As survivors, sexual health, sexuality and sexual and/or gender identity are often really difficult topics to discuss, so we’ve designed this page to give you some information, ideas on places to get the correct information, and some points of reflection that we’ve thought about over the years.
One of the hardest things that survivors may have to deal with is their sexual health, but its so important. We think of sexual health in the same way as we think of our physical health or our mental health… it needs to be checked at times and we need to actively engaged in looking after it and keeping it in a good state. But in taking care of your sexual health, it sometimes means you need to talk to a sexual health professional and that can feel really embarrassing or difficult. We can have a tonne of fears about talking to them about the sex we’ve had or be scared of being triggered if we have to have any kind of physical examination or test, but there are things we can do to reduce that anxiety.
Apologies, we’re currently in the process of updating this section
HIV / AIDS
Apologies, we’re currently in the process of updating this section
Sexuality is a simple word that can cause so much confusion, embarrassment, fear, and questions for some people.
- Just what is sexuality?
- Does it mean when your gay?
- Do I have a sexuality?
- I’m straight so I don’t have one, do I?
- Its just talking about sex isn’t it?
Well simply put, sexuality is the word that’s used to describe a persons sexual being – their preferences, interests, which influence a persons thoughts and feelings regarding sex and their choice of partner or partners. It is widely accepted now that a persons sexuality begins to develop from birth but most of us become consciously aware of our sexuality in our early teenage years as a part of puberty. Science has also discovered that when people feel sexual desire, a number of regions in the brain (several in the temporal lobe) become active and neurons stimulated.
From the people we like because of their physical appearance or their personality to some unseen, unspoken connection that you can only feel within you, a persons sexuality is theirs alone and no-one can take that away.
However, as survivors of sexual abuse and rape we can often have many issues with sex and become extremely confused about our sexuality. Having a ‘problem’ with your sexuality is not uncommon and is something many of us share. There are lots of different reasons why some people struggle with their sexuality and it would be impossible to talk about every issue. But from our own experiences, what others have told us and therapeutic research, we have highlighted some common issues and themes. Remember though, your sexuality is unique and personal to you… everyone has one, you just need to understand yours.
Historically, society’s messages about homosexuality have been extremely negative and being gay has been seen as a sin, a perversion and even a sickness. Gay men have been viewed as being weak, dirty and often not real men – more like women?!. One thought is that because the world is predominantly set out for being heterosexual (from parenting, schooling, education, medical care, religion, the books and magazines you read, the TV and films you watch, the music you listen to, and the laws you live under), heterosexuality is normal so therefore gay is wrong. When a guy becomes aware of his sexuality and realises that he finds men attractive, an internal conflict may arise within him. One part of him will want to accept his feelings (which may mean him accepting he is not heterosexual) and start to express and embrace his sexuality. On the other hand, another part of him will be saying, “Gay is wrong, it’s a sickness, sinful and perverted”. So the conflict arises but which part does he listen to? The part saying, “I’m gay?” or the part that has been absorbed and internalised from the culture around him that is saying, “Gay is wrong?” This internal conflict makes it difficult for many individuals to accept their sexuality.
But some for some male survivors, the internal conflict can also be complicated even more by the memories of the actual abuse and the feelings we had at the time and since, in regards to sex and gender.
If the abuser was a man, then some people can confuse that as being a ‘gay’ act. The reality is that the abuse of a boy or man by a man is no more of a ‘gay’ act than the abuse of a girl or woman by a man is a ‘straight’ act. It is an act of abuse or rape. It is an act of the removal of power and control by one (the abuser) from another (the victim). It is not an act of a sexuality.
Some men remember feeling stimulated, having pleasurable feelings and climaxing during the abuse. So often, this can be confusing and results in a thought “i liked the abuse” and therefore (again if the perpetrator was also male) concluding that “I must like men and therefore I must be gay”. To break this down, we need to recognise that the human body is an extremely complex and incredible machine that automatically reacts to situations and events in certain ways. Touching and stimulating parts of a mans body will cause a chain reaction which he has no control over (like pressing a light switch will cause the light bulb to become light) – its a automatic reaction.
Certain touch or touch to certain parts of the body will cause the nerve endings to be stimulated which in turn, send signals to the brain which are rewarded with pleasure chemicals. This then causes the blood to rush around the body (increasing breathing, heart rate and pulse) and flood the erectile canals in the penis, resulting in an erection. Stimulation of the erect penis over a period of time will cause an automatic response resulting in ejaculation. Its simple human biology really.
But we can often not think in these biological terms and seeing our body’s own physical reaction to what is happening can confuse us. In our mind we don’t like what is happening during the abuse act but our body is reacting in a way we don’t want it too and we cant stop it reacting that way.
So Am I Gay or Bisexual Because Of The Abuse?
There is no one clear reason why some people are gay, bisexual or heterosexual. A number of factors are suggested including it being innate (we are born lesbian or gay); genetic or hormonal factors; a result of our childhood and parenting; or maybe a result of the society and culture we grow up in. The reality is that no one has a clear and proven answer. What we do know though is that unlike many of our animal counterparts, human beings are sexual creatures and our sexuality is very fluid, it doesn’t always stay the same throughout our lives but please don’t confuse this with the belief that conversion is possible, we are wholly opposed to the unethical and dangerous practice of conversion or reparative therapy.
Maybe the point is to look at understanding and accepting that although we may not know what our sexuality is, we know we have one. We should never deny ourselves the right to explore our sexual feelings as long as we know we are not aiming to hurt another person and that both we and our partners are comfortable in what we are doing.
There is not one person in the world that has not worried about their sexuality or doubted themselves because of their feelings at some time in their lives. The most important thing is that we come to understand our feelings and use them to express ourselves in a way that can help us celebrate who we are and make sure that we give ourselves the opportunity to share our thoughts and desires with someone we really care about, and our own self!
The most important thing is to relax and take time to understand your emotions, your moods and when the time is right for you to share your sexual thoughts and feelings. The only person you have to be honest with is yourself. Always remember that you are not the only person who may be feeling confused about sex and sexuality, it is one of the most common things that human beings share the world over. Without sex their would be no -one left in the world and if it didn’t feel good we wouldn’t want to do it.
Your sexuality is unique to you, don’t hide it away. You are not only denying yourself the pleasure of sharing one of the most important parts of your life, but you are denying someone the privilege to love you for who you are.
You know what, we all have the right to love and to be loved, that includes YOU!
Sex and Intimacy
Generally, as survivors, we all have issues with Intimacy. We can have trouble with emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, but the thing is… every close relationship has a degree of intimacy regardless of who its with, whether that’s a friend, a partner, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, wife, husband, sister, brother, son, daughter, so on and so on.
Intimacy has been described in many ways: a kind of unmasking of yourself in order to make yourself vulnerable in a trusting, loving, secure relationship; a closeness of proximity; a special, unique and distinct bond joining you and another person; a sense of being exposed, undefended and fragile; the sharing of tenderness, caring and affection; the mutual respect, recognition and approval of each other’s need to be a sexual being.
But as a survivor of sexual abuse, we can struggle with emotional intimacy, physical intimacy and psychological intimacy. But why?
It would probably be easier to create a list of points that are not connected to our problem with Intimacy. How about…
- Inability to trust
- Fear of being vulnerable to being hurt or subjected to pain
- Inability to take a risk
- Lack of role models for healthy intimacy
- Inability to control the impact of anger, hostility or resentment
- Fear of losing the other in death or some other calamity
- Fear of loss of approval
- Fear of rejection
- Chronic defensiveness
- Over aggressiveness or over passivity
- Power struggles between the parties for control of the relationship
- Fear that the relationship will become sexual in nature
- Fear of loss of identity
- Inability to show affection, tenderness or caring
We can have a whole load of beliefs which prevent us establishing intimacy.
“If I open myself up to another person, I am bound to get hurt and/or taken advantage of”
“People with whom I have been involved with in the past have abused, neglected and mistreated me. How can I expect it to be different in the future?”
“People have said to me “I love you” and “I hate you”‘ in the same breath. I get so confused. How can I ever believe anyone?”
“If I open yourself up to trust someone, they will always take advantage of me.”
“I am a worthless, useless piece of junk. How could anyone ever care about me?”
“I am a failure as a man sexually.”
“All men are out to rape or violate you.”
“Intimacy is only for women or weak gay men”
“It is impossible to have a close friend of the opposite sex without the relationship becoming sexual in nature.”
“Men who have close friendships in which they exchange signs of physical affection (like a hug) with other men must be gay”
“No one can keep a secret, so keep your personal business to yourself.”
“Intimacy always means sexuality and sexuality always means sexual intercourse.”
“It is impossible for others to remain faithful in a relationship. They always cheat!”
“Whenever I open myself up to intimacy, I am bound to lose it or fuck it up.”
“I can take care of myself just fine. I don’t need anyone else to clutter up my life.”
But why would any of these beliefs be true? You may have evidence from the past that backs them up, but what evidence do you have to back up the idea that it will happen in the future? Do you have a crystal ball that can show you? No, of course you don’t so how can you be sure?
The fact is we can’t be sure and maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. But maybe it wont. But maybe it will, yeah, but maybe it wont, yeah but maybe it will… does this look familiar?
What we’re trying to say is to defeat the issue with intimacy requires taking a risk, albeit a calculated one, and requires time.
It requires you to:
- Develop confidence in yourself.
- Believe in your self-worth, your goodness and abilities.
- Let go of your fears.
- Open yourself up to trust in the goodness of others.
- Accept your body and body image.
- Resolve feelings about past hurts, pains and failures.
- Handle disagreements, conflicts or fights.
- Work out anger, resentment and hostility over the past.
- Work out blocking irrational beliefs about relationships.
- Maintain mutual assertiveness in the relationship.
- Problem solve, make decisions and execute plans to correct, rectify and enhance the relationship.
- Improve communication to an open, honest and productive level.
- Work out hangups, resistance and objections to healthy, normal sexual relationship with your partner.
Steps to Improve Intimacy in a Relationship:
- Before you can improve the level of intimacy in a relationship, you need to identify those with whom you already have an intimate relationship and those with whom you desire to develop a relationship.
- Once you have identified the persons with whom you have intimacy problems and those with whom you desire to be intimate, identify those beliefs blocking your growth in intimacy with each of the people. Develop a replacement belief for each of the irrational ones.
- Once you have developed the replacement beliefs, identify those behavior traits you need to develop to correct your intimacy problems. To do this, review the behavior traits; list them in a journal.
- Working with one trusted person, practice your replacement beliefs. If not, then sit infront of the mirror and practice reading out loud your replacement beliefs.
- Set yourself small tasks and tiny goals, e.g. choose a person your going to play this game with then without telling them, pretend and act like you’re fine with intimacy. Play the game to win, the object being that the other person wouldn’t know your pretending.
Clarity is the key to intimacy. Set your boundaries, rules and blatantly ask close ones for help with this.
Practice, practice, practice!