I am aroused by my past sexual abuse; is that a problem?

 

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Hello Dr. Peele,

Thank you for allowing me to email you. I am sure you are inundated with letters, so any reply will certainly be appreciated.

I am 32 years old and very happily married for the past ten years. I am currently in social work school. My husband is a social worker with plans to go to grad school in the next three years. Life is good and stable, for once.

I was sexually abused by my step-father when I was quite young, continuing for several years until he died. For the past several years I have been having sexual thoughts about what happened to me, and I find that I become aroused by these thoughts. Not at remembering the actual events, but more by the idea of them. The idea of being a young girl and being sexually abused (in a non-violent way) is sexually exciting to me. Occasionally my husband and I will role-play with this theme.

I realize that I did not find being sexually abused in any way stimulating when I was a victim. Nor do I find accounts of other people’s sexual abuse to be stimulating. On the one hand I feel that this is harmless, that as long as I can distinguish between the real-life trauma of sexual abuse vs. the concept of being sexually aroused by the idea of it, there is no real problem. However, I must admit that I feel this is an odd thing for a former victim of childhood sexual abuse to be feeling. Have you ever heard of this before? Do you have any insights into why I would be aroused by this? Do you think that this means anything, that it is a symptom of something else?

I will include the following information because it might be relevant to you:

For the past few years my sexual drive has been off the charts. For the week prior and a few days after menstruation, I am almost obsessed with thoughts of sex. I think I might be fantasizing about the idea of sexual abuse because I am just so damned horny. This rings true, but why this particular fantasy? Wouldn’t it seem like because the abuse caused so much trauma in my life that I would be completely turned off by it?

Thank you in advance for any insights you might offer,

Marlene


Marlene,

The short answer is, if you differentiate between the actuality of sexual abuse and your use of it in sexual fantasy, if your husband and you both participate knowingly and find enjoyment sexually, and if it is not harmful to your relationship with your husband in areas other than sex, then – the rule of thumb is – enjoy yourself. You also indicate that you have other kinds of sex with your husband which you enjoy, indicating that you are not obsessed with sexually expressing your abuse.

We have become so obsessed with childhood abuse that there is a political correctness to saying that one’s life can only be ruined by that experience, certainly without some kind of curative therapy. And those in the sexual abuse “business” would be shocked by and recoil from your story. So I suspect if you sought professional treatment for your “condition,” you would be told you have been pathologically traumatized and are working it out in ways that you don’t recognize. I don’t see that as helpful to you.

Why don’t you enjoy your life, your work, your husband, and sex – and wait until you feel something isn’t working in your life before trying to fix it.

Having said that, if you would like to try a coaching session or two to think through your response, it might be helpful. I would not approach this issue as one of repressed trauma.

Stanton

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