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Rape (Sexual Issues)

If Someone You Love is Raped - Sexual Issues, Lee Van Donselaar, Ph.D. & Kim McKay, M.S.
A natural consequence of rape is that the rape survivor learns to link sexual arousal with violence, humiliation, or terror. Following such an incident, It is not uncommon for a survivor to experience flashbacks during sexual relations. As a result, the survivor experiences an increase in anxiety during sexual activity, causing disruptions in sexual responsiveness. If the survivor’s partner is insensitive to these issues, resumption of sexual activity can feel like a replay of the rape, thereby re-traumatizing the survivor and delaying her/his recovery. Below are some helpful hints for becoming an ally in your partner’s sexual healing journey.

Understand
Your partner has been through a terrible ordeal. S/he needs to be believed and reminded, repeatedly, that it was NOT her/his fault. S/he will likely have an increased need for safety in the relationship for a period of time. You are in a unique position to help her/him by creating and maintaining such a safe environment.

Facilitate Healing:

            Do:

    • Allow her/him a period of abstinence—if needed.
    • Allow her/him to make sexual decisions, including the option of saying “no” at any time.
    • Be willing to talk about it.
    • Encourage your partner to voice her/his needs.
    • Be willing to alter relationship patterns in order to avoid cues which remind the survivor of the assault.
    • Find alternative ways to communicate intimacy, such as holding or cuddling.
    • Be patient: Sexual disruption is usually temporary.

            Don’t:

    • Pressure your partner into sexual activity.
    • Blame her/him if things don’t go as planned.
    • Be angry with her/him. Remember, disruptions in sexual activity are the fault of the abuser.
    • Doubt your own sexual adequacy. Your partner’s aversion to sex is not aversion to you.
    • Withdraw physically or emotionally: Either will likely be interpreted by your partner as a sign that you think s/he is tarnished.

Seek Help
Seek out resources on the topic. Utilize your support network. Consider joining a support group for partners of sexual abuse survivors. If problems persist, this may be an indication that you need to enlist the help of a qualified therapist to guide you through the sexual healing process.

References
     Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child, (1991). L. Davis. New York: HarperCollins.
     Ghosts in the Bedroom, (1991). K. Graber, Deerfield Beech, Florida: Health Communications.
     If She is Raped; A Guidebook for Husbands and Fathers, (1991). A.W. McEvoy & J.B. Brookings, Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications.
     Outgrowing the Pain Together: A Book for Partners and Spouses of Adults Abused as Children, (1991). E. Gill, New York: Dell Bantam Doubleday.