WHEN DID YOUR INTEREST IN SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLATION BEGIN?
late 1970's I began practicing as a marriage counselor and sex therapist
in Eugene, Oregon. A hefty portion of the people I was helping could
not relate to traditional sex therapy exercises. The exercises were too
much, too sexual. I began asking more about people's past sexual
experiences and discovered that many had sexual abuse histories. I did
research to find special techniques and approaches for survivors and
found very little material of help. So I began working with my clients
to find and invent treatments that helped them reclaim healthy
WHAT ARE A FEW OF THE SEXUAL PROBLEMS YOU MOST OFTEN RUN INTO WITH SURVIVORS?
In general, survivors seem to either fear and avoid sex or
approach it compulsively. Many experience negative feelings with touch,
such as anger, disgust, and guilt. And there are often problems becoming
aroused, feeling sensation, and feeling present during sex. They may be
troubled with intrusive disturbing thoughts, fantasies and flashbacks of
the abuse. Sexual functioning problems, such as difficulty having
orgasms, or climaxing quickly, often exist. Due to unresolved trust
issues, fears, or poor partner selections, it's not unusual for
survivors to have difficulty establishing or maintaining intimate
WHAT ARE A FEW THINGS YOU RECOMMEND THE SURVIVOR DO ALONE TO AID THE HEALING PROCESS?
Work through as much of the sexual abuse repercussions
as possible (ie. resolve feelings towards the perpetrator, family of
origin, and others). Learn and practice good self-care (mentally and
physically). Do things that improve your self-esteem, communication
skills, and ability to protect and take care of yourself. Assertiveness
training and self-defense classes can be particularly helpful. Learn
about healthy sexuality --what it is and how it differs from abusive and
addictive sexuality--and sexual functioning and disease protection. (I
have helpful articles and charts on my website: www.healthysex.com, as
well as several videos for couples healing the sexual repercussions of
sexual abuse, distributed by Intervision at 1-800-678-3455).
WHAT ARE A FEW THINGS YOU RECOMMEND THE SURVIVOR DOES WITH HIS/HER PARTNER TO AID THE HEALING PROCESS?
Read and learn about sexual healing
together. There is a chapter in my book, The Sexual Healing Journey,
written primarily for partners and couples. The understanding, love and
cooperation of an intimate partner is very important when it comes to
relearning touch and new approaches to sex.
WHAT SHOULD BE A SURVIVOR'S GOAL AS HE/SHE RECOVERS A SENSE OF INTIMACY AND TRUST?
Self-empowerment. Stop old destructive behaviors of
withdrawing or acting out which weaken self-esteem and threaten
relationships. Learn to identify, honor, and speak up for how you feel
and what you need. Get professional help when needed. Give yourself
permission to take what ever time you need to heal. Learn all you can
and create a healing program that works for you.
WHAT CAN YOU RECOMMEND FOR SURVIVORS WHO ARE ENCOUNTERING FLASHBACKS DURING SEXUAL EXPERIENCES?
Learn about the four-step approach to coping
with automatic reactions, described in The Sexual Healing Journey.
These involve, stop--become aware you are having a reaction, calm
yourself--with relaxation and massage, affirm your present
reality--remind yourself who you are, how old you are and where you are,
approach/alter--at some time, reapproach touch in a new way, making
adjustments so it feels comfortable. If you are having lots of
flashbacks with touch and sex, it can mean that something about the past
is unresolved and still troubling you. Get help to figure it out.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR A PARTNER OF A SURVIVOR TO UNDERSTAND?
You, too, are a victim of the survivor's past abuse. What the
perpetrator of the abuse did, harms you as well. Intimacy problems are
common in couples in which one or both were previously abused. Healing
is possible. By being part of the healing process you strengthen your
relationship skills, which in turn, improves the qualilty and pleasure
of your relationship for years to come.