How Does My Friend Reclaim Her Sexuality After Childhood Abuse?

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 08:59
Submitted by Betty Dodson

Hi Betty,

I first started reading you when I purchased 'Orgasms for Two' from a Toronto sex shop in mid-2010. I live in Sydney, Australia. I'm 22 and am close friends with a 21yo female, we have been friends for 4 years. I was her first consensual experience, and we now have started living together while we continue study in Sydney. We don't consider ourselves a couple, but we maintain a sexual relationship. My friend was repeatedly abused for several years up to the age of 14/15 - she can't remember exactly when it started. She was abused by her male cousin, who is just over 1 year older than her. I don't know the exact details, but it involved repeated rape. As she describes it, 'I never had to do more than lay there and avoid getting kissed and penis in my mouth.'

When my friend came out with it, the local child protection unit became involved. It was her decision whether or not to let the police pursue him, though I don't know a lot of detail, there were issues with whether things would meet evidence requirements etc, but either way, she didn't feel comfortable with pursuing it. As far as I know, the consequences were that he was fired from working at their place with her dad. Her mum assumed that, because she didn't want to pursue it with the police, that she must have lied about it. Her aunt (his mother), who was raped by her father repeatedly as a child, had 0% sympathy.

Typing this makes me incredibly angry. To this day, his family, and HIM, are still invited to family Christmases and the like. She is not 'over it.'

Through her mid-late teens she battled all sorts of mental issues, including anorexia nervosa, depression, and going through a good handful of counsellors/psychologists, none of whom she ever felt comfortable with. She was on and off medication, overdosed several times on painkillers, and began a relationship with her razor blade. I hate labelling mental illness, despise it to my core, and I'm so happy that she has been off anti-depressants for several months now.

She has battled mental issues, poor results at school, poor self-esteem and self-image, and has incredible doubts about her own talent and worth. She is a talented instrumentalist who has just won a $5000 scholarship for the 3rd time, and already has a wealth of experience in classical chamber music that many who are in their mid-20s would not have achieved.

To this day, while she intellectually knows that he was at fault, she still harbours many feelings of guilt that she brought it on herself, that she deserved it, etc. Over the past few years she has been in a couple of relationships with people who just weren't worth her time. They were manipulative and abusive, and much of the sex with her previous partner was unwanted. Stare at the roof and wait 'til it's over.

She often feels her body is ruined and has made comments to her other best friend (a girl) about going back to one of the previous guys because she "doesn't care about [her] body."

Since leaving her last partner and moving back home for 5 months and only just recently moving to Sydney with me, she's been a lot happier than I can ever remember. Off the anti-depressants, no more cutting (I have the blades), and a much more positive headspace. I understand all these mental issues aren't your area of expertise, but they are the history and backbone to her current sexual 'problems' (for want of a better word). She will quite possibly return to counselling of some form now we're in a different city, but we'll see - she hasn't had great experiences with it before.

So now to the sex. What lead me back to this site (after I'd given her your Orgasms for Two book to read) was that I had encouraged her to think about your barbell, as she has a relatively weak pelvic floor. I'm a singer, thus having a strong pelvic floor is vital to what I do. I know that if she strengthened that, there would be increased pleasure for both of us.

But before anything else, she needs to find a way to get past the past. We have had some great sex where all her responses are positive. We have had sex sometimes where she simply shuts down and starts shaking and crying for no apparent reason. I give her manual and oral stimulation as well, which she enjoys immensely, though sometimes the same thing happens, she just shuts down. It took some time, but she gradually became comfortable with giving me manual and oral stimulation as well. (I've told her she gives really good head - she really does!)

She feels very self-conscious about her body. Just me talking about masturbation with her and giving her some of the articles and letters on this site makes her nervous. I know that, somehow, she needs to break that link between sex and guilt/rape/hurt totally, because even when she's enjoying sex, it still lingers. I'm sure (am I correct?) that a healthy exploration of masturbation would be the first and BEST thing for her to reclaim power over her body and sexuality, but how can I possibly encourage her to start? How on earth do I encourage her to touch herself? She's not yet been able to touch her clitoris or any part of her vulva. She immediately shuts down if I even gently guide her hand there.

I don't know if it's a mental health issue that needs to be solved first, which will lead to being comfortable with masturbation. I have a feeling that, for all the counsellors/psychologists in the world, nothing could be more healing for her than to reclaim power over her sexuality, but how? When a person has been through these experiences, where does she start? Where do I start? She orgasms, I think. She says she does. I'm pretty sure she does! She gets to a point and then is absolutely silent, like she's breathless sometimes, which is totally different to the other 2 partners I've had, who were both screamers/moaners. She has not had an orgasm with anyone besides me (or so she says, but I believe her :P)

I've been incredibly long-winded, I realise, but everyone's story has significant detail, I suppose, and I'm ecstatic that I can actually ask someone these questions and tell this story. In short, Betty, how do I encourage her to embrace her sexuality? What can I do to help her embrace her sexuality? How can she move on from the past hurt associated with sex, and how can I help her do that? Also, do you have any advice for me on how to cope with my anger associated with her mistreatment? I'm aware enough to know that it stems from an ownership issue, but hey, we're not all perfect!

Thank you so much for your time, it means the world to me.

Dear A,

If I had answers to your many questions, I'd be a genius. However, you already named it: If she stays off antidepressants and learns how to have orgasms with herself, that's the absolute best you can offer her along with your ongoing love and support.

The problem with punishing a young pre-teen boy for exploring sex with a girl cousin just a year younger are many. It would be a shame to have him registered as a sex offender that would follow him the rest of his life. To compound this is the fact that they were part of the same family and it was an ongoing occurrence. A bigger problem is how our society responds to children being sexual at any age under any circumstances.

I believe the first step for your girlfriend would be to stop seeing this incident as rape! Instead, take responsibility for repeating sex with her cousin although she hated it. We need to hate the sexual ignorance and lack of sex education for our children, not some poor dumb kid with a natural curiosity about sex. Although she did not enjoy it, she didn't stop it ether. So she continues to punish herself due to most people's response to children being sexual which adds to her feelings of guilt. Going to therapy after a certain point seems to be keeping a bad memory alive.

Nearly all my clients as well as myself had some form of sex games as children between the ages of around 8 to 12. Once a girl gets her period which is happening earlier today, she is now able to get pregnant. Then sex becomes a more serious issue. Since she has had counseling, just practicing her orgasms alone or with you would be a perfect healing for her. She's lucky to have you as a good friend. You actually said it loud and clear: "I'm sure (am I correct?) that a healthy exploration of masturbation would be the first and BEST thing for her to reclaim power over her body and sexuality, but how can I possibly encourage her to start?"

Maybe a cute little vibrator would help her to approach her clitoris. She wouldn't have to actually touch herself. Also toning the pelvic floor muscles is important. Just keep her mind off repeating her "rape story" and keep supporting her to take her sexuality back from her cousin, otherwise he wins. He got to have sex and it's all forgotten but she still suffers. We need to use our anger to heal ourselves like you did in writing your long letter to me. Stand by with love.

Dr. Betty

Liberating women one orgasm at a time

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Thu, 01/19/2012 - 12:05
Wioleta (not verified)

I'm greatly disappointed by this. Betty, are you trying to excuse rape ? "she didn't stop it either"=> so if you're too panicked, or to scared, to fight against someone who tries to rape you, it wasn't rape ? Who knows what threats he made so she would not cry for help? It is possible to heal from such abuse, but not by denying that it happened. Rape, even between kids the same age, is not an innocent "sex game", believe me.  Please, tell me that you made an error Betty, because what you said is so careless, so disrespectful for rape survivors, that I cannot quite believe you wrote that..

Betty, I think that what you

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 12:34
Fran Klinger (not verified)

Betty, I think that what you and Carlin do to educate is great.  I agree that children are sexual and should be allowed to explore their sexuality without shame.  Any question they ask should be answered in an age approriate manner.  The concern I have with your response is whether or not the sexual activity happened with the young woman's consent.  If someone uses force, such as physical strength, drugs, weapons, adult/child power imbalance, etc., it does not matter how old the participants were.  This is where the line may be crossed.  I speak from my experience as a mother and working in victim services almost 20 years.  Thanks for your continued empowering message.  

Hello, A: I am really, truly

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 12:49
Faith (not verified)

Hello, A:
I am really, truly sorry for your friend.  You and her should also go to these websites: (tends to be somewhat US-centric, don't know how much it might help for your country)
and -
Help her find a GOOD therapist whose expertise is in sexual abuse/violence -
and finally -
Help go to other blogs of other survivors of sexual abuse/violence - there are PLENTY out there.
Best of luck to your friend and you in your journey in tandem and individually.
You are a good friend.
-Thank you,

It was non-consensual, dammit!

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 13:07
WildOrchid (not verified)

That teen boy didn't have sex with her. He raped her. She didn't consent, she was probably too frightened and ashamed to stop him physically or tell on him after the first incident. She didn't participate or even passively enjoy it. If it was consensual sex she wouldn't be in so much pain because of it. She would look at it fondly.

Rape is rape, no matter if you are 12 or 18 and children are capable of inflicting sexual violence on others. They are also capable of sharing fun, consensual sex play. It's adults’ responsibility to react if it's the former instead of the later.

PLEASE, STOP THE VICTIM-BLAMING. Please, read up on why victims stay in abusive situations. And prepare because if this page gets traffic you're gonna have a shit-storm here.

Sorry, Betty, but I completely DISAGREE

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 14:16
mufmix (not verified)

I am sorry, Betty, but I COMPLETELY disagree about your judgement of this incident, even though I understand what you meant to say / want to achieve. I do know too many women who have been abused / raped, I have been through my own share of humiliation, shaming. 
This woman had to take more than she could (and still can) bear. You do not know what exactly happened (so do I), you interpret too much. I am 100% on the side of this woman. The important thing is to help her to reclaim her sexuality, to come to terms with her past experiences and - most of all with herself. THAT is important. Even IF she will one day accept it off as over and done (I REALLY do whish her that!), those words now ... destract from the rest of the good stuff you answered her.
I do know you are doing this for free, I do admire you for your courage, your outspokeness, the strength you are able to convey to other people. my feeling is that you are a very quick person to answer some questions, which can sometimes be too quick. I do understand YOUR good intentions, what you meant to express, the meaning of your words. You are RIGHT when it comes to prudish attitudes towards children's sexuality, to teenagers exploring sexuality. But IMO this has been the wrong post for THAT.
To write this is difficult for me because it means standing up to someone whom I am very grateful for what she has done. But I do want to send that woman, should she read this, my love, sympathy and wish her the endurance it takes to heal. 
The essence of what you said would also have been my advice: Yes, masturbation could be an important experience for her to re-claim herself, her body, her feelings and experiences. As her friend I would try to offer her my understanding (or sometimes not, can also be important), my own thoughts and maybe a little inspiration for further exploration of the wide field of herself and human sexuality. that woman who supports her does a wonderful job, great to have such a great friend. Maybe, if she is artsy, engaging in music, film, literature, paintings could maybe get her mind going into other, new directions. To find out what it means to her, what it meant to the artist and to other people. My experiences from my own life is that these second hand experiences, if used carefully and sensibly, can be a part of the healing process. Maybe. Or become reative yourself, without judgement, just doing it.
All the best for everyone in here.

Sorry, this was no innocent

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 14:43
lsjb (not verified)

Sorry, this was no innocent exploration of childhood sexuality.  This was abuse, it was rape, and this young girl is in no way to be blamed for not stopping it.  She Was a victim.
The importance is to help her stop vicitimizing herself now.  I agree that she needs to find a qualified person who is very adept at treating post traumatic injury.  There is a lot of abuse, and there is a lot of help around.
One of the best resources is a book called SexSmart by Aline Zoldbrod, PhD and its also a website with wonderful information.
I am impressed with her ability to be sexual at all.  Masturbation would be very healing for her when she is ready to do it.   Feeling any pressure to "get over it," is the worst kind of advice.
You, A, are a godsend. Your positive interest and support has already helped her begin to heal. Cutting is a way that survivors prove to themselves that they are alive, when they see the blood, and also a way to remind themselves that they can feel.  It is a dangerous game. She will learn to control her own impulses with time once she can truly acknowledge the experience and her anger.  It's likely that she might want to consider staying away from family gatherings where here cousin attends and also those who would judge her and deny her experience.
Patience my friend.  Professional support, personal love and support will help her make her way.

Hey, A: Also, there is (and

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 14:57
Faith (not verified)

Hey, A:
Also, there is (and should not be any) NO FUCKING SHAME in taking antidepressants in addition to therapy. It's a drug, like any other drug, and she should have an understanding of the risks of them. If she needs to take them, and it's working, cool - if not - cool!

-Thanks again,

Help Heal, Not Shame!!

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 21:33
Anonymous44 (not verified)

I hope this gets posted because it seems half of my comments get lost on this site regardless if the are favorable or critical.  It seems that the moderators are not interested in feedback when the comments are so often "lost".

To the writer of this question: I think that your friend is very fortunate to have someone so understanding and supportive of her sexual journey who truly wants her to be alright and enjoy herself on her own terms.  It seems you truly have the best intentions and have been very thoughtful in regards to her situation.  I think that letting things develop naturally between the two of you, expressing your truths freely in a non-pushy manner like you have been doing, allowing her to discover herself with time, these are all good things.  What specific things will help her move on from her sexual trauma, I can not be sure of.  I think having a man in her life that is really there for her and cares about these things is a tremendous advantage.  Many women want that and cannot find it.  Often times victims of sexual abuse do end up in recurrent situations of sexual abuse, so that she has someone who is looking out for her and her happiness is great.  Healing is different for everybody, but I think allowing her to be who she is and helping her create trust with you is a great start.  

In regards to the response posted to this question: I'm very disappointed in this answer. "I believe the first step for your girlfriend would be to stop seeing this incident as rape! Instead, take responsibility for repeating sex with her cousin although she hated it. We need to hate the sexual ignorance and lack of sex education for our children, not some poor dumb kid with a natural curiosity about sex. Although she did not enjoy it, she didn't stop it ether. // Once a girl gets her period which is happening earlier today, she is now able to get pregnant. Then sex becomes a more serious issue. "  Honestly I'm baffled at how you could post this.  So many women come to this site searching for an answer to their orgasm and sexual health questions and a lot of them have difficulty acheiving orgasms and a healthy sexual attitude because of their prior sexual abuse.  Now they can come here and be told that their rape wasn't rape?  Think about what you are doing here!  Think about the people who come to this website for real help.  You are alienating a lot of us by making these statements.  You don't know enough about her situation to say something like that and you really come off poorly here.  This post coupled with the one earlier this month with its' blanket statements about antideppressants has now changed my view on this site completely.  I used to feel that this was a place for people with open minds to come and share their experiences without judgement, but now I realize it is lately posting some very closed minded, negative, unhelpful opinions.  

Please, please, please, start to answer your questions with more sensitivity.  You can still help people, still voice your strong opinions, still share your experiences and beliefs, in a tactful way that will actually get through to people without turning people off the site completely.

  I disagree with you too

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 22:15
Jake E


I disagree with you too Betty. It was rape. But how you acknowledge the seriousness of what happened while enabling someone to overcome it, when it will always very likely be unresolved is really hard.   I'm not an expert on that and as A pointed out in her email neither is Betty.

I think being in a new city is ideal and making Sydney your permanent home and building a new life with a new support network would be ideal too. It's those people who are middle aged now that she'll be helping when they're old not her family. Blood family loyalty is only a stupid cultural tradition. There's nothing special about your genetic family. If they're toxic leave them alone forever. Millions of people have been adopted into very loving families with no blood ties at all. So real families are about love. Not denying you've been raped while seeing you suffer it's consiquences. A,  I'll say to your friend. Blood ties mean nothing, it's love that means something. Find the people you love and that love you in Sydney and start your new life. 

I agree with Anonymous44.

Fri, 01/20/2012 - 17:05
Anonymous_ (not verified)

I agree with Anonymous44. After reading some of Dr. Dodsons comments to people on antidepressants, the giving advice about them without proper background information, and now this, I too must say I have much less respect for her opinions. 
The writer does not give enough information for Dr. Dodson to determin if it was just  a case of "[= 14px; line-height: 22px]some poor dumb kid with a natural curiosity about sex". And it doesn't let you know that "[/][= 14px; line-height: 22px]she didn't stop it either". Also, she should not advice the young person to stay off antidepressants, as her history proves it might be necessary if her condition gets worse. There is also no information about what kind of medicine she's been on. [/]
[= 14px; line-height: 22px][/][= 14px; line-height: 22px]In short, these seem to me like assumptions pulled out of the blue. It seems to me Dr. Dodson is very quick to judge without the proper background info. Personally, I think this is inexcusable when you are experienced and highly regarded, and especially if you have a "Dr." in your title. People will put their trust in you, and those people may have serious problems. The least you can do is to make sure you give well founded advice and always with humility and kindness.[/]
As for the boy, it may very well be he didn't realize the damage he inflicted, but it was still rape and he should know it. Write him a letter. Write the whole fuckin' family a letter. She may not reconcile with them, or even make them understand. But they should see their shit held up before their faces.

For all of our followers that jumped in with their opinion:

Betty Dodson's picture
Fri, 01/20/2012 - 17:24
Betty Dodson

to my response, I thank you. I did not mean to minimize rape! However, I would hope that at some point women would come to understand how we respond to rape is an important part of the problem that can either delay or quicken a woman’s healing.

There are many worse things that could happen to us like being wounded in a senseless war or ending up trapped in a thankless job or a sexless marriage or caring for a special needs child or an aging parent with no hope of reprieve. Women are also psychologically raped with unwanted advances, street comments and accidental pregnancies. We are still fighting for adequate birth control and/or keeping abortion legal. We do not make equal pay for equal work and we are no where near equal to men when it comes to decision making positions in government. We have a lot to be pissed off about.

My sense of women’s rage is that it’s partially based on our second class citizenship. We tend to pour all of our anger toward the system that men control into how we respond to rape. We become unforgiving, unyielding, unbending when dealing with this topic. I believe our anger would be better placed if we focused on changing the status of women socially, politically as well as eliminating the moral demands of all organized religions. Also I would include the educational system and the institution of the family as part of the problem for making rape possible by lack of a secent sex education.

The way I see it, neither men nor women are responsible for rape. It’s the cultural demand that all sexual activity must take place in a heterosexual monogamous marriage that is to blame. We would do well to get a grip on how to change that! Instead we focus on hating men and the violence of rape when ours is one of the most violent societies on record. How about some compassion shown for young men and women who are thrown into a highly sexualized environment and expected to wait until they get married to scratch those urgent itches. The least we could do would be to encourage masturbation. This young woman's girlfriend has the best approach for helping her find the courage to heal by getting her into her own sexuality.

Male on male rape has no

Sat, 01/21/2012 - 08:19
Jake E

Male on male rape has no womens issues (especially no ridiculous slut shaming of the victim) but the rapist is still responsible. Yet where the power structure enables it (famously in jails) male on male rape is still treated as a joke. But Betty there is part of your poiint that's valid in that when rape is treated as a joke by society those responsible feel they're not doing anything particularly wrong. But their actions have consiquences. Even in a breif encounter there's an emotional caring side to sex that's given with love. To take that without consent is to take that whole person. If someone's sexuality involves far less emotion than shear hotness and pleasure, rape is still an extreme assualt. Even if someone enjoys those things regularly for pleasure, forcibly putting fingers or a stick or a penis in someones vagina or up someones ass, even non sexually is an extreme assualt. Betty I fully support everything you've said about sex education (of boys about rape too) and iliminating cultural oppression of women, but when that's achieved and all rape is on a social and cultural par with adult male on male rape, we're still left with the consequences of an extreme assault. As for A's friend. If her new life success can make her proud of surviving her unpleasant experiences, that's very self empowering and I think makes an eventual peaceful (legal or civil) redress much more likely. 

Hello, Dr. Dodson (& Other

Sat, 01/21/2012 - 12:41
Faith (not verified)

Hello, Dr. Dodson (& Other Folk):
Soldiers (generally) choose to go fight in a war.
(Some) People (for whatever reason) choose to work in a thankless job.
(Some) People (for whatever reason) choose to be in sexless marriages.
(Some) People choose to care for (their) special needs children and/or aging parent(s).
In the past, I have chosen mediocre (for my age, experience & education) jobs because I needed the money.
I have been, by my own choosing, have chosen to care for my aging (and in one case, sick) parents.  For all of their issues & problems, they have been the best to me.  (Two of ) My first loves.
I would not say I hate men.  I have anger, resentment and amusement when some of them fail to see where I come from  in the context of what it means for me to be safe.
I grew up as a little black autistic girl in Silver Spring, MD, where the environment was getting to be poor....(to be continued...)

More To Follow... ...& we

Sat, 01/21/2012 - 13:18
Faith (not verified)

More To Follow...
...& we moved to Bethesda, MD for a better environment.  My parents (along with my three sisters & one brother) were quite strict with me and did not allow for me to go to sleep-overs.
I now appreciate & understand why.
I know of two women, quite close to me - one was raped when she was a teen & got a bad reputation in school from it, the other, molested as a younger child - their lives were okay, but there were consequences from those horrid situations, and still resonate with them today.
Because of my autism, I was mute for some time, and had to go to a special-needs school to help me with that & other things (While I have "passing" priviledge, I am still autistic).
Had my family not watched me like a hawk & protected me like they did, I would have (more likely) have been in a terrible situation similar to the two women I discussed at an earlier age - and it would have been more disasterous on my life (predators target disabled people/women/girls for this - See Google...)!
My sisters and parents did a GREAT job in discussing issues of race w/me - but failed to discuss sexuality and gender issues.  They warned me about rape, and talked around me, but not to me directly.  I had to read through books and watch tv of incidents of those situations and how to reduce my risk (...say what you will about the media, esp. talk shows, but it helped to save my ass!  THANK GOD FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF TECHNOLOGY, ESP. THE INTERNET!).
I was on a date, and my date was mad at me for not going back to his place.  He was mad at me, and I went back home on the bus - and I came to the date on the bus.  I learned through the media, and books that if I were ever violated through an acquaintance, I would more likely to be blamed & scapegoated via other people's attitudes & the legal system, because it would look as though I consented by going back to his place.  Unfortunately, the rape of black women and girls  was JUST started to be prosecuted (BARELY!) in the 1950s.  While times have changed and attitudes have improved (somewhat....), the mindset is that black women and girls are Jezebels, promiscuous from birth, and basically unrapeable.
So - FOR ME! (and others...) - that's why I kind of have - in your words, "...unyielding, unforgiving, and unbending...," because I've been observing (via the media) how black (disabled)  female survivors of sexual abuse are treated, and it is awful & terrible, and I have great anger, hatred, and resentment of that - and the pretending as though it is non-existent (when people (men) desire to have sex with me).  And I know if I ever tried to report it, some (if not a lot) of people would have "...unyielding, unforgiving, and unbending...," attitudes towards ME - and at a certain point - I could careless if it appears I have hatred/take things personally/etc.!
Comparing sexual abuse/violence & working at mediocre jobs, & taking care of aging/sick parents  insults my intelligence.  Again, I chose to work at those mediocre jobs for the money, and - as many issues as I have with that and the caretaking of aging/sick parents - it would be NOTHING like getting raped and treated like a pile of excrement for (DARING!) to report the incident(s) and the subsequent aftermath.
Yes, sexual abuse/violence is terrible - but other men need to organize rape crisis shelters that focus on men.
-Thanks greatly,
P.S. - Helping to take care of my parents is a great honor for me, and it helped me become less selfish and more giving.  I have a more compassionate view towards them (and other people) than I have ever been.

Thanks for sharing Faith. When you stated:

Betty Dodson's picture
Sat, 01/21/2012 - 14:01
Betty Dodson

"I grew up as a little black autistic girl in Silver Spring, MD" helps give a frame of reference. I grew up as a poor little white girl in Wichita Kansas, but I never shut up. I'm glad you have found your voice and can express rage over your past experiences. And I hope you feel better after verbally putting me in my place according to your views about my views. This is the beauty of cyberspace. We all get to have our say. It looks like you and I will have to agree to disagree.

Betty, you must be f'd up in the head

Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:06
Anonymous2 heaven (not verified)

Can't believe you would say that a thankless jib, being injured in a war, etc were more horrible than being raped! That's the most insensitive idiot comment I've heard. Victim or perpetrator which side are you on.   until you've been raped repeatedly by your father, threatened with death or beaten you have no idea what's its like to live with something like that!!!  even so, to compare it to a job?! Really? You need therapy!