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Dear Dr. Saltzman,

I don't know if I was molested. I know that sounds strange but its true. When I was younger I had a female cousin that was maybe a few years older touch me (Is it even possible for a girl to molest another girl?). This happened over the course of maybe 2 years whenever our families visited each other.

I have always told myself that that is how children play and that there was nothing wrong with it. I do not remember the details but I think I enjoyed it (I know how horrible that sounds).

I am now 27 and have had only one sexual experience (I am still a virgin). When it was happening to me I felt like I was not there and I asked him to stop. When I find out that someone is interested in me in that way I disengage. I also have problems keeping friends, if they don't constantly call me then we lose touch.

I don't know if I am using what happened to me earlier as an excuse or if I have a valid issue. I have not told anyone about this and I avoid seeing the cousin. I am considering going to a doctor about this and my depression.


Josi (you can use my name)

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Dear Josi:

It is entirely normal for children to play sexual games with one another and to experiment sexually by touching. This is something that many, if not most, children have experienced at one time or another, and it is not necessarily molestation. Sexuality involving a child becomes "molestation" when the other party to the sexuality is not another child of around the same age, but an adult or older child who uses the power difference to force or otherwise convince the younger, less powerful person to engage in touching or being touched inappropriately. In fact, molestation does not have to involve touching at all, but may consist of exposing genitalia, taking pornographic pictures, or even just talking sexually to a child.

Since your cousin was a few years older than you, it might be possible to say that you were molested (and, by the way, a girl certainly can molest another girl), but putting a label on what happened is not the important point here. According to your letter, you feel that your present problems with sexual intimacy, with being able to stay in touch with friends, with not wanting any contact with your cousin, as well as with depression, may have roots in these childhood sexual experiences, and you mention wanting to consult a doctor to find out more about this.

I think you are on the right track, and I encourage you to seek help as soon as possible. In fact, I consider this to be urgently needed. To begin with, you threw in the word "depression" as the very last word in your letter--almost as an afterthought--but depression is a very serious matter, which, if left untreated, almost always worsens, and which can have extremely harmful effects not just on mental and emotional life, but also on the well-being of the entire body, including the brain, and every other organ.

Also, your statement about feeling that you were "not there" when sex was "happening to you," suggests to me that the experiences with your cousin have produced in you the attitude that sex is something that "happens to you" (as it did with your older cousin), instead of something in which you participate (as in healthy sexuality). This feeling of "not being there" is what psychologists call "depersonalization," which is regarded as a defense mechanism against traumatic experiences--experiences, in other words, which were felt as harmful, dangerous, painful, or injurious and so too difficult to bear while fully conscious. The depersonalization that you felt when you had your one incomplete sexual experience with a man may very well be an extension or replay of the depersonalization that you used to protect yourself against really being there when your cousin played with your body. Your statement that you do not really remember the details suggest this.

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Finally, you wrote this: "I do not remember the details but I think I enjoyed it (I know how horrible that sounds)." I want to assure you that there is nothing horrible at all about enjoying the physical sensations of having your vagina touched even if the circumstances are not entirely OK. It often happens that the physical sensations of sexuality are enjoyed even when the sex itself is unwanted or inappropriate. Please do not continue to feel guilty about this.

Josi, I hope that you will consult a qualified psychologist as soon as possible to speak with him or her about your situation, and please feel free to write to me again whenever you like.

Be well.

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