Brittany P. from Butterfly Closures wrote an interesting article on the effects of child abuse on adult sexuality. She writes, among other things, about the inability to have an orgasm even when a sexual encounter is pleasant. I do not know how commonly this occurs, and Brittany wonders whether she’s alone in it, but I can understand its dynamics. Many sexual abuse victims orgasm when they are being raped, and often feel that their sexual pleasure is stolen from them by their perpetrators that way. Contrary to common belief, orgasming does not mean you wanted it. Even though it is influenced by one’s mind’s perception of pleasure, this is not a voluntary mechanism: sexual sitmulation is pleasant to some subconscious brains, even if consciously you don’t find it pleasant at all.
Brittany also writes about the effects of the inability to orgasm on a potential relationship. To this, I replied that a sensitive partner will understand the lack of orgasm doesn’t mean you didn’t like it. After all, you may not want sex and still orgasm, but the reverse is also true.
I want to address one more issue in this post: the fear of orgasm. I have this because of sensory issues that have probably little to do with abuse, but it is understandable that survivors of sexual abuse will have the same feeling, especially if they orgasmed during abuse. The connection between pleasure and orgasm is lost, in a way, and it is hard to gain this back. Orgasming can be triggering, too, because it reminds you of the abuse. This is also hard to overcome: when you don’t want sex because of the trigger, it would be unwise to give in anyway. That way, you run the risk of being retraumatized, after all. I don’t know of any solutions to this at this point.
Patricia Singleton of Spritiual Journey of a Lightworker has a very validating brief post on memories, self-doubt and disbelief among survivors of abuse. In this post, she highlights that memories will come to your conscious when you are ready to deal with them, and that the self-doubt many survivors have does not indicate that the memories are not real, but that the survivor is not ready to face their feelings.
Joke Lijnse, a Dutch psychologist specializing in dissociative disorders, writes that traumatic memories, unlike other memories, remain intact until they are recovered. Regular memories are distorted by our reconstructive capacity when recalling them, but traumatic memories, she says, come to your conscious unchanged. This does not mean they come to mind in full at once: many people experience flashbacks and memories that only have a certain component of the actual event to them, such as a smell, the perpetrator’s appearance, or an emotion experienced during the abuse. Now I am not certain what Lijnse’s opinion is based on, and have not looked for research that validates it, so I am not sure she is right.
However, in essence, it is not important whether your memories are 100% true, unless you are going to pursue legal action based on them. The things that are important, are the emotions you experience as you recover and process a traumatic memory and the way you cope with these feelings. Therefore, constant self-doubt and invalidation are not going to be productive. Rather, we need to be validated in our experiences and validate our own feelings. Memories may or may not be distorted, but you have to deal with them as they come to you in the present, not as you experienced them in the past.
Yesterday, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prvention (CDC) released a report that found that the annual cost of child maltreatment (CM) is $124 billion. Child maltreatment includes physical, psychological and sexual abuse as well as neglect. YaMinco of the Children’s Monitor comments on the report:
The study highlights some evidence-based strategies for addressing CM, including a promising array of prevention and intervention programs with great potential to reduce the economic burden of maltreatment. Although longitudinal research on the economic burden of fatal and non-fatal CM is still very limited, the study suggests that in economic terms the burden is so substantial that the benefits of prevention will likely outweigh the costs for effective programs.
I found it most interesting that fatal child abuse is more expensive than non-fatal abuse. Now that I loked at the CDC news release, it makes sense, since they count productivity losses and a dead child can’t work. However, please also note the substantial criminal, mental health, medical and educational costs for a child who survives maltreatment. If this doesn’t signal that child abuse is an urgent public health concern, I don’t know what does.