Impact of Sexual Abuse on Mental Health

Medically reviewed by: Ilbey Ucar – PhD (Psychology)

Last updated date : January  03, 2023

Frightened woman wrapping her arms around herself with a huge scary man looming behind her

Does being exposed to sexual assault necessarily mean you should give everything up? Do you ever wonder, “Why me? Why did this happen to me?” The feeling is mutual for a lot of people in your situation. From the moment you typed in on a search engine to find out about sexual abuse and its impact on mental health, you are mindful. Out of the hubbub of activities that you do all day, maybe here you seek to comfort yourself. Or it might be to comfort a loved one with the new knowledge that you are about to receive. Either way, this post explores a few possible ways to remedy your mind.

Facing a sexual assault is traumatizing. One might feel empty. One might hit patches where you seem to forget what’s good in life. But on a silver lining, this minor setback can helpyou find the new You, who is ready to deal with anything that life has in store for you. Read on to set your life back in order.

“Learnt a lot from this course” Sally

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Chapter 1:

What Counts as a Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a serious, punishable offence that should not be taken lightly. Maybe your loving partner did it. It is perhaps one of your closest friends or family members who you never thought would intend to do you harm. Simply put, If you remember having unwelcome sexual contact of any type, you’ve most likely been subjected to sexual assault. However, when it comes to rape and sexual assault, there are a variety of circumstances to consider.

Shockingly, this now has become a huge issue in our day-to-day lives. Therefore, it’s important to know exactly what counts as a sexual assault. It’s an umbrella term that refers to a wide range of sexual actions. It also covers various forceful behavior without a person’s consent. Here is a list of things that we consider sexual assaults. If you or a loved one has had any of the following experiences, chances are they are sexually abused.

  • Attempted rape (in which rape was the motive)
  • Harassment
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts
  • Molestation
  • Sodomy without consent
  • Flashing
  • Unwanted sexual penetration (which could involve non-body parts or objects)
  • Sexual contact with minors (consensual or not)

Chapter 2:

Does Saying ‘Yes’ Count?

A point often overlooked is what to do if she/he thought having sex was a perfectly fine idea a minute ago and is now unwilling to continue? It doesn’t matter if she/he said ”yes” just before you get in the car. It certainly is not applicable if he/she was on board before you get into an argument. One can’t expect the same positive reaction from a person just because he/she has said yes before. If “now” is uncomfortable, you should not continue with the sexual act despite hearing the word “yes”. If you’ve begun a sexual act, but the individual changes their mind, you should stop it immediately.

Chapter 3:

Which Parties Could Be the Victims?

You are right to think we live in a strange world. So strange that people are keen to think only women can be pushed around. For instance, “Sexual abuse” is a subject in which people tend to victimize the girl or the female party of a certain situation. Well, this is not the case. Sexual assault affects one out of every three women and one out of every six males in their lifetime. According to a recent survey, social stigma, macho norms, and homophobia contribute to boys being less likely to disclose abuse. Therefore, both men, women, and transgenders are all likely to have met with this sort of bitter experience.

To seek remedy, it is okay to describe your experience to a loved one. Letting it out could give your strength back to you. Opening up yourself to someone closer can help you push past the sexual trauma. Bottled-up thoughts are not very healthy. However, people may have been unable to share their experiences for a variety of reasons.

Chapter 4:

Reasons for Non Disclosure of Sexual Violence

  • Fear of being misunderstood;
  • Worry of being held responsible for what has occurred;
  • Feeling shame about what happened to them
  • Fear due to threats;
  • Love for the individual who has abused them;
  • Being in denial about what happened as a result of traumatic memories;
  • They have the impression that they are the only one who has experienced this. ;
  • Fear of breaking the family as a result of telling;
  • Gender stereotyping;
  • Dread of being cut off from a community/religious/peer, work, or social group;
  • They are afraid of losing their job, losing their position on a career ladder, or losing the possibility to advance;
  • Fear of getting kicked out of the place they live;
  • Fear of re-victimization by the same abuser
  • Worry about the legal system and its ability to withstand it.

Chapter 5:

Marital Rape Is Not Rape?

Society often overlooks sexual assault between intimate partners or marital couples (Marital rape or sexual abuse). It is normal for someone to feel insecure talking about their ‘abusive relationship’ with others. This is because the abuser is either your partner or someone close to you. Part of you doesn’t feel like telling on your partner’s abusive behaviour. Nevertheless, this could create a deep mental-health impact resulting from constant sexual abuse and the inability to end it. Most probably, you may have a fear of judgment. This is a depiction of your anxieties. You think that the other person feels the same way about what you did and will judge you.

Another key point is that you may have trust issues. You may doubt your judgment, self-worth, and even sanity. Not to mention, you may be afraid of romantic relationships, and intimacy might feel impossible. It is a perfectly normal scenario. Perhaps, placing too much trust in somebody already put you through this situation. Therefore you having issues with whom to trust is not news. Nevertheless, there can be other reasons to keep you from telling the world what happened to you.

Chapter 6:

Sexual Abuse and Physical Health

Frightened boy sitting in a crouched position with a shadow of a big scary man falling upon him

The body’s natural reaction to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault can have long-term physical health consequences.

A sexual assault can bring on several chronic physical conditions, which are also common among people with PTSD. For example, women who have been raped are more likely to have:

  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Digestive problems
  • Intense premenstrual symptoms
  • Non-epileptic seizures
  • Vaginismus

If you’ve ever had vaginismus (pelvic floor myalgia), you know how much pain and misery it can bring. It’s a condition in which the vaginal muscles contract or spasm uncontrollably. It usually occurs before or during intercourse, but it can also be triggered by using a tampon or doing a pelvic exam.

Vaginismus can happen the first time you try to penetrate the vagina during sex, when you insert a tampon, or when you have a pelvic exam. But, regrettably, it can also come after a time of non-painful penetration for some women.

Causes of vaginismus include:

  • Previous sexual encounters that were awkward or painful
  • Having been raped, or having been sexually abused or assaulted in the past
  • Memories of an abusive relationship
  • Previous painful pelvic examinations
  • Anxiety about becoming pregnant
  • A general fear of penetration and pain

Consulting a doctor must help a person get through these. This article, however, focuses on whatcould be the impact of sexual abuse and what could they mean for your mental health.

Chapter 7:

What Could This Mean for Your Mental Health?

Sexual abuse is a bad situation that traumatically affects individuals. Individuals exposed to this situation are not mentally prepared for what just happened. There may be some harsh memories imprinted at the back of your head for a while. But the most sensible thing to remind yourself is that you are not at fault. Life can still go on. Although sexual assault is a punishable offence, this is just a small bump in the road. When on the impact of sexual abuse on mental health, there are a couple of things to consider.

We must send a message across the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence- The shame is on the aggressor.

“Angelina Jolie”

Chapter 8:


Depression is a mood illness. It dwells on a person’s sadness, despair, and hopelessness. It is possible that someone who has had these emotions for a long time could have depression. This illness disrupts typical thought patterns. Therefore, it can have an impact on your behaviour and relationships with others. Not to mention, depression can affect people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and religions. You can feel sentiments of grief, dissatisfaction, and hopelessness if you are in depression. If these symptoms last for a long time, they could be an indication of depression. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, and it’s not something you should expect to “wake up” from. It’s a serious mental illness because of sexual trauma. Survivors can often benefit from expert assistance.

Chapter 9:


Depressed woman with dishevelled hair sitting on the ground with her arms wrapped around herself

Flashbacks normally occur without notice. It’s vivid memories of a trauma that feel as if they’re taking place right now. In other words, when memories of a prior trauma feel as though they’re happening right now, we call it “flashback”. You may relive what you saw, heard, smelled, and felt, as well as your body’s reactions, such as a racing heart. They can last anything from a few seconds to several hours.

That means it’s possible to have the feeling of sexual violence all over again. However, It can be tough to reconnect with reality after a flashback. It may even appear as if the offender is physically present. They can be daunting and unpleasant. That’s because you are mentally reliving your sexual trauma, and it feels as if it is happening. Flashbacks might make you feel exposed, uncomfortable, or afraid. They can make you feel lonely and leave you all alone. You might feel a strong sense of rage, embarrassment, or apathy. Since these can affect your mental health, it is better to keep them under control.

How to deal with Flashbacks?

Flashbacks can be annoying. It’s dreadful to relive the experience that you try to forget ever happening. When talking about the impact of sexual abuse on mental health, flashbacks can take a major place. So, there are a bunch of things that people can do to deal well with Flashbacks.

Be your own savior

  • Tell yourself you are having a flashback. You are not losing control or going mad. Flashbacks are a temporary and natural reaction to surviving trauma. ‘
  • Ground yourself in PRESENT. Think where you are at present. Remind yourself of the moment that you live in NOW. Look around. Use your sense to get a hang of what is going on now. What can you hear and see? Maybe it was a familiar scent or a song you just heard that triggered the flashbacks. Try and remember what that certain thing is. So that you can prepare yourself for the future. Try to remember your name, the date, and the time. Do these and they would help you control your thoughts.
  • Perhaps some things you can easily keep at hand can also help you to deal with it. For example, to bring yourself back to the present, you may wear an elastic band around your wrist and ‘ping’ it. You might also have a pebble, hankie, or key-ring in your pocket to grasp or touch if you have a flashback.
  • Sometimes you may decide the best thing to do is to confront this haunting memory. Letting part of yourself stay in the present while allowing yourself to remember the past could help during a flashback. Take long, deep breaths, and focus on your breathing as the memory flows. Deeply breath in for a count of 5 and breath out for a count of 5. As you breathe, place your palm on your tummy and watch it rise and fall.
  • If you can, try not to “confront the flashback.” This may be very tough. But if you try to distract yourself or ignore the memories, they may become stronger as they try to emerge.

Loved ones as saviors

  • If you can talk to your partner about your sexual assault experience, you may be able to explain flashbacks to them and agree ahead of time what you want to happen if one occurs during intimacy. He/she may be able to help you ground yourself if you have a flashback during sex by repeating your name and reassuring you that you are safe. It’s fine to take a break from your relationship’s sexual aspect to work through these memories. Your partner should respect and support your decision. As you are dealing with the impact of sexual abuse on your mental health, he/she just might understand it. If you are unable to tell your partner about your sexual violence experience, you might be able to talk about what you are or are not comfortable with sexually. Therefore, having an understanding partner can always benefit you emotionally.
  • Truth be told, Flashbacks can be hectic. It may take hours or even days before you feel normal again. After a flashback, take time for yourself. Having a relaxing bath or listening to your favorite music can help calm you. Therefore, after a flashback, take some time for yourself.

Chapter 10:

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Anxiety, worry, and panic are common reactions among survivors of sexual violence. If these emotions grow serious and you have had them more than a few weeks, chances are you may have post-traumatic stress disorder. To put it another way, if you have feelings of worry which trouble your day-to-day life, you are likely to have PTSD.

While all survivors react differently, there are three main symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Re-experiencing: flashbacks, dreams, or intrusive thoughts make you feel like you’re reliving the event.
  2. Avoidance: intentionally or subconsciously altering your behaviour to avoid settings related to the trauma, or losing interest in your favourite activities.
  3. Hyper-arousal: feeling “on edge” all of the time, having difficulty sleeping, being easily startled, or prone to sudden outbursts

The symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, are divided into two categories by psychologists and victims.

For starters, people often relive traumatic memories of the actual scene. Secondly, people may experience symptoms of denial. These feelings are numbness or a sense of “not quite being there”. These types of symptoms normally happen in cycles, with one symptom leading to the next.

Chapter 11:

A Word of Farewell

The impact of sexual abuse on mental health is a lot to take in. There is no doubt that there are noticeable health concerns after a sexual assault. But, coupled with health issues, a person is most likely to face mental health issues as a result of sexual violence. Depression, Flashbacks, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are some of them that you need to look out for. If you or your loved ones ever have the symptoms of these disorders after facing such a sexual trauma, It is important to remember that you are not alone. It is sad but true that millions of people of both genders have gone through what you went through and lived to tell their stories. Therefore, It is always good to share your thoughts on that experience. Maybe you will be able to help others who are struggling as well.


01). How does sexual abuse affect mental health?

02). Is there a difference between sexual violence and sexual assault?

03). Is kissing someone against their will assault

"Learnt a lot from this course" Sally

51 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount