Sex and Self-Harm

A common but not so often talked about topic is one of self-harm. About 1 in 7 college students have engaged in it before, usually in the forms of intentional cutting or burning of oneself. These actions are related to low self-esteem and emotional dysregulation, acting as a way to relieve negative feelings or increase positive ones.

A recent study decided to look into a different side of self-harm, harmful sexual behaviors. The research seems to indicate that some people might use sex as a way to self-harm.

The study surveyed 199 adults, mostly women, about their experiences with sexual self-harm. They defined this as “repeatedly sought sexual situations that have caused you physical and/or mental harm and that have affected you in your life.” They were also asked open-ended question about how, why and in what way they used sex for self-harm.

The researcher found that people sometimes sought physical harm, psychological harm, or both. The seeking of psychological harm usually came in two forms, with the goal of punishing or humiliating oneself. The first being agreeing to have sex even though they do not want to, the second being when they do not have any interest in the person, or even consider them disgusting.

Seeking physical harm through sex is when someone seeks out physical violence in a relationship. For example, seeking out a partner that is likely to be abusive. Some participants described this as “self-elected rape”

The participants reported that these types of behaviors started when they were in their adolescence, with many mentioning a history of sexual abuse, and low self-esteem. They described the motivations for their actions as emotional regulation, trying to get relief from anxiety, depression, and their low self-esteem. Also, using sex in a self-harming way was meant to confirm, positively or negatively, their self-view. Making them feel wanted, or making them feel worthless.

Those that participated in these types of behaviors found it hard to stop, as it created a cycle of temporary relief and shame/guilt for what they had done. Some also reported using drugs and alcohol to help continue the behavior and the shame of their actions as a reason for not seeking help.

This study highlights that sex may well be a very unexplored form of self-harm, as this study was one of the first to look into it.

Read More:
Study: Fredlund, C., Wadsby, M., & Jonsson, L. S. (2020). Motives and manifestations of sex as self-injury. The Journal of Sex Research57(7), 897-905

Add Your Comment