Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Untangling the Sexual Issues of the Adult Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse

this was posted on the child abuse survivor network a while ago. i have read it a few times. there is a lot of information in here that i think is really important for those of us who have been sexually abused, and i wanted to share it. it was posted by a therapist, william e. krill, who also has a website dedicated to resources for healers and caregivers of children.


Child sexual abuse is a devastating event in a child’s life, one that can continue to damage and confuse for a lifetime if left untreated. One difficulty the adolescent or adult survivor has is trying to understand the residual effects of the trauma on their sexuality. It is not always easy, with the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and thinking confusions that can result from abuse.

It is important for the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse to get a clear view of what the boundaries of normal or average human sexuality are. The survivor is often suspicious that every sexual idea, emotion, fantasy, stimulating event or sexual behavior has its source in their abuse event(s). The key to separating out the effects of the abuse and what is not an effect of the abuse is to first understand and accept the difference between the abuse and healthy sexuality.

The sexual abuse that the child experiences is only sex in the sense that this is the vehicle of the crime that was committed against them. Of course, the child victim, depending on their age, may be unaware of the nature of a healthy sexual relationship, or the facts of sex prior to their abuse experience. The sexual abuse thus damages their view of sexuality, making learning healthy sexuality a great challenge. The adult survivor needs to clearly differentiate between healthy sexuality and the crime that was committed against them as a child.

Confusing this process are the details and experiences of abuse. Not all sexual abuse is experienced by all children as traumatic or even without physical pleasure; some children learn (mistakenly) that sex between themselves and an adult is a means of genuine care, love, and affection. Only later, when they discover that most adults and children in the world do not have sex together, do they feel betrayed, embarrassed, guilty, shamed, and abused. In contrast, if the sexual abuse was forced (rather than manipulated) and painful, the child may integrate these aspects into their understanding of sexuality and later, as adults, may seek out sexual situations that re-enact some aspects of the abuse. The survivor may then feel guilty over this. Even if this is not the case, the adult survivor may become negatively reactive to any sexual situation that even hints of aggression.

Some survivors are able to engage in sexual behaviors without a multitude of triggers and only have a few triggers, but other survivors find that there are many triggers that make their sexual lives a minefield of stress reactivity. Again, the condition of the abuse becomes key in understanding and treating PTSD reactions surrounding sexual behavior. If as an abused child, the adult was manipulated and coerced into their abuse, they will likely be reactive to any hint of this in their adult sexual experiences. If their abuse was forced, even normal, healthy sexual aggression (do not read abuse) may be triggering to them.

Many survivors have a difficult time understanding or coming to terms with the fact that many of the sexual behaviors that they experienced in their abuse (or even did not experience in their abuse) fit well within the ‘normal’ range of human sexuality. Their sexual partners may find the survivor’s reactivity to the multitude of triggers, or refusals to engage in particular sexual behaviors quite frustrating. In cases where an adult survivor has a committed partner, it is often a good choice to have a period of time where both the survivor and partner are in treatment together.

When a survivor experienced abuse (emotional, physical, sexual) from a family member, the child frequently ‘fuses’ the abuse to the natural feelings of love for the abuser. This of course, left untreated, leads many survivors to re-enter abusive relationships in their adult lives. Many adult survivors become quite disturbed that they discover that they seek out aggressive or ‘rough’ sexual experiences, and always equate this as a direct result of their abuse. While this may in fact be true, it is important to understand that aggressive sexual behaviors do fall within the normal range of human sexual expression. Either way, the survivor must come to peace with their entire sexuality, both the healthy parts and the parts that developed in response to their abuse. Sorting this out and re-claiming their sexuality as their own is a challenging process, but one that can be done to lead to a fulfilling and healthy sexuality.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

Thanks that was a really great post!