If you are a male adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you are not alone. 1 in 6 boys* will be a victim of sexual violence before the age of 18.
Homophobia, transphobia, and gender stereotypes combine to create barriers for male survivors of sexualized violence, which may seem impossible to overcome—the unfortunate result is that often, men struggle to get the help they need. In addition, some people think that men deserve to be assaulted due to their sexual orientation and/or gender expression.
To download our brochure about male sexualized violence, click here.
The Effects of Sexualized Violence on Men
Sexualized violence affects everyone differently, but male survivors may have some of the following concerns that are specific to their experience:
Loss of Control. Sexualized violence often leaves survivors feeling powerless and vulnerable. In order to cope with the feeling of losing control, 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 affirm their heterosexuality or prove that they are not weak because of their previous victimization.
Gender shame. Because of society’s expectations regarding masculinity, some male survivors may experience confusion and anxiety about their gender expression or sexual orientation. They may feel extremely uncomfortable around other men. They may avoid situations where they might be seen naked, and feel uncomfortable being touched.
Male Sexual Victimization—Myths and Realities
Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging—so long as society believes these myths, men and boys who have been sexually abused face difficulties coming forward and seeking the help they need.
Reality: 1 in 6 boys are abused before they turn 18 years old (Stats Canada, 2013).
Myth: Sexual abuse of boys and men is rare.
Reality: 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 using whatever means necessary.
Myth: Boys and men can’t be victims of sexualized violence.
Reality: Many survivors feel shame and guilt because they experienced physical arousal while being abused or assaulted. The reality is that our bodies can respond physically to stimulation (e.g. get an erection) even in traumatic or painful situations.
Myth: If a boy or man experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.
Reality: Premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, teacher, babysitter, or acquaintance, causes confusion at best and rage, depression, or other powerful emotions more commonly. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, regardless of gender, is always abusive and often damaging.
Myth: If the perpetrator is a woman, the survivor should consider himself fortunate.
Reality: Many studies have shown that the long-term effects of sexualized violence are damaging for people of all genders. Boys and men 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 men to seek the help they need.
Myth: Men are less traumatized by sexualized violence than women.
Reality: Unfortunately, many boys/men who have been abused by other men believe that something about them sexually attracts men and that this must mean they are homosexual or effeminate—and this is simply not true. (And on that note – being effeminate is NOT a negative quality.)
While there are different theories about how 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 any sexuality.
Myth: Boys abused by men are or will become homosexual.
Reality: 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.
Myth: Boys who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse others.
Reality: No action, including conversion therapy or forced sexual intercourse will change any person’s gender or sexual orientation.
Myth: LGBTQ2S people require “corrective rape” in order to “make them straight and cisgender”.
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.