May 15, 2000 -- Elizabeth Haney was sexually assaulted at school by a group
of male classmates when she was 12.
Now 24, the San Francisco woman finds that repercussions of the attack have
made her incapable of connecting love with sex. She has had just two serious
romantic relationships in her life. She admits she is more comfortable with
casual flings, partly because the closer she gets to a man emotionally, the
less she wants to have sex with him.Haney (not her real name), is currently in
therapy to help overcome what she calls her "separation" of love and
By Theresa O'Rourke
Tired of touchy-feely friendships and being the vulnerable one in
romance, a new breed of steely female is beating guys at their own
I'm at a sake bar watching a man get drunk on an ice-cold woman. He
shamelessly admits he can't stop thinking about her. "Really," she
says, devouring a fat slice of tuna in one tidy bite. "That's
interesting." Her raw beauty recalls a young Debbie Harry. He soldiers on:
Why in God's name is she single? What brought her...
But three months into her current relationship, Haney continues to keep her
29-year-old boyfriend at arm's length, emotionally speaking. "I care about
him," she says. "But I don't want to get too close."
The arrangement, however, has started to cause friction. Recently, Haney
flew into a jealous rage when her boyfriend took a phone call from a woman
friend in her presence. Although outwardly viewing the relationship as a fling,
her reaction to the phone call suggested otherwise. "I got upset, and he
tried to talk to me about it, but I wouldn't talk about it," she says.
"I couldn't say what I wanted to, and he got frustrated."
The impact of childhood sexual abuse on adult intimacy varies from person to
person, but experts say Haney's relationship troubles are not uncommon. And the
numbers behind this dilemma are substantial. According to University of New
Hampshire sociologist David Finkelhor, PhD, an estimated 20% of women and up to
5% of men in the United States were abused sexually as children.
When those abused as children try to form adult romantic relationships, they
can be affected by anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem. Some have no
sexual desire; others may have a high sex drive. The history of abuse can also
test the partner's limits of patience and understanding. But researchers and
mental health experts say there are steps couples can take to help overcome
these difficulties and cultivate a healthy, meaningful relationship.