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*******trigger warning – sex*******

As I shared before, my host personality Faye truly believed that I was a virgin until she gave herself to hub shortly before our wedding. I had built up in my head that sex was the be-all and end-all of the universe, and I was sorely disappointed. I felt an enormous amount of shame, which I attributed to being a “slut” for having intercourse with my fiancé three weeks before our wedding. I completely “dried up” on our honeymoon, and we had to buy lubricant to keep him from hurting me during sex.

This didn’t end. Hub was very frustrated at having waited 2-1/2 years to have sex with me, only to have my body feel like it was “fighting him.” I had no libido at all. I faked it for years. I heard that sex got better with practice, but it never did. Hub has gone through phases over the year of being down on himself to being angry with me for not being attracted to him, etc.

On top of this, we couldn’t get pregnant when we tried to become parents four years into our marriage. On top of sex being unenjoyable, now it was a full-fledged chore where everything revolved around fertility timing. This went on for 4-1/2 years until we finally adopted our son.

I was actually thin when hub and I dated. Moving to another state to get far away from my mother did wonders for my figure, and I had a nice trim figure for years. Then, we moved back to my hometown, where I had to see my mother on a regular basis, and the pounds started creeping up. The infertility treatments put me over the edge. Not only did I not have a healthy mother-daughter relationship; now life was denying me the opportunity to have a mother-child relationship on the other end.

I stumbled upon the connection between very sick fantasies and sexual excitement long before recovering any memories of the sexual abuse. I would feel nothing at all until I imagined that 20 people were standing around watching. Then, my body would respond, resulting in an orgasm that made me feel empty, sick, and filled with shame. I also found that particular positions that repeated the sexual abuse would excite my body but result in extreme self-hatred afterward.

Sex is an area of my life that I still have not healed. I have made very firm boundaries about what I am willing to do, and I have banished repeating the abuse in my head, even if it means that I never “enjoy” sex again. I wish I had more words of wisdom in this area, but this continues to be an area of pain and struggle in my life.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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For the last couple of days, I have been talking about issues with sex after childhood sexual abuse. Several people have posted comments on these blog entries. Paul also wrote about this topic on his blog here. Paul’s coverage of the topic cited different sources that got me thinking a lot about this aspect of healing.

Sexual healing has been one of the biggest hurdles for me. I have been married for a very long time, so my options have been either to buck it up and have sex or divorce. (Hub is definitely not willing to have a sex-free marriage.) I bought the book The Sexual Healing Journey a few years ago, but I still have not read it. I have been very resistant to opening the can of worms involved in healing myself sexually. Instead, I have relied on lots of dissociation to get through it.

Some events have transpired recently that have me thinking that I might be able to heal this area of my life. This is the first time that I have even considered this aspect of my life being capable of healing. Other sexual abuse survivors have told me that I could heal this area, but I frankly did not believe them. I thought I was too defective in this area, so why even bother?

I have never talked about this before, so it is hard to write, but I am going to throw it out there. Here are some of my big sticking points.

1. I don’t know what I like, so I don’t know how to communicate that to my husband. I never liked anything as a kid, and my opinion on what was being done was irrelevant, so I feel completely in the dark about having a “this is what I like” discussion since I don’t know what I do like.

2. I have a hard time taking any initiative because, as a child, my job was to let others do what they wanted with my body. So, I am just passive – along for the ride – rather than an active participant. I just flee my body through dissociation and hope it ends quickly.

3. A part of myself feels like I am betraying myself if I let myself enjoy it. If an orgasm is “good,” then what was the problem when I was a kid? Yes, I get the difference intellectually, but the little girl inside feels like an orgasm is a betrayal of myself.

4. I am afraid to awaken this part of myself because, from what I understand, sex is a “need.” I don’t want to “need” sex because then I will have to rely on another person to meet this need. I would rather not have the need then have to rely on another person to meet it. Again, I know intellectually that my husband is happy to meet this need as often as I want it, but there is a part of myself that is grateful that I don’t “need” sex.

5. I sometimes just want my body to be mine. For my entire life, my body has been someone else’s to use. Sometimes I just want a sabbatical in which I get to have the exclusive say over my body. (Yes, I know that I can say no to my husband, but that is choosing to end my marriage if I want to go for months without sex, and I am not ready to do that.)

These are just some of the issues I wrestle with when I even bother to think about healing that part of myself. I frequently think it is not worth the effort. Can anyone relate?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I wrote a blog entry entitled Using Pornography That Mirrors Your Child Abuse. I clarified in the comments, and I want to clarify here as well, that I was talking about adult pornography, not child pornography. I see viewing adult pornography very differently from viewing child pornography.

On the blog entry, a reader posted the following comment:

another thing i’d like to say is that i really enjoy it when my partner ties me up and gets rough when we’re having sex. it’s like i need to feel used to become sexually satisfied. somehow feeling used feels “right” and other things like gentle sex just doesn’t cut it. i don’t know how to explain it. everything is completely consensual, but i need that feeling of being helpless and out of control. it’s weird, because in other ways i’m a total control freak. sometimes i think there’s something wrong with me because of how i feel. ~ skilover

I think this is very common. I have a friend who is a sexual abuse survivor. She is a complete control freak in every other area of her life. However, when it comes to sex, she wants to be tied up and have the other person in control, which could not be more different from her typical personality. I strongly suspect that this ties into her child sexual abuse.

Gentle sex does nothing for me, but I also don’t want to get rough – so I pretty much wind up not enjoying it at all. (As I have shared before, sexual healing has been, and continues to be, a huge challenge for me.) For me to be able to get into sex at all, I have to play out fantasies in my head. The more helpless and out of control I am in the fantasy, the more my body responds, and the more disgusted I feel afterward.

I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten drunk to feel helpless during sex. My body always responds better when I am drunk and feeling out of control. The fantasy of being drunk and taken advantage of works almost as well. Prostitute fantasies are also very effective for my body to respond. If I fantasize that I am just another object in the room and this stranger could choose to watch TV, read a book, or f@#$ me, my body gets very responsive, but I feel like h@#$ afterward. Another one that works for me is fantasizing that we are being watched, either like a peep show or a hidden video camera. Again, this is all a replay of the child sexual abuse.

I have tried to stop using any of these victim fantasies during sex, but then my body quit responding. It apparently has no interest in gentle, consensual sex. I have tried to move the fantasies to being devoid of emotion but of me being in control rather than the other person. It’s not as effective for my body, but at least I don’t feel filled with shame afterward.

I suspect that this is very common for sexual abuse survivors. We learned at a young age that sexual “enjoyment” was intermixed with being a victim, so we feel the need to continue being a victim in order to “enjoy” sex as adults. For me, this just continues the pattern of feeling shame after sex.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Is it possible to have a positive view of sex after sexual abuse? For me, this is the million dollar question. I truly do not know.

I can see where a woman (or man) who has had a “normal” sex life and then is raped can eventually get back to a place of having a positive view of sex again. However, is this possible for someone who was introduced to sex (rape) at such a young age that there never were positive associations with the act?

How do you take the exact same action and make it “bad” in one scenario but “good” in another? How do you take an action that was so emotionally (and possibly physically) damaging in one context and turn that into an “expression of love” in another? I feel like this is what society expects me to do, but I question whether that is even possible. Is it?

If you consider that my childhood was filled with rapes – by both men and women – and that those rapes were exceedingly painful for me (both physically and emotionally), how I am supposed to desire those same actions in order to say, “I love you,” to another person? It simply does not make sense to me.

I hear people talk about how sex is supposed to be about connecting at a very deep level. It is supposed to be about communicating how deeply you care about the other person. But that is simply not the case for me. To me, it is about another person using my body for his own gratification. As an adult, I choose to stay in a relationship that involves sex, and sex is an expected part of a marriage, but none of that adds up to me feeling like anything other than being a vessel for another person to feel gratified.

The act of sex does not make me feel loved and cherished. It makes me feel used. I am not sure how to get past that. I am also not sure if it is possible.

If you have once been in this place and have moved past it, I would love to hear your story. I would like to know that this is possible and get some tips on how to get there.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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As I shared in my last post, many sexual abuse survivors rely on negative fantasies in order to achieve an orgasm during sex. These fantasies generally continue the dynamic of the sexual abuse. Some people reenact the abuse in their heads while having sex. Others fantasize about situations that create the same feelings of helplessness and being a victim, even if the scenario is not a reenactment. Regardless of how the fantasies play out, they are not healthy.

Many sexual abuse survivors despise their negative fantasies, but they also fear giving them up because, without them, they will have no ability to achieve an orgasm during sex. While letting go of negative fantasies is scary, it is a positive step toward healing from the sexual abuse.

My experience has been that I cannot take a negative experience and make it a positive one overnight. Instead, I have to stop investing negative energy into the experience and move toward a more neutral view. As the experience stops being so painful, I free myself to start building more positive associations with that experience.

This was my experience with sex after sexual abuse. No matter how many times church members told me that sex was a deep spiritual connection with my spouse, I could not make the “marriage bed” be anything other than a place where I continued to abuse myself through negative fantasies to please my husband during sex. I had to stop expecting sex to be anything other than a physical act. When I chose to reframe my view of sex in this manner, I stop pouring so much negative energy into the experience as each encounter fell so far off the mark of what sex was supposed to be.

I also chose to give up the negative fantasies, even if it meant that I never had an orgasm again. I found that I could not do it cold turkey, so I did it in stages. I flat refused to reenact any abuse in my head. However, I would use other fantasies that were gradually less and less unhealthy until I was able to achieve an orgasm without having to abuse myself in my head to do it.

This took a long time to accomplish, and I am still not completely healed in this area. However, my views on sex are gradually changing, and I no longer dread each encounter as I once did.

Good Resource for Healing from Sexual Abuse:

The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Revised Edition)

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my blog entry entitled Do Sexually Abused Children Enjoy Orgasms from Rape or Sexual Abuse?, a reader posted the following comment:

As I was abused as a child I never reached orgasm……. quite the opposite……..pain. However there were the occasional times when I felt a brief “good” feeling. Either way, I CANNOT reach orgasm without having what I call “negative fantasies”. I hate it. I have only shared with a handful of people as I find that most won’t admit to this by product of child sexual abuse. In treatment, with counselors and inpatient, it was alluded at that this thinking made you the same as the molester. The internet has allowed these things to come to light without labeling the abused. Thank you to everyone who shared. ~ Tawny

I am appalled that a mental health professional would imply that using negative fantasies to achieve an orgasm during sex has anything to do with being a molester. Using negative fantasies is about harming yourself, and being an abuser is about harming others. Using negative fantasies during sex makes you no more of an abuser than self-injury, eating disorders, or other negative compulsions do.

It makes sense that somebody who suffered from sexual abuse would use negative fantasies to achieve an orgasm during sex. Anyone in a long-term relationship, and certainly a marriage, is going to engage in sex as part of that relationship. If each and every encounter results in no orgasm, it begins to erode the relationship. However, by using negative fantasies, the sexual abuse survivor is finally able to achieve an orgasm, which helps the partner know that the problem is not a lack of attraction for him or her.

The problem with negative fantasies is that they continue the pattern of abuse. The sexual abuse survivor continues the abuse where the abusers left off. So, even though the sexual abuse survivor might succeed in achieving an orgasm by using negative fantasies, the aftermath of the orgasm is emotional pain, shame, and emptiness.

What many people who were never sexually abused do not understand is that an orgasm does not always feel good. Those who have been blessed to have a healthy sexual life experience a release of stress and a general feeling of well-being after having an orgasm. This is not true for sexual abuse survivors who are using negative fantasies to achieve orgasms. They are left feeling empty.

Good Resource for Healing from Sexual Abuse:

The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Revised Edition)

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I kicked off a series on the challenges of consensual sex after sexual abuse a couple of weeks ago, right before experiencing a death in the family. I will now continue the series.

This area of healing has been a particularly challenging one for me. I have not fully healed this part of my trauma, but I have come a long way since I started healing five years ago. Today, I am going to share my own experiences, and then I will talk about particular aspects of challenges and healing after sexual abuse in my next few posts.

I truly believed that I was a virgin before I “gave myself” to my husband a few weeks before our wedding. I felt filled with shame afterward. I chalked it up to being a “slut” for not waiting until the wedding night to have sex. Then, when things did not improve after we married, I assumed that was my “punishment” for being a “slut.” At no point did I think that hub had done anything wrong. It was all my fault.

On our honeymoon, my body shut down sexually. We had to buy lubricant, and hub said that it felt like I was “fighting him” each time. I chalked it up to me being new to sex. I had heard that sex is something that gets better with experience. It didn’t for me.

I next moved into believing that my girlfriends were simply lying about enjoying sex. I just tried to get through it as quickly as possible each time. Orgasms were non-existent.

After a few years, I stumbled upon fantasizing during sex. Although I was a very conservative and straight-laced woman, my “fantasies” were all very sick and twisted – things that I would never chose to do in real life. (Once I started recovering the memories of the sexual abuse, I was able to see that every single fantasy was a reenactment of the abuse.) The more I was like an object being used, the more I could “enjoy” the encounter. Suddenly, I had a way to achieve an orgasm during sex, and hub thought we finally made a breakthrough in our sex life.

Unfortunately, while orgasms felts really great to hub, they made me feel terrible afterward. I felt deep shame at the sick images going through my head. I felt empty and awful after sex. Orgasms only brought me pain, not relaxation.

This pushed me into a terrible place in which every sexual encounter was a bad one. If I pushed away the “fantasies,” I could not achieve an orgasm, and I hated myself for having a body that did not work right. If I achieved an orgasm through using “fantasies,” then I felt a strong wave of self-loathing, and I hated myself. So, every time hub wanted to have sex, the end result was me hating myself. This went on for a very, very long time.

Good Resource for Healing from Sexual Abuse:

The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Revised Edition)

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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