Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sexual Feelings During Sexual Abuse

I'm posting this because (I'm very ashamed to admit this) it is something I struggle with. This is an incredibly difficult subject. I find it rather embarrassing to even post this article. I've been thinking a lot about this since my session with my counsellor yesterday... I think it's time I start to deal with this area as I believe it to be one of the major causes of my shame and disgust with myself. The more I avoid this topic, the more taboo I make it for myself and the more difficult my healing will be. So, over the next little while this is going to be my focus. I was going to keep this private and journal on my own, but I want to share this with other survivors who may be feeling similiars things or have had similiar experiences and also feel very ashamed and embarrassed....

Sexual Feelings During Sexual Abuse
by Kali Munro, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2004

Many sexual abuse survivors have trouble dealing with the fact that their body was sexually stimulated and felt aroused during the abuse. They may feel guilty and ashamed that they responded to the stimulation, and confused about why they did.

Feeling aroused during abuse is not an issue for every survivor. Some survivors never felt any kind of sexual arousal during the abuse. Others felt some sexual arousal, but readily accept that it didn't mean anything more than an automatic reflex response to touch. Still others experienced some pleasurable feelings in their bodies during the abuse, but because those feelings were overshadowed by the pain of the abuse, it isn't an issue for them either.

However, there are many survivors who are deeply affected by their bodies' natural responses. Some agonize over how their bodies responded to the stimulation; they experienced the sexual arousal as a humiliation, and believe it reflects negatively on them that their body responded at all. They perceive their body's response as a betrayal, with the abuser "winning," and they hate their bodies for it. This is compounded by the fact some abusers deliberately try to force a victim to have an orgasm so that the survivor will mistakenly believe that they wanted or enjoyed the abuse.

Other survivors enjoyed some of the bodily sensations that came from the stimulation, but feel guilty, ashamed, and/or secretive about that fact because they believe - or fear - that it means there is something wrong with them because they're "not supposed" to feel that way in the context of abuse. These survivors often keep their experience a secret for fear that no one will understand how they could have liked some parts of it.

Some gay survivors remark that it was only during sexual abuse that they became aware of the possibility of same-sex sexual activity, and while they know that what they experienced was abuse, they learned something about their sexuality, and may have liked some of the stimulation. It is very concerning that some gay youth only learn about same-sex sex in the context of abuse!

In all cases, if a survivor found some of the stimulation during the abuse pleasurable, it does not mean that it was not abuse, that they weren't hurt by it, that it wasn't serious, or that it had less impact. Abuse is abuse, regardless of how the victim's body responded. Further, for boys, achieving an erection does not necessarily mean that they are aroused; boys can have erections when they are afraid.

Why is this issue rarely addressed?

The impact of having been sexually stimulated or aroused during abuse is rarely addressed, and when it is it is given minimal attention. One reason why this is such a neglected subject is that we live in a culture that is uncomfortable with the thought that children can have sexual feelings at all, let alone during abuse. Many people like to think that children are asexual, and believe that those who suggest otherwise are sexual perverts. To further suggest that children who are sexually abused might experience some sexual arousal is to risk being viewed as promoting sexual abuse, or at very least minimizing it. But how are we to help survivors deal with this issue unless we are prepared to talk about it while not minimizing the abuse?

Just as it is shocking for many people to think that sexual abuse could lead a child to feel aroused or to feel pleasure in their body, it is equally, or perhaps more shocking, to survivors themselves to acknowledge this. Many survivors suffer about this issue in silence, wondering if their body's feelings and reactions meant that they liked, wanted, caused, or encouraged the abuse, or worse, made them as bad as the abuser.

I understand not wanting to talk about this issue for fear that it will fuel the argument that "sexual abuse isn't so bad because some kids like it" - a false argument which is used to minimize the impact of abuse. But by acknowledging that some children feel aroused reduces the emotional charge, or stigma, associated with it, and helps survivors to heal.

Feeling sexual arousal in the context of abuse does not mean that the abuse was okay, nor that the abuse did not negatively effect the victim. A parallel argument can be made that if the love of your life suddenly dies, and you receive tens of thousands of dollars from life insurance, money that you desperately need, this doesn't mean that you like the fact that your partner died or that you're not suffering from that loss. Liking that you have money to support you, or needing that money, does not change the basic fact of what happened, or how devastated you feel at the loss of your lover.

Children are sexual beings

Given that children are sexual beings and can be sexual stimulated during abuse, it's understandable that some children enjoyed the feelings of arousal in their bodies. They did not enjoy the abuse; they enjoyed their body's natural reactions and sensations, and perhaps some aspects of how the perpetrator treated them. If the abuser gave them attention or was kind to them, that may have felt enjoyable too. It's also understandable if that child, later as an adult, feels upset if someone tells them that they couldn't have enjoyed any part of it because it was abuse. How does the adult survivor reconcile the reality that her/his body did feel sexual when they "weren't supposed" to? They feeling guilty and ashamed. On the other hand, it's also understandable if that adult survivor feels upset about her/his body having felt aroused since it occurred in the context of abuse.

How to deal with this issue

If you are a survivor and your body responded to the sexual stimulation during the abuse, it's important to find positive ways to reconcile that reality within yourself without concluding that you are "sick" or "bad," or that your body is. The first step is to acknowledge to yourself how your body felt, and later to a supportive and understanding person. Try to do this without judgement, but if you can't, simply telling yourself and someone else (who is non-judgemental) how you felt will help reduce some of the guilt, shame, isolation, and secrecy.

If you feel judgemental about yourself, remember that feelings are simply feelings, nothing more. They are not facts or statements; they do not say anything about you or anyone else, other than you are a fully feeling human being. It's normal to experience a range of feelings during abuse, and one of those feelings may be sexual. It might help to remember the other feelings you felt during or after the abuse, because you did not simply feel sexual feelings, but you also probably felt betrayal, sadness, fear, confusion, and hurt, even if you didn't realize that until you were much older.

There are different ways of thinking about this issue, and survivors have come up with different ways of dealing with it. Some survivors conclude that the arousal they experienced was a physiological reaction that had nothing to do with the perpetrator, and everything to do with their own body's natural responses. That is true. Others conclude that while there was some element of arousal that arose from the physical stimulation, the relationship with the perpetrator was important, and contributed to how they felt - for instance, they liked/loved the perpetrator, had a friendly relationship with her/him, felt taken care of during the abuse, and this led to feeling pleasure. They let go of their guilt or confusion by acknowledging that they felt a draw to the relationship out of their emotional needs, vulnerability, and/or neglect, and by recognizing that it was okay that they felt and responded that way.

Some survivors take the position that regardless of how they learned what they learned about their body and their sexuality (what they enjoy sexually, how to have an orgasm, that they are attracted to the same sex, etc.), they like what they know about their body and intend to enjoy it without guilt, because this knowledge is about them and their body, not the perpetrator. Even if they learned some of those things from what the perpetrator did, that doesn't mean that the perpetrator "owns" those things. They are the only ones who can own their body's responses and sexuality.

Some survivors find that they are able to accept their feelings of physical arousal, without judgement when they feel compassion for themselves, and other survivors include feeling compassion for their abusers. Their compassion helps them to let go of judgement, and to see themselves as the innocent children they were.

Some survivors find that feeling shame about having sexual feelings prevents them from fully processing their memories. As soon as they remember and feel sexual feelings, they distance themselves from the memory and can't go any further with it. They're stuck there, unable to release their emotions or fully process the memory. When they released some shame and could think about the whole incident(s) by writing the memory out or telling someone their story, they were able to step back and see the situation with a new perspective and understanding. That process helped them to accept what happened and feel at peace with themselves.

How you feel about having sexual feelings during the abuse (as well as when you remember the abuse and/or read about sexual abuse) has a direct impact on how you view the abuse and yourself, and what you think about the abuse affects how you feel, which is why it's important to work on releasing feelings and critiquing what you think. Some survivors need to think a lot about it first, and others need to feel their feelings first. If you're stuck in one mode, try the other mode. For example if you're stuck in the thinking mode, let yourself feel what you felt - then and now - without judgement. Your feelings will pass, in time, and that alone will help you to think about yourself with more objectivity and less judgement.

The abuser is responsible for the abuse, regardless of how you felt

No matter how you felt during the abuse or feel now, you are not responsible for the abuse. Even if you felt some pleasure or enjoyment; or you wanted some aspects to continue; or you were sexually attracted to the abuser; or you sought the abuser out, the abuser is always responsible for the abuse and not the child. Think about it this way: if a child sought you out for sexual stimulation, would you do it?

You are not to blame for what the abuser did, and you and your body are completely separate from the abuser. Even if it doesn't feel that way, it's still true. It doesn't matter what your body did or didn't do; you and your body were simply coping as best you could given the circumstances (which might have included a larger context of neglect and/or other forms of abuse and dysfunction too).

It helps to heal by acknowledging how you truly felt and how your body responded, to think about positive ways of interpreting those responses, to not judge yourself, to place the responsibility for the abuse on the abuser, and to view your body separately from the abuse and the abuse. Other things you can do to feel more comfortable with your body and sex include: being gentle with your body; holding and massaging emotionally charged areas with your hand and having a partner hold and massage the area as well (this will help the area to let go of some of the emotional charge - the feelings associated with the abuse); gently stroking any area of your body that defends, tightens, numbs, or otherwise reacts to sexual touch; taking sex slowly and stopping when you need to; breathing; laughing; and having fun with sex, touch, and holding. You are meant to - and can - enjoy your body and all of its beautiful sensations during sex.

It's possible to heal

Experiencing sexual feelings during abuse is not something anyone should have to feel guilty about. Children feel what they feel during abuse, including sexual feelings, and there is nothing wrong with that. For some survivors the fact that they felt sexually aroused in an abuse context is embarrassing or shameful to admit but the more survivors - in fact, all of us - talk about this issue, the easier and less shameful it becomes. When we talk openly about something, we take away its power or emotional charge. Survivors reduce the emotional charge, connected to this issue, by talking/writing/drawing about it; not listening to anyone who tells them how they "should" feel; acknowledging and accepting how they felt and feel; recognizing that none of their feelings make them crazy or bad, or like the abuser; and by fostering compassion and understanding for themselves and their body. It's possible to feel better about this issue - one tiny step at a time.

Kali Munro, © 2004
Edited by Cheryl Rainfield
All rights reserved.

If you would like to reprint this article on your website, you may, providing you print it in its entirety, credit me, and give a link to my site - -


Holly said...

Hi Survivor,
This is one area even Rape Victims do not address, it is so important. Thank you for the article and posting it! Excellent choice! Many will be helped in reading it, maybe some will start talking about the issue! Take care

The Missing Link said...

i haven't read this article, or the one below yet, but just wanted to say thanks for posting all of the articles you do post here... as soon as i start to read them, i start to suffocate... i slowly start to feel all of the energy drain out of my broken, fragile little body. i do often check back & read in pieces, so... thanks... and i hope you continue to post this kind of stuff, despite the content, esp. b/c we (survivors) are EVERYWHERE. much love

survivor said...

Thanks Holly!

survivor said...

Hey ML,

I'm glad you find the articles even though they are triggering and scary to read.

I force myself to read them and try to deal with the reactions. I find it helpful the more knowledge I have...

Hang in there... WE can do this! Remember... it HAS to get better and it DOES get better!!

Stay strong... and take good care of you

jumpinginpuddles said...

its even harder to deal with when the perp has made sexual arousal present so the guilt is even harder to deal with. Some perps get off by making their victims feel stimulated then the perp uses that as an excuse as they were ready for it.
Even though the body might have been stimulated doest mean the head is saying the same thing. And that is the hardest thing of all.

survivor said...

How right you are jump...

Jen said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I dont feel so alone or confused anymore. I dont know if I can ever forgive myself or my body, but reading this has been a little step in the right direction.

ps. very ironically my word verifcation to publish this comment was 'nodie'...

cas said...

thankyou so much for this article, it has given me faith and comfort what i was feeling was felt by others. i am drowning in guilt and depression at the moment, am trying to begin to heal and must get help. this article has helped me see this, i have lived with the shame for so long.

Anonymous said...

thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting this. I've been having feelings I deemed as "perverted." I was raped and now am feeling the guilt from being aroused during. I was starting to believe I was a freak-- Thank you for putting me at ease

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for putting this up. I am in my late 30s and am only just starting to address the shame and guilt I feel.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this.


=] I'm studying nursing, I intended to take up psychology and I'm still taking some courses in psychology that is required for my nursing major. Came across your blog and I noticed your posts on sexual abuse and incest. I admire your courage and I agree that the body naturally responds to stimulation. There should not be shame nor guilt. I hope you will heal and so will the rest of the survivors. I may use this for future reference in my assignments. <3

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article... ten years on and off in therapy have finally led to the point where I can accept the physiological stimulation I experienced and also the feelings of being important, special etc. I think these factors led me to seek out the abuse (after it had started). I am still coming to grips with the shame I feel about this, your article was very reassuring and validating, thank you x

Anonymous said...

Sexual arousal can occur in cases of intense generalized distress. This can happen in cases of rape and is no indication of enjoyment.In fact other element during the assaul (e.g. feelings, imagery, cognitions) are negative indicating it is an aversive experience. I have addressed this issue in part in my doctoral dissertation: The Psychological Impact of Sexual Assault on Post-puberty Sexual Females -Implications for Counselling and Education (University of Calgary,1982.)


Anonymous said...

Thank you so very very much. You have helped me realize that I am not the monster I thought I was. The guilt was overwhelming and threatening to devour me. Your article helped me see that some of what I experienced was ok.
Sincere and grateful thanks from a 65 yr old survivor.

fosgate3 said...

This is good information. I am a school psychologist and it just so happened that a junior high student opened up to me today about an experience she had with her dad while visiting him last summer. We discussed the event and a report was made. I hope for the best for her and will support her as much as I can.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I am SO glad I came across your article. I am 48yrs old and am still working through the sexual abuse I experienced as a child and adolscent. One big part for me--that I am for the first time addressing with a very caring therapist--is my own arousal during the incidents of my abuse, and how I must be at fault. My therapist is trying to assure me that the physical arousal I felt was automatic, and does not mean I wanted to be abused. This has affected me my whole life in other sexual situations--mainly by "turning off" whenever I feel aroused.
Anyway, lots to work on, and glad I'm not alone:)

Anonymous said...

thank you... this article answers most/ if not all my shameful feelings...

Anonymous said...

I know its true but it still does not help me knowing it if that makes sense ,

A Survivor said...

I am 60 yrs. old and am just addressing the emotional part of my abuse. I dealt with it intellectually in the past. That's only a small part of it. It is embarrassing, that at age 60, I still harbor these feelings. It is important for everyone to know that IT'S NEVER TOO LATE AND YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD to right the wrong that was perpetrated upon you. Trust me, you'll feel a whole lot better about yourself. I've been seeing a therapist for all of the issues related to sexual abuse that have made my life less than easy; trust, self-loathing, guilt for feeling sexual arousal, low self-esteem, open to more emotional abuse, etc. Although extremely tough, I've spoken about the abuse, but not the guilt of aroused feelings because of shame and embarrassment. Your article made me realize that I must address this, and I will when I next see my therapist. Thank you for allowing me to see how important it is to deal with this facet of my abuse. May all of us survivors get past this very negative and injurious aspect of our lives and lead the life we have a right to want and expect.

Most gratefully,

A Survivor

Anonymous said...

I have recently begun to remember realise and accept that it was not erotic dreams or fantasy but that I was sexually active and engaged with my father from the age of about 15 (I can remember the holiday location, time of year, day of the week but not the actual year of the first occurrence) and which continued regularly if not frequently (I wss at boarding school, then university) till I was 20 (and my father died). I don't understand how I could have forgotten, although I became very religious after my father's death (a huge shock) although still "secretly" sexually promiscuous.
I suspect that my blocking things out was due to the dissonance between moral, social and religious taboos against incest (which theme I also began to study in lit. at uni, in passing) and my (now recalled) significant sexual arousal and pleasure in sexual activities with my father and my consistently almost seeking out encounters (I am remembering wanting, enjoying and seeking oral, manual and penetrative sex with my father).
I don't think it felt like abuse - I don't see myself as a victim or survivor, more an initiate - although I have spent most of my adult life with issues, psych problems and struggling against promiscuity; some of which probs. I attributed to emotional abuse from my mother, but which is obv. the effects of inappropriate and premature sexual activity, I guess. I also don't think it felt like incest: I don't want to call it that, and it did not seem wrong or dirty, or taboo at the time. It seemed ... like enjoyable sexual activity, with one particular older man (I had sex with other older men too at that time). I knew enough to keep quiet (but I did about all sexual encounters) but I don't think I knew or understood fully what incest was nor. in a real way, what the moral, social, psych or religious prohibitions were.
I knew not to get pregnant, but then I knew that of all my sexual encounters - my father always used a condom, and after the first intercourse encounter, when I returned home from France, I was fitted with a diaphragm too.
I know it should NOW seem wrong, in retrospect, but it was so enjoyable. And I don't think I would chose to rebuff it if I were to live my life over.

Anonymous said...

thank u 4 posting this...I am helping a friend with this very issue..helps me know I am directing her in the right direction of thinking...she feels so betrayed by her body and hates herself for it.I'm gonna try 2 get her 2 read this..There is not much info i can find about this to help guide me 2 help her.. Thank u again.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I know the fact that it's always spoken of as something in the past doesn't help. Fantisising about abuse is just repulsive, but it's arousing, even oh so many years later. However, I have found (mentally) that other consentual sex can be arousing too- maybe one of these days