Free of the past

Free of the past

Sexual abuse haunts people throughout their lives

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 11/05/2013

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Dear Patti,
My husband Rob and I always read your column together and I’m hoping he will listen to your advice concerning a difficult subject. After we had been married five years, he shared with me that as a young boy he was repeatedly sexually molested by his uncle, who has since died. Rob doesn’t think he needs to talk to a professional about what happened. He says the problem was buried with his uncle and that’s the end of it. I, however, don’t believe the problem is dead, as I’ve always seen signs of what happened to Rob. Although he’s a wonderful, giving lover, he often denies himself sexual pleasure and always needs to be in control. He doesn’t like sexual positions where he’s not dominant, nor does he like me to initiate sex. If I come across even a little bit aggressive, he loses his erection.   

Rob can’t understand why I’m bringing all this up now after 11 years of a satisfying marriage and sex life. “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,” is his motto. When I first met him, I was so enamored that I barely spoke up, but as I’ve gotten older I’m more comfortable in directly speaking my mind. My husband and I are wonderful together sexually and romantically, but I truly believe if he faced what happened to him and how it affected him, his life and our sex life could be even better.

— Tammy

Dear Rob,
Since your wife explained that you would be reading this column, I’m going to write directly to you. Childhood sexual abuse infringes on the very basic rights as individuals should be able to have sexual experiences at the appropriate developmental time and within their own control and choice. I don’t believe in delving into someone’s painful past unless the repression of those memories and feelings are somehow impacting and interfering with the quality of life today. Sexual abuse has been correlated with higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, anxiety, repression, denial, difficulties with affection and intimacy, problems concerning desire, orgasm, difficulties with touch, and sadistic and masochistic tendencies.  

Male victims of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and low sexual desire. Unfortunately, sexual molestation is often a traumatic experience that can have many consequences throughout the person’s life.

Insofar as your sexual relationship with Tammy, ask yourself whether you believe you would be a different lover in any way if you had never been molested. How so? Do you believe that what happened to you has had an impact on your sexual behavior today? If in your mind’s eye you imagine Tammy being dominant, aggressive or partaking in certain positions or sexual acts, what happens in your body? Do you tense up? Tension is an emotional defense against negative or painful feelings; if you don’t have such repressed feelings, there wouldn’t be anything to tense up against. 

If there is tension, you might want to explore specifics of what happened to you in the past that has been emotionally pushed down and is currently being triggered. Were there times when you felt helpless and out of control and now want to avoid similar feelings? Were there times when your uncle was dominant or aggressive and you want to avoid your feelings regarding those times? What happened to you was horrific, but it’s also terrible that those experiences might still have power over you and your feelings as an adult. Your wife wants as open a relationship with you as possible. Think about the possibility of intimacy with no walls between the two of you or any walls between you and your own feelings.

Understandably, you’re resistant to the idea of professional counseling and exposure to painful memories. If you decide to undergo treatment designed for sexual healing and build a therapeutic alliance wherein you and your therapist help you connect current sexual problems with past sexual abuse, it will assist you in gaining a more positive sexual self-concept, develop skills to positively experience sexual intimacy and eventually heal the effects of trauma. 

In counseling, you will also learn to extinguish the triggers that are determining how you sexually respond. You deserve to be free of past trauma.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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