How Does Sexual Abuse Affect the Brain?
In 2013, the American Journal of Psychiatryissued research, which X-rayed the brains of fifty-one women in Atlanta, GA who were participating in a bigger project on the effects of early trauma. Twenty-eight of the participants had been severely abused as children, enduring different combinations of neglect and emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The remaining twenty-three underwent neither abuse nor next to nothing. The women varied in age from eighteen to forty-five. However, the typical age was twenty-seven. A typical survey on childhood trauma was utilized to evaluate the early-childhood experiences of the women, and their brains were examined to gauge the depth of different areas of the cortex. Cortical depth is connected to brain development, with denser areas usually implying healthier development. Like muscles, brains grow by means of use—thus areas that have been worked out more inclined to be larger.
However, abuse can slow down growth. To deal with awesome experiences of distress, the brain can change patterns of signaling from the conduits involved, which can eventually leave those areas undersized from decreased input. A child rape victim’s brain, for instance, might respond by decreasing the connectivity of the areas that were injured. According to Jens Pruessner, associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in terms of sexual abuse, he and his colleagues observed variations in the somatosensory cortex, the region that manages input from the body to generate sensations and perceptions. Somatosensory regions generate a map of the body on the brain, with every area managing sensation from certain parts of the body. He also states that sexually abuse women, as compared women who were not sexually abused, had weakening in the region where the genitalia were found.
Even though the occurrence differs depending on the seriousness and amount of abuse, most sexual-abuse survivors report sexual difficulties as adults, as well as decreases in desire and sensation. They sometimes endure chronic genital pain. Pruessner states that there are a few studies insinuating that the cortex’s thinning would be associated with a reduced pain limit, thus, the person would more effortlessly notice pain rather than touch from that region. A few of the women displayed cortical thinning in areas associated with the face and mouth, which could be the result of abuse to those regions. The study did not survey the women from childhood. Thus, it cannot demonstrate that the abuse brought about the variations in these areas. For instance, it is possible that thinning in theses brain areas are the result of later evasion of healthy experience—avoiding sex even in a good relationship, for instance—instead of the early abuse.
However, that does not mean that recovery is unachievable. Many abuse survivors do not acquire symptoms and research demonstrates gradually that the brain can modify considerably when given the right kind of support and emotional sustenance. Comprehending what fails throughout and after abuse, the researchers think, will assist them in figuring out how to rectify it.