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Healthy Sexuality Not Instinctual For Me After Abusive Situations

Question:

I feel like something is really plain "wrong" with me sexually. My first sexual encounter was when I was 14. I had never kissed a boy or knew much about sex – several boys at my school sexually assaulted me and one of them attempted to rape me. Afterwards, I felt confused about what had happened and virtually unprotected by my mother since she was in denial of the seriousness of what had happened. I never saw these boys punished in any way, and was left feeling like less of a victim and more of the problem. I didn’t understand that what had happened was bad and not normal since no one made this clear, and I ended up befriending the very people who abused me, desperately seeking their approval and acceptance in my confusion. I continued this unhealthy pattern by allowing the boys who pursued me most aggressively to date me, which usually meant not the best of guys. My boyfriends over the years treated me as an object wherein I felt like my core acceptance and only way of receiving love was through providing sex. I never once enjoyed any of this. I felt like this was the only type of sexuality that existed, for it was all that I had ever known. When I saw romantic encounters in movies, I just fell in love with how wonderful it seemed, but didn’t believe it to be real. I couldn’t ever understand how any girl could possibly enjoy sex. To me, it has felt painful and like an invasion. In the past, I have chosen to just ‘check out’ and feel almost like a robot, doing whatever I think the guy wants and will the encounter over the fastest. Now I am in a healthy and loving relationship and have been married for one year (I am 26 now). I am now realizing how much this pattern has damaged me and I feel extreme difficulty in understanding healthy sex. Despite my attraction and deep love for my husband, I have difficulty with arousal and difficulty not reverting back to old habits of ‘acting’ during sex. I want more than anything to know what I am missing out on that everyone else seems to enjoy so much. I want so very much to be able to express my love for my husband in this way. I am left feeling like something is inherently wrong with me and that I just don’t "get it." I get frustrated and feel like I don’t know what to do. When he asks me what I "want" in a sexual way, I don’t have the first clue. I don’t feel like I want anything in that way. All I "want" to feel safe and loved. How can I translate these feelings into sexual desire? It is hard for me to understand what sexual desire even IS. The whole subject confuses me so deeply and is causing me such pain. I wish I could go back in time and know how to protect myself, but I didn’t know how, and no one else stepped in to protect me when I needed it. Now I understand how those guys were bad and abusive, and how my husband is anything BUT that, but I don’t know how to change my instinctual reactions that make my body tense up and not feel able to enjoy sex. Help!

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Answer:

What you are experiencing is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because you were sexually assaulted in school at age 14. While you call this "sexual assault" I would guess that it really was a rape. In either case this was a major invasion of your body and your privacy and violation of your right to control and protect your own body.

When this type of thing happens to a woman it is common to feel guilty. Self blame is often a result of assault and rape even though the crime was done by a perpetrator. The fact that you were so young when this happened and that no one was there to help you with the emotional aftermath of this horror only increased the likelihood that you would feel guilty. As a result of these feeling of guilt many youngsters, like you, come to believe that they are worthless and allow males to have sex with them with little or no regard to their own well being. And, yes, many of these young women, like yourself, confuse love and sex and look for sex falsely believing that it is sex.

The fact that you are now an adult and are married does not mean that the trauma and its effects are in the past. You cannot relax with your husband and enjoy your sexual relationship with him because it is difficult for you to trust men. In addition, sexual relations with your husband probably reawaken the memories of the assault and everything afterwards.

It is important to emphasize that the sexual assault and the aftermath were not your fault and that you are not to blame for this tragedy.

What I recommend that you do are the following:

1. Enter psychotherapy with someone who is expert in dealing with sexual assault and is known for being effective, supportive and helpful.

2. There are many support groups for women of all ages who have been sexually assaulted and or raped either recently or in the past. You can find these groups on the Internet or through the local phone directory. You can also contact the American Psychological Association in your community and inquire there. These groups are usually free and members feel a strong kinship because they have been through similar experiences.

3. If you do not wish to attend a support group then I would recommend joining a group led by a psychologist or social worker who has experience and expertise with this. Many professionals run such groups and the advantage is that there is a professional group leader as compared to a regular support group that usually has no professional leadership to guide its way. There usually is a fee connected with a professionally led group. You can check with the American Psychological Association or the NASW in your state and neighbor hood and look online for such groups.

4. If the depression and anxiety you experience as a result of all of this is too overwhelming then I suggest you start with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication for the PTSD and can then refer you to a therapist and group.

Best of Luck

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