Survivor concerned about intimacy.


Dear Stop It Now!,

I'm 22 years old and have a history of sexual abuse by my family members. I sought out help recently because my sexual life with my boyfriend was being affected by my past abuse. In therapy, I was told I had PTSD, and I was put on a special 8 week program for sexual abuse survivors. The program helped me a lot with managing my feelings and educating me on how to better manage my situation (like living with a mother who has continued contact and relationships with two of my abusers/her brothers). But as far as in the bedroom, I feel like nothing has changed. It's really putting a stress on my relationship, for both me and my boyfriend. It's not fair to either of us but I seriously have no idea what to do. I feel like my PTSD is ruining my relationship, and any chance of a healthy sex life.

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Dear Frustrated Survivor,

I’m so sorry to hear that you were abused as a child, and so glad that you reached out for help. If it is at all helpful to you, know that you are not alone in having to face these problems.  Most survivors have been deeply impacted by the child sexual abuse and with support, they have been able to heal and recover.

It’s great that the program you completed was able to help you with so many other aspects of this abuse’s effect on your life, but I can understand how hard it can be to still face some of the same challenges. You’re courageously taking steps to take back your life on your terms, and you want that to include every part of it - including an intimate relationship.

Continuing Help
Even though I imagine it may feel like this program may have failed you in regards to intimate parts of your relationship, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope. It may be that you need additional counseling, or a different type of counseling, to help you with this part of your recovery. Our Finding and Choosing Professional Treatment resource list has some articles that explain the many different options available in counseling, and may be useful in making the next steps in your recovery.

Because you are facing a very specific issue, it may help to seek out a professional counselor with experience in working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse as well as the challenges your PTSD is causing you in your relationship. Tools like the Psychology Today Find a Therapist search or’s Advanced Search for a Therapist allow you to specify the issues a counselor should be experienced in addressing. This means you can find counselors in your area who specialize in both child sexual abuse (listed as “sexual abuse” on both sites), as well as sex therapy or relationship issues.  

Recovery… At Your Own Pace
What you’re experiencing is a struggle that many other survivors also face, and I want you to know that there is help and support available. While it sounds like this is something you want to pursue for yourself as well as for your relationship, I also hope that you aren’t putting pressure on yourself to move forward in any ways you don’t feel ready. As you address this part of your relationship, it’s important to honor your needs working through your experiences of abuse, whether through counseling to address it or letting yourself move forward at your own pace.

Our Adult Survivor Resources and Support includes resources for additional professional support options for yourself, as well as Support for Partners, which may be helpful for your boyfriend as he continues to support you in your healing process. You may also want to review some of the online supports and forums for survivors of child sexual abuse. Although these are run by peers and not professionals, you may be able to connect with others facing similar issues, seek advice, and see how they are working through it.

Moving Forward Together
Because you mention that this has been putting stress on both of you, I wonder if you’ve considered couples counseling to address the way it’s affecting your relationship. It sounds like your boyfriend has been supportive thus far on your path to recovery. It may be helpful to involve him in your recovery process, if you feel comfortable doing so, so that you can both find a way to work through this together.

It’s important to remember that you are a resilient survivor, working through your abuse to live a full and happy life. It’s part of what make you the brave, strong individual that you are. It can be incredibly difficult when these experiences have such negative or even painful effects on your relationships, but I hope that both you and your boyfriend can continue to face your healing process with patience and love for yourself as a whole person.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: November 13th, 2018