Effects on Sexuality of Childhood Trauma


I have already written extensively on the effects of childhood trauma on individuals such as PTSD, self-harm, issues surrounding emotional regulation (control),  alcoholism, self-esteem, relationship difficulties,  drug addiction, dissociative disorders and more.

However, so far I have written little about the effect of childhood trauma on sexuality. Why? Well, for one thing, it is a sensitive issue, and, possibly related to this fact, relatively little research has been carried out in relation to this vitally important area. Some studies, however, have shown links between childhood trauma and sexual addiction, sexual compulsion, homosexuality, sadomasochistic behaviours, and prostitution.

As these are or have been in the past, viewed as deviant behaviours, problems arise in their study due to associated stigma, inhibiting researchers from delving too closely into such areas and discouraging people from putting themselves forward as potential subjects of such research. It has been hypothesized that such behaviours may potentially develop in those who have experienced childhood trauma as they :

1) serve as dissociative reenactments of early relational disturbances and/or

2 arise from difficulty integrating sexual activity with the normal concomitant emotional state (e.g. love or affection).

In this introductory article I will very briefly outline some of the limited research into this area that has, so far, been conducted :

Research by psychologist Toni Johnson refutes the commonly held notion that those who have been molested as children will inevitably go on to molest others. It is a simple, empirical fact that this is not the case.

Research by Cheryl Koopman has collected data that shows there is a strong correlation between those who have suffered moderate to severe childhood trauma and those who are more likely to have unsafe sex (i.e. unprotected sex with multiple partners).

Controversially, as far as some are concerned (I’m just the messenger), Colin Ross, in his study entitled ‘Sexual Orientation Conflict in Dissociative Disorders’ has noted that a significantly greater than would be statistically predicted proportion of patients seeking treatment for dissociative disorders are gay or lesbian. More research needs to be conducted into this.

Why are such issues important? Psychologist Margo Rivera has answered this question (although I paraphrase her answer) by stressing that sexuality is such a profound and fundamental part of the human psyche that it is crucial that those whose sexuality does not reflect the mainstream have their sexuality both acknowledged and accepted if therapy is to make meaningful headway. A humane note on which to end.

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