Dealing with childhood sexual abuse

Published:

Dear Sex Counselor,

I’ve never told anyone before, but I was sexually abused as a child. It happened when I was around 7 or 8 years old. I’m 30 now, and some of the abuse my father did to me I can recall like it happened five minutes ago, but sometimes I have a hard time recalling. It’s really fuzzy like I dreamed it happened, but I know it was not a dream! I think I always felt bad about what he did to me - not because I felt it was my fault, but because I liked some of the stuff he did to me! Does this make me a sick person? Even today sometimes when I masturbate I think about it. I don’t want to, but it just seems to pop up in my mind. What should I do?


First, it is not uncommon for those who have been sexually abused to have experienced some of the abuse as pleasurable. Nerve endings do not know what is abuse and what is not, and it is certainly possible that the way your father touched you felt good sometimes. The impact of sexual abuse happens because of the violation of trust and boundaries, not necessarily because the abuser did something that physically hurt you. So your memories of physical pleasure remain, even though you know in your heart and your head that what he did was wrong.

It is also not unusual for a survivor of sexual abuse to remember those pleasurable feelings during masturbation. The issue is how you feel about the scenes that pop into your head, and if they disturb you. If they are disturbing to you, you can begin a process of replacing those fantasies with others. It takes work, and you will need to find those images and scenarios that also carry an erotic charge for you, and deliberately think about them during masturbation. If your fantasies are disturbing to you, I recommend seeking out Wendy Maltz’s most recent book on women’s fantasies (I can’t remember the exact title, but you can probably find it at most larger bookstores). She has a whole section aimed at abuse survivors and helping them alter their fantasies to those which would be more comfortable to them. If your fantasies are not disturbing to you, but you feel guilty about having them because you think you shouldn’t be thinking that, then I would suggest you work on letting go of the guilt. What you fantasize about is not what you want to happen in reality; you are not subconsciously saying that what happened was right, or that you invited it in any way.

I hope you have also gotten some support from a support group or therapist so that you can understand how your abuse interacts with your adult sexuality. If not, you may want to seek out some short-term counseling to help you get clearer about what feels right and healthy to you, and to help you get a perspective on how others integrate their adult sexuality into their lives.

No, you aren’t sick. You’re very normal. I hope you can now decide what you feel most comfortable with, set aside any guilt you have (guilt is not a helpful emotion unless you are somehow hurting someone else with your actions and feel guilty about that), and make conscious choices about how you want to experience pleasure.

The Sex Counselor