- By: Wendy Maltz, LCSW
I hate sex. It feels like invasion of myself and my body by someone else. Life would be great if no one ever expected me to be sexual again.
“My penis and my heart feel disconnected. I use sex as a way to blot out pain when I’m feeling down. Masturbation is a lot easier than having sex with my wife. She wants a lot of kissing and hugging and I’m uncomfortable with all that closeness.
Like Tina and Jack, many survivors of sexual abuse suffer from a variety of sexual problems. And it’s no wonder. Sexual abuse is not only a betrayal of human trust and affection, but it is, by definition—an attack on a person’s sexuality. Our sexuality is the most intimate, private aspect of who we are. Our sexuality has to do with how we feel about being male or female, and how comfortable we are with our body, our genitals, and our sexual thoughts, expressions, and relationships. When you were sexually abused — whether you suffered a gentle seduction by a loved relative or a violent rape by a stranger — your view and experience of your sexuality were effected by what happened to you. The good news is that a variety of effective healing techniques now exist to help survivors overcome the sexual repercussions caused by abuse. What are the sexual problems caused by sexual abuse? The ten most common sexual symptoms of sexual abuse are:
- avoiding or being afraid of sex
- approaching sex as an obligation
- experiencing negative feelings such as anger, disgust, or guilt with touch
- having difficulty becoming aroused or feeling sensation
- feeling emotionally distant or not present during sex
- experiencing intrusive or disturbing sexual thoughts and images
- engaging in compulsive or inappropriate sexual behaviors
- experiencing difficulty establishing or maintaining an intimate relationship
- experiencing vaginal pain or orgasmic difficulties
- experiencing erectile or ejaculatory difficulties
What is sexual healing? Sexual healing is an empowering process in which you reclaim your sexuality as both positive and pleasurable. It involves using special healing strategies and techniques to actively change sexual attitudes and behaviors which resulted from the abuse. The process of sexual healing often includes: gaining a deeper understanding of what happened and how it influenced your sexuality, increasing your body and self-awareness, developing a positive sense of your sexuality, and learning new skills for experiencing touch and sexual sharing in safe, life-affirming ways.
Sexual healing can take several months to several years, or more, to accomplish. It is considered advanced recovery work and thus, best undertaken only after a survivor is in a stable and safe lifestyle and has addressed more general effects of sexual abuse, such as depression, anger, self-blame, and trust concerns. There are different levels of sexual healing work that a survivor can pursue; from simply reading about recovery to engaging in a series of progressive exercises, called “relearning touch techniques.” These exercises provide opportunities to practice a new approach to intimate touch. While some survivors are able to progress in sexual healing on their own, others find it essential to enlist the guidance and support of a trained mental health practitioner.
Professional care is recommended because of the high possibility that sexual healing will stir up traumatic memories and feelings. You don’t need to be in a relationship to do sexual healing work. Some exercises are designed for single survivors. However, if you have a partner, your partner needs to become educated about the sexual repercussions of abuse and learn strategies for participating actively and effectively in the healing process. Here are some ideas for how to get started in sexual healing:
1. Learn About Healthy Sexuality.
A first step in sexual healing is to learn to distinguish abusive type sex from healthy sex. If you commonly use words like, “bad” “dirty” “overwhelming” “frightening” “hurtful” and “secretive” to describe sex, you need to realize that these are descriptive of “sexual abuse.” “Healthy sexuality” is something very different. It is characterized by choice, consent, equality, respect, honesty, trust, safety, intimacy, and sensual enjoyment. In the books that you read and the movies you watch, decrease your exposure to abusive sex images and increase your exposure to examples of sex in which partners are responsible and express love and caring for each other.
2. See Yourself As Separate From What Was Done To You.
We are all born sexually innocent. Due to sexual abuse or subsequent sexual behavior, you may erroneously believe that, sexually, you are bad, damaged goods, or merely a sexual object for someone else’s use. Let the past be past, and give yourself a healthy sexual future. You are not strapped to the negative labels an offender may have called you or to the way you saw yourself as a result of the abuse. Now you have choice and can assert your true self with others. Old labels will disappear as you stop believing them and stop acting in ways that reinforce them.
3. Stop Sexual Behaviors That Are Part Of The Problem.
You can’t build a new foundation for healthy sex until you’ve gotten rid of sexual behaviors that could undermine healing. Sexual behaviors that need to go, typically include: having sex when you don’t want to, unsafe and risky sex, extramarital affairs, promiscuous sex, violent/degrading sex, compulsive sex, and engaging in abusive sexual fantasies. If you can’t do it on your own, seek help from 12-step programs and other supports. It takes time to break old habits and learn how to channel sexual energy in ways that nurture the body as well as the soul.
4. Learn To Handle Automatic Reactions To Touch.
Many survivors encounter unpleasant automatic reactions to touch and sex, such as: flashbacks of the abuse, fleeting thoughts of the offender, or strange reactions to something a sexual partner does or says during lovemaking. While these reactions are common, unavoidable, even protective, results of trauma — years later –they can get in the way of enjoying sex. By developing understanding and patience you can learn to handle them effectively. When you experience an unwanted reaction to touch, stop and become more consciously aware of the reaction. Then calm your self physically with slow breathing, self-massage and relaxation techniques. As soon as you can, affirm your present reality by reminding yourself of who you are now and that you have many options. You may also want to alter the activity in some way to make it more comfortable. Automatic reactions will diminish over time as you become more aware of and responsive to them.
5. Familiarize Yourself With Touch Techniques.
You can use special touch exercises to help you relearn intimate touch in a safe and relaxed way. Different from traditional sex therapy techniques (which can be overwhelming to survivors), the “relearning touch” techniques provide a wide assortment of exercises from which to choose as you feel ready. You can do some relearning touch exercises on your own, while others require a partner. Detailed descriptions of the exercises can be found in my book, The Sexual Healing Journey, and my video, “Relearning Touch”. These exercises help you develop skills such as: feeling relaxed with touch, breathing comfortably, staying present, communicating with a partner, having fun, and expressing and receiving love through physical contact.
The exercises are progressive and follow a sequence from playful, non-sexual touch to sensual, pleasuring touch activities. When necessary, you can address specific sexual problems, such as orgasmic and erectile difficulties, by modifying standard sex therapy techniques using the new skills acquired in relearning touch. You can repair the damage done to you in the past. You can look forward to a new surge of self-respect, personal contentment, emotional intimacy. When you reclaim your sexuality, you reclaim yourself.
- Recognizing Abuse (reclaimingmynarnia.wordpress.com)
- Friend or foe? (thehindu.com)
- Preventing Childhood Sexual Abuse as an Historical Movement (psactampa.wordpress.com)
- Coping With The Trauma Of Sexual Abuse (sextehniques.wordpress.com)
From a blogger in Canada truly making a difference!
Disclaimer: I have received permission to write about the details shared in this post.
One evening this week I witnessed one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in my life. To protect the individuals, I will be skimpy on details….
It all started several weeks ago, when I met a young woman through a mutual friend, whom I vaguely remember ‘meeting’ many years ago. Because of our age difference, she was ‘but a child’ and I was an adult, so there was no interaction, that I recall.
We met at a restaurant for dinner, as perfect strangers, and spent almost six hours talking, listening, and exploring her story. As she shared, raw pain spilled out, and, with it, the guilt over having suffered less than others in her life, and yet suffering deep trauma. She felt lost and alone. Abandoned and rejected. Always had.
The three most traumatic…
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Women who have been sexually abused and/or raped often struggle with having pelvic exams performed on them even decades after the trauma. Here is a great post they can print out and take to the healthcare provider showing a pelvic exam is often NOT justified.
There is a hidden battle brewing within the medical community about the misuse of physicians’ valuable time. Three female Doctors have come together to write a compelling journal article showing how the significant amount of time physicians spend conducting pelvic exams on asymptomatic women is unjustified. Doctors Westhoff, Jones, & Guiahi (2011) state “Overuse of the pelvic examination contributes to high healthcare costs without any compensatory health benefits“.
Physicians use four justifications for conducting pelvic examinations, but Westhoff, et al. (2011) reveal how the justifications are no longer relevant in light of current research, advancements in technology, and new guidelines put in place to reduce harms of over screening for cervical cancer. The four justifications used by physicians to conduct pelvic exams on asymptomatic women, together with the counter-arguments against them by the research authors, can be summarized as follows:
- Justification #1: Screening for cervical cancer.
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Brilliant and touching story about abuse. Please take the time to read it all the way through.
I have the honor of posting Frankie’s story. I hope you find her tale enlightening, inspirational, and moving. Here are her words:
My name is Francesca Gilberts or Frankie for short. I was born in the mid 70’s to a lower middle class family in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city. My father was a tin knocker (read HVAC mechanic) and my mother stayed at home with my younger sister and me. We lived in a one story single family home with painted white shutters, perfectly trimmed hedges, a rolling front lawn, and swing set in the back. It was a cozy neighborhood and on a quiet street. Most of my neighbors were senior citizens when I was little, but as I grew up that started to change with younger families moving in and the creation of a brand new elementary school. Sounds like an idyllic start to life doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. Now I know appearances are deceiving and what looks so pretty and clean on the outside can be ugly and dirty deep inside.
My whole family belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, two generations deep. I add this to give you some perspective of the culture and environment I grew up in. My earliest memories are of proudly watching my father speak to the congregation and of being terrified of the basement. The basement in our home was like the modern-day family room. The only television set we owned was there. My play kitchen set was there and my toys were there. The piano was there too. I spent a great deal of my childhood in that basement; my little sis and I played there, my extended family would gather around the piano and/or the TV there, and less formal religious meetings were held there. I was also sexually abused there.
I’m not certain how old I was when it started, but I must have been around preschool age. This old man, who was part of our congregation, had the shared responsibility with my father for religious publication inventory stored in a partitioned off area of my basement. He would ask me, and later my sister too, to help him in the room with the books or keep him company by doing a song and dance routine for him or whatever one of the many other rouses he came up with. Once in the room alone with him, my memory is sketchy as to the exact approach used, but the end result was having to perform oral sex on him. I have vivid flashbacks and body memories of urinating in my undies and vomiting all over the floor to this day. I remember one when I had wet my pants again and my parents noticed. My mother asked me what happened and through my tears tried unsuccessfully to explain it to her. When my father questioned the old man, he explained we were playing hide-n-seek and that he scared me and felt awful about how upset I got. I don’t recall being scared so much of the old man as much as I was that room in the basement. I have memories of the old man bringing me ice cream and dolls when we were at other locations. My family, and even the entire congregation, praised this old man for his generosity and his kindness. But I kept trying to tell my mother about the old man and his big worm, over and over. This pattern repeated itself as the years went by and soon I entered third grade at the brand new school a few blocks away. This was a significant event for me as, until then, my school teachers had all been female. I was a good student but quiet and withdrawn. My mother always told the teachers that our faith mandated that we only socialize with others in our religion and held me up as a fine example of that indoctrination. I didn’t celebrate any holidays, salute the flag, or attend recess with the other children as a result of their beliefs. So, in third grade with my first male teacher, I would stay in the classroom while the other kids were on the playground. That is when it happened.
This teacher was very kind, and looking back now did his best to get me to engage with others. At the time though, I didn’t know any better. I thought he liked me. I thought maybe he wanted to give me dolls and ice cream too, just like the old man did. Innocently enough, one day during recess I told my teacher I wanted to eat his worm. I shudder at the thought now even as I am telling you this. Of course, he had no clue what I was talking about so I led him to the coat room. Once there, with its dark closed in basement like feel, I attempted to unzip his pants and grab his crotch. His look of utter astonishment is one still burned into my brain today. But he was my savior. I might not have realized how bizarre my behavior was, but he sure did. He immediately ushered me to the nurse’s office. I was crestfallen as I thought I had done something very wrong, that I was very bad and in big trouble. Worse yet, I was convinced he didn’t like me when in reality, he rescued me.
I won’t tell you that what followed was all lollipops and unicorns, because it wasn’t. I won’t tell you that my father and mother believed me, because they didn’t. I won’t tell you that the old man was prosecuted or punished, because he wasn’t. But I will tell you that after the age of 9, I was no longer sexually abused. And that was alright. I still struggle with the lingering effects of the abuse, the fracture it created in my family, and my relationships with men. But I am alright. I am mostly grateful, joyous, and reveling in all the little magic moments that happen each and every day. And that’s alright.