“Everyone in my life took my rape as lightly as a brief thunderstorm that might have been frightening when it happened, but was easy to forget about. I adopted that mentality as the foundation of my sex life. I would, time and time again, treat sex as flimsily as it started. I would give it away as if it was cheap, second-hand junk, rather than a prize that deserved to be earned.” – A Survivor.
Many survivors find that their sexual attitudes and reactions are impacted after sexual assault. While these effects are not permanent, they can be very frustrating as they can decrease the enjoyment of one’s sexual life and intimacy with others for some time. Fortunately, even if one does not actively work on sexual healing, as the sexual assault heals, the sexual symptoms will diminish.
Experiencing sexual symptoms after sexual assault is not only very common, but it is also understandable; “sexual abuse is not only a betrayal of human trust and affection, but it is, an attack on a person’s sexuality”. Some people may react to this attack by avoiding sexual activity and isolating their sexual selves, perhaps fearing losing control of their body or feeling vulnerable to someone else. Others may react by having more sexual activity than they had before this experience; possibly because they may feel that sex is less important to them now or that it is a way for them to regain a sense of power. No matter what your reaction is after sexual assault, it is important to remember that part of your healing would be to help you process what happened to you and regain a sense of normalcy.
Common sexual symptoms.
The sexual effects that a survivor may experience after sexual assault may be present immediately after the experience(s), or they may appear long afterwards. Sometimes the effects are not present until you are in a trusting and loving relationship, or when you truly feel safe with someone. The ten most common sexual symptoms after sexual assault include:
- Avoiding or being afraid of sex
- Approaching sex as an obligation
- Experiencing negative feelings such as anger, disgust, or guilt with touch
- Having difficulty becoming aroused or feeling sensation
- Feeling emotionally distant or not present during sex
- Experiencing intrusive or disturbing sexual thoughts or images
- Engaging in compulsive or inappropriate sexual behaviors
- Having trouble establishing or maintaining an intimate relationship
- Experiencing vaginal pain or orgasmic difficulties
- Experiencing erectile or ejaculatory difficulties
Discovering your specific sexual symptom(s) is an important part of beginning sexual healing. It can be very upsetting to think about all the ways that the sexual assault has influenced you sexually, yet by knowing you can begin to address the symptom(s) specifically.
Many of the effects of the sexual assault on your sexuality are a result of the sexual assault mind-set. This mind-set is made up of false beliefs about sex that are common after an assault or abuse. Negative beliefs are commonly developed because the assault is confused with sex. It is important to remember that while sexual activity was a part of the sexual assault or abuse, it was not healthy sex because it was not consensual, and the perpetrator used the sexual activity to gain power over you, making it abusive sex.
Differences between healthy sexual attitudes and sexual attitudes that equate sex to sexual assault.
|Sexual Assault Mind-set (sex= sexual assault)||Healthy Sexual Attitudes (sex = positive sexual energy)|
|Sex is uncontrollable energy||Sex is controllable energy|
|Sex is an obligation||Sex is a choice|
|Sex is addictive||Sex is a natural drive|
|Sex is hurtful||Sex is nurturing, healing|
|Sex is a condition for receiving love||Sex is an expression of love|
|Sex is “doing to” someone||Sex is sharing with someone|
|Sex is a commodity||Sex is part of who I am|
|Sex is void of communication||Sex requires communication|
|Sex is secretive||Sex is private|
|Sex is exploitative||Sex is respectful|
|Sex is deceitful||Sex is honest|
|Sex benefits one person||Sex is mutual|
|Sex is emotionally distant||Sex is intimate|
|Sex is irresponsible||Sex is responsible|
|Sex is unsafe||Sex is safe|
|Sex has no limits||Sex has boundaries|
|Sex is power over someone||Sex is empowering|
Adapted from www.sexualhealth.com