Awakening Sexuality after Childhoold Molestation

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Reader’s Question

I am finding myself attracted to other women. I was molested at a very young age, and I believe I built a wall preventing myself from feeling any sexual attraction toward anyone, male or female, or dealing with any psychological issues relating to sexual topics.

About five years ago I met my husband. I didn’t find him attractive, but I decided to get to know him. I have stayed with him because he has made me feel comfortable and safe. I hadn’t dealt with any sort of sexual emotions before I met him. I think that, since I have become so comfortable sexually with him, my mind is breaking down this wall I formed as a teen, allowing myself to feel other sexual feeling inside me.

Now, my husband no longer arouses me, but women I have recently met do. What would be the best way to handle this?

Psychologist’s Reply

In answering your question, I am working from the assumption that you want to preserve your marriage; if you did not, I imagine you would feel free to explore your recent attractions to other women.

As you seem to understand, sexual trauma in childhood can negatively impact an individual’s ability to experience their sexuality in a comfortable and healthy way as they mature. For example, if a person developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the sexual trauma, even safe sexual experiences could feel threatening and trigger flashbacks to the abuse.

On the other hand, some people cope with physical and sexual abuse by ‘dissociating’ — essentially, divorcing their consciousness from the physical sensations of their body. This allows them to cope with the abuse by reducing their awareness, or mindfulness, of what is being done to them. You don’t speak specifically about your symptoms, but the ‘numbing’ of sexual feeling you experienced as an adult before meeting your husband suggests that you might fall into this ‘dissociating’ group.

I hope you have had the opportunity to have some individual therapy to work through your trauma history. If not, that would be a great place to start exploring both your new arousal feelings and the meaning they hold for you. However, as your sexual and life partner, your husband has a real stake in your treatment as well. For that reason I would highly recommend you begin seeing a sex therapist together.

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A reputable sex therapist is a licensed mental health professional with a specific expertise in assisting individuals and couples with sexual problems, such as the lack of arousal with your husband that you are describing. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists accredits professionals who have demonstrated expertise in this field of mental health, and has a referral directory of professional sex therapists on several continents. If this is not helpful, ask for a referral from a trusted doctor, such as your individual therapist.

Now that you are pulling down those walls that have kept you from fully experiencing your sexuality, you are in a prime position to deepen your relationship with your husband, both sexually and emotionally. Although it might be challenging to invite an outsider into this intimate part of your marriage, especially given your current confusion, sex therapy has the potential to offer you a new way to understand and enjoy your sexuality.

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