Sexual Abuse, Masturbation, & Sexual Addiction

There are alarming rates of sexual violence and sexual abuse these days. The #metoo hashtag went viral as people from all over the world reveal that they have been violated in some way. A phenomenal organization that I write for called Stones to Bridges gives space to Muslim Youth to anonymously ask mental health professionals for help on various issues. This last submission was from a young woman who had been sexually abused by 3 older girls for 6 months when she was 12 years old. She is now suffering from severe depression, and compulsive masturbation. Check out my response that includes invaluable resources to help her get through her struggles. Read response below or click here to see the original post  on the Stones to Bridges website.


Muslims Youth Question: Stuck

Assalamu Alaikum,

I am a 23 year old girl living in the US. I have spent 7 years in and out of therapy for depression and PTSD. In the past I would self-harm a lot, and I have attempted suicide 3 times. Recently, I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer have suicidal ideations, but the depression and guilt over past sexual assault is taking its toll. I’ve come a long way but there are still issues that I can’t seem to resolve through counseling because of embarrassment. I hope you don’t mind me discussing these issues here because the anonymity makes it easier. While I was being abused (by 3 older girls over a period of 6 months when I was 12) I started to masturbate because it made me feel better about what was happening. I did not enjoy what they did, but I did enjoy what I did on my own. I think it was a way to take control. The problem is that I continued to masturbate until now, and it has become a habit that I have not been able to break. I have conflicting emotions because sexual desire isn’t really something that is discussed and I feel like I am a pervert. I don’t understand why I am this way, and why it is so hard for me to break this habit. I know that Allah is all-forgiving, but I feel like I use the excuse that I am “too far gone” or unworthy of forgiveness so that I don’t have to change. I don’t know who to turn to anymore. I know that these things can’t be solved online but I am hoping to get a little bit of direction. Please let me know if you would like additional information, as there are details that I can share if necessary. Thank you for your time

Dr. Afshana Haque Response:

Assalaamu Alaikum Sister,

You have been through so much, and suffering through abuse of this intensity and duration is not only physically and emotionally traumatizing, but many fall into the depths of a spiritual crisis as well. However, despite everything you went through, you have still held on to your faith in Him and his Mercy, SubhanAllah! You are strong and brave and your faith is an asset that can be used to get through your struggles. I believe what may have started as a coping mechanism for you may have evolved into an addiction, which is very common for survivors of abuse and those dealing with PTSD. Without adequate healing from your traumatic expereinces, it will be difficult to achieve a healthy sexuality that is not tinged with shame and compulsion which keep you stuck in a vicious cycle.

I agree that healthy sexuality needs to be more openly discussed in our community. Our sexuality is a God given gift that help us form deep bonds and connections with our loved ones. However, if any sexual act feels out of control, bringing you harm in some way, and/or you want to stop but cannot, then it’s usually not about sex. Masturbating releases endorphins that are calming and soothing to a traumatized brain. Unless you appropriately process all of the emotions and work through the trauma that you have experienced, your brain will be persistently and subconsciously running from it and trying to find peace and consolation as much as it can, from whatever source it can find (sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography, food, social media, etc). Alhamdulillah, I am pleased to hear you have been in therapy and have come a long way especially in regards to suicide ideation, but I would seek out a therapist with whom you are completely comfortable, feel safe enough to be completely vulnerable, and definitely one that has expertise in trauma, addictions and sexual violations. Here are some excellent resources about sex addiction and overcoming them:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-author-speaks/201706/overcoming-sex-addiction-self-help-guide

https://www.rickhanson.net/enjoy-sobriety/

https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm

Some young women who have been through similar experiences also have strained relationships with their parents or caregivers which develops out of resentment for not protecting them against the sexual predators and not taking appropriate actions against them. If this is the case for you as well, I would seek to heal the relationships between you and your caregivers and work through any feelings of hurt, insecurity, anger, resentment, etc. (ideally with a family therapist who also specializes in trauma). Developing secure bonds with your primary caregivers and loved ones, adequately processing and working through your traumatic experiences, and finding healthy coping mechanisms that are meaningful will help you find lasting relief from painful emotions and compulsive behaviors. Finally, research shows that spirituality is a strong contributor to sobriety, so reconnect and reestablish your relationship with Allah as well. Many times, when we are ashamed we shy away from reaching out to Him. But Allah loves us even more when we have shortcomings. Why? Because if we were perfect, we would have no need to turn to Him and ask Him to envelop us with His Rahma. I pray He grants you the strength and patience to heal from your pain, and help you live the peaceful and meaningful life you deserve.

Afshana Haque, PhD, LMFT-S (FatimaV)  http://www.stonestobridges.org/2018/09/03/stuck/

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