I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Maltz, LCSW, DST, author of the newly revised classic, The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, about how survivors of sexual abuse are able to overcome sexual problems caused by past abuse. Wendy, a seasoned clinician and certified sex therapist, has worked extensively with sexual abuse survivors and their partners for many years. She says that sexual healing is an empowering process that involves developing healthy attitudes about sex as well as learning new approaches to touch and sexual intimacy. You learn how to reclaim sexuality as something positive, within your control and for your own pleasure. Sexual healing enables survivors to increase self-esteem and discover the joys of sexual sharing in a safe, caring relationship.
When I asked Wendy what factors are most helpful to the healing process she told me that she believes that survivors heal best when they feel ready to address sexual issues, want changes for their own sake, and have support from other people (such as from a partner, counselor, family and friends). Survivors make good progress when they take a comprehensive approach to healing (described in detail in The Sexual Healing Journey) which covers the following steps:
* Acknowledge the past sexual abuse and realize how it influenced your sexuality.
* Create a new meaning for sex. Define sex as something different than what you experienced in sex abuse and learn conditions for healthy sexuality.
* Develop a positive sense of sexual self-esteem, in which your sexuality is not defined by what happened to you in the past.
* Learn how to recognize and comfortably handle automatic reactions that can come up during intimate touch.
* Stop negative sexual behaviors that recreate abuse and block sexual recovery. These can include avoiding intimate contact, as well as, engaging in compulsive or dangerous sexual practices.
* Learn to work on healing as a team with your intimate partner, if and when you have one. Partners need to become educated about sexual healing. It’s hard to move forward when your partner “doesn’t get it.” Progress occurs more rapidly when survivors feel understood, validated, respected, and responded to with care.
* Actively engage in experiential exercises on your own and with a partner. These can include the “relearning touch techniques” described in Wendy’s book and demonstrated in her “Relearning Touch” DVD (For more information and to view an excerpt, visit: http://healthysex.intervisionmedia.com/ ). These exercises are specifically designed for survivors. Wendy believes strongly that, “It is through safe, positive human contact that we are healed.”
* Addressing any sexual desire, fantasy, and functioning problems directly. Standard sex therapy techniques need to be modified so the survivor can retain a strong feeling of having choice and control over the process.
The guidance of an experienced mental health clinician who is attuned to the needs of the survivor is an important aspect of healing, as is the sensitivity of a patient, tender-hearted partner.
Wendy shared with me that it is extremely heart-warming and impressive to witness survivors really embrace their own sexual recovery. They engage in healing at their own pace, picking and choosing the interventions they find helpful, and staying with the process to achieve the results they want for themselves.
Her parting words to me were: “Love is stronger than abuse.” And I approve that message!
Note: You can find out more about sexual healing, Wendy Malz, and her DVD's by visiting her educational website: www.HealthySex.com