There have been many studies documenting the effect child abuse has on many women’s sexual activity later in life. Naturally, these problems impact a woman’s ability to sustain a loving, long-term, intimate relationship.
The development of children is impacted by child sexual abuse in a number of ways1.
- The acquisition of a sense that the world is a safe place,
- Children’s emerging sense of themselves as active agents with some control over their world, and
- Their developing self-esteem.
Studies have revealed the impact of sexual abuse on adult sexual functioning2 as:
- An inability to enjoy sex, relax during sex, or a lack of interest in sex;
- An inability to initiate sex, difficulty in mutual masturbation, and a feeling of revulsion about their sexuality;
- Having difficulty in reaching orgasm;
- Unable to trust men; and
- A disruption of intimacy and the caring and emotional closeness in their relationship.
Research shows that a victim of sexual abuse needs to feel physically safe, in control and relaxed before she can begin to rebuild her sexual relationship. Once safety has been established, the couple can explore and begin to work on the sexual difficulties. When trying to move forward, it is common for the issues of trust and betrayal to be activated. She needs to feel a sense of control over where she is touched and that her wishes are responded to appropriately.
Sexually abused women can become overstimulated during sex and need to be able to stop the sexual activity at that point. Traumatic memories may have been activated, and it is important for the woman to gradually tolerate and move beyond those feelings—but at her pace. The whole goal is to allow the woman to establish safety within the relationship and to regain control over her sexuality.
1 “The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Female Sexuality: A Model Intervention,” Lee-anne Marendaz and Kaye Wood, Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault, VIC, September 1999