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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