Why My Sexual Desires as an Adult Disgust Me as a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse


Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt disgusted by the idea of sex. While my teenage friends embarked on a journey to discover their sexuality, I forced myself to live in a “pure world” — a world without sex or sexual desires.

I call this a “pure world” because to me, sex — as I have known it — has always been an act of violence and control. As such, my experience of it has been the very opposite of pure. My first encounter with “sex,” not that it should be called that, was a dark one. I don’t know at what age it began, but my earliest sexual memories are from around 7 years old. My abuser was an older family member who was entrusted with my care. It went on for years. He used my body like a piece of meat, casting aside his humanity in favor of his own sick sexual desires. It finally stopped when my mother ended her marriage to my father, due to a completely separate kind of abuse.

The next few years were spent in (what I now know to be) a repressed memory state. Far away from both my father and my abuser, I was finally free to experience life as a semi-happy child and while those years were beautiful, they are also tainted by my denial. What came next changed me forever. It happened in a sexual education class. I was 14. I can’t recall the details or the moments that led up to it, but I do remember the laughter — how the boys cheered and the girls blushed. I remember feeling outside of my body as if I were watching myself from afar. I remember running. I remember hallways that would follow me in nightmares for years to come. I recall questions, lots of questions, and then days of confusion — days that wove into weeks that melded into months and finally into years of ongoing flashbacks, dissociation and anxiety.

While everyone around me was experiencing their first kiss and eventually their first sexual encounter, I was creating what I perceived to be this “pure world” — a world free from sex or sexual desire. If a friend tried to talk to me about sex, my reaction would be to either dissociate or laugh. Both were involuntary. Neither were welcomed. 

This was a phase I expected to outgrow, yet somehow it followed me everywhere I went — from school to college, college to university, from meaningless romances to the serious relationship I find myself in today. Simply put, sex = repulsion. Sex = bad. Sex = shame.

To combat this repulsion and fear of sex, I threw myself into several relationships; I really don’t recommend doing this. It was my hope I would find someone who made me see sex as something positive, desired even. Here’s where it got confusing. I began to notice I did enjoy intimacy, or rather I craved the idea of it, but I was so haunted by this deep shame I felt whenever I gave in to these desires.

Throughout the years, I toyed with the idea I might be gay because my repulsion seemed to be more directed towards men. I discovered I was absolutely fine with being gay; in fact, I would even say I was happy about it because it finally gave me the answers I needed. I tried to date women and for the most part, it felt good because they were able to provide me with a kind of safety I had never before experienced. I now understand this safety to be related to the trauma I experienced at the hands of men. With women, there was no threat of violence. I felt pure when I was with a woman, but as things progressed and sexual desires were discussed, I realized that no matter who I was with, I still felt disgusted and ashamed by my sexual desires.

What I didn’t realize throughout this entire battle was that I had been avoiding the one thing that likely caused my disgust: the abuse. 

The abuse changed me. What I experienced as a child changed me. I had no idea what was happening to me, and as such, I now feel contaminated by him and what he did to me. When I think of sex, I have no other association with it other than how my childhood abuser used it to control me. It makes me feel dirty, tainted, impure. It is no wonder, therefore, that I created such a “pure world” for myself in which sex didn’t or couldn’t exist.

Years on, I have finally found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, but the simple act of being in a relationship with him interferes with my unrealistic ideal of living in that “pure world.” As such, I am consistently torn between my own desires and my disgust surrounding sex — between my terrified inner child and my adult self, the one who craves intimacy. 

In my sound mind, I know that having sexual desires is nothing to be ashamed of, but when it comes down to it, I just cannot separate myself from my abuser. I try to remind myself that abuse is an act of violence, not love. Abuse isn’t about desire but is instead about force and manipulation. My own desires couldn’t be any further in the opposite direction from those of my abuser, but still… the simple notion that I have any kind of sexual desire is always linked to my abuser. It comes back down to that simple equation: sex = bad. 

So any time my partner and I attempt to be intimate together, I shut down both mentally and physically. My body locks and my muscles tighten — a symptom of vaginismus. Rationally, I know I am no longer that child who was abused, but my body still holds onto the trauma and my mind still associates sex with sexual abuse. In moments of sexual desire, I find myself asking: If I’m sexual now, does it mean I wanted the abuse to happen? Am I allowed to have these desires? Do these desires make me and my abuser alike?

There are rare times when I’m able to switch off the thoughts, when I’ve given into my desires, but this brings with it a new challenge. How do you accept your sexual desires when you are so repulsed by them?

For our first few years together, my partner had absolutely no idea of the breakdowns I experienced in the bathroom after we were intimate — crying, shaking, nausea and regretful shame. To him, we shared something beautiful — something pure. I rationally understand it’s perfectly natural to want to be intimate with your partner, but my mind tells me I’ve just partaken in something dirty — something vulgar. The problem is, I’m still trying to protect that little girl who was abused and by allowing my adult self to be intimate with my partner, I feel like I’m corrupting her all over again. This time, I feel like I’m my inner child’s abuser.

Nowadays, I’m trying to be more open with my partner. I’m trying to experience pleasure without guilt by talking about it every step of the way, but it isn’t easy. My inner child calls out to me often. She’s terrified of being hurt again and I am so scared of hurting her. The best thing I can try to do for her right now is to listen to what she has to say and try to learn from it. If we work together, perhaps we will be able to heal and relinquish his control over us both.

Getty Images photo via Archv


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