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Dear Dr. Saltzman,
 I am a male in my mid-20s, living in the US. Recently, I began to remember a series of events that took place when I was much younger, about 9 or 10 years old. I was living in my country of birth at that point (we emigrated several years later).

That year, I was molested by an older girl who lived in the same apartment building. She was about 14 or 15 or so, and had a reputation for being somewhat deranged. She took me to the rooftop of the apartment building, where she took off her clothes and forced me to do the same. She then had me put my genitals in surface contact with hers. There was no penetration, and I wasn't aroused--at that age, I had no idea what those concepts even meant. I thought at the time that this was simply a sort of game.

It is what followed next that fills me with very intense guilt and self-loathing. Later that year (a month later? two months?), I found myself alone in a room with my niece, who is five years younger. I asked her if she wanted to play this "game" (which is what I thought it was at the time); when she agreed, we put our genitals in surface contact with each other. As with the older girl, there was no penetration, nor was I aroused in any way. In fact, I knew nothing of sex.

It only happened once. I asked first, was not forceful, and did not act with malice. About two years later, I asked her if she remembered the incident; when she said yes, I asked her not to tell anyone. As far as I know, she never did.

 At age nine, none of these events were sexual in nature for me. Yet...even today, thinking about it fills me with very intense shame, guilt, and self-loathing. How could I do something like that to someone, let alone a relative?
(my niece and I are on good terms today, but I'm not sure if she remembers this event. I worry it might affect her subconsciously in some way.)

I have forgiven the older girl...but I'm not sure if I can, or should, forgive myself. I have a hard time looking people in the eye, lest they think I'm some sort of monster. Even trying to think of myself as "a good person" seems impossible at the moment. I have never been in a relationship or experienced intimacy, largely because of the guilt. I can't see myself as being deserving of it.

The guilt is extremely intense, and I honestly don't know what to think anymore.


ask dr-robert


If you will read your own letter as if it had been written by someone else, I think you will see that your guilt is unreasonable. Since you are familiar with my website, there is no need to refer you to the articles I have written about childhood sexual development and how adults must let themselves off the sexual-guilt-hook regarding ordinary childhood sexual experiences such as yours. If reading this personal reply now plus already having read those other items does not alleviate your guilt so that you may begin enjoying your life and your sexuality, you should seek the help of a good counselor or therapist as soon as possible.

Be well.

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