It’s time to de-shame abuse survivors talking about sex.
How come, those of us in the trauma recovery field don’t talk much about sex?
I was doing some research the other day, trying to find some data on sexual issues that survivors face. I looked through some big volumes, I looked through some research articles. I looked in resources for survivors, I looked in books for clinicians.
This is what I concluded: this biz doesn’t like to talk about sex.
Perhaps this is understandable, given that the traumatic injury our clients experience fundamentally includes sex. While the abuse can well be portrayed as betrayal, of abandonment, of a breach of trust, many of the wounds survivors carry are indeed sexual. Not talking about it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.
For men, the consequences of sexual abuse are interwoven to our manhood. We cannot easily separate the abuse from our expectations—both our own and cultural—about what male sexuality should be and look like. Being a stud, being a player, being the initiator, angling to “get laid”—these are some of the cultural and biological coda of being a man.
At the Men’s Project, we run treatment programs for men who experienced childhood sexual trauma. On a regular basis, men share about being confused related to their sexual orientation, about patterns of infidelity where they admit they feel out of control, sexual risk taking (unprotected sex with their partners, for example), compulsive use of pornography, patterns of masturbation that impede intimacy with their partners. This list goes on.
And that is only one side of the mix. There are others in our program who are fearful of intimacy of all forms, who are distrustful of being desired, who avoid sex because it brings back painful memories, who avoid any form of touch. This “other” list goes on too.
It’s tough for most of us to talk openly about sex. It’s probably been ingrained by many of us since our childhood—just another dirty secret we weren’t supposed to talk about. Our families, our schools and our churches all silenced us. Of course, it’s the very naivety and vulnerability of children that make them targets to offenders.
We spend years learning what our sexuality should be, and we spend years believing it. The shame of the abuse just gags us further in speaking our truth.
More often than not, the guys in our programs don’t lead the discussion about these sexual issues—the topic has to be prompted. Yet in an atmosphere of safety and trust, we all can find the courage to speak the truth, even if our voices tremble and our bodies shake.
So let’s de-shame this particular wrinkle in our soul. Put words to it. Talk about sex and what you may be feeling with your partner. Talk to your best buddy about it. Talk about sex with your therapist. Bring it up in your therapy group. Speaking out about the abuse we’ve endured and how it’s affected us is one way we can begin to find our authentic selves and move on to the next chapter of our healing.
Rick Goodwin, MSW RSW is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Men’s Project, a sexual abuse treatment center in Ottawa, Canada. Along with its trauma recovery program, The Men’s Project also provides treatment and support on issues such as anger management, emotional intelligence and fathering. It is one of four such counseling agencies for male survivors in Canada. Rick also serves as an Advisory Board member to 1in6 Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].
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