Dear Patti,

When I was 9 I was forced to do sexual acts by my stepbrother who was six years older than me (I no longer ever say his name). At age 12, I was actually coerced into sexual intercourse and this continued until I was 14 and moved away from him and my parents. I made my Aunt Ginny promise not to tell my parents about the molestation and she agreed on the condition I move in with her. Thank God! Moving in with her and being under her loving, positive influence was the best thing that ever happened to me!

With the help of my aunt, I worked out my issues with my mom and my stepdad. I didn’t tell them anything but, on their own, they realized my stepbrother had serious problems. Although they still give him limited help, they keep him away from the rest of the family. Ever since I left home, I continued to grow and never felt I was bad or broken. When he was out of my life, I was fine. I never felt the need to talk to a professional about what happened. The problem was buried with my stepbrother and that was the end of it.

I’ve been happily married to Michael for three years and we have a good sexual relationship. He knows what happened and is very understanding and supportive. I’ve become close with Tory, a woman from work, and she insists that what happened is still affecting me. At first I didn’t believe it, but I’m beginning to realize that while I’m open sexually, I’m partially closed to intimacy. The only people I let in completely are my aunt and now, Tory. I rarely let my husband, or any man for that matter, see me vulnerable and emotionally open.

  — Katy

Dear Katy

Childhood sexual abuse infringes on one’s basic rights as an individual. You should’ve been able to have sexual experiences at the appropriate developmental time and within your own control and choice. It sounds like you still fear another person taking away your control if you become unguarded and susceptible. I don’t believe you have to delve into your traumatic past unless the repression of those memories and feelings are somehow impacting and interfering with the quality of your life today.

Sexual abuse has been correlated with difficulties with affection, intimacy and openness, as well as higher levels of repression and denial. The results can have much wider ramifications than only sexual disorders. Unfortunately, sexual molestation is often a traumatic experience which can have many consequences throughout your life.

Insofar as your relationship with Michael, do you believe your relationship would be different if you had never been molested? How so? Do you believe that what happened to you has had an impact on your behavior today? If so, in what way? What would it be like for you to share closeness with Michael and other males in a similar way that you do with your aunt and Tory? Are you living in a rigid, limited way due to childhood trauma?

I recommend professional counseling where you’ll be able to explore specifics of how what happened to you in the past has been emotionally pushed down. Were there times you felt helpless and out of control with your stepbrother and now—in the present—you want to avoid similar feelings?  What happened to you was horrific, but it’s also terrible those experiences might still have power over you, your relationship with Michael and your feelings about yourself. It sounds like Michael wants as open a relationship with you as possible. Think about the possibility of intimacy with no walls between the two of you or any walls between you and your own feelings.

Understandably, you’re resistant to the idea of professional counseling and exposure to painful memories. If you decide to undergo treatment designed for sexual healing and build a therapeutic alliance wherein you and your therapist help you connect current emotional problems with past sexual abuse, it will assist you in gaining a more positive sexual self-concept, develop skills to positively experience intimacy and eventually heal the effects of your painful childhood. You deserve to be free of past trauma.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site,