Dear Dr. Eve,

I grew up with only a mother, my father left when I was very young and do not know him at all.  I had a rough childhood as my mother drank a lot and worked shift hours, so I seldom saw her.  I had to fend for myself, wash my own clothes and make food for myself.  When I did see her, she would tell me I was no good, and would threaten to kick me out.  Now I am married and find that I struggle to be intimate with my wife.  I am more interested in masturbation and porn than sex with her.  I love her and am hurting her.  Please advise me.





Hello Rocky,

The world gives much-needed attention to the sexual abuse of children. Childhood sexual abuse is a horrific and life-changing experience for children.  It has unique painful outcomes on their sexuality and intimacy as adults.  And there are well-researched interventions that are there to assist adults to manage this trauma.

However, not enough attention is given to “Psychological Maltreatment”. And believe it or not, research has shown that this abuse is more harmful than sexual abuse.  You, and 74.4% of people who report lifetime exposure to 1 or more exposure to psychological maltreatment, do not get the treatment they so deserve to receive.

“Psychological Maltreatment” is the term to describe physical, sexual, psychological abuse, specifically, emotional neglect and emotional abuse.

People who experience it will, like you say, “I had a difficult/rough childhood, but I’m fine.” In other words…” I survived”.  And indeed, you did survive

“Emotional neglect” includes some of the experiences you suffered, namely caregiver not physically present, due to work or alcohol/substance abuse; emotionally absent due to depression, poverty, lack of social support; abandons the child for periods of time, or shuns the child.    

“Emotional abuse” includes some of your suffered experiences, namely belittling the child, blaming the child for family problems, making inappropriate demands on the child (making their own food) , threats or bullying of the child, or over control of the child.


You may be wondering what this has to do with your problem now as an adult: an inability to be intimate with your wife.  Probably everything.


As a result of childhood psychological maltreatment, your ability to feel safe and trusting is pretty disrupted.  The persons who were meant to be there for you, were absent and when present, were abusive.  This lack of secure and safe attachment got you to behave in a survival manner.  As a child, you found ways to look after yourself, to soothe yourself when you felt anxious or scared or lonely. And you did this alone, having learnt that you can depend on no one else but yourself.


As a child it was a way to survive.  However, as an adult in a relationship, this strategy does not serve you so well.  Relationships require trust, presence, consistency and predictability – all that good stuff you did not receive.


Of course, it will now feel like a struggle to receive this love or provide it. It can feel so scary for your brain that your impulse is to escape it. And porn is an easy way to escape intimacy with your wife and an excellent way to soothe your anxiety about intimacy.


I urge you to seek trauma treatment. You deserve this healing. Learn how to safely be intimate and sexual. I hope this helps you judge yourself less, and I hope it helps your wife see a different part of you , a part that suffered psychological maltreatment, a part  with which she can have compassion and kindness.    


Take care

Dr Eve

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