a clear winner or a loser?
  • Is having sex all that matters?
  • Do you think sexual desire makes people act strangely or crazily?
  • Do you use sex to escape painful emotions?

2.  Sexual Self-concept

Abuse can definitely affect how people feel about themselves. You may see yourself as being sexually damaged or broken. Or you may have a sexually inflated view of yourself, feeling very sexually powerful. Do you see yourself as a victim? Are you sexually aggressive or acting out? Knowing how you view yourself is very important as it pertains to making helpful behavior changes down the line.

Negative sexual self-concept may affect your sexuality if your answer is yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Do you see yourself as damaged, disgusting, or a sexual target?
  • Do you think that there is something wrong with you or that you are revolting?
  • Are you interested in sex at all?
  • Would you be happier if the world existed without sex?
  • Can you see yourself living in a world without sex?
  • Do you feel like you will lose control if you let go sexually?
  • Are you someone who wants sex for all the wrong reasons?
  • Do you feel that you have the right to say no to anyone that wants you?
  • Do you feel that you deserve whatever you get when it comes to sex?

3. Automatic Reactions

Sexual abuse can create a conditioned response to touch or sex. These are not things that people do intentionally, they are automatic and given very little thought as they happen. Again, this can fall into one of two camps. People may avoid sex or they might seek it out in risky or dangerous ways.

Automatic reactions may be affecting your sexuality if your answer is yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Are you afraid of sex or have little interest in being sexual?
  • Do you draw away from sexual possibilities?
  • Do you feel anxious when you are horny? Or bothered when you think or dream about sex?
  • Do you feel detached during intimacy?
  • Do you feel panicky, nauseous, or experience flashbacks during intimacy?
  • Are you preoccupied with sex?
  • Do you feel powerful when you’re having sex?
  • Do you feel sexually excited when you don’t want to be or when it is inappropriate?
  • Are you constantly on the lookout for sexual opportunities?

These are just three of six areas in which sexual abuse can affect sexuality. Consider them carefully and seek the help of a professional if you recognize you may be struggling. For the additional three concepts, please proceed to part II of this post.