Resiliency, Risk Taking, and Relationship Issues in Sexually Abused Women

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) are vulnerable to relationship problems, particularly in intimate relationships. The violation of trust that occurs when a child is sexually abused sets the stage for fears, worries, and feelings of threat in adulthood. Female survivors of CSA often struggle with safety and security issues resulting from their abuse, and find it difficult to form adaptive, productive, intimate relationships. CSA also increases the chance that a woman will have psychological issues, including posttraumatic stress (PTSD), depression, anger, or somatic and sexual problems that hinder her ability to function successfully in romantic relationships. Although there is a vast amount of research examining how CSA negatively affects interpersonal relationships in adulthood and how CSA increases sexual risk taking, there is little research looking at the dual effect of CSA on sexual risk taking and interpersonal functioning simultaneously.

To address this gap in literature, Brittain E. Lamoureux of the Department of Psychology at Kent State University in Ohio recently conducted a study involving 693 women with a history of CSA. The women were evaluated two times, six months apart, for levels of resiliency demonstrated through self-efficacy and self-esteem, and for psychological distress evidenced by symptoms related to PTSD and depression. Lamoureux found that CSA did indeed decrease resiliency and increase psychological distress. However, the effects were unique with respect to how CSA affected interpersonal functioning and sexual risk taking.

Lamoureux discovered that resiliency and psychological distress did not concurrently increase maladaptive functioning and sexually risky behaviors. Instead, the results revealed that resiliency deficits increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and sexual risk taking, while psychological distress increased the risk for relationship problems. However, Lamoureux believes that resiliency deficits increase psychological distress, which creates an indirect link between resiliency and sexual risk taking. The findings of this study could not clarify whether that indirect relationship was similar for psychological distress. Additionally, the participants in this study were demographically similar, which could limit the findings. Lamoureaux hopes that this research encourages clinicians to consider both resiliency and psychological distress when working with women with a history of CSA. “This possible differential impact should be considered in treatment planning and intervention development,” Lamoureux said.

Lamoureux, Brittain E., Patrick A. Palmieri, Anita P. Jackson, and Stevan E. Hobfoll. Child sexual abuse and adulthood-interpersonal outcomes: Examining pathways for intervention. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice & Policy 4.6 (2012): 605-13. Print.

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  • mack


    November 27th, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    why is it that sexual abuse victims indulge in risky sexual behavior?if anything I would’ve thought sex would be something they would actually want to keep away from!nobody indulges in something that has hurt them,why is this behavior observed?and just how often is this observed in sexual abuse victims?

  • cayden


    November 27th, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    @ mack- I think that you will find that with those who have been sexually abused, they have learned from an early age that sex is power over someone elese, and this is how is best used amd expressed and not for love.

    For many victims, this is not something that they enjoy, it is just that this is the only model of sexual behavior that they have, And sometimes, no matter how you do it, it kind of feels good to weild power over someone else ingstead of allowing them to step all over you.

    But it is sad that it takes many of these sex abuse victims their entire lives to realize that this is only causing them more trouble,that this is no way to live and to be loved in the way that we all deserve to be loved. I am sure that this is the quite the struggle for anyone to ever overcome and come to view sex in a healthy way.

  • Jenna D

    Jenna D

    November 28th, 2012 at 3:50 AM

    Not everyone who has lived with this kind of thing ends up being promiscuous. That does not have to be your fate. There will come a time that you will have to make a choice about what kind of adult behavior you will choose to exhibit. Is it going to be this, or are you going to try to rise above this, seek help, and learn that you are so much more, so much better, than what these events may have at one time set you up to become. If you allow the past to dictate who and what you become in the future, then the abuser is winning. I don’t know of one victim who wants to look in the mirror with the knowledge that they have let a monster mold them into something that they do not want to be.

  • Castor


    November 28th, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    The victims definitely need help and counseling.The reason they do this may well be because they convince themselves that they are ‘different’ because of the abuse and that they cannot have or lead normal lives and have successful relationships.This very thought can make things mightily difficult for them and lead them into negative behavior later on.

    If this thought plant is not grown then things could be very different.So throw away that thought seed and never plant it.Seek help and things will definitely look up years later.

  • Anne


    November 28th, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    @mack:for many people their first relationship sets the bar and often every consequent relationship will somehow have the characteristics of the first relationship.i guess it’s the same for the first sexual encounter.

    it may also be the reason why they say early sex is not a great thing to have.a matured mind is much better able to handle the ups and downs that come with intimate relationships.

  • paige


    November 29th, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    “which creates an indirect link between resiliency and sexual risk taking.”

    so its means some women are just more predisposed to sexual risk taking than others?

    also, if this is indeed true, then that means sexual risk taking can be avoided with coping techniques because resiliency is never a constant and it can actually be I right?

  • Ivey


    November 29th, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Very important to have a good follow up after one has been abused this way.It can be a nightmare that could haunt the victim for a long long time,thus complicating all aspects of one’s life and jeopardising future relationships.

    After a hurricane,there are recovery efforts.The same applies to victims here.What has happened has happened but if do not put in enough efforts towards recovery things can and will remain ugly for a long time and could scar the victim for life.

  • dwayne


    November 29th, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    an abuse is just that-an can be horribly terrifying for a victim.but that is no reason to throw it all is not over.I think many of the women who end up practicing risky sexual behavior because they have a sense of having ‘given up’.they need to realize that things can turn around,that they have a choice and that they can really make things better for themselves.

  • Holli


    April 12th, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    How do I help my adopted daughter who has been sexually abused? She was abused at a young age and then put in foster care. She is now 12 and entering adolescence and it’s clear that she might be heading down the road to promiscuous behavior. Of course, I will help her take precautions such as birth control, but I’m not sure what my role should be and how I deal with her as she heads into the teen years. I know that if I try to talk to her about it, she gets angry and then tries to exhibit more control. How do I protect her but at the same time acknowledge the trauma she’s been through that has skewed her thinking.

  • Jacob


    April 21st, 2013 at 11:26 PM

    hi there
    i don’t see too much of activity on this site.. Hence don’t know if it makes any sense…but still wanted to share my experience here..

    i am in a serious relationship with a girl, who in her childhood was abused by many of her family members.
    as she grew up, she became extremely promiscuous, even gave herself to her brother for regular sex including anal, oral and everything they could do with their body… The worst was she gave herself to few street beggars…she just enjoyed and got thrilled to get naked before married man, hooked her school teachers (male) and anyone she feels is good to have sex with….

    finally the number reached 29, just at the age of 20 years..

    currently she is 22 years and since last 1.5 years she has refrained from these acts and limited herself to phone and facebook chat, until i met her. she fall in love me with (same as me) and she revealed all these to me later on…if she had told me before we went ahead with this relationship, i would had took a U Turn. But all these were disclosed after 3-4 months of relationship. I could neither desert her, nor accept her, as i did earlier.
    her love towards me made her testify all her deeds to her parents, who were taken by surprise, when they heard it…
    after being in relationship with me, she has almost reduced her chit-chat with other boys, but still indulged in heavy masturbation, sexy and wild fantasies, etc..

    i am scared to go ahead for a marriage with her, but i also fear that if i leave her, she would turn out even worst than ever before…and i don’t want to be a reason for her destruction…

    i am a person with no affairs or such stupid nature and hence not able to adjust with the situation…

    bottomline:- those children who are abused in childhood not only turns out to be promiscuous, but they would destroy their own life and also their loved ones…they become extremely daring and non-fearing to go any extent to do whatever they think. Need to take extreme care in all their action, whether it be a phone call, a chat, email or even a smallest or simplest friendship or relationship.

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