"I Can't Stand to Have Him Touch Me!"

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The Counselor's Turn

"After listening to both Melissa and Jim, I strongly suspected that there was more to the story than they had told me, or for that matter, than they had told each other," said the counselor. "One clue was that Melissa said she had never enjoyed sex and that she would 'kind of float above it.' Sexual trauma can trigger a psychological defense mechanism called dissociation. The sensation of leaving one's body is the brain's attempt to distance one's self from a traumatic experience or memory.

"Another fairly common reaction to sexual trauma is promiscuity. Survivors who behave this way often feel degraded and can't equate sex with love and respect. What Jim said about Melissa's college sexual experiences and the fact that Melissa had shut down sexually made me almost certain there was sexual trauma in her past.

"I was also interested in Jim's having been in a relationship from age 15 to 25. As he admitted, the fact that he'd had only one sexual partner during his entire coming of age contributed to his fascination with Melissa's being a 'wild woman.' Moreover, the failure of his first relationship had made him especially fearful of being dumped again."

Seeing the Couple Separately

"I decided to see Melissa and Jim separately for a while in order to elicit key information from each of them. With Melissa, I began by asking about her sexual experiences before meeting Jim. I did not, of course, let her know that Jim had told me in confidence about her promiscuity in college. I simply said that in order to help her with her current aversion to sex, I needed to understand her sexual history. She did not hesitate to tell me that she had slept with a lot of men before she met Jim. When I asked her about her first sexual experience, however, she was quiet for a long time. Finally, through a flood of tears, she told me what I was not at all surprised to hear. At 15, she had been date-raped behind a woodshed in the rural area where she grew up. 'I never told my parents, I never told my sister, I never told Jim, I never told anyone,' she sobbed. 'I just made myself forget about it. But then when I was in labor with Zoe, they gave me some kind of anesthetic that made me have a flashback. I could feel the guy on top of me. Then it was time to push and I came back to reality. But I can't get that vision out of my mind.'

"This was a powerful disclosure that helped explain why she found herself pulling away sexually and emotionally from Jim. Every time he got close, it reactivated painful memories and sensations from the past. I waited until her tears had subsided and then I reassured her that we could begin a healing process, even though 16 years had passed.

"In subsequent sessions, I also learned that when Melissa was 16, she had come home from school early one day and found her father having sex on the living room couch with her mother's best friend. Her parents eventually got divorced. Following closely on the heels of her rape, this episode added to Melissa's confusion about what healthy sexuality could be.

Continued on page 5:  The Counselor's Turn, continued


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