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Sexual Abuse – Shame, Confusion and Sexual Arousal

Sexual Abuse – Shame, Confusion and Sexual Arousal, rape, orgasm, sexual pleasure, erection, ejaculation, molestation, child sex abuse, boys raped, vaginal lubrication

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to like to reveal the shocking link between sexual abuse, shame, confusion and sexual arousal.

Sexual Abuse – Shame, Confusion and Sexual Arousal

First a quick update:  

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Now, let’s talk about the link between sexual abuse, shame, confusion and sexual arousal.

If you have experienced sexual abuse, particularly as a young child or teenager, then you will relate to the confusion that occurs with sexual abuse, leading to feelings of deep shame and self-blame.

The trauma of sexual abuse results in a plethora of conflicting emotions and behavioral responses:

  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Betrayal
  • Anger
  • Hatred
  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling out of control
  • Social anxiety
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Powerlessness
  • Submissiveness/Rebelliousness
  • Inability/fear to trust or express emotions
  • Secrecy/isolation
  • People-pleasing behavior
  • Sexual Promiscuity/Sexual Aversion/Sexual Disgust
  • Feelings of being unsafe, alone, afraid, unsupported, unprotected, betrayed, dirty
  • Confused/conflicted feelings around sex and sexual orientation.

The above is not a complete list of the consequences of sexual abuse; the frequency and duration of the abuse, the age of the victim as well as the relationship of the abuser to the victim will also impact the effect of the sexual abuse – particularly in relation to shame, confusion and sexual arousal.

In every case I have ever worked with people who were sexually abused, each, and every one of them blames themselves for the abuse (often it is subconscious self-blame.)

The blame comes from the subconscious belief, “It is my fault/There is something wrong with me.”

The victim blames him/herself for:

  • Not speaking up
  • Not being believed if they did speak up
  • Not being able to stop it
  • ‘Allowing it to happen’ (a subconscious belief)
  • Experiencing sexual arousal during the act of abuse
  • Experiencing pleasure from the attention or intimacy
  • Existing/being alive sometimes thinking that they attracted it because of their body, appearance, clothing or sexual orientation.

The self-blame and the internalization (‘I am bad, wrong, flawed, not good enough, inadequate’) creates further confusion and shame as the victim struggles to understand and decipher the sexual arousal that often occurs with sexual abuse, and the pleasure that sometimes they experience from the attention they received by the abuser. Remember, the abuser often selects victims based on their vulnerability, physical helplessness and dependence upon the abuser for survival or fear of threat (as in the case where the abuser is a parent, caretaker or authority figure.) However, sometimes the abuser also selects the victim simply because the victim is ‘there’ and cannot escape.

Thus, the greatest and deepest shame (“there is something wrong with me…I am bad’) comes from the sexual arousal that occurs with the sexual abuse. Males can experience erections, and in both cases, male and females who were sexually abused can experience orgasm. Therefore, clients will say to me, ‘I must have wanted it’ or ‘I am bad/gay because I experienced pleasure/sexual arousal.

Distinguishing Between Sexual Arousal, Sexual Pleasure and Consent

Clients have opened up and admitted that they became sexually excited during the abuse and immediately after felt ashamed and disgusted and confused. What helps to set them free is the truth – the knowledge and realization that they have no control over the body’s automatic response to touch and stimulation, particularly to sensitive areas of the body – the erogenous zones.

There are three elements here that create the confusion and thus, the shame from experiencing sexual arousal:

1. The Physiological Arousal

The body’s response, the sexual arousal does not in any way imply that you, the victim, wanted it or consented to it. In the same way that someone can tickle you against your will and you scream to stop and it is unpleasant yet you still laugh or squirm, the unwanted sexual touch triggers an automatic biological and physiological response of sexual arousal.

The sexual arousal during sexual abuse is a biological reflex response. Your mind and body are fighting and resisting the abuse (perhaps even literally fighting back or screaming) but the touch and stimulation of the nerve endings is beyond your conscious control even if you are frightened or terrified. The sexual contact transmits “impulses through the central nervous system to the sacral region of the spinal cord. The impulses also trigger the release of sex hormones, dilation of the arteries supplying the genital areas, and inhibition of vasoconstrictor centers of the lumbar nerves.” – American Psychological Association,

“During assaults, victims can experience a phenomenon known as ‘excitation transfer’, which occurs when the build-up of adrenalin and subsequent physical arousal transfers into heightened sexual arousal…Therefore, sexual arousal during rape is a by-product of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism our body uses to keep us alive, and does not reflect the victims’ emotional response to the attack or indicate consent at all.” – Glasgow & Clyde Rape Crisis Center, UK

2. Sexual Arousal is not linked to Sexual Orientation/Sexuality

It is a myth that men who sexually abuse boys are gay; almost all are heterosexual men in marriages and relationships and have sex with their wives/girlfriends. Some will abuse both boys and girls. Sometimes the abuser’s intention is more than sex; it is for purposes of domination and de-masculinization.

It is also a myth that the victim must be gay because he experienced sexual arousal during the abuse. Again, as mentioned above sexual arousal is a physiological response and does not equal consent, sexual identity or orientation, nor does it any way indicate that the victim will become gay. I explain to clients that even male babies and infants experience erections, sometimes when their diapers are being changed and sometimes when they are breastfeeding. These are all unconscious physiological responses.

3. Twisted Love – Enjoyment of Attention

To a child, attention is equivalent to love. The more intense the attention the more intense the love is perceived to be. And if the attention even in adulthood creates physical arousal (non-sexual arousal) it becomes confused as love. (See The Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma )

Because children interpret attention as love, negative attention becomes what I refer to as “Twisted Love” – a twisted definition of love. Therefore, the negative attention of abuse can also be interpreted as love, albeit unhealthy and twisted.

“He told me I was his special girl. I liked being the special one. I must have wanted it.”

The attention a child might receive during sexual abuse can sometimes be tender, affectionate, intimate, or intense, and the child experiences that as love and attachment.

Thus, the conflicted feelings of love, attachment, and arousal create further confusion and shame. The abuser recognizes this dynamic and along with the demand for silence (‘keep it a secret’), you the victim can often be made to feel like a willing participant even though you were not, and, yes, it was both abuse and a criminal act.

As so many of my clients from all over the world can attest, you can heal from sexual abuse and the shame, and using my SRTT process, you can do so without reliving the pain or being triggered: book a one-on-one session with me.

You can add to the conversation below.

I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D. Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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