How people define their own experiences, and the labels they give to them (or don’t), are very important.
I’m not interested in imposing any labels on anyone, or even providing a definition of ‘sexual abuse’ or anything else. For my purposes here, that’s not necessary or helpful.
I’m not interested in labeling you.
Instead, I’m offering tools for thinking about childhood or teenage sexual experiences that may have caused or contributed to current problems.
But I Can’t Escape Words
Of course, I had to choose some words. I settled on ‘unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood.’
This is how I refer, on this site, to childhood and adolescent sexual experiences that can cause a variety of problems, well into adulthood.
My words are carefully chosen, because I strive to:
- Respect every person’s experience and point of view.
- Avoid any definitions or labels that could drive away any person who could use this site to sort through his or her own unique experiences and options.
I also want to emphasize what ‘unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood’ does not mean…
By ‘unwanted’ I do not mean that the experience had to be unwanted when it happened. For example, a child may feel that he or she wants sexual contact with an adult (especially if the adult has manipulated the child). Instead, when I say ‘unwanted,’ I mean:
- Looking back now, is that an experience you want to have happened, to be part of your life?
- Do you want to be having negative thoughts and feelings and behaviors that, looking back now, you suspect or believe are (at least partly) caused by that experience?
“What effects has that experience had on me?”
Also, the ‘or’ in ‘unwanted or abusive’ does not imply that any unwanted sexual experience was also ‘abusive.’ I don’t believe this is true. I’m just hoping that ‘unwanted’ works well enough when it comes to describing childhood or teenage sexual experiences that may have contributed to problems you have now. (Or at least isn’t bad enough to drive you away.)
Tools for Sorting It Out For Yourself
For some of you, that’s why you’re here right now. You’re trying to sort out, on your own terms:
- “What was that childhood (or adolescent) sexual experience really about?”
- “What effects has that experience had on me?”
- “Is that a reason why I’m struggling with _____?”
The question, “What was that sexual experience really about?” may be the most basic, and could take a while to sort out. It implies other questions, like:
- Was the other person in a position of power or authority over me?
- Was I manipulated into doing sexual things, or into believing I wanted to, even when I really didn’t?
- Did sexual activity change what had been a positive relationship into one that involved secrecy and shame?
- Was the other person using me and not really considering my experience or my needs?
- Did the other person take advantage of vulnerabilities I had at the time – feeling isolated and lonely, feeling excited and curious but ignorant about sex?
It’s about your experience, your options, the life you want.
These questions speak to possible exploitation, betrayal, and disregard for your well-being – experiences that can cause a variety of problems, right away and into adulthood.
Also, these questions apply to experiences with other children or teenagers, not just adults. No matter how old the other person was, if dominance, manipulation, exploitation, betrayal or disregard for your well-being were involved, the experiences(s) may have contributed to problems in your life now.
Important: The idea here is not to push anyone to condemn or even to label the other person or people involved, who may also have been good to you, and who you may still like, even love. Also, such experiences may have involved attention, affection and physical sensations that, at the time, you found pleasurable and in some way wanted (e.g., in a confused way mixed up with shame).
The point of trying to ‘sort things out,’ if you choose to do so, is to understand whether – and if so, why and how – the sexual experience(s) may have helped to cause some problems you have now (like problems with shame, anger, addiction, or depression).
To sum up, on this website I’m providing resources for sorting out what happened to you, what makes sense to you, and the options for dealing with your unique experiences and moving closer to the life you want.