Brief Research Report: History of Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Sexual Fantasies

Article excerpt

The study investigated the hypothesis that women with a history of childhood sexual abuse would report different sexual fantasies from women with no childhood sexual abuse. Women with a history of abuse had more force in their fantasies, had more sexually explicit fantasies, began having sexual fantasies at a younger age, and had more fantasies with the theme of being under someone's control. Women with a history of childhood physical abuse did not have a similar pattern. It was suggested that the sexual fantasies may reflect the sexualizing effect of childhood sexual experiences and that fantasies of the abusive experience may become intrusive.

Browne and Finkelhor (1986) reviewed studies on the impact of child sexual abuse and divided the effects into initial and long term. Initial effects were those occurring within two years of the termination of the abuse and included fear, anxiety, depression, anger and inappropriate sexual behavior. Long-term effects were those found in adult women who were victimized as children. As adults they were more likely to experience depression, social isolation, poor self-esteem, and sexual maladjustment. The most damaging abuse resulted from experiences which involved father figures, force and genital contact.

Three studies have not supported the conclusions of Browne and Finkelhor (1986). Kilpatrick (1986) examined the adult functioning in five areas of 501 women and found no significant differences between women who had childhood sexual experiences and those who did not. It is important to note that 65% of Kilpatrick's subjects rated the sexual experience as pleasant or neutral and she included peer activities in the definition of sexual experiences. Fromuth (1986) examined the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and later adjustment in 383 college women. A number of small, significant correlations was found between history of sexual abuse and current maladjustment. None of the significant zero order correlations exceeded .15 and therefore accounted for less than 3% of the variance. Mandoki and Burkhart (1989) examined the issue of re-victimization and found no relationship between child victimization and later adult victimization.

Several recent studies have supported the conclusions of Browne and Finkelhor (1986). Burnam et al. concluded that women who were sexually assaulted had a two- to fourfold increased risk of having later onset of psychiatric disorder. Briere and Runtz (1988) reported that college women with a history of sexual abuse had higher levels of acute and chronic dissociation and greater anxiety and depression than a comparison group of nonabused students. In comparing female outpatients with and without a history of childhood sexual abuse, Briere (1988) found that former sexual abuse victims differed on a number of symptoms including dissociation, sexual problems, alcoholism and drug addiction, and the rate of sexual victimization as an adult. In both Briere and Runtz and Briere (1988), sexual abuse was defined as sexual contact, ranging from fondling to intercourse with someone five or more years older. Burnam et al. (1988) used a probability sampling design to select 3,132 adults to obtain a sample diverse in age and racial and socioeconomic composition. Childhood sexual assaults were predictive of later onset of depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders.

Both Deblinger, McLeer, Atkins, Ralphe and Foa (1989) and Wolfe, Gentile and Wolfe (1989) found higher rates of sexually abused children meeting the DSM-III-R criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than physically abused or nonabused children. Sexually abused children were found to display more "re-experiencing" symptoms, including more sexually abusive behaviors and intrusive thoughts (Deblinger et al., 1989; Wolfe etal., 1989).

The above studies differ from each other in at least two important ways. The subjects in the Burnam et al. study had a mean age of 36 and were representative of the general population in their catchment area, while Kilpatrick's subjects had a mean age of 25, with 20 being the mode; Mandoki and Burkhart's sample had a mean age of 19. …