A variety of sexual problems are associated with childhood sexual abuse,
although there is also evidence to suggest that physical and emotional abuse can affect the survivor's sex life as well. Survivors of sexual abuse often mistrust their partners, experience anxiety over the demands of intimacy and feel uncomfortable with their bodies.
During young adulthood, many survivors of sexual abuse tend either to
avoid sex entirely or to engage in compulsive sexual activity. Either choice creates problems for adult survivors, particularly if they are still in denial about what happened to them as children. Where there is a history of sexual abuse, adult sexual activity and identification are colored by past associations, memories and conflicts. These may impair the development of a healthy sexual identity and lifestyle.
Survivors with sexual problems stemming from childhood abuse often consent to sex when they really don't feel like being intimate, and then experience the encounter as another episode of abuse. It is not uncommon for survivors to have flashbacks during sexual contact, in which a memory of the past abuse is triggered by a familiar touch, smell or position. If the sexual abuse included the use of violence or force, survivors may mix up sexual and aggressive urges. A history of sexual abuse can add confusion about a survivor's sexual preference.
How can you deal with sexual problems? You can start by confiding in a trusted friend or lover about your sexual feelings, reactions and associations. Sharing your personal reactions with a loved one can provide understanding and support. If you have specific symptoms or flashbacks, you may want to avoid sexual contact until you can resolve your feelings. If you are in therapy, you can discuss these issues with your therapist, although some sexual problems require the services of specialists. This is discussed in more detail in Step Eight.