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Childhood sexual abuse and the possible impact on your sex life today

By Samantha De Bono

Sexual abuse during childhood is devastating! Trusting someone who in turn tramples over that trust affects every part of your developing personality and can be the cause of lifelong difficulties in relationships. However, for the purpose of this blog, it is the impact on your sex life that is relevant.

Since the subject has become more openly discussed it is known that sexual abuse in childhood is more prevalent than was previously thought. Research now shows that sexual abuse can include very young children, even babies. Boys and girls are abused and although sexual abusers are usually men, women can also be guilty of this too.

Interaction of a sexual nature (this can include touching, penetration, or being asked to perform sexual acts) when you are too young to be physically ready or mentally prepared, is extremely damaging psychologically. Being made aware of adult sex before it is natural and before you are emotionally mature enough to cope with it, makes for an unhealthy sexuality.

Being cuddled and kissed by a caring person feels very different to being touched sexually and even a child who doesn't understand this, senses it is wrong. Unfortunately it is the child that carries the shame from there on in. The shame does not stop in childhood it continues into adult life and into sexual relationships there after.

Sexual abuse in childhood makes it difficult, and in many cases impossible, in adult life to believe that sex can be a true expression of a loving, committed relationship. That is not to say that you cannot derive physical pleasure from sex, but childhood sexual abuse, will often cause the adult trouble in feeling the warmth and sharing of a true intimate loving, sexual relationship.

The main issues and emotions carried into adulthood that are brought about by childhood sexual abuse are:

Abuse of power: when a child is used by an adult for sexual reasons the child will feel betrayed. The closer the adult is and the more trusted position the adult has, the more betrayed the child will feel. This translates into adulthood as a suspicion of motives behind any sexual attention. There is also often an unconscious belief that you have to give in to any sexual attention almost as if it's a fact of life.

Fear, anger and guilt: many abused children feel fear. Sometimes this is because the abuse was painful, or it could be because their beloved adult is different and frightening during the abuse. Often children feel that they would lose the love of the adult if they do not comply. Fear is also wrapped up in secrecy.
During childhood, sexual abuse causes a child to become angry, but as they do not understand what is happening to them anger is suppressed and tends to come out in adulthood.
Abused children often feel guilty. This can be because they've been told by the adult that it is their fault, that they somehow enticed the adult to do this, or that they wanted it to happen. Sometimes they feel guilty because they feel they should have stopped it from happening.
Guilt affects self respect, this means that they can become adults with little, or no self worth. This can lead to promiscuity later in life, even when they feel little or no desire to have sex.

Shame, disgust and sorrow: if a child became aroused during their sexual abuse, they often feel shame, as if they asked for it. Arousal is a natural physical consequence of been touched in certain ways, a child does not have control over it. This in later life can affect the adult in different ways; either they find they are very easily turned on by sex which causes shaming, or they develop a strong control of their arousal which does not allow them to feel aroused at all.
Whether the child feels aroused or not, the sexual attention of an adult or a trusted person can cause disgust. This causes, in adulthood, a feeling that sex is disgusting and that it should be avoided, or that sex needs to be disgusting and dirty to be arousing.
Sorrow felt by the child during the period of their sexual abuse can continue into their adult life and cause depression in later life.

Coming to terms with having been abused usually means building your self worth, as it has been stolen from you. Nobody wants to remember their sexual abuse. It can be very painful and humiliating to recall those times in your childhood. But it is important to understand that you were an innocent victim of what happened and should not carry the guilt or shame.

Even if there was some sexual arousal or cooperation, it was not your fault. Adults are responsible for the relationship they have with a child, and therefore have a duty of care towards that child, this should not include any inappropriate sexual content whatsoever.

Talking about what happened to you with an empathic professional, can help you to help yourself. If you fear telling your partner, because you still carry shame or because you don't know how your partner will react, counselling is a good idea. A counsellor can help you in the telling of your experience and also help both of you to come to terms with what happened. This can help immensely to encourage an intimate sexual connection between you.