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Avoiding sex and romantic relationships

Thread starter #1
Content note: discussion of sexuality, mostly in general, non-graphic terms.

Back story: I'm 28 and female, and was sexually abused as a young child (3-ish years old) by a relative who did not live with me.

I have never had a romantic relationship in my life, nor have I ever gone on a date. I am trying to figure out if this is because of a true preference or if this is trauma-related. I feel like my trauma experiences are in some ways "etched" into my mind on a neurological level. Whenever I think about going anywhere with a male or having any sort of relationship with one, my mind immediately jumps to risk of sexual assault and abuse. Even if I don't actually think it is likely with that particular person. It seems like my mind is so focused on making sure that my abuse experience never happens again that it is hard to look at anything else. It's like I see that there is a risk of assault so I determine it isn't worth it, even if the risk is small.

I also don't understand how people enjoy sexual relationships. I don't know if I am asexual or if this has to do with trauma, but it seems very unpleasant. I do think a big part of that is that I have never had any consensual sexual contact so my only point of reference is horrific abuse, and since the basic physical acts are the same, it's difficult for me to intuitively understand why someone would want to participate in something sexual. I feel so frustrated and ashamed of myself, like everyone else on the planet understands something that is beyond my capability. People talk about how wonderful sexuality and relationships can be and I'm completely missing out, and I don't feel like I am able to just change that.

I guess I just feel really alone with this, like something is deeply wrong with me. I know other survivors of sexual abuse who are able to at least participate in relationships and sex -- why can't I? I feel so defective. I imagine part of it might have to do with how young I was, the severity of the abuse, etc., but I see others that move through all this and wonder what's wrong with me?
 
#2
Hi. I'm really sorry you're going through this. You're not alone. You've found a place where tons of people are going to understand.
People talk about how wonderful sexuality and relationships can be
People who haven't been abused talk about that. People who have talk about what you're talking about now.
I see others that move through all this and wonder what's wrong with me?
Your frame of reference might be off. If you, an abused person, are comparing yourself to non-traumatized people, you're going to seem broken.

You're not broken. Your brain and body are trying to keep you safe. But they don't know that the trauma is over now. That's what PTSD is.
I feel so frustrated and ashamed of myself, like everyone else on the planet understands something that is beyond my capability.
It's not beyond your capability. It's going to be very difficult for you to experience sex and relationships on a level that non-abused people do. But with work, you can get there.

The shame shouldn't be yours to bear - that's on your abuser, not you. But all of us feel ashamed at first. With work, you can shed that. Are you in therapy?
 
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Thread starter #3
Thank you very much for your reply. I've been in therapy consistently for almost ten years. For the most part it has been a very slow process.

Regarding frame of reference, I think I felt worse because I *was* asking people who have been traumatized, though possibly in different circumstances (all circumstances are bad, of course, but different details can lead to slightly different outcomes). I've been wondering about the influence of age, severity, etc. on this. I do not personally know anyone who was so little and abused so severely so I don't know any "peers" in that sense, just others who have experienced sexual trauma more generally. I find that usually I can relate to them but that our experiences seem to part ways a bit with this, at least with the people I talk to.

I think that's the part that led to the most shame -- if other traumatized people get through it, why can't I?
 
Thread starter #5
I'm not working on that specifically, and I'm not with a trauma therapist. But she is someone I have a good connection with who I see as really capable. The sex and relationship issues have only come up from time to time but the trauma in general has been one of the most present parts of our work.
 
#6
The sex and relationship issues have only come up from time to time
Consider if you spent as much time exercising in the past 10 years as you spent on sex/sexuality & romantic relationships? Would you have an Olympic athlete’s body, a fit and in shape body, or an extremely weak and withered body?

Let’s continue the parallel for a moment...

Let’s say you’ve spent the past 10 years in surgery & recovery, surgery & recovery, surgery & recovery following some kind of catastrophic injury. Maybe a house fire, or a fall that breaks every bone in your body, or a relaxing and remitting cancer.

Does it make SENSE that you’ve been focusing on other things than exercise? Yup. Not only does it make sense, but until you got to a reasonably healthy place you couldn’t even -rationally- consider exercise. Sure, there have been times when you’ve thought about it, or envied others, but for you yourself? It simply wasn’t a possibility.

Now? It MIGHT be a possibility. But there’s going to be a lot of prep work, first. Especially if you aren’t even standing on your own, much less walking.

That it’s taken a long time, has been inconceivable, and will take even more time? Doesn’t mean you’ll never exercise... if. It’s. What. You. Want.

First - Get healthy enough to even rationally consider it. (And stop beating yourself up for not doing it sooner, faster, etc. There was damn good reason why you didn’t.)
Second - Want it
Third - Prepare for it
Fourth - Start... slowly.
Fifth - Decide if it’s a part of life you want to devote serious time, some time, occasional time, or little/no time on. Based on how much you enjoy it, what it brings to your life, etc. you’ll probably have to try several things, in several ways, to really get a good feel for what you want. But then you’ll know.

Same for a romantic relationship &/or sex.

...and for that matter? Everything else. Every other part of life that you MIGHT want to bring into your life, and haven’t... yet. For durn good reason.
 
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Thread starter #7
Your parallel comparison makes sense. I think the main thing I wonder is if others feel like me. In some ways I feel frozen in time, like at a pre-puberty sort of stage where I understand what sexual things are and sort of why people pursue them, but not completely and I've never felt sexual attraction. Is this part of trauma or just me?
 
#8
I guess I just feel really alone with this, like something is deeply wrong with me. I know other survivors of sexual abuse who are able to at least participate in relationships and sex -- why can't I? I feel so defective. I imagine part of it might have to do with how young I was, the severity of the abuse, etc., but I see others that move through all this and wonder what's wrong with me?
I was sexually abused and raped a few times. I am one of those “moved on people” you refer to..at least from my own perspective. I didn’t suffer PTSD as a result. I never felt defective as a result. Past 60, I lost my sexual drive but not sexual interest. I was perhaps more open to having sexual relationships than most and they didn’t always involve romance. My best friend of over 40 years is 100% asexual. We tried having sex to address his concerns which seem similar to what you described. We are about the same age. His mom was asexual but had three kids.

My dad couldn’t keep it in his pants. I think it was tough for him to have a daughter who took sex casually cause he couldn’t really lecture me. My best friend and I are as close as can be. We peck kiss and hold hands and have never quarreled. The sex which happened 35 years ago between us was good but not sustainable for someone who is asexual. He is also except for this “preference” the happiest most well adjusted person I have ever met. His dad was a drunk and mostly absent as sailors tend to be. His mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was born was some physical deformities and knew early on that family life was not something he would choose.

I think that your question is a very relevant and valid question as to whether your lack of interest in sex is trauma related or just you. I feel very strongly that you are the only one that can answer this question. .....not those who know you or your therapist but you. Bad things happen to good people. We only know that not all develop trauma. I allowed other peoples opinion of how I expressed myself sexually to affect me and their bad conduct towards me was so much more painful than other things I have had to survive. My friend knows that I do not view him as defective. He can feel it in his bones. That was perhaps his first step towards realizing that he is not defective despite his very avoident behaviours which are a part of who he is.

Perhaps if people understood the role of hormones in our choices for how we behave sexually a little better then they might become less judgemental. Other factors can be diet and medicine ( herbal or prescribed). So if I haven’t lost you by my inability to keep matters short, my bet is that your reaction to sex is completely normal. I went from very active to zero interest due to most likely menopause. Some people can actually desire sex and then go into total panic mode when it comes time to perform. That can be a problem if you are in a relationship or desparately want one. If you desire to create the desire for sex (romantic or not) there are plenty of meditation practices found usually in big cities that focus on getting your body comfortable with touching. Tantric meditation practice is something you can research but do discuss with your therapist if you are far enough in your process to find that helpful. You can often find partners in these enviroments willing to move extremely slow cause that is the key to gradually get your body use to something new and different. If that whole idea feels awful, then no one should judge you for not pursuing it.
 

Mach123

MyPTSD Pro
#9
It's trauma related IMO. But that's why there's nothing wrong with you. You said you've been in therapy, but not trauma therapy? That's my guess?

Some people move on you said, you're right but some don't. It's a numbers game, there's no blame involved.

We are normal for people who survived CSA. My therapist drilled me with this for the first two years. I think it's the single most important concept. It defines, for me, being a survivor.

I didn't believe it then I couldn't accept it.

That's the beginning, turning that around or even getting the survivor to consider its possible.
 
#10
I was also sexually abused (by my father, and I was older than you) and it did a great deal of damage. I'm now 62 and will always have the scars from that abuse. Everyone deals with sexual abuse differently; some become promiscuous (as I did), some become asexual, some turn to addictions like alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, some turn to same-sex relationships, etc. The way humans deal with trauma is variable and unpredictable.

So first off, I think you need to be kinder to yourself, stop beating yourself up and comparing yourself to others, and don't let this sex-obsessed culture define you. Our culture has sexualized just about every marketing ad, every movie and TV show, and every Hollywood star or model. You can't escape it. And people tend to boast about their sexual exploits, but who's gonna post on Facebook about their sexual fears/abuse/failures? You'll never hear about those.

Since you were so young, I'm sure it did some pretty deep damage, as those were your formative years...a time when children are developing their understanding of relationships (which SHOULD be safe, secure, loving, and nurturing) and when they're unable to understand what's happening to them when someone abuses them. It becomes an integral part of your personality. You have a very intelligent understanding of this as evidenced by your comment: "I feel like my trauma experiences are in some ways "etched" into my mind on a neurological level".

I totally understand why you aren't into sex and why dating/having sex sounds so frightening. Your body and mind are protecting you from a perceived (but not real) danger. I don't know why you think everyone except you has gotten past their sexual abuse and is having wonderful enjoyable sex now, but it's simply not true. I know many adult survivors of sexual abuse, and I'd say that all of them still struggle in some way. For me, even though I'm married and have had a sexual relationship with my husband for 37 years, it's impossible for me to enjoy it as I would have, had I not been sexually abused, and that's even after getting a lot of counseling and group support. You are not abnormal and there's nothing wrong with you for feeling as you do.

Sex is actually a very small portion of a person's life, and it's not the thing that makes or breaks you being a whole, healthy person. Many people CHOOSE celibacy/abstinence as a lifestyle, for a variety of reasons, and it's OK to do so if you want. But if you WANT to experience sex in a healthy way, it's going to take a lot of work. I highly suggest that you find a therapist who specializes in childhood sexual abuse. The fact that you've been in therapy for 10 YEARS already isn't a great advertisement for your therapist. In 10 years, an excellent therapist would have helped you to get further along your healing and recovery.

One thing I'd really caution you against: if you decide you want to be sexually active, it will not build your confidence or help your healing process if you get into an uncommitted relationship, which will leave you feeling used and abused again. I tell you this from experience (mine and others)...a trail of short-term relationships only left me feeling used sexually, broken-hearted, unloved and unwanted, and even with a sexually transmitted disease to deal with. It only confirmed to me that sex was something men use women for, then dispose of them and move on (even though it was consensual). Not healthy. It only added to the baggage I brought into my marriage.

I know it's unpopular these days, but marriage is really the only "safe sex" one can have. If you are unmarried, you risk a lot, especially in the circumstances where you find yourself. I'd hate to see you end up even more traumatized.

You can do an internet search on recovery from early childhood sexual abuse; there are many great websites, articles, and even some free counseling available.

Finally, I will tell you that the way I finally found healing and freedom from living in past victim-mode was from the work of God in my life. He is in the business of healing and restoring. I was in a sexual abuse support group at my church, led by a counselor who herself had been sexually abused, and we worked through a book called The Door of Hope. It was hard work...boatloads of tears....but the only way through the pain was to FACE the pain and deal with all its ramifications. God forgave me for all the wrong things I had done for which I was ashamed, He removed the shame of my abuse, He helped me forgive (not forget) my father, He set me free from my murderous nightmares, He reshaped my view of myself as His precious daughter who is beautiful in His sight with a clean slate, and He started me on the road to recovery as an overcomer. If you will let Him into your life, He will do this for you too, as I've seen in multitudes of women's lives over the years. He SET ME FREE! And this isn't even something you'd do so you can become sexually active; it's what you do as a gift to yourself so you can move forward in life, feeling whole, free, and healthy again.

Don't let what happened to you so long ago continue to steal the joy, peace, purpose, and health that God intended for you. You are not your past trauma. That's what happened to you, it doesn't define who you are. I pray that you will find your value and worth in who God says you are and you start afresh in life with new hope and purpose!
 
#11
I was also sexually abused (by my father, and I was older than you) and it did a great deal of damage. I'm now 62 and will always have the scars from that abuse. Everyone deals with sexual abuse differently; some become promiscuous (as I did), some become asexual, some turn to addictions like alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, some turn to same-sex relationships, etc. The way humans deal with trauma is variable and unpredictable.

So first off, I think you need to be kinder to yourself, stop beating yourself up and comparing yourself to others, and don't let this sex-obsessed culture define you. Our culture has sexualized just about every marketing ad, every movie and TV show, and every Hollywood star or model. You can't escape it. And people tend to boast about their sexual exploits, but who's gonna post on Facebook about their sexual fears/abuse/failures? You'll never hear about those.

Since you were so young, I'm sure it did some pretty deep damage, as those were your formative years...a time when children are developing their understanding of relationships (which SHOULD be safe, secure, loving, and nurturing) and when they're unable to understand what's happening to them when someone abuses them. It becomes an integral part of your personality. You have a very intelligent understanding of this as evidenced by your comment: "I feel like my trauma experiences are in some ways "etched" into my mind on a neurological level".

I totally understand why you aren't into sex and why dating/having sex sounds so frightening. Your body and mind are protecting you from a perceived (but not real) danger. I don't know why you think everyone except you has gotten past their sexual abuse and is having wonderful enjoyable sex now, but it's simply not true. I know many adult survivors of sexual abuse, and I'd say that all of them still struggle in some way. For me, even though I'm married and have had a sexual relationship with my husband for 37 years, it's impossible for me to enjoy it as I would have, had I not been sexually abused, and that's even after getting a lot of counseling and group support. You are not abnormal and there's nothing wrong with you for feeling as you do.

Sex is actually a very small portion of a person's life, and it's not the thing that makes or breaks you being a whole, healthy person. Many people CHOOSE celibacy/abstinence as a lifestyle, for a variety of reasons, and it's OK to do so if you want. But if you WANT to experience sex in a healthy way, it's going to take a lot of work. I highly suggest that you find a therapist who specializes in childhood sexual abuse. The fact that you've been in therapy for 10 YEARS already isn't a great advertisement for your therapist. In 10 years, an excellent therapist would have helped you to get further along your healing and recovery.

One thing I'd really caution you against: if you decide you want to be sexually active, it will not build your confidence or help your healing process if you get into an uncommitted relationship, which will leave you feeling used and abused again. I tell you this from experience (mine and others)...a trail of short-term relationships only left me feeling used sexually, broken-hearted, unloved and unwanted, and even with a sexually transmitted disease to deal with. It only confirmed to me that sex was something men use women for, then dispose of them and move on (even though it was consensual). Not healthy. It only added to the baggage I brought into my marriage.

I know it's unpopular these days, but marriage is really the only "safe sex" one can have. If you are unmarried, you risk a lot, especially in the circumstances where you find yourself. I'd hate to see you end up even more traumatized.

You can do an internet search on recovery from early childhood sexual abuse; there are many great websites, articles, and even some free counseling available.

Finally, I will tell you that the way I finally found healing and freedom from living in past victim-mode was from the work of God in my life. He is in the business of healing and restoring. I was in a sexual abuse support group at my church, led by a counselor who herself had been sexually abused, and we worked through a book called The Door of Hope. It was hard work...boatloads of tears....but the only way through the pain was to FACE the pain and deal with all its ramifications. God forgave me for all the wrong things I had done for which I was ashamed, He removed the shame of my abuse, He helped me forgive (not forget) my father, He set me free from my murderous nightmares, He reshaped my view of myself as His precious daughter who is beautiful in His sight with a clean slate, and He started me on the road to recovery as an overcomer. If you will let Him into your life, He will do this for you too, as I've seen in multitudes of women's lives over the years. He SET ME FREE! And this isn't even something you'd do so you can become sexually active; it's what you do as a gift to yourself so you can move forward in life, feeling whole, free, and healthy again.

Don't let what happened to you so long ago continue to steal the joy, peace, purpose, and health that God intended for you. You are not your past trauma. That's what happened to you, it doesn't define who you are. I pray that you will find your value and worth in who God says you are and you start afresh in life with new hope and purpose!
I agree with a lot of what you said but not all of it. Getting married won't fix you and God will big picture? I found however when I went to church and "gave my life to God" I was still a non functional basket case with repressed memories of CSA. Same with getting married.

So it's not that simple. Although big picture I agree and maybe God did "fix" me but I and the people around me went through a lot while that was going on and I was nutty as a fruitcake sitting in churches.

Of course sex is safe in marriage since most of us don't have any. (Kidding!)
 
#12
I agree with a lot of what you said but not all of it. Getting married won't fix you and God will big picture? I found however when I went to church and "gave my life to God" I was still a non functional basket case with repressed memories of CSA. Same with getting married.

So it's not that simple. Although big picture I agree and maybe God did "fix" me but I and the people around me went through a lot while that was going on and I was nutty as a fruitcake sitting in churches.

Of course sex is safe in marriage since most of us don't have any. (Kidding!)
Thanks for your response to my post. I hope I didn't give the impression that marriage or God will "fix" everything. I meant that marriage is the only place where you'll be in a committed, safe (hopefully) relationship where sex won't leave us feeling used and abused. And as far as God goes, He WILL heal (not totally fix) but only IF you let Him. It took years of me being a Christian and being completely messed up before I was ready to do the work that needed to be done. It wasn't easy; it was painful and so difficult. But pure worth it. My husband was a saint, having to go through a lot of hell with me to get to the other side. He has paid a high price for my baggage, but by God's grace and his patience, we got through it. I'm so grateful to have a husband who was willing to walk alongside me in my pain.
 
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