Past is present: Pathways between childhood sexual abuse and relationship satisfaction

J Marital Fam Ther. 2022 Apr;48(2):604-620. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12522. Epub 2021 Apr 23.


Research on childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has consistently demonstrated the damaging effects of these experiences, not only on survivors' development, but also on the nature and quality of their adult relationships, particularly romantic ones. Yet, research to date has not demonstrated a strong direct effect of CSA on relationship satisfaction. This study examined the pathways from CSA to relationship satisfaction via sexual shame and romantic partner attachment. Data collected through surveys from 732 adults were analyzed using a serial mediation model. As expected, the direct association between CSA and relationship satisfaction was statistically significant but rather weak. Results demonstrated that sexual shame, combined with either romantic partner attachment avoidance or romantic partner attachment anxiety, reduces relationship satisfaction. Specifically, three possible pathways mediated by sexual shame were identified. Implications of the findings are discussed and recommendations for clinical interventions with CSA survivors that address sexual shame and romantic partner attachment are provided.

Keywords: attachment; child sexual abuse; mediation model; relationship satisfaction; sexual shame.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse*
  • Anxiety
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual*
  • Humans
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Sex Offenses*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners