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Signs of childhood sexual abuse are extremely important. For those of us who have children in our lives, it could mean the difference between catching an inappropriate abusive encounter or relationship early and letting a problem continue on for days, weeks, months or sometimes even years. Signs of sexual abuse in children, among many others, can include behavioral problems that are uncharacteristic to the child, fear of being left alone, cruelty to animals, and a knowledge of sexuality that is not typically possessed by young children. Countless articles and resources exist to help spot signs of sexual abuse in children. ChildWelfare.gov has a pretty great article if you need to read up or have some worry about a child in your life, and there are many, many others. Most people are familiar with some signs, and these symptoms are usually discussed fairly publicly.

What isn’t discussed as much are the effects that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse have to deal with. As an adult survivor, I’ve learned so much about these effects, as many of them were present in my own life without me even realizing it. If you’re an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it may be worth your time to read up on some of these. If you were abused, even if you went through therapy, you may still have to deal with some of these issues. It’s easier to fix problems if you can identify them.

This is a list of some of the more common effects of childhood sexual abuse in adult survivors. As is true with most things, these may not all apply to you or your situation. There also may be issues with which you struggle that may not appear on this list. If you feel like you are experiencing inexplicable emotions or issues, it is best to seek professional help. The point of this blog isn’t to diagnose or treat, but rather to inform and encourage you to pinpoint some issues you possibly didn’t know could be connected to abuse you may have suffered.

Psychological/behavioral effects

-Dissociation, or feeling detached, confused, or feeling like your reality is not the same as everyone else’s are quite common feelings.

– You may experience trouble with trust, whether it be not finding yourself able to trust, or trusting too easily.

-You may have trouble establishing boundaries in relationships due to the fact that your boundaries were compromised at a young age.

-You may experience flashbacks to the event(s) that happened to you.

-Many people feel the need to self medicate with drugs, alcohol or other addictions as a coping mechanism.

-Low self esteem is common in adult survivors.

-You may experience isolation, or a fear of intimacy with partners.

-Many people try to cope through promiscuous sexual activity.

-Many people contemplate or attempt suicide or self injury.

-Eating disorders may be experienced.

-Sometimes adult survivors experience sexual dysfunction, or a lack of interest/pleasure in sex.

-Adult survivors are often susceptible to repeat victimizations because they are sometimes more likely to “accept” being a victim.

-Victims often anticipate an early death.

-Extreme anxiety or panic attacks are often caused by childhood sexual abuse.

-Difficulty concentrating, comprehending, or answering simple questions are symptoms.

-Many experience feelings of social withdrawal, or the inability to relate to others.

-Sometimes adult survivors have sexual fantasies about raping or abusing others.

-The opposite is also true – many experience fantasies about being raped, tortured, or abused.

-Fear of medical procedures is common.

Emotional effects

-Constant grief or mourning are common among adult survivors of sexual abuse because of the loss of innocent, childhood, normal relationships as a child, and trust.

-Guilt may be felt due to the fact that you possibly experienced physical pleasure at the time of the abuse.

-The silence that surrounds abuse can lead to feelings of shame.

-Depression is common.

-Feelings of extreme anger or inexplicable rage are very common.

Physical effects

-Gastrointestinal distress, nausea, and chronic pelvic pain can be present.

-Headaches are common among survivors.

-Asthma and/or breathing problems can occur.

-Unreleased stress can lead to back or skeletal pain.

-Sexual arousal, desire or orgasm, is sometimes reported to be connected with physical pain or discomfort.

-Victims are twice as likely to be smokers, and more likely to be physically inactive and overweight/obese.

-Severe gag reflex has been reported, even when nothing is in the mouth.

There are many more after-effects of childhood sexual abuse that adults may experience. As stated above, if you feel like you are experiencing one or more of these issues, it is best to seek professional help. Furthermore, if you are experiencing issues that aren’t on this list but you feel may have stemmed from abuse which you may have experienced, you may not be wrong. Do some research and follow up with a counselor or therapist.

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  1. coveblue

    Thank you for this article and for all of the comments below. I have been dealing with so many of these issues for years without ever understanding or acknowledging that they were actually symptoms of my childhood abuse and not personality defects. I am 46 years old and only just now beginning to understand what an incredible impact this has had in every area of my life and how debilitating it has been. However, it’s also very liberating to know that these ARE symptoms, they ARE NOT my fault, and they can be cured through counseling. I feel very optimistic about my future even though my journey is literally only now just beginning. It is incredibly helpful to read the experiences of others who have gone through sexual abuse and to know that many of us have managed a successful recovery. Thank you for being so supportive of each other.

  2. Kaye

    Interesting and upsetting read but good to know that even after 35 years of that traumatic night, how I’m feeling is not abnormal.
    I was 12, I’m 48 now and only just addressing it, thought I’d done it! But still not quite there yet, just coming out of a very bad depressive state…,again. Couldn’t believe it when I read about severe gag reflex too, I get that when I’m struggling to convey my feelings/thoughts.

  3. Nytonix

    Dear author,
    Thank you very much for the above article. I can relate to the sign and symptoms of childhood abuse in children. It seems that I experience many of them…
    Funny thing, I’m convinced that the fact that I was sexually assaulted by my God father’s son at the age of 6 has never really bothered me that much. I was also raped 3 times in my lifetime but all 3 times I was pissed drunk, so I dont count them as real rapes. 1 has occurred in my long term committed relationship. So it’s not really a rape or it is?
    It seems that I may be in denial… but the facts remain solid: I am getting counselling for my alcohol and drugs abuse; I just stopped smoking only 4 months ago and I used to smoke 2 packs a day; I am suffering with panic attacks and was hospitalised in June with the breakdown; I am 31 single and childless and incapable of holding relationship as I am real control freak; I like tough sex and fantasize about being abused… I do feel that I live in parallel reality than everyone else… I cannot connect but I cannot be alone too. Somethimes I think that I’m really crazy. Somethimes I want to end this torture called life.
    I am getting counselling but I cannot say it to my counsellor… I once wrote it on the peace of paper and kept reading it before the session. But once I walked in, I could not say it….
    I feel ok writing about it here but not saying it face to face… it is very strange. I just want to get better. I want to be whole and complete.
    I know I will.
    Wishing everyone Well.

    1. jamie

      Hello. Thank you so much for commenting, and for sharing part of your story. I am so sorry for all that you’ve experienced. You absolutely WILL feel whole again. It takes work, and it isn’t always easy, but you can do it.

      As far as what is and isn’t rape, here’s what I do know: I know that rape is sex that occurs when someone does not consent or lacks the capacity to give consent. This does include when someone is drunk. A drunk person can’t consent to sex. Now what you do with that information is totally up to you. However you want to feel about that in regards to your own situation is totally up to you, and any way you do feel is okay.

      Also, you aren’t alone in having a hard time talking about it. Many, many people are in the same boat. That’s why so many people like having a site like this where they can write out their experiences as opposed to talking out loud about them. Sometimes it’s just hard to say it. I totally get that. Have you ever considered writing something out and giving it to your counselor? It might be a bit easier to break the ice that way.

      Either way, know that we support you here. And know that you’re welcome here anytime. If you ever feel like you really need to talk to someone, or you’re having a hard time, please know you can text VOICE to 741741 and instantly be connected with a counselor.

      Best of luck to you, and please let us know if we can support you at all.

  4. T-Boi

    Hi Mr. Sivrais and to all, I’m T-Boi. I found this website extremely helpful. And yes but unfortunately I too was a C.S.A. and continues molestations as early as toddler (I’ll simply insinuate to pre-pubescent every few years either one family member and the rest strangers) However, I am now in my 20’s and receiving Therapy (in which my premature old “habits” arise again). I relate way too much with the symptoms above and more. I honestly have to occupy myself to keep the disturbing images and thoughts away. I really appreciate your bravery, honesty, support and wisdom for those who have yet to stumbled upon it (in which we are not alone and we do matter). Thank you – T-Boi

    1. jamie

      Hi T-Boi. Thanks for being here. I am so sorry to hear of what you experienced, and am happy that you’ve been able to find a bit of solace in this site. There are people who are here to help you, so please let us know if there’s anything we are able to do to support you. I am happy to hear that you’re in therapy, and I wish you all the best.

  5. Alice

    I feel sad. I was raped by a Catholic priest at 9. There weren’t websites like this back then. I’m 35 now and I have never developed sexual trust and am frequently suicidal. I Don’t know the solution to this suicide problem.

    1. jamie

      Hi Alice. I am so sorry to hear this. I hope you are doing well. Please know that there is hope! And if you are struggling especially hard at any given time, you can text VOICE to 741741 and instantly be connected with a crisis counselor. There are so many people out here who are ready to help and support you. I hope you are well.

    2. Jerry

      Hi Alice I understand how you feel. I was molested by my grandfather and my father when I was 5. I used to be very suicidal too and have attempted it several times. I did eventually manage to overcome my suicidal feelings though! There is hope!

  6. kariorit

    I would also add a severe startle reflex. This was eye opening to me when I learned that my tendency to startle easily was because of the abuse.