Childhood Sexual Trauma and Sexual Addiction

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Dr. Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT

Without a doubt, childhood sexual abuse—whether single-incident or chronic—leaves its victims with feelings of both confusion and shame. This is true whether the abuse is overt (hands-on) or covert (emotional). Exacerbating matters is the fact that childhood sexual abuse is often coupled with other forms of early-life trauma, such as emotional, psychological, and/or physical neglect and abuse, creating layers of traumatic experience and various forms of shame, though sexual shame is nearly always the most powerful.

Sexually traumatized children often begin to self-medicate their emotional discomfort relatively early in life—usually during adolescence but sometimes even before. After all, body image issues, shame about being looked at and/or touched inappropriately, and feeling “icky” about too much trust and affection can all begin very early in childhood.

This process of self-soothing typically involves alcohol or drugs. That said, many children also learn (or are taught) that they can self-soothe with sexual behaviors (including sexual fantasy, pornography, and masturbation), typically by eroticizing and reenacting (taking control over) some aspect of their sexual trauma. In fact, self-soothing through the eroticized reenactment of trauma is a relatively common response to early-life sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, even though these self-soothing behaviors are distracting in the moment, they tend to exacerbate preexisting shame and emotional discomfort, thus creating an even greater need for escape and dissociation. As such, many sexual trauma survivors find themselves mired in an addictive cycle of self-hatred and sexual shame, ameliorated by sexual fantasy and activity, followed by still more self-hatred and sexual shame.

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