an exclusive interview with wendy maltz

in june 2000 i conducted this interview with sexual therapist wendy maltz, author of "the sexual healing journey," a book which has helped many survivors on their journey toward recovering their sexuality. she is a woman who has been helping people strengthen bonds to achieve intimacy and trust for more than twenty years. it has been a great honor to conduct this interview with such a caring and dedicated individual. i encourage everyone to visit her website (http://www.healthysex.com) and consider therapy as an option in your healing.


WHEN DID YOUR INTEREST IN SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLATION BEGIN?

In the 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 sexuality.

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 relationships.

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.