If you are a male-identifying survivor of sexual abuse, you are not alone.
1 in 6 boys* report having experienced sexualized violence before the age of 18.
Gender stereotypes, myths about sexualized violence, homophobia, and transphobia combine to create barriers for male survivors to access supports, which may seem impossible to overcome. In addition, some people think that men deserve to be assaulted due to their sexual orientation and/or gender expression, which is a rape myth.
The Effects of Sexualized Violence on Men
Sexualized violence affects everyone differently, and whatever impacts you experienced are completely normal reactions to violence and trauma. In our experience, we often see male survivors disclosing the following impacts that are tied to their gender identity:
- 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.
- Questioning their sexual orientation: in the case of a male perpetrator, male survivors may question their sexual orientation and wonder how they might be different had they not experienced sexualized violence. 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 all 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 shame and embarrassment about their gender expression. They may feel extremely uncomfortable around other men, avoid situations where they might be seen naked, feel uncomfortable being touched, or become hyper-masculine in an attempt to counteract the shame associated with sexualized violence.
Many services that are available for survivors of sexualized violence often exclude male-identifying folks, which only fosters the stereotype that men don’t experience this kind of violence.
Sexualized Violence against Men & Boys – Myths and Facts
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.
Myth: Sexual abuse of boys and men is rare.
Fact: 1 in 6 boys are abused before they turn 18 years old (Stats Canada, 2013).
Myth: Boys and men can’t be victims of sexualized violence.
Fact: 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: If a boy or man experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.
Fact: 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 the perpetrator is a woman, the survivor should consider himself fortunate.
Fact: 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: Men are less traumatized by sexualized violence than women.
Fact: 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: Boys abused by men are or will become homosexual.
Fact: 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 who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse others.
Fact: 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 survivor, that he is destined to become an offender. Male survivors might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help.
Read more about rape myths here.
*Statistics Canada. Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends. Maire Sinha. February 2013.