People often ask staff members at Maze if sexual trauma is at the root of dyspareunia (the umbrella term for pelvic and vaginal pain). The answer isn’t that simple because every individual is different.
When we tweak the question a bit and ask instead: “if a woman has experienced sexual trauma, will she be plagued with sexual dysfunction” then we can answer with a only slightly more confident, “well…maybe”. That’s because sexual problems have many causes, and trauma is just one of them.
The circumstances surrounding a traumatic event – as well as the strength of the survivor’s support system (or lack thereof) at the time – have enormous impact on how the survivor will process the trauma and thus how it might show up for them both immediately and longer term. Behavioral and interpersonal issues as well as physical problems can present at any point. Physiological pain may not be from the event itself, but, for example, a result of inadequate or inaccessible health care (many survivors are afraid of providers and procedures).
Thankfully, there are several avenues of support available to sexual abuse survivors. While there is unfortunately no existing clearinghouse for behavioral and medical providers who provide trauma-informed care, we recommend organizations such as RAINN who can offer counseling, referrals and resources. It’s also worth visiting Healthline.com for advice regarding how to navigate a routine pelvic exam for survivors.
Every patient deserves sensitivity, personal attention and respect from their care providers, but these qualities take on even greater importance for those who have experienced sexual trauma. It’s imperative that survivors find therapists and other clinicians who understand this and who can build a sense of trust with all those in their care.
If you are struggling as a result of trauma or experiencing sexual pain, you don’t have to go it alone. Seek support from RAINN, family and friends you trust, and professionals who can guide you with warmth, knowledge and care.