Can a Sexual Trauma History Affect the Conception Process
Being subjected to sexual violence changes an individual’s perspective of life and may make one feel like they’ll never be the same again. In most cases, a violation of the body leaves people feeling unsafe or worrying about a recurrence of the same situation. Even the intimate relationships one has with family and friends may change dramatically due to sexual violence. For some people, the ability to desire intimacy with a partner also changes, which can negatively affect if one is trying to conceive.
In this post, we shall be elaborating on some of the ordinary experiences and challenges that may occur as you try to conceive after experiencing sexual trauma. So, if you are struggling with this problem, you should not give up. Below are your main takeaways:
- A survivor of sexual trauma is likely to experience emotional and physical conditions that affect their experience when they try to conceive. For instance, one may fear having sex, have high-stress levels, or experience challenges within an intimate relationship.
- Choosing to access trauma-informed fertility care, particularly from an OB-GYN, improves the chances of having a more comfortable and safer experience when trying to conceive.
- There are reliable and transformative techniques to heal from sexual trauma.
- There are support opportunities for survivors of sexual trauma in Australia as they engage in the trying to conceive process.
Most people in Australia today do not want to discuss or disclose the hardships they go through after sexual trauma, and this affects their fertility or capability to have children. At Fertility2Family, we feel it is necessary to break the silence since this is a fantastic opportunity to inform people that they are not alone in this challenge. So, if you are a sexual trauma survivor or you know someone who has undergone this experience, be sure to read the entire post. The information we share will be helpful for those who are trying to conceive.
How does sexual trauma affect survivors?
Sexual trauma can simply be defined as the process where the body tries to protect itself from threatening or unwanted sexual experiences. Usually, the trauma results involve two factors – the experience you go through and how the body responds or perceives the harm.
While trauma does not manifest in all instances of sexual violence and doesn’t manifest the same way in every individual, most sexual trauma survivors experience long-lasting physical and emotional impacts after the non-consensual intimate encounter. So if you are feeling the same way, you should know that you are not alone.
The effects of a sexual violence encounter may include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD
- Constant flashbacks
- Panic attacks
- Sleeping disorders
- Eating disorders
- Substance use problems
On top of all these effects, society is also known for treating people who experience sexual trauma differently. In fact, people with ovaries are often blamed for their sexual encounters, which is unfair and cruel. When a sexual violence incident occurs, survivors are forced to internalise their experiences so that they can avoid being blamed. Others also stay quiet because they believe there’s something they could have done to prevent the situation altogether.
These are reasons why survivors remain silent because speaking up will only lead to adverse reactions. Most people may not even believe them or may say that they ruined the life or reputation of the individual who assaulted them. Some are even blamed and ridiculed for the violence or abuse instead of being comforted.
How does a sexual trauma history impact the trying to conceive process?
Most of the women who participate in preconception counselling usually have a sexual trauma history. Since this is so prevalent today, more healthcare providers are making a point to screen all their patients to determine if they need trauma-informed care. Generally, there is no clear biological connection between fertility and sexual assault. Still, people who have undergone a sexual assault will find it difficult to be intimate, reducing the chances of getting pregnant. For this reason, it is essential to support anyone who goes through this traumatic experience and address the problem as soon as possible.
A sexual violence history can affect the steps that are involved in conception. However, since every person processes sexual trauma differently, it’s crucial to understand the ways in which sexual violence affects people who are trying to get pregnant.
According to experts, people who undergo sexual violence can internalise the cruel incident due to societal expectations, which causes them to doubt their worthiness as parents. Women are often under pressure to be suitable sexual partners and also desire to be better mothers. The desire to be a perfect mother can be hard if there is a struggle to get pregnant, and some women even believe that they deserve the struggle because of the traumatic sexual experiences they had in the past. The way society treats sexual trauma survivors can also lead to depression, anxiety, and grief, which makes the conception journey even more difficult.
Discomfort with intimate relationships and sex
Most sexual assault survivors who wish to get pregnant via sex find it challenging to attain their objective because of the anxieties and feelings involved in the activity. Some of the symptoms these survivors have include:
- Seeing sex as a duty or obligation
- Fearing or avoiding sex
- Experiencing vaginal pain
- Having intrusive sexual images and thoughts
- Finding it difficult to get sensations, arousal, or orgasms
- Linking touch with negative feelings
Everyone’s experiences usually manifest differently, but all survivors have a hard time trying to conceive. Some disassociate from their bodies in order to cope with the sexual violations. Such a traumatic effect will make sex painful, scary, and uncomfortable, whether it’s done to connect with a new loving partner or for procreation. For this reason, sexual trauma survivors who want to have healthy relationships or to get children are always advised to see a therapist to manage their symptoms and work towards improving their views on intimacy and sex.
Getting triggers after seeking fertility or OB-GYN care
For the survivors who choose to see their doctors, the experience can be full of apprehension and dread. It is easy for sexual abuse victims to get triggered in situations where their bodies are being touched or examined. This is a common occurrence in doctor’s offices, particularly during fertility, OB-GYN, and pregnancy care.
Due to the apprehension and fear, most survivors avoid seeking out reproductive and health care services, which makes most health conditions go unnoticed, resulting in negative fertility outcomes. The survivors can even feel they need to submit to other people’s decisions about their bodies and the birthing process, which feels invasive.
If you are in this situation, it is advisable to talk to your trauma-informed doctor or any other caring individual. When you do things, your healthcare provider or friend will be better positioned to offer personalised trauma-informed care to invalidate the experience. Regardless, you may find it difficult to disclose this information to your doctor or any other individual for personalised trauma care. The experience of doing so may also vary from one person to another.
This is why healthcare providers need to know about sexual trauma and learn how patients who have undergone this experience behave. This information makes it easy for the patients to get their support. Some of the key components of the trauma-informed medical care include:
- Asking for permission before getting in contact with a patient
- Giving prescriptions before or during assessment and procedures
- Opting to ask patients to shift their clothes instead of removing them
- Being ready to stop the examination upon the patient’s request if they feel uncomfortable or uneasy
However, the universal acceptance of this framework may take some years, just like many changes in the medical field.
Psychological impact with physical symptoms
Currently, there is no evidence to prove that surviving a sexual trauma experience is linked with infertility. However, there may be a strong relationship between the psychological effects of trauma and the physiological changes that may affect fertility results.
Once someone experiences trauma, their stress response capabilities change. This is a survival mechanism known as ‘flight or fight response’ whereby hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream, allowing an individual to respond to an unfriendly or emergency situation.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and stress (often associated with sexual trauma experiences) may cause a malfunction in the release of cortisol and even affect the brain part that controls the release of an egg from the ovary, leading to irregular or missed menstrual cycles.
One minor observatory study revealed that as the percentage of adverse childhood events increased, the risk of amenorrhea and fertility difficulties also increased. However, due to the study’s design and size, it is impossible to generalise this information as the study cannot account for other confounding factors. PTSD and trauma can also lead to other mental health problems that influence fertility, such as substance use and eating disorders.
As covered in the next section, allowing a trauma-informed therapist to help you address your trauma-related stress and anxiety is the best way to improve your overall well-being and increase your chances of conception.
How to seek trauma-informed care following sexual assault
If you or your loved one has undergone any form of sexual trauma, it’s crucial to find a trauma-informed healthcare provider for professional help. Trauma-informed healthcare providers are trained to know that trauma survivors can get flashbacks, and simple things like gestures, words, or physical touch during the examination can cause triggers.
These providers are trained to use affirming words every time they speak to survivors and to seek their patient’s consent before doing anything continually. They are also required to explain the entire assessment and care procedure before and during the session. Trauma-informed caregivers are skilful at noticing symptoms of a survivor who’s experiencing distress and can adjust accordingly to make them feel more comfortable or improve the level of trust.
If you are with a trauma-informed health care expert or any other individual, you have the right to advocate for yourself and impose boundaries if necessary:
Determine if you are comfortable sharing the trauma history and if you’d like the provider to ask any questions after the narration.
Consider asking for some conditions to be met as you access healthcare service, like requesting to bring a trusted individual with you for each session or asking the provider to request your authorisation before they take any step in the examination or procedure.
Most health care providers understand the importance of giving their patients the freedom to decide what they what. They even inform patients that they are in control and can communicate if they want the provider to stop at some point. Doing this enables patients to feel safe while discussing their past assault and makes it easy for providers to offer the best recovery resources and avoid any form of re-traumatization.
Mental health assistance and healing modalities
When you visit a trauma-informed therapist, they will use specific healing modalities to help you heal from the emotions you have been holding in your body due to the traumatic event. Trauma therapy focuses on giving your body the chance to release those emotions you have been carrying for a long time. These are the emotions you get whenever control is taken away or when survival is necessary. If you work with a trauma therapist, you’ll realise you’re getting relief from the symptoms like anxiety, depression, flashbacks, physical ailments, reactivity, and insomnia.
Some of the modalities your therapists may use to heal trauma include:
- Somatic Experiencing (SE)
- Internal Family Systems(IFS)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing(EMDR)
Somatic therapy it’s one of the successful treatments for physical and psychological distress caused by past trauma. Somatic practitioners who can also be massage therapists, reiki practitioners, and acupuncturists can facilitate healing by focusing on how your body manifests emotions. So make sure you get a good somatic or trauma-informed therapist to help you heal.
Do not suffer on your own – support is always available
Any sexual trauma survivor may feel like they are alone, or sharing their story will make them vulnerable, but it’s not always the case. Even if every survivor has different considerations, particularly when it comes to conceptions, you should seek help from an experienced therapist. The chances are that you will realise you are not the only one who has experienced sexual trauma or issues like absent or irregular menstrual cycles.
You may also experience emotional or physical pain because of the traumatic experience you had, but this should not affect your desire to become a parent, particularly when you’re trying to conceive. If you experience flashbacks triggers during sexual activity or in a fertility care session, you shouldn’t panic. It is a normal reaction because you endured an unthinkable sexual trauma experience.
Understanding how a sexual trauma experience affects your conception journey when you’re ready to conceive is an excellent opportunity to seek the proper support and professional help. Always remember that you are not alone and do not blame yourself for what happened. The support for sexual trauma in Australia is more prevalent than ever and will come in handy if you are trying to conceive.