International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation (IJCAM)
Vo. 7, (2023). Published August 2, 2023.
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"I was Taught to See Sexuality as Something Evil": A Qualitative Study on the Impact of a Cult Childhood on Sexual Development
Maike Sälzer and Johannes Jungbauer
Being born or raised in a cult significantly impacts the psychosocial development of children and adolescents. These restrictive and limiting environments impact sexuality as an integral part of personality development. In most cults, dealing with sexuality is characterized by taboos, shame, guilt, and massive restrictions. It can be assumed that the sexuality of young people cannot develop freely under such repressive conditions. However, hardly any studies are available specifically on the topic of sexuality in cults. This paper presents the results of a qualitative interview study in which a total of n=15 former cult members from three European countries were interviewed about their sexual development and experiences with close relationships and intimacy. The results show that free and natural sexuality development is often significantly impeded in cults. Many respondents reported strong feelings of shame and guilt, as well as fears about sexual needs and activities. The long-term consequences were still evident years after leaving their cult. They manifested themselves in various problems, e.g., in the development of attachment and intimate relationships, acting out sexual needs, as well as associated self-esteem problems. Thus, it is important in counseling or therapy with former cult members to work through problems with sexuality and intimacy in the context of their specific childhood experiences.