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Dr. Robert,

For a long time now, I have had both sexual and non sexual fantasies about being abused as a child, and about abusing children as an adult. I grew up with a physically abusive, alcoholic father, but I cannot recall any specific time when I was sexually abused. These thoughts, especially the sexually explicit ones, worry me; sometimes, having these thoughts is the only way I can be sexually turned on. But whether I'm having sex or masturbating to these thoughts, I always feel disgusted, dirty, and ashamed when it's over. Is there any insight you could offer me? I want to tell myself that since I don't have prove of abuse, the almost-memories and intense feelings I have have to be fake. But these feelings are too real to be imagined. Please help.



Dear Bella--

Without meeting you and having some time for an extended conversation, it is not possible for me to say whether or not you were sexually abused. For example, it would be informative to hear you describe the sexually explicit thoughts that you use to arouse yourself when you have sex or masturbate, since a sensitive therapist can use small clues such as tone of voice, body language, and the feeling tone in the room to intuit whether the sex fantasies are based in early experience or not. However, based on what you have written, I would say that there are two possibilities.

First, perhaps you were not sexually abused in the strictest sense (meaning genitals touched or penetrated), but the physical abuse by your father had sexual undertones which you felt and absorbed. In other words, you might have experienced your father's violence as if it were a direct sexual assault. Indeed, many men abuse their daughters because these men are angry at women in general, and incapable of expressing their emotions through sexual intercourse with a grown women--one who can "hit back," that is--so that a spanking provides a release of sexual tension for these men, and then must be experienced as sexual by the child. The other possibility is that you really were sexually abused by your father, probably repeatedly, and have repressed those memories which now express themselves in fantasy, guilt, and shame.

However, as I see it, it is not terribly important at this point to distinguish between physical abuse which felt sexual, and frank sexual abuse, because in either case the treatment you need is similar, and I suggest that you seek such treatment as soon as possible. I recommend that you find an older therapist, preferably a women with experience in working with daughters abused by their fathers, and that you plan to spend an extended time investigating and healing this trauma. With proper treatment, you will be able to move on beyond the point of needing to fantasize humiliation and pain in order to achieve orgasm, and you will no longer need to imagine abusing children. With proper treatment, you will be able to find other ways of keeping your sense of self intact, so that you don't need so much to rely on those thoughts and fantasies that help you to keep yourself together emotionally, but at the cost of causing you so much guilt and shame.

In the meantime, I urge you to accept yourself, including your sexuality, as you are right now. The good news is that you are able to become aroused sexually, and that you have found ways to experience your sexuality. Try to do this without guilt and shame while the therapy progresses. This is important, because it seems clear from your letter that your fantasy life and your active sexuality play important roles in helping your sense of self to cohere, that is to remain firm enough to survive in this life. It would not be wise to try to stop these thoughts and fantasies "cold turkey." And, to tell you the truth, Bella, in my experience we're all a little kinky anyway, so try to relax, take it easy, and seek the therapy you need.

Be well.


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