Biofeedback May Improve Sexual Satisfaction for Female Survivors of Abuse

The majority of women who have survived childhood sexual abuse (CSA) have problems with sexual arousal, sexual performance, and sexual satisfaction. Many of these women avoid sex, are hypersexual, experience pain during sex, or have difficulty maintaining healthy sexual boundaries and sexual relationships. Psychological issues resulting from the CSA are often the root of these problems. But new research suggests that these women may have unique physiological conditions that affect their sexual abilities as well. In a recent study led by Cindy M. Meston of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, biofeedback was used to determine the biological and physiological responses of women with and without a history of CSA.

Meston enlisted 102 women with no sexual abuse history (NSA) and 136 female abuse survivors for her study and evaluated the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), cortisol level, and heart rate variability (HRV) of the women after they were exposed to sexual stimuli. Meston found that when exposed to stimuli, the NSA women with a history of significant nonsexual trauma had better sexual arousal as SNS activity increased. However, in the NSA women with little nonsexual trauma history, sexual arousal and functioning was achieved through decreased SNS activity. For CSA survivors, frequency of trauma predicted decreases in SNS activity which increased sexual functioning. For women with single sexual traumas, the SNS activity was even more decreased.

When Meston measured the cortisol levels of the women, she found that increases in cortisol decreased the sexual performance and arousal of the NSA women but did not affect the sexual responses of the women in the CSA group, regardless of frequency of traumas. HRV was used to measure physiological responses to sexual stimuli and effectively determined the sexual functioning and satisfaction levels of the CSA women. Because of this, Meston believes that these results offer opportunities to female abuse survivors who struggle with sexual issues. She added, “Our findings suggest that for women with CSA histories, particularly those with low lifetime trauma, biofeedback targeting changes in HRV may lead to better sexual functioning and satisfaction.”

Meston, C. M., & Lorenz, T. A. (2012). Physiological stress responses predict sexual functioning and satisfaction differently in women who have and have not been sexually abused in childhood. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027706

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  • Adrienne H

    March 30th, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    There are sure to be so many women who could truly benefit from this sort of treatment, but I fear that those who most need it and could get improvement via biofeedback will never even know where to begin to find these kinds of services. I like that this is getting beyond the traditional modes of treatment and is stretching out to look at better means of reaching more victims. But again, I always have this fear that this is going to be something great and show wonderful promise but there just is not going to be the wide availability to reach the masses.

  • Tommie Anne

    March 31st, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    I am so happy to learn that biofeedback seems to be making a comeback in how people view it and how it can now be used in multiple manners to help in areas that perhaps in the past we did not recognize.

    This is such a valuable tool for feedback yet has been ignored by the mainstream for a long time now. Good to learn that there could now be hundreds if not more people who may be able to benefit from those tests and the evidence that they provide.

  • John P

    April 1st, 2012 at 4:41 AM

    I know that there will be a lot of women rejoicing just to know that there are studies being conducted in reagrds to sex that have them specifically in mind. There are hordes ofwomen who think that there is never anything related to them and sex that is studied, at least not anything in regards to improving the overall quality of their sex lives. But here it is!

  • Bree

    April 2nd, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    hard for younger girls who have been abused
    see a lot that they become very promiscuous
    leads to even more problems, drug abuse teen pregnancy etc.
    how can they get the help they need?

  • Lesley unger

    April 2nd, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    I have just a little bit of a fear surrounding biofeedback and other things that I guess I don’t completely understand. I would want to make darn sure that I was working with someone who knows how to accurately interpret the evidence and who can offer me the best solutions focused upon that. And I am not sure that alone I would feel comfortable finding someone like that. I don’t even know the questions to ask to make sure that this is someone who will know what they are talking about!

  • fred

    April 3rd, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    of course they will have problem in their sex life these abuse survivors.what is needed is constant support and long term therapy and that too as soon as possible once the abuse has come to light.

  • Thrive Lancaster

    September 11th, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    Although we don’t run research, active biofeedback works great to train specific functions. Passive techniques are great also, it allows us to simultaneously rebuild positive and healthy self image.

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