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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Weird Attractions

Q. A friend confided to me that every girl he has ever seriously dated has told him a story about a sexual encounter she had as a child with an adult. He's never had an experience like that and can't figure why he is always drawn to this type of girl. He is truly a nice guy and not out to use these girls. What are the possible psychological motivations behind this?

A. I can only guess at why your friend continues to meet these type of girls, but I'm not quite sure what "this type" really means. Certainly, there is some evidence that childhood sexual abuse is more common than many might wish to believe, though validating reports of abuse is complex and controversial. In one Canadian study using a community survey (MacMillan et al, 1997), nearly 13% of females (and about 4% of males) reported a history of sexual abuse during childhood.

In another study of women seeking treatment for premenstrual syndrome, the rates of reported sexual abuse (based on interview with the patient) exceeded 90%! So, it's entirely possible that your friend has simply encountered a lot of women with this history because the problem is quite prevalent.

On the other hand, to the extent that sexual abuse may be correlated with certain psychiatric complications, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, perhaps your friend is drawn to women who express certain kinds of emotional vulnerabilities--such as feeling socially inhibited or anxious. Then again, maybe your friend simply inspires trust and confidence--allowing the women he dates to open up in very personal ways.

And now, here's a question for you to ponder: it's great that you care enough about your friend to write in about this, but how come you are writing in, and not your friend?

January, 2001

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