Homophobia and gender stereotypes combine to create barriers for male survivors of sexual abuse/assault, which may seem impossible to overcome—the unfortunate result is that many males struggle to get the help they need.
If you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you are not alone. 1 in 6 males* will be a victim of sexual violence before the age of 18.
To download our brochure about male sexual abuse and assault, click here.
Male Sexual Abuse/Assault—Effects
Sexual violence affects everyone differently, but male survivors of sexual abuse/assault may have some of the following concerns that are specific to their experience:
Control issues. Sexual assault/abuse often leaves survivors feeling powerless and vulnerable. In order to cope with these feelings, some men develop a high need for control in interactions with others by being more aggressive, while other men may cope by being more passive.
Confusion regarding sexual orientation. Male survivors may question their sexual orientation and wonder how they might be different had they not be abused. Some men may not engage in any sexual behaviours and/or feel unable to determine their sexual orientation.
Confusing emotional needs with sex. Intimate relationships can be challenging for survivors. Sometimes survivors turn to sexual activity to try to meet needs for closeness on a superficial level. Some men may use sex to prove that they are not gay or weak because of their previous victimization..
Gender shame. Because of society’s expectations regarding masculinity, some male survivors may experience confusion and anxiety about being male. They may feel extremely uncomfortable around other men. They may avoid situations where they might be seen naked, and feel uncomfortable being touched by other men.
Male Sexual Victimization—Myths and Realities
Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging—so long as society believes these myths, sexually abused males will be unlikely to come forward and seek the help they need.
- False: Boys and men can’t be victims of sexual abuse/assault.
Perpetrators of sexual violence use their size, strength, knowledge, and sometimes alcohol or drugs to make their victims compliant. This has nothing to do with the “weakness” of the victim, and everything to do with the predator asserting power and control by whatever means necessary.
- False: If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.
Many survivors feel shame and guilt because they experienced physical arousal while being abused or assaulted. The reality is that males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations.
- False: If the perpetrator is female, the male should consider himself fortunate.
In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, teacher, babysitter, or acquaintance, causes confusion at best and rage, depression, or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging.
- False: Males are less traumatized by sexual abuse/assault than females.
Many studies have shown that the long-term effects of sexual abuse or assault are damaging for people of both sexes. Males may be more damaged by society’s refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization—by laughing at it, telling them they are lucky, or ignoring it altogether—making it harder for males to seek the help they need.
- False: Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual.
Unfortunately, many males who have been abused by other males believe that something about them sexually attracts males and that this must mean they are homosexual or effeminate—and this is simply not true.
While there are different theories about how the sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. Simply put, an individual cannot “make” another person into a homo or heterosexual.
- False: Boys who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse others.
While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators.
This myth is dangerous because it creates a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender. Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help.
Myths adapted from a presentation at the 5th International Conference on Incest and Related Problems, Biel, Switzerland, 1991.
*Statistics Canada. Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends. Maire Sinha. February 2013.