If you’re having a great deal of difficulty enjoying sexual activity with a beloved partner and you came from a family in which there were other types of adverse childhood experiences (ACES), you may have what I term “Developmental Sexual Trauma.”
We have definitive proof that a shockingly large proportion of the people in the United States come from families in which many kinds of nonsexual child abuse occurred.
I’m talking about forms of child abuse such as physical, emotional, or medical neglect, physical abuse, being a witness to violence (inflicted upon a sibling or between your parents), or living in a family where a parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs or has serious mental health issues.
Beginning in 1998, researchers Vincent Ferlitti and Robert Anda began studying the prevalence of all forms of child abuse among people going to a large medical center, Kaiser Permanente, for medical care. The participants formed a well-rounded, diverse sample from all walks of life.
The researchers asked patients — those coming in for regular medical care, not people for mental health issues — if they would participate in a study asking them about their childhoods. The first study produced data from 13,000 patients. Since that first study, their results have been replicated over and over again.
The researchers found that it was actually less common to come from a family in which there was no form of child abuse than it was to come from a family with at least one form of Adverse Childhood Experiences or child abuse, and that 42 percent of those in the huge group that they studied came from a family that experienced more than one form of child abuse.
Here are their statistics:
ACE Score Prevalence
5 or more 11%
If a person came from a family in which there was no sexual abuse, but there were other forms of abuse and neglect, they can still experience damage to their sexuality later in life. The reason for that is based on something I call the Milestones of Sexual Development.
If you watch the movies and TV, it looks like having an intimate sexual life with a long term partner is simple. But that’s not true.There is nothing simple about having a long-term sexually satisfying relationship.
When people first fall in love, changing hormones and neurotransmitters that the body produces make having wonderful sexual feelings with a partner incredibly easy. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, look into the work of Helen Fisher Ph.D.)
The body is in a temporary state of lustful insanity, and all the old fears and feelings and inhibitions are temporarily quelled and overcome. We are all programmed to get into this state — it’s in our hard drives. It insures the survival of the species. But as Dr. Helen Fisher has shown, this state lasts, at best, from six months to two years with each partner.
After that short period of romantic, lustful feelings for with each partner is over, having intimate sex with that same person is not nearly as easy.
Once a relationship goes beyond that initial stage, for the vast majority of people, particularly women, sexual arousal depends on being touched, kissed, and caressed. The body actually stores sensory memories.
If you grew up in a family where there had been physical violence towards you or even toward other family members, the unconscious memories of violence are stored in your body, and unscripted touch from a beloved partner becomes frightening or unpleasant.
If you experience this, you will find yourself dreading sex, splitting off mentally during sex so that you are not actually in your body, or avoiding sex altogether.
Having experienced or witnessed physical abuse or violence is a major source of Developmental Sexual Trauma. If you can’t be in the moment, in enjoyment, when you are being touched, having sexual pleasure with an intimate partner is going to be very difficult.
If you recognize any of this in yourself, understand that you can be helped to enjoy intimate sex by having psychotherapy with a trauma-informed therapist.
But this is not a do-it-yourself job. If you want to truly enjoy long-term sexual contact, a sex therapist is the best chance you have.
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