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I have received emails from several readers asking about my opinion of sado-masochism (S&M) after child abuse. In some cases, the person is engaging in S&M as a consenting adult. In other cases, the person has been viewing S&M pornography. The emails I receive ask my opinion of engaging in these actions, whether as active participants or as viewers. Because this seems to be a recurring theme, I thought it was a good idea to address this issue on my blog.

Let me begin by saying that I see nothing wrong with engaging in pretty much any type of sexual behavior that is 100% consensual between the adults involved (no children ever or other unable to consent). If consenting adults enjoy engaging in S&M, who am I to tell them that they are doing anything wrong?

However, the emails I have been receiving are filled with shame and confusion, and they are written by adult survivors of sexual abuse. Some of those writing the emails specifically say that the S&M behavior that they are either viewing or participating in mirrors abuses that they suffered as abused children. In my opinion, this is not a healthy activity for someone who is using S&M as a way to reenact the abuse.

I don’t see S&M as any different from fantasizing about the child abuse during consensual sex, engaging in degrading consensual sex that mirrors the child abuse, or watching pornography that mirrors the child abuse. All of these situations have the same common element – a child abuse survivor is choosing to go back to an abusive situation in his or her head in order to achieve an orgasm. I think this is re-abusing yourself and not emotionally healthy for you to engage in.

While I cannot relate to S&M, I can relate to choosing to reenact the abuse in my head to achieve an orgasm. If I want to climax during consensual sex, nothing makes it happen faster than to fantasize a reenactment of my childhood trauma. However, I have chosen to stop doing this out of respect for my wounded inner child. I would rather never climax again than continue to harm my inner child. I am still in the process of separating out trauma from orgasms.

If you are engaging in consensual S&M and do not feel any sort of shame or triggering from it, I see no need for you to stop. However, if you are a child abuse survivor who is feeling conflicted, listen to that voice inside of yourself. If this behavior was not harmful to you, then why would you be second guessing yourself? Why would you be writing to me asking whether or not it is “wrong”? You already know the answer – it is wrong for you because it is hurting you.

Believe me – I don’t have all of the answers, and I certainly don’t have them all for sex. I strongly suggest reading The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz to help you with your sexual healing.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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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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