The Surprising Link Between Sexual Molest and Infertility
Israeli study finds molest victims twice as likely to struggle with pregnancy.
Posted Nov 16, 2020
It is hard to imagine a more painful wound for a young girl than being sexually molested, especially by someone close to her. It would violate her trust in a profound way, impacting the way she interacts with the world in general and men in particular.
It is hard to imagine a more painful wound for most women than not being able to get pregnant as an adult. It causes an intense longing that cannot be filled by anything but a child and brings with it a whole range of feelings, including depression, hopelessness and intense envy of other women who are pregnant.
What if these two issues are connected? In other words, what if a history of sexual molest as a child predicts problems with fertility as an adult?
According to a ground-breaking piece of research in Israel1, that is exactly the case. Dr. Ayellet Cohen-Vider, a clinical psychologist in Jerusalem, in a recently completed study of 345 women, found that women who have been sexually molested are twice as likely to face problems with infertility as women who do not have this history. The likelihood increases further, to nearly four times as likely, when women have what is called a “self silencing” subtype of personality. These are women who are reluctant to express their desires and emotions for fear of damaging their relationships with others.
Dr. Cohen-Vider did follow up interviews with 24 of the women surveyed and asked them about their ideas of the connection between being sexually molested as children and their struggle to get pregnant as adults. What did they think could be the connection between the two?
Here are some of the ways these women explained the connection to Dr. Cohen-Vider:
“I feel like I have deposits of pain in my body that are not only my own. And they’re in such overwhelming quantities that they simply restrict my breath and close down my openings.”
“I felt dirty, filthy. I felt like I destroyed my fertility, that there’s something not good in my sexuality, that I’m a used woman.”
“I think I was depressed, and that pregnancy and the womb are signs of life. It’s creative, and it’s the exact opposite of depression, depression is death. [It’s as if to get pregnant] is to sink down roots, not just to survive, but that I have trust in the world and that things can be good.”
There are many deep issues raised by this study, such as the fact that 90% of the OBGYN’s did not know their patients seeking treatment for infertility had histories of sexual molest. Both women seeking treatment for infertility and those providing it would do well to think about this possible connection.
The aspect of the study that stands out most for me is the wisdom of the body and our need to pay close attention to it. We rightly think of the psychological and emotional impact of trauma, but we don’t often know to listen deeply to the physical, to the messages of our body – in part because a woman whose body has been violated often becomes estranged from it.
Dr. Cohen-Vider relates that some women don’t recall the molest until they give birth; that others struggle with the childbirth process itself because of their history of sexual molest. These elements – the proximity of the physical sensations of childbirth to a woman’s repressed memories of sexual molest pain and suffering – might go a long way toward understanding what appears to be a connection between sexual molest and infertility. Learning to untangle this knot, learning to listen to and respect the wisdom of the body, could therefore go a long way toward healing the trauma of the past and bringing forth the joy and wonder of new life through pregnancy.
1. Cohen Vider, Ayellet. “Sexual Abuse and Infertility: Lifetime Sexual Abuse and Self Silencing in Infertile Women”. Diss. Bar-Ilan university, 2020. Digital.