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Opening the Door to Healing

When childhood sexual abuse affects a marriage's intimacy

"Don'tcha wanna be married? Or have kids?"

I nodded, tears streaming down my five-year-old face, thorns and brambles cutting into my backside.

"You gotta do this, then, or you can't ever be married." The voice—which came from a teenage boy, accompanied by the snicker from his kid brother—would haunt me for 18 years until I got married.

It still haunts me.

The statistics about sexual crime both alarm and numb. According to the Department of Justice, by age 18, one in four women and one in six men have been sexually abused.

I thought if I hid my pain I could magically improve sexually. But not addressing the truth was disastrous for our sexual relationship.

What happens to the titanic number of sexually abused men and women when they marry and enter regular sexual experiences with their mates? One study published in Contemporary Family Therapy estimates that 56 percent of women who were sexually abused as children feel discomfort during sex and 36 percent seek some sort of sexual therapy.

Although I told my husband, Patrick, about the abuse while we were dating, after we were married, I pretended immunity from my past trauma. But keeping up the charade wasn't so easy, since sex reminded me of the abuse. I didn't tell Patrick, though, because I felt guilty, as though I were a poor wife.

I hoped somehow I could work out everything through sheer willpower. So throughout our early married life, I tolerated sex, never letting Patrick know how much I was hurting. I'm not sure if I even knew the extent of my pain, at least enough to verbalize it.

When our eldest daughter turned five, however, I began to relive the molestation I'd experienced at her age. I felt the horror afresh. I saw those brothers steal my innocence on muddied nature trails, in secluded playgrounds, and in their bedroom.

I puzzled over the photos my divorced father took of nude women and his insistence that I bathe him while he sat naked in his claw-footed tub. I ached over my mother's lack of protection. I felt abandoned.

Although I grieved, I still didn't realize how much those experiences were poisoning my sexual relationship with Patrick. It wasn't until we went through some marital difficulties and I spent two years in counseling that I finally realized the problem.

Now 12 years into our marriage, Patrick and I see clearly how the past affected our relationship—especially sexually.

Fear of being used. I felt used easily. If Patrick didn't talk enough with me during the day, but then initiated sex, I'd remember that frightened five-year-old who was simply a rag doll to be played with. If he touched me in a way that triggered the abuser's touch, I'd grit my teeth and silently recoil.

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Related Topics:Intimacy; Marriage; Sex; Sexual Abuse

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