Why Can Childhood Sexual Abuse Lead to Promiscuity?
At first, the idea that sexual promiscuity can result from childhood sexual abuse seems illogical. Wouldn't someone who suffered sexual abuse have difficulty creating intimate relationships and work to avoid personal contact? While this can often be the case, a review of the research on childhood sexual abuse (from the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, or AAETS) confirms that a large number of survivors engage in promiscuous behaviors, even those who turn away close relationships. Here are some of the reasons why childhood sexual abuse can lead to promiscuity.
The AAETS report also supports the finding that childhood sexual abuse is known to result in a myriad of symptoms including depression, sleep disturbances, poor self-esteem, guilt, shame, dissociative disorders, anxiety, and relationship difficulties. Often these symptoms exist under the umbrella of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In my case, dissociation, shame, and poor self-esteem were the PTSD symptoms I believe led to my promiscuity during my late teens.
Sexual Abuse Survivors Often Equate Promiscuity with Self-Worth
My trauma had ended, but I remained silent about the sexual abuse. In fact, for several years after it ended, I maintained contact with my abuser. The abuse I suffered had been so normalized that I stuffed it away and attempted to minimize it. In fact, my abuse had incorrectly convinced me, that I had to be sexually desirable to have any self-worth.
Promiscuity in Sexual Abuse Survivors Masks Other PTSD Symptoms
Sex became an escape on several levels. It was a dopamine-, serotonin-, endorphin-loaded experience. I did not have to be emotionally attached. I could have the satisfaction of being found attractive, wanted, and worthwhile, while still escaping any controlling relationship or the possibility of abandonment. As a final defense, my reckless encounters could trigger dissociation, which remained my ultimate escape for many years.
My actual symptoms of sexual abuse were still there in all their untreated glory. I eventually realized that I only felt better for short moments at a time. People began to label me and look down on me. My escape began to create more wounds than it could hide. I was becoming even more withdrawn. I needed help.
Replacing Promiscuity with Treatment for Childhood Sexual Abuse and PTSD
It took me a long time to recover from my childhood trauma. Rebuilding a healthy sense of self-worth was a large part of my recovery. I needed help to realize that promiscuity is not a dirty word. Choosing to have numerous consensual partners does not make anyone cheap or morally deficient. What is wrong is shaming someone because they have had sex with multiple partners. At the same time, I needed help to realize that sex without intimacy does not reflect love or affection. We are lovable and worth being around without presenting ourselves as sexually available.
Finally, I needed to learn that promiscuity doesn't cure the symptoms of PTSD caused by childhood sexual abuse. Long-term healing takes time and help. I was afraid to discuss my abuse or my promiscuity with my first few counselors. I wish I had known that a good therapist would not be surprised or judgemental about anyone's trauma or behaviors. When I finally could discuss everything, a tremendous weight began to lift from my shoulders. I needed to tell my entire story to heal.
Promiscuity is a difficult topic to address. I know we heal with each other and strengthen each other by sharing our stories. Please feel free to add to the discussion below. Your email information is private, and I will respond to everyone who comments.
- "Sexual Abuse of Children." American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. AAETS, n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2017.
Hollowood, T. (2017, September 4). Why Can Childhood Sexual Abuse Lead to Promiscuity?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, January 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2017/09/childhood-sexual-abuse-ptsd-and-promiscuity
Author: Tia Hollowood
I was born and bread in a tiny rural village of very caring parents but we were pretty poor but in no way neglected. I used to play out with other kids and one particular boy who was 8 years older than me who went to a private boarding school and so would only be home at school holidays and the odd weekends.
He was keen athlete and I was thus very impressed with this and he started to teach me better techniques for running, jumping etc. He told me one weekend that it always improved his performance if he got rid of his "spunk" and asked if I would help him. I had no idea what it involved so I said yes; I was only 8 years old.
We walked across the fields to the banks of a local stream, and he took out his cock and asked me to start playing with and stroking it and that's where it all started. He was 8 years older than me and a fit and healthy 16 year old and I was very impressed with his cock; it was ofcourse much bigger then mine; a fact that i realised later would have massive effects on my self image etc.
It felt very exciting to me as my sexuality was starting to develop and I learnt to masturbate at a very young age way before I could ejaculate. I told no one of our secret although I can't recall any threats being exerted on me not to tell. I think I realised that it was very naughty and so I would not tell.
This carried on for nearly 2 years off and on during school holidays, etc, and each time we would repeat the process on most days when he was at home. Because he was much taller than me I virtually was looking straight down at his big cock in front of me and so when he suggested that I put it in my mouth I did just that very slowly to start with just kissing his glans, but then as he forced/encouraged me more I gradually I learnt to put it inside my mouth and ofcourse he would ejaculate in my mouth.
That was when the absolute shame started to overwhelm me; I was a boy who sucked another boy's cock, and my personality changed dramatically and I became that very shy and introverted young boy and full of shame at my body etc.
He asked me once when we were alone in his Mum and Dad's house (He was a local JP) if he could insert his cock up my anus; I refused as I thought that it would be way to painful but it was then that he told me that senior boys at his school would regularly get junior boys to do that for them. Still I resisted and it never too place. I often wonder what happened to those abused young boys and how enshrined in the school was that behaviour.
I put all of this to the back of my mind, and it is only recently that I have told anybody about it and ofcourse I now realise how it has shaped so much of my personality and my lifestyle.
Low self worth, very poor body image, I wouldn't dare make any sexual advances with any girl or woman until I was about 21 because of the size issue and it was only later that a girl that I met on holiday in Spain told me that I was spoiling her for other men did I realised that I really didn't have an issue.
I have no idea whether my early sexualisation impacted me or not but I have always since then been a lover of sex and I still am and am in a very loving and sexually active relationship. I really have allowed it to dominate much of my life and have soured many friendships by behaving inappropriately, and I still do more's the pity. I have however never ever abused any other person and have always been very conscious of not passing the abuse down the chain.
Strangely though I seem to have developed very caring and close relationships with women who have been abused or raped at critical young ages and I have always been a supportive and caring friend in their lives, and draw a huge amount of pride in that.
I still much prefer the company of women to men and as such have very very few male friends.
Not surprisingly I have a massive hatred of the private education system and know that wholesale abuse is the order of the day in so many such establishments but ofcourse never reported.
My husband of 26 years demanded me to do things to my body and was attracted to something I could never be. My eldest son hates me as he learned of my sexual activities. I feel alone and like there is no way out for me. I've got a new partner but worry about how much I felt on him. I'm scared to be left alone. If I am, I eat. But at least it's not men now. Although that's only been 6 months. I had 17 men in one year. Being so bad that at one point I had one man on the sofa whilst another was waiting in my bed. I know I need help. I'm on a waiting list for my food issues but that's group therapy. I know I'll struggle. I would often feel it would be easier to just sleep and not wake up. I'm on tablets for that. I don't think I'll ever heal
As a young adult I was very promiscuous. Even now as an adult, I have my moments. But lately my sexual request has him asking why. Thankfully he's very patient and understanding. But how would I know if childhood sexual abuse is the reason why if I don't remember.
As a 10yo boy I was interested interested in sex and his abuse came at a time of curiosity so I didn't feel abused for a long time, but that started a downward so spiral in promiscuity first looking into porn at a couple weeks later which developed into an addiction, I have gotten over it... kinda, I still watch way too much porn but I learned to balance it in a way it doesn't just suck my life away, started hanging out more, planning my day to do other stuff etc. But at 22 I'm still a virgin and I think the impression of his then gigantic looking phallus really gave me a bad image of myself that only recently I'm starting to overcome thanks to my drawing hobby which makes me study anatomy.
I first started to really feel resentful towards my abuse when I was around 16. By that time a lot of my friends already had girlfriends and in my boredom and free time I had gotten into Underground porn so fucked up is illegal in some places not even for the sake of sexual pleasure but rather to be able to say that I saw it like if it was some kind of medal, so my friends are bragging about fucking their girlfriends and all I can do is shut up, speaking up would be either laughable or disgusting and I realized I had nothing to socialize with.
To make matters worse as she revealed later my mom was sexually abused as a kid, flatout hated it and thinks porn and people who watch regular porn are disgusting, "the talk" with her was as textbook as you can get, so me including the fact that I did not hate my abuse thought she would despise me so I haven't told her until now.
I did abuse my little cousin early after my own abuse and unlike my older cousin I got discovered and punished, blaming my older cousin didn't even came into my head because for my 10yo mind I had liked it and the discovery so I never thought that what my older cousin did was bad.
He actually lives near me, I could literally walk to his home and confront him... but I don't, in the opportunities I've had to do so I can't, no because of fear but because while I feel frustrated, and cheated on... I don't feel angry, I never did, besides I don't think it'll help me solve my problems anymore than I'm doing right now, the other thing is that when I see him I see another man, he has a job and a couple and is happy and including what I just admitted I did do my fair lead of bullshit as a teen yet I don't feel like the same person so I really don't care enough to do so.
And my younger cousin he recovered leaps and bounds ahead of me, that's what really bothers me, he's had girlfriends, social life, entered a career almost at the same time as me and is aiming high, so I'm not mad or anxious or depressed, just confused and cheated: Why was me the one stuck for so long while my abuser and my victim became better people than now I can aim to be.
It's not an easy solution it's a committed decision.
First I want to tell you that I'm very sorry for what happened to you. That woman was wrong on every level, and yes, it makes total sense that what happened to you at 14 affects you today. I understand all too well how you can second guess if it was abuse because you enjoyed it or sought it out. I have often felt the same way, but the thing is, as kids (and yes, at 14, you were a kid) we think we have some great power because we attracted someone much older, but the sad truth is, we never had the power. That woman took advantage of you.
I am in no way a therapist, but I am the survivor of sexual abuse and work with survivors and will tell you that yes, what happened to you was abuse and most likely does affect your perspective about sex today. That relationship taught you sex was love and sex gives you value, so your young brain connected the two.
I'm glad to hear you're in therapy. I can so related to that feeling of always thinking something is wrong inside. I lived my whole life feeling that way until I finally sought help and now I can see the truth of what happened to me. The good news is with help, you will begin to understand the impact of what happened to you on your life now and you will learn to value yourself so that you approach sex with a whole new perspective.
it happened so many times. When a neighbor reported to my parents that something was going on and heard me screaming for help, he was believed when he told them it was just horsing around. I was grounded for a week for screaming and bothering the neighbors. I tried to fight back another time but was choked unconscious, after that I stopped fighting back, it became my normal. I was constantly being told he was the good one, and he told me I would never be believed. I knew this was true and he had already proven it.
I hit puberty at 12 and was impregnated, forced to lie to my parents under the threat of violence then forced to have an abortion. I never told the truth to my parents or other family members. (still haven’t). i actually overheard a my Step mother on the phone refer to as a harlot. so that is what i became! By 17 I did drugs, danced at strip clubs, and hung out with bikers. I let guys do whatever they wanted to do with me. One night at a biker club party they passed me around to several of the club members. I didn’t even try to run away, I just accepted that this is what was expected of me.
Eventually i got married and had kids so I could be a “normal” person but I married a cheating jerk and became even more depressed and withdrawn. Not promiscuous. but severely depressed.
At 22 i sought therapy for suicidal thoughts and attempts, and severe depression. The therapist told me that if it happened that much then it was consensual. SERIOUSLY! She then continued to further humiliate me by telling me it was not rape it was incest. (never saw her again).
SO I had zero self-worth, I had survived but i never really lived. Raising my kids was my only purpose, and my only joy. In my late 30’s I talked to a different therapist and just threw it all out on the table, she listened and did not judge, SHE LISTENED TO ME. She suggested I start seeing a psych doc for major depression. When I finally had the right meds, and the right therapist, I finally felt like a person. i Went to school and earned a degree in Psychology, got rid of the jerk husband an so on. BTW my kids turned out AWESOME!
Well I am 50 something now and I still have not “come forward” I have been able to tell some of my closest friends and a few in my family.
I really fooled myself into thinking I was past it, but… lately with all the political bullshit it seems to be haunting me again. For ME I still can’t “come forward” because some of my family members will believe I am just making it up, or even worse they will blame me. I know that sounds crazy, but they really will.
To be very clear If he was in the process of being nominated for the supreme court, I would come out. But for now, I will continue to remain quiet and take at least a little solace in knowing that he is a miserable person with a miserable life.
I think this is important because we place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to be healed. For me, that pressure makes everything else that much worse.
I'm sorry to hear that you are also dealing with a physical illness. I'm wondering if you've given thought to an online support group for physical health and/or mental health? There are several here:http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/find-support-groups
Most importantly, when we suffer, we need help. That's not weakness, it's reality. You're not alone.
I have had sex with so many men after that. I don't know why I do that, but I just do. I do everything that is risky.
My life has changed a lot. I don't like working with people, but I am forced to as I gotta take care of myself. I binge drink and have random partner, many times, don't even remember the incident.
Therapy never helped.. I dunno how long it would take for me to heal. Am 37 now and even marriage scares me..
After being married 15 years, all my past came out and led to me realizing i had been sexually abused as a child. The abuse plus my sexually explicit upbringing led to the promiscuity and rape. Both my husband and I now battle depression. He fights not knowing who he married but still loves me. I fight hating myself for him hurting and who I was before him. I also did not truly love him until my abuse was revealed. We are both sad and angry. I’m scared our marriage won’t mske it through this. I’m just so sad all the time.
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse from 11-13. Being exposed to sex made me more obsessed with sex. As an adult woman now, I have hated how some people stereotype adult survivors are sex-repulsed. I wish people understood that many of us become hypersexual. Please don’t expect all survivors to be the same. I am at the point where I don’t want to discuss my trauma anymore. I found people’s reactions and stereotypes to be more traumatizing. It’s frustrating to defend my sexuality to people.
I would love to meet more survivors who were hypersexual, or who didn’t have their sexuality this impacted at all. I went from a promiscuous teenager to being in a happy and monogamous relationship. I never could identify with having low desire. I feel so alone with my thoughts. All I know is that I have always been sexual, regardless of CSA happening.
I don't even recall much of it myself. It took an intervention on the part of my friends to get me help and become stable.
I hope you consider that there is a possibility the woman you love is still there, and that she is buried under whatever has triggered her.
I was married for over 20 years before experiencing my most recent fugue.
That's the way PTSD is. It sneaks up and grabs you. It wipes away reason.
I would encourage single and couples therapy from someone experienced with PTSD and dissociation. I wish you the very best.
I am married to a beautiful woman who has given me 3 wonderful children. Unfortunately, something has happened to our intimacy. She tells me that she is very secure in the knowledge that I love her and she has told me that my love for her is much greater than her love for me. She has told me that she was indeed very promiscuous before marrying me, due largely to early childhood abuse. We recently fought after she began to arrive late and disappear for hours at a time. Though she has not admitted to being unfaithful, I fear she has, but I do lover her so.
After deep contemplation, I concluded that she simply no longer loved me nor wished to be with me, but instead with someone else. I asked for a divorce to which she agreed, but never would she take the next step. I finally, angrily demanded that she tell me what was wrong. She broke down and told me that she did have desires to be with other men. She did not want to be in another relationship, but felt a need to have dissociated sexual contact with random men, regardless of ethnicity, age, or even physical appearance. She claimed that she has yet to act on these sexual impulses, but said that she feared that once divorced she would return to sleeping with random men. She said that she still loved me deeply, but could not explain why our intimacy was so difficult. All she could tell me is that she felt unworthy of me.
I myself have dealt with a great deal of emotional pain through out my early life and have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I am a combat veteran and have have reacted violently while in states of depression. I have sought out help and am seeing a psychiatrist. This is probably the only reason why we are still together. I feel it in my bones that she has been with another man, but I love her and my children adore her. What can I do and what should I do?
Thanks so much for sharing your story. Your words helped me understand why I became promiscuous as an adult. I did have sexual abuse in childhood and as a teenager. One of the most difficult things for me is that my friends of many years became very judgemental of me and my past when i got upset with one of them for judging me over a different issue in my life. When that happened they all took the other persons side and began to (although I can't prove it ) make all sorts of behind my back comments. I didn't know and still don't know what they said but I believe from their attitudes and what they knew about my past that they discussed what an awful lifestyle I had lived and then they accused me of being a homosexual which is based on absolutely nothing. I have never been able to be friends with them again though at one time they offered, I just remained unable and unwilling to trust any of them again. M
I was abused by multiple family members as a young child, starting at age 5. At age 8, I was attacked and raped by a man whose identity still remains a mystery to me. At age 13, I found myself in a physically abusive, later on sexually abusive, relationship with a boy a few years older than me. A couple of years passed and I left that relationship, finding myself in group homes, one of which I was raped once more. Myself, and many of the other girls at the group home, were subjected to sexual abuse and harassment, constantly witnessing the abuse of others while we remained silent in fear that we would be next. After six months, I was placed back home with my parents and began a long distant relationship with a boy a year older in another state. Upon meeting him for the first time, he too sexual abused me, however, I don’t think he intended to. That’s just how it felt to me because I never gave my consent for the things he did. At 16, I lost my virginity on my own accord to a boy I had been speaking to for only a few shorts weeks and from then on until age 20, I found myself sleeping with person after person. I had this theory in my head that if I could give away what I knew everyone wanted from me before they had the chance to take it, I would never had to relive my traumas again and I was in control of my body. It was very lonely, to say the very least. I never told anyone the full extent of my abuse or promiscuity. At age 20, I met a man who is now my husband and I kept most of my abuse and past sexual endeavors a secret. He had only been with two others before me, and I fed him a lie that made me seem almost saint-like as far as sexuality goes. Ashamed of my own sexual past, lacking confidence in my self-worth and value, and this newfound jealousy at the thought of the man I love with others fueled this destructive behavior to constantly scold and belittle him over his measly two former sexual partners. 7 and a half years into the marriage, I found it harder to escape my past and keep up with the lies I had told to sustain a prim and proper reputation. I told my husband everything. Obviously, our marriage fell on some hard times and I turned to alcohol as a means of coping. He still struggles with understanding why a person with such an extensive history of sexual abuse would willingly put herself in multiple sexual situations. I felt that I had very few resources to answer his questions and ease his fears, because it was a thought that I had struggled with for a long time myself. It didn’t make sense to me why I had engaged in hypersexuality when I was a long time victim of sexual abuse. It made me feel dirty and broken. He and I have been working tirelessly to mend our marriage and regain trust for one another. I have since abandoned my alcohol abuse and I am coming up on 90 days sober. Still, I felt this confusion about my past actions and experiences. I woke up this morning, telling myself that it can’t be all the uncommon for a sexual abuse victim and survivor to walk down the road of promiscuity. It must make sense to at least one person that promiscuity could be used as a coping mechanism, a means to control a very feared and possible outcome. Reading your article has helped me understand myself a bit more, and has allowed me to shed a little bit of the guilt I feel about my past.
I just finished a book called "The Way I Used To Be" by Amber Smith. A young lady was raped and headed for a spiral of destruction over a handful of years. Finally, the truth came out...poignant. So close to my story.
"The Way I Used To Be" by Amber Smith was raw and real; the emotions following and the turmoil. Luckily, she had a friend who stuck by her, not without boundaries though.
So very real to what my experiences were. I didn't tell for seven years, then it was only a couple of people. I causes so much confusion!
Your recollection of events is detailed. You clearly identified these situations as wrong and uncomfortable when they occurred. Your younger-self must have been so confused and upset that adults were acting so inappropriately.
If you are still experiencing intrusive thoughts or have concerns that you need more help processing these traumatic memories, a therapist experienced with trauma can help you work through them. Thanks again for sharing. T
You do have memories, and they are quite detailed. I can only share with you what my therapist told me when I asked the same question. Work on processing the memories that you do have. If that opens up more areas that need healing, then you go from there.
I still do not remember everything, and I'm okay with that because I know plenty. More did come back to me as I began processing what I did remember.
From your description of your history as well as more recent events, it sounds like you would benefit from a counselor experienced in dealing with trauma. They will help you organize your memories and also help you find a way to recall things without experiencing the fear and pain of the original events. T
Healing from trauma is an ongoing process and I don't believe there is a magic point where we are completely healed. We recover, we move on, we have a setback, we move on. Some people have fewer setbacks than others.
Therapy as a child/youth would not have addressed the issues that surround sexuality in adult relationships.
I do believe you would benefit from speaking to a counselor about your past trauma and your current concerns with your marriage. They can help you continue with your healing and provide you an understanding of how childhood trauma impacts us throughout life.
You are not alone in this. T
My husband claims he was assaulted by a trusted neighbor when he was 13. While he acts all tough and says it never bothered him, he had numerous encounters before I had to leave.
His father also did those things, mother too. "As long as they come home together" it was ok in their home. Not mine. Later, it was other things too. I can't go on that journey with him.
Take care of yourself.