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Editor’s Note: This column addresses rape, childhood sexual abuse, PTSD, and sexual orientation as a symptom of trauma.

I’m in my late teens and have identified as gay/queer for the last few years. I have dated/hooked up with a few non-binary folks and trans guys, but they’ve all had vaginas.

Recently I’ve been questioning my orientation. It’s more complicated than simply saying, “Oh hey, I like this (cis) guy, cool.” I was sexually abused as a child. Because of that I have PTSD and an anxiety disorder that makes the idea of being intimate with someone with a penis terrifying — even if I have romantic feelings for them.

I hate the idea that I’m gay because I was raped, but I don’t know if my identifying as gay instead of bisexual or pansexual is because of that. I also sometimes wonder if it’s just my own internalized homophobia (from growing up in a pretty conservative family) and secretly wishing that I was straight.

Do you think it’s worth trying to explore my sexuality further and trying to overcome this fear of intimacy with someone who has a penis? Do you think that’s even possible?

— Hoping to Heal

Dear Hoping,

I’m so sorry that you were forced to endure those experiences and that you’ve been left to foot the bill for someone else’s inexcusable behavior. I strongly suggest you work with a good therapist who can help you navigate the symptoms of your PTSD and anxiety disorder and create a safe environment for you to continue to untangle these questions about your sexuality.

It’s natural to have your connection to penises be a negative one given that, that was a part of your abuser’s anatomy. The things that trigger traumatic reactions are often environmental and can be as simple as a sound, a smell, or a time of year. A significant body part used to inflict harm on you certainly can trigger a negative response in you, and understandably so.

On the other hand, the notion that your sexual identity is a symptom of your abuse is stickier to me…continue reading…