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Journal of Sexual Medicine: Effects of PTSD on Sexual Health in Women with Childhood Sexual Abuse

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

A 2018 report published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine spotlights the topic of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and its affect on sexual functioning in adult women.

While sexual trauma is becoming more widely discussed in the healthcare community, sexual impairments still remain unclear and carry limitations on how to properly administer treatment interventions. PTSD research can help healthcare providers treat patients with trauma by learning how adverse childhood sexual experiences affect their sexual, emotional, and physiological wellbeing.

According to the study, survivors with a history of CSA can have sexual dysfunctions as high as 59% compared to the general female population. These sexual dysfunctions and distresses can include: negative sexual self-concept, sexual risk-taking behavior, relationship distress, and low sexual satisfaction. In addition to these symptoms, research data suggests that nearly half of CSA victims develop PTSD (45-55%) which carries into adulthood if left untreated.

In the study, researchers compared three groups of women: 103 with PTSD after CSA (trauma group); 32 without PTSD after CSA (trauma control); and 52 with no history of CSA (healthy controls). Several questionnaires administered for data collection included the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, which measures adverse events during childhood and adolescence; the Sexual Experience and Behavior Questionnaire; and Resources in Sexuality and Relationship which assesses sexual functioning.

The results of the study showed that PTSD patients had lower sexual functioning with regards to sexual pain and aversion, and lower sexual satisfaction than the two control groups. However, researchers added that “findings suggest that the experience of sexual abuse does not necessarily lead to sexual impairment, whereas comparably low levels of sexual functioning seem to be prominent in PTSD patients after CSA.” Areas affected by PTSD include sexual pain, sexual aversion, and fear associated with heightened arousal.

While research proves PTSD symptoms pose a negative impact on sexual functioning, researchers also noted the study was based on self-reporting measures and did not include clinical interviews and testing criteria covered under the DSM-5 manual, a resource used by mental health professionals. However, based on the findings of the study, researchers suggest healthcare professionals who are trauma-informed can recommend and administer treatment interventions to better address sexual distress and impairments among their patient population.

More Resources

Pia Bornefeld-Ettmann, MSc, Regina Steil, PhD, Klara A. Lieberz, PhD, Martin Bohus, PhD, Sophie Rausch, MSc, Julia Herzog, MSc, Kathlen Priebe, MSc, Thomas Fydrich, PhD, and Meike Müller-Engelmann, PhD

Journal of Sexual Medicine, March 2018

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