Q I experienced a sexual encounter when I was almost 10 by someone I thought of as my friend, even though he was four years older than me. For a long time I felt guilty. I am now 17 and have broken up with my boyfriend because I found myself repulsed by, and somewhat untrusting of, his desire for physical closeness. Does this mean I am gay?
A No. If you were gay, you would be feeling same-sex attractions rather than no desire or revulsion at the thought of closeness. What you are experiencing is a normal reaction to a sexual abuse encounter. You knew what was happening was not right, but you were too young to understand the implications of the experience. And because of your young age, you took on the guilt that should have been felt by the boy who abused you.
At 17, a developmental stage where teens learn about independence and identity, both the sexual betrayal and your resultant feelings of guilt predispose you to mistrusting your own sexual feelings. It is easier to suppress those feelings and replace them with feelings of repulsion toward physical attraction than it is to manage the confusion of your childhood experience.
Counseling is recommended, as it would help you sort out the sexual confusion you are left with. You would learn that the abuse was not your fault, that you have a right to be angry about it, but also about the importance of forgiving the person who harmed you.
In the meantime, don’t be in a hurry to enter into another romantic relationship. Counseling, time, and maturity have a way of healing many psychological wounds. As your self-identity develops, bad experiences of the past do resolve themselves, creating room for new positive experiences of both friendship and possible romance.
—Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.