Sexuality of Mothers

Following disclosure of a child's sexual abuse, particularly if the perpetrator was the  husband or intimate partner, mothers may experience sexual problems. However, these problems fall along a continuum.

Abuse of a child by a partner is a betrayal of the relationship and a violation of trust. Betrayal results in emotional responses similar to those of grief. However, a betrayal bond could also be present between the perpetrator and the mother. If previous betrayals (e.g., affairs, disloyalty) or if domestic violence  has occurred in the relationship, the mother may have a betrayal bond to the partner, complicating her ability to respond to the disclosure effectively and make decisions to protect the child. If prior betrayals or domestic violence have been present in her relationship with the perpetrator, she may have learned helplessness as well. The mother may experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health problemsDissociation may be a coping mechanism. In this case, the mother may be able to continue in a relationship with the perpetrator and engage in sexual relations. However, she may dissociate during the sex act if thoughts of her child's abuse intrude.

If the perpetrator remains in the home, the mother's responsibility is to provide protection to the child victim and other children in the home. Part of her post-disclosure parenting safety plan may be to make herself sexually available to her partner on a daily basis so that the abuser does not re-abuse the child. A fundamental problem with this strategy is that the abuser may have engaged in regular sexual activity with wife/partner prior to the disclosure. However, sexual abuse of the child was also occurring during that time period.

If the mother has had a long-term relationship with the perpetrator, and if she believes that loyalty and commitment are required in relationships, she will have great difficulty separating from and/or divorcing the perpetrator. If he is not in the home, she may see him on a regular basis. Reestablishing sexual relationship with the perpetrator may occur without consideration of long-term consequences to that decision. Continuing in that degree of intimacy with the child's perpetrator may limit the mother's ability to make wise decisions regarding contact between perpetrator and child. It may also disturb the relationship between mother and child. The child may perceive this as a betrayal, be angry at mother, and unable to trust her.

In many cases, resumption of sexual activity between abuser and mother is much more difficult than the decision to remain in the relationship. In studies of couples post-disclosure, both mothers and partners have reported dissatisfaction and poor sexual relationships, with overall intimacy reduced substantially (Massatt and Lundy, 1998; Saunders, Lipovsky, & Hanson, 1995). 

Sexual intimacy requires trust. Abuse of a child disrupts or destroys trust between mother and partner. If the abuse was perpetrated by someone other than partner, trust and sexuality would also be affected. Future relationships would be negatively affected. The mother would have difficulty trusting another partner to be alone with her child and may live with anxiety and suspicion in this area for many years, if not the rest of her life (depending on relationship factors). Counseling may bring relief and some degree of resolution. However, if the abuse occurred in the home, the mother will not only have difficulty trusting others, she may struggle with guilt and feeling responsible because she did not know sooner that the abuse was occurring.

Mothers bring individual histories to the disclosure, and many mothers have themselves been sexually abused as children. In these cases, sexuality issues become more complex. The coping mechanisms previously used, both in childhood and as an adult, may involve her ability to separate the abuse from her consciousness in order to have sexual partnerships as an adult. Following disclosure, thoughts and feelings will emerge related to her prior history of abuse. 

Regardless of maternal history, identity of perpetrator, or current mental health, mothers may experience significant difficulties in their sexual lives following disclosure of a child's sexual abuse.

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