Sexual Trauma: What is it and what are the effects?


Sexual violence happens to 20 percent of all people in America – and that number is not limited to women. Just as many men and boys experience sexual trauma as do women, although men often find it more difficult to seek out the help they need to heal.

The trauma itself goes beyond physical injuries and can result in permanent damage to the psyche, leaving you feeling alone, scared, ashamed, or plagued by traumatic memories and nightmares. You may not be able to trust anybody, including yourself. Relationships are difficult or impossible, and you might struggle with anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

What is Sexual Trauma?

Sexual trauma is a broad term that can refer to any type of sexual abuse, including rape, incest, child sexual molestation, human trafficking and exploitation, or intimate partner violence and sexual abuse. The trauma could be caused by a single incident or be the result of prolonged abuse. It could be the result of an attack on you, personally, or it could be the result of witnessing the abuse of another.

Non-contact sexual abuse is another type of trauma. For example, exposure to pornography at a young age, or a child whose parents have sex in front of them are at a high risk of experiencing trauma.

No one type of sexual trauma is worse or better than another. The extent of the damage can vary from one individual to another for various reasons. The presence of mental illness or substance abuse can mask or exacerbate traumatic symptoms. Alternately, a resilient individual might seem to cope well, despite having such a horrific experience. Resilience, however, is not indicative of healing; the effects of sexual trauma can dictate the course of a person’s life and forever change how they see the world.

Symptoms and Long-Term Effects of Sexual Trauma

It is important to note that the feelings you have around your trauma are normal. What you are experiencing as a result of that trauma – the shame, the fear, helplessness, and often self-blame – these are symptoms of the trauma. As symptoms, they can be addressed.

There might be no visible signs of trauma, but that does not mean it is any less devastating to both mind and body. When the trauma is unaddressed, physical symptoms can manifest, including:

  • Severe headaches or migraines
  • Chronic bladder infections
  • TMJ (grinding or clenching teeth)
  • High blood pressure
  • PTSD
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Substance and alcohol abuse disorders
  • Chronic fatigue syndromes (Fibromyalgia)

While having chronic illnesses like these does not mean the person has experienced sexual trauma, the presence of abuse makes it far more likely for them to develop mental and physical issues at some point in their life.

Why It Is Important To Get Help

The healing process is often a lifelong effort, but the rewards are well worth it. With the right therapeutic approach, it is possible to trust again, rebuild self-worth, regain a sense of self, and take back control of your life.

Wherever you are in your healing journey, we care deeply and are here to help. Reach out today to learn more about our sexual trauma programs and find out how to get started.

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