- A traumatic sexual experience is a highly complex event or events that can cause lasting detrimental effects on the survivor’s ability to enjoy sex, express themselves sexually, and more.
- Sexual trauma can be defined as any sexual experience that is non-consensual, causes harm, or violates the boundaries of the survivor.
- Sexual trauma can cause survivors to become either hypersexual or hyposexual, but not always.
- Hypersexuality can be a way to reclaim their sexual expression after a nonconsensual experience and may be a healthy way to begin healing for some.
- Sexual trauma can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, medication management, and more.
Sexual trauma can occur in many forms and for survivors often results in short- or long-term psychological consequences, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. In the days and weeks following occurrences of sexual trauma, survivors may grapple with confusion, guilt, social withdrawal, and anger.
Despite its potential to cause psychological harm, sexual trauma can be treated effectively with both short- and long-term mental health care services. If it’s possible (and safe to do so) survivors should seek out emergency services immediately after an incident involving sexual trauma.
What Is a Traumatic Sexual Experience?
A traumatic sexual experience can have many definitions. In a broad sense, a traumatic sexual experience can include but is absolutely not limited to a sexual experience that:
- Not consensual
- Continues after consent is withdrawn
- Violates the boundaries of any participants
- Is coerced or forced
- Is harmful in any way
Typically, when mental health professionals diagnose clients with trauma disorders, an event is categorized as trauma only when it impacts personal, social, professional and emotional functioning on a daily basis and causes severe disruptions.
How Does Trauma Affect Sexual Desire?
Trauma can affect sexual desire in a myriad of ways. For some, it can cause both hypersexual and hyposexual behaviors. The ways that it impacts sexual desire are based on the person’s response to and type of trauma experienced. There is no right or wrong way for someone to experience their trauma or to personalize it, but it can increase, decrease, or even sometimes eliminate sexual desire.
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Why Does Trauma Make You Hypersexual?
For those that experience hypersexuality as a result of trauma, there can be various causes. One main cause of hypersexuality after trauma is due to the person’s desire to reclaim their power.
Often, there is a strong theme of powerlessness that sexual trauma survivors experience after such an event, so engaging in sexual activity afterward that the survivor is able to initiate and control can be a way to reclaim what they feel has been taken from them.
If the individual’s sexual desire isn’t compulsive, and generates feelings of pleasure and self-confidence (while remaining consensual between everyone involved), this can be a helpful and empowering way to heal from sexual trauma.
However, others might engage in hypersexual behavior as a distraction—a way to cope with or to avoid experiencing the emotionally-charged thoughts that often follow sexual assault and/or sexual trauma. This can be potentially harmful, and may lead to feelings of shame, alienation, and could worsen the effects of any dissociative symptoms.
Where Is Sexual Trauma Stored in the Body?
Sexual trauma can be stored in various places throughout the body. Typically, clients often carry a lot of musculoskeletal tension in their bodies after suffering sexual trauma.
For some, it’s in the location on their body in which they experienced the sexual trauma. For others, it can be located in the torso, neck, or spinal cord.
What Are Some of the Effects of Childhood Sexual Trauma?
Childhood sexual trauma can have significant impacts into adulthood. Without immediate intervention, there are a myriad of effects that can follow someone. Here is a list of many common effects:
- Difficulty maintaining romantic relationships and friendships
- Sexual dysfunction
- Avoidant or anxious attachment
- Anxiety and depressive disorders
- PTSD-related flashbacks
- Low self-confidence and self-esteem issues
A moderating factor is if a person receives counseling or care afterwards. If a person receives professional psychological services after the event, the potential for significant lifelong impacts may decrease significantly.
Do I Have Sexual Trauma? What Are My Treatment Options?
If you answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you might have experienced something that is defined as sexual trauma:
- Did you have a sexual experience that was non-consensual?
- Did you have a sexual experience that you found disturbing, painful, or fearful?
- Did you have a sexual experience that violated your personal boundaries?
- Did you have a sexual encounter that was coerced or manipulated?
- Did you have a sexual encounter that is hard to forget, causes distress when you recall it?
- Did you experience unwanted physical violence or use of force during your sexual encounter?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then it’s possible that you’ve experienced sexual trauma and haven’t fully healed. Some of the most successful treatment options for those with sexual trauma include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Medication management
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy
While friends and family, and even future partners (when a sexual trauma survivor is ready), can all be outlets of support and love, having a professional who’s trained in treating sexual trauma is the most surefire path to healing. With time, new perspective, and a refreshed sense of self-worth, sexual trauma survivors can begin life anew.