Understanding Trauma & Violence


Is it normal to have experienced pleasure during an assault? I think I may have had an orgasm, but I’m not sure. I feel so betrayed by my body. I’m just too embarrassed and ashamed to ask my therapist.


Thank you so much for trusting us with this extremely difficult question. Please know you are not alone and this does not invalidate the trauma you experienced. Arousal during sexual assault is a possible, but involuntary physiological response that does not imply consent or enjoyment. Resist the feelings of shame and self-blame that you are feeling. It is not your fault and your experiences are valid.

Survivors can experience a wide range of confusing and conflicting emotions and sensations after their assault, especially if they believe they experienced sexual arousal. Sexual arousal is a physical response that can occur even in the absence of sexual desire or consent. Arousal can be caused by fear, excitation transfer, nerve stimulation, or other factors. It is possible that your body's natural response to physical stimulation was triggered during your experience, even if those feelings are not wanted or desired. 

To bring forward some research, of those who report sexual violence, it is estimated that around 1 in 20 people also describe experiencing orgasm. But the true numbers are likely much higher. For example, in a 2004 review paper, a clinician reports, “I (have) met quite a lot of victims (males) who had the full sexual response during sexual abuse…I (have) met several female victims of incest and rape who had lubrication and orgasm.” This further emphasizes that this is something many people struggle with, and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

If you are struggling with these feelings, it may be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional who specializes in trauma and sexual assault. I know it can feel embarassing to bring this up to your therapist, but if they have a background in sexual trauma, this is probably something they have heard before from other clients. Trained mental health providers can help you process your experiences and develop coping strategies to manage these difficult emotions. If you feel your therapist will not understand, perhaps you would benefit from some complementary support from others who are more knowledgable about the diverse ways trauma and violence can manifest. You do not need to go through this alone.

Thank you for asking this tough question. We are here for you if you need us.

Safety Exit