Specialized ProfessionArousal/Orgasm in Sexual Assault: IAmA Psychotherapist, Founder/Director of Sexual Assault Awareness, (and local mod), Back to Talk Taboo, #MeToo & Answer Your Q's on SA!

Feb 20th 2018 by ChildTherapist • 24 Questions • 693 Points

Hello again Reddit!

This is my thank you to Reddit, as much of what I've accomplished would not have happened without your support! As SAA moves into 2018, it seemed timely to once more address this under-discussed aspect:

The idea of having an orgasm or feeling arousal during rape or molestation is a confusing and difficult one for many people, both survivors and secondary-survivors (friends/family). Many do not believe it's possible for a woman or man to achieve orgasm during rape or other kinds of sexual assault. Some believe having an orgasm under these circumstances means that it wasn't a "real" rape or the woman/man "wanted" it. Addressing arousal and orgasm in SA is the final taboo in sexualized trauma; the thing no one wants to talk about. Understanding the psychology and neuro-biology underlying the victims' response to sexual assault will remove the shame and stigma, so a lot more healing can happen.

My clients have seen this, my professional colleagues are beginning to acknowledge this, and now, I hope once more, Reddit will too!

I’m Andrew Pari, LCSW, a.k.a. ChildTherapist, trauma/sexual assault specialist, and Founder/Director of Sexual Assault Awareness (SAA). It’s been over 4 years since I last posted on this topic and I’m so proud that it remains the largest online discussion on sexualized violence, thanks to all of you! Here's the prior post for reference:

Mod-Approved Proof:

Since our last talk, I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to do so many things to raise awareness on sexualized violence & victim response, such as:

  • trained & presented at some of the top organizations dedicated to eliminating sexualized violence, including End Violence Against Women Int’l (, the Conference on Crimes Against Women (, and the Institute on Violence, Abuse, & Trauma (,

    • educated thousands of forensic & mental health professionals, military & law enforcement around the world from New York to Hawaii to Washington D.C. to Switzerland to Korea,
    • partnering with a university on the first formal study on arousal/orgasm in sexualized violence. We are very excited about this! Shoutout to Kayla Bunderson who's leading the charge on this important study!,
    • continuing 20 years of direct work with SA survivors, and getting over myself to begin providing tele-therapy for women in areas where the work I do isn't readily available, including service and outreach to CSECY and sex industry professionals,

and, hopefully, completing the book that folks have been asking me about for years.

I have a strong cup of coffee, my cat, and I'm ready to continue our talk. (And just to save some time: a duck-sized horse. I LOVE duck!)

AMAA Reddit.

Note: I will answer first-order (left-side) questions as it’s difficult to attempt tracking deviating comments. Don't be afraid to think your question may be offensive, as long as it isn’t deliberately so. I'd rather have a frank talk than leave people with false ideas.

EDIT: 1pm CA time I'm heading off for awhile, but will continue to answer your questions as the day goes on. If you have a personal issue you want to talk about, feel free to PM me or visit our website: Thank you, Reddit!

EDIT2: 4pm CA time: Back to get through as many questions as I can. I'm receiving a number of PMs and plan to get to ALL of you. Please feel free to PM me, but just know it may be a day or two before I can reply.

EDIT3: 7:30pm CA time: Taking off again. Will check in again before going to sleep. I'll continue answering questions when I have time as long as you are asking them!


Good day, AP.

I've discussed this with a number of male victims of rape or sexual assault, of my acquaintance. Quite a few have said that their perpetrators (either sex) deliberately tried to provoke a physical reaction from them, for various reasons. In other words, the victim's arousal or orgasm wasn't an incidental aspect of the assault, but one of its main purposes.

Have you seen much evidence of this in the course of your professional work?


I see this more with child survivors than adults, but a yes to both. With children, male or female, part of the grooming process is to make them feel involved and complicit, a partner in their own abuse. One tool abusers use is to elicit sexual responses; erections/ejaculation in males, lubrication/orgasm in females.

It's a terrible and cruel act as it leaves many victims believing they seduced, wanted, partnered in their abuse, which simply isn't true.

And to be clear, despite my Reddit handle, the majority of my work is with adolescent through adult females, though I have worked with children as well.


It's a terrible and cruel act as it leaves many victims believing they seduced, wanted, partnered in their abuse...

Indeed. And sadly, that's what the general public seem to believe too. I wonder how the message can best be conveyed to them that this is in fact an especially nasty and damaging kind of assault, whose perpetrators if anything deserve a particularly severe sentence.


I should have mentioned thrf is one of our intrepid mods over at /rape, a Reddit survivor support sub.

I think the answer always lies in education. Some public schools in some areas of the U.S. are starting to talk more explicitly about sexualized violence and recognize things such as ACES (adverse childhood experience survey) data to support openly addressing how violence and oppression in childhood leads to a wide range of maladies in adults. And not only mental health ones, but physical expression of emotional trauma. We know so much more know than we did even 10 years ago. Now it's a matter of telling everyone!


Good morning!

You mention in the original thread that anywhere from 5% to 50% of victims experience this during rape, and that considering the variation it's obvious it needs more research.

Has your research allowed you to reach a more accurate number for the ratio of victims experiencing this issue?


To an extent. I've been running informal online surveys for several years now. Those numbers run much closer to 50%, but these are women responding from survivor sites where there tends to be a little more insight and knowledge about survivor responses.

I believe the real-world number is around 30% which is FAR higher than most people in my field believe. I'm very interested in seeing the findings of our current study with a San Diego university that specializes in trauma research. That's going to be awhile though as we are still in survey development phase.


I've experienced arousal whilst I was sexually assaulted, but I guess the most troubling thing was in that moment, I wasn't able to tell him to stop or to push him away. He then asked, "you like it don't you? Don't lie", to which I didn't respond.

I guess my question is - is it absolutely not possible that I wanted it?


These are such difficult questions to answer and why therapy really is so important to recovery. I hate to sound like some ancient philosopher, but my answer truly doesn't matter. Only yours does.

Is it possible for someone to have genuinely enjoyed their abuse, reflecting on it afterwards? Sure. I've absolutely worked with women for whom that was true. As we say, there really is no right response to sexual assault.

In your case though, it sounds like you experienced a very normal freeze reaction, that most people don't know is normal. Your body is geared towards survival. For women, one element of survival in pre-history was lubricating and orgasming in response to sexual attack, so that you wouldn't die from injuries. Because we largely associate orgasm with pleasure, we get very confused afterwards about what that response meant. It meant your body was saving itself.

A qualified sexual trauma specialist could help you really answer your question though.


For women, one element of survival in pre-history was lubricating and orgasming in response to sexual attack, so that you wouldn't die from injuries.

I do not mean to sound rude but do you have any evidence to support this assertion?


Not rude at all. It's important to acknowledge what we've studied versus what we know from a great deal of experience. There actually isn't a whole lot of research (which is part of the work I'm trying to do), but there have been some studies on this concept, in addition to being well-known in the study of human sexuality.

Here's one: Suschinsky, K., and Lalumiere, M. (2010). Prepared for Anything?: An Investigation of Female Genital Arousal in Response to Rape Cues. It was published in the journal of Psychological Science in 2011. You may be able to find it online.


What can be done to make this information available during sex ed?


First we need to make it routinely available within the mental health and trauma profession. It's so sad to me to meet established trauma therapists who have never considered arousal and so fail to bring it into the treatment room.

From there, it will take the will of the community to go to their schools demanding full discussions of difficult topics. I think this is true in a lot of educational areas, not only sexuality. The more we talk about this, the more people know and the more they will want their children to know.


Hi, thanks so much for doing this. When I was around 8 years old, I had an experience with an older cousin which I've never been able to identify as assault or not.

Essentially, he held me in his lap and jabbed my sides repeatedly to keep me flinching and unable to move, while he rubbed himself against me and called it a massage; I could feel that he was aroused. Eventually I had the voice to yell stop and he did instantly, before giving me an actual massage. Does this count as assault in your professional opinion?




Have you ever had patients/victims who started out as abusers, but out of regret or remorse allowed themselves to be harassed/abused? How would you go about shaping their mindset, in that people might find them being hypocritical for supporting causes that they have violated?


I haven't worked with abusers, at least not in that "order" so to speak. I've worked with girls who were abused and then became bullies or abusers out of that. It's important to state though that the idea that people who were abused will become abusers is a false one. It's a fairly low percentage.

I think anyone who genuinely comes to understand the process and cycle of any type of hurting, even when they did the hurting themselves, can add to and be part of healing.

I'm not certain I fully understand your question though.


I have a question, I'm a gay man who was sexually assaulted by an old man (I was 18 he was 55) and we were friends up to that point and had sex before, but when he wanted to one time I said no and he didn't take that for an answer. I didn't enjoy it but I ejectioned as well, now he is serving 50 years in state jail for what he did to me a several others and I feel conflicted and confused. I didn't want to have sex but he was also a friend, I know he would have done something like this to more people but he was very convincing that I enjoyed it and being further away from that moment it feels harder to figure it out. Is guilt in this situation normal? Should I feel guilty or rest assured that I did the right thing?

Thanks for you time


Such a hard question to answer because these are your feelings. They deserve the time for you to process and understand them. It's easy for me to say with certainty that you did the right thing in standing up for yourself and protecting others from a known perpetrator. But does my certainty result in yours?


Hello, first off I would just thank you for making time to answer these questions. Even for people who may be embarrassed to hesitant to ask about their own experiences, hearing an answer to an issue that may be similar could be hugely beneficial to them. I think it’s great that you give your time for something like this.

My question:

As a very young child I have small fragments and bits and pieces of very disturbing memories that may have resulted from abuse I experienced but do not remember. I am reluctant to write these off as fantasies or dreams because what happens in them do not seem to be fantasies a child of that age would engage in.

Being as vague as possible...I have fragments of memories of a grown female family member allowing me (a male) to explore and touch her naked body asking me repeatedly “do you like that?” And there are also bits and pieces of more then one male family member exposing themselves to me.

My question is there a way to recover these possibly repressed memories? My fear is these memories were the most benign part of these experiences and things far worse were done to me that I have no recollection of. Even worse then that...I am afraid these may just be a result of an overactive imagination and these people are completely innocent and I have carried these strange “memories” since childhood for no reason.

There is a history of at least one of the people mentioned above being arrested and jailed for child molestation. It is very likely I was a victim too.

My confusion with these memories is that in them, I don’t feel frightened or upset. That’s why I feel I may have blurred a line into fantasy...because in these small foggy recollections, I don’t feel taken advantage of almost like I was okay with what was going on.

Is there a way to tell these memories apart from actual events or something concocted in my imagination?


Yes, there is a way, but it isn't something I can type an easy answer to. It would be you working together with someone like myself to help you review what you do recall and slowly help you rebuild the memory of what happened. I am not talking about leading someone to recall things that didn't happen, before anyone goes down that road. I am talking about a process where you would lead and the therapist would support you with techniques in recall.

Short answer: it's possible, and takes time.


Hi, thanks for doing this and addressing something that I find very difficult to talk to anyone about.

The information about it being evolutionary to stop serious damage in these circumstances is something that never even occurred to me but is so good to know.

How do you recommend people discuss this in an open forum without being judged/dismissed? I have spoken to my partner about it but not at length and I can’t see how to have this conversation without causing damage.


Thank you! And thank you for saying you hadn't known about this before. THIS is why I value talks like this so much. My hope is that the more we can talk in open forums like this, then the more acceptance these ideas will have.

I think first, educating yourself on how the system works will give you confidence to explain it to others. One analogy I use is that our bodies bleed when cut in order to protect us. We don't bleed for no reason and when we understand why we bleed, we realize it's not a deadly process, but a safety one. Blood cleanses a wound, covers it, then dries to protect the body. Most people get this and there isn't shame around it.

But because lubrication and orgasm has such strong sexual connotations, we see it differently. It really isn't.

I use a lot of analogy to help people understand this process. It is not under your control so how could it be a woman's "fault" if she cums during sexual assault? It can't. No more so than laughing during forced tickling or having a euphoric response to being forcibly injected with heroin.


Thank you for answering. This is very useful.

I have just re-subbed to r/rape, I had come off of a few months back as I was finding it hard to read a lot of the stories without remembering a lot of what happened. Knowing there are people involved with the sub that are educated and forward thinking about this makes me feel much more comfortable. (Sorry to sound so egotistical)

Please continue your work, you (might) have no idea how much something as simple as you acknowledging that bodily arousal during a rape can and does happen, and isn’t a matter of shame /doesn’t change that it was rape, will help people. Thank you.


Thank you for that. Sadly, I know all too well, which is why this specific subject is so important to me. I encounter far too many colleagues who are as surprised as my clients to learn this.

And glad you are rejoining the sub. You will definitely find that the mods understand this along with survivors who have experienced it. Not everyone will though, just so you're prepared.


Real Question Though. You once stated on Facebook that the #metoo movement was a "trendy hashtag" in the larger conversation of Sexual Assault. Is this something you still feel?


It's always difficult to hold nuanced discussion when there are strong movements and passion behind those movements.

What I was reflecting in that post was that many voices, those of my clients, women in the sex industry, and women in online spaces, felt marginalized by #metoo. Not that the movement itself was trendy, but that we must center ALL women and survivors. Historically, women had to present a certain way to be a "good victim." Usually white, pure, Christian, upper-middle class, etc.

Women of color, the poor, women in sex work were always seen as "unrapeable" because of who they are. Acknowledging them was my intent with the post. And apologies if that came across poorly.


How do you feel regarding the spreading Incel/misogyny movements in popular culture?

Do you think sexual assault awareness is still progressing in the general population despite these movements?

Do you see forensic science, the law, and therapy changing adequately to adapt to the shift in defense strategies from "proof of sexual act" to "proof of consent"? Or is there still a ways to go?

Sorry these are so general. Thank you for peering into this dark corner of SA. We need professionals to take these leaps in order to better support future laws/ support systems for victims.

I hope you have a great day!


These are great questions and some are beyond my pay grade and knowledge base. I'm not certain what you mean by the incel movement, though I'm very familiar with patriarchy and the effect that male-dominance has on the subject of sexualized violence.

One of my main forensic developments in the past couple of years has been using neurology and victim response to better prove lack of consent, which is a complete turnaround from where the forensic field is and has been. We are just barely rounding the corner from arousal=consent to arousal=irrelevant, but I believe there is another huge step forward once people understand primal trauma and how arousal works. I don't know anyone else in the field who is proposing what I am though I have been assured by many colleagues that I'm on the right path.

So yes, a long way to go, and the field moves slowly.


You might not be able to answer this, but if we abandon the notion that arousal=consent how can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a rape occurred? It seems that if we go all the way down that path, the act of rape becomes (on an empirical level) indistinguishable from the act of consensual sex. Which i think is problematic from a legal standpoint.


It's difficult to take a multi-hour presentation into a quick answer, but when we understand that arousal is not a decision process, but a biological instinctive reaction that can only occur in the absence of decision in the case of rape, then it's clearer to see. Decision can only occur in our higher brain and arousal/orgasm only occurs in our primal brain. Going further will take us into a neurological discussion beyond my ability here, but I hope this gives you a framework.


I wouldn't want to recind anyone's assumption of innocence. That wasn't the intent of my question. Nor was myline of questioning solely about incels. I just wondered about professionals take/awareness on their existence.

Currently part of the system puts burden of proof on the victim. A situation that is easy to abuse when a jury of peers is not aware of many facets of victim response. And a victim is easily triggered.

I (tired to) ask(ed) if he knows if science etc. is improving and can help victims be better self advocates and better evidence providers. Or how he interprets if there are improvements in these fields.

Ex: when a jury of your peers is not aware of SA neuroscience and victim responses that are normal - such as delaying reporting, they may just assume its a case of regret, case closed. Thats not fair for the victim in this case / from my POV. But it is due process.

There is still a heavy bias towards non logical stories equating to lies for most people. I'm just wondering if he see's the efforts of himself and other professionals making a difference and if its in all levels.


Wendy Murphy, the well-known sexual assault attorney, and I were discussing this exact idea. We differ somewhat, but one of her ideas is spot-on. In jury selection, we weed out those who have been victimized as biased, but we do nothing to remove anyone with a history of abuse/perpetraton. So we end up with biased juries against the victim. This one aspect of jury screening and selection would address a major injustice in our system.


Currently part of the system puts burden of proof on the victim.

Honestly the system often puts a great deal of the burden of proof on a victim. This is true for many crimes, but obviously in the case of an abuse victim it presents unique problems.

A situation that is easy to abuse when a jury of peers is not aware of many facets of victim response. And a victim is easily triggered.

Ex: when a jury of your peers is not aware of SA neuroscience and victim responses that are normal - such as delaying reporting, they may just assume its a case of regret, case closed. Thats not fair for the victim in this case / from my POV. But it is due process.

In cases where this may come up, it may be wise for the prosecution to employ an expert witness to explain these concepts to the jury.

There is still a heavy bias towards non logical stories equating to lies for most people.

This is actually what made me want to comment. I definitely can't speak for the general populace, but prosecuters and detectives don't necessarily think that non-logical stories are lies. They're just saddled with needing to reach an extremely high burden of proof, and that can be very challenging in many of these cases. The inability to do so can make a victim feeling no one believes them.


One reason I do expert testimony in this area. To educate the jury (and judges and attorneys) on what victim response really looks like, not the myths people buy into.


Coffee sized duck, or a duck sized coffee?


I should have known. This is Reddit, after all.

Hmmm, I'll go duck-sized coffee right now. Need the caffeine to keep up with all of you.


Good day, sir. What's the worst case you've dealt with?


I remember getting this question last time and I think the answer is the same. Young woman about 17 yrs old who had been essentially a sex slave to her father and older brothers from 11 yrs old. Finally removed from her home and entered treatment. It's been years but last time I saw her she was doing very well.

One case I discuss at seminars is a woman who compulsively repeated her trauma by deliberately putting herself in situations to be raped. Sadly she was successful at this many many times before entering treatment. She is also doing well now.


Would you say she would put in situations to be "raped" but in her mental state, she put herself in situations of harms, to gain control of her life. I'm not sure if I'm saying this right, but she cannot be raped if she chooses to be in this situation?
I think I'm explaining hypersexuality?
Also, what would it be the treatment for someone in this case?


You are. Hypersexuality and compulsion were two elements of what she and I worked on. In this case, she had completely disconnected her current behavior from her history. Once we were able to make that emotional connection for her, she began to shift away from feeling compelled to repeat aspects of her trauma.


Are you Hispanic? You look like the Argentinian dude who came into my Spanish class a few weeks ago.


Off-topic, but I encompass a variety of different ethnicities in my heritage. I've often said there is family history from every continent.


so youire not a trained psychologist or psychiatrist?


Not sure what you're asking. I am a trained sexual assault specialist with my degree in psychotherapy stemming from the field of Social Work. Many people confuse clinical social work with the kind they hear about who work in CPS, so maybe that's what you're thinking?

I don't have a medical or doctoral degree, though I've trained many.


I think it is a fair question given the nebulous nature of the title "therapist". Thank you for answering.


It's true there are many kinds of therapists; massage therapist, occupational therapist, etc. Psychotherapy is an established concept though, being around for a couple hundred years, depending on where you start.


I was more referring to who can call themselves a "therapist" or "psychotherapist", the numerous licensing bodies that govern those individuals and the different requisite levels of education/training. Not to mention the variations therein for other regions/countries.

I am definitely not calling out the concept psychotherapy though.


Good point. I'm based in CA which is widely known for having some of the toughest licensing requirements. I'm over 20 years past that process though and most of what I know/practice has been in my studies and training since that time. In addition to being trained in multiple trauma techniques, I'm a certified trainer in several.