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Are You a Male Survivor?

Male sexual abuse is often misunderstood as a coming-of-age experience.

Key points

  • Male sexual abuse is often confused as a consensual or “coming of age" experience. However, no child can consent to sexual activity.
  • Boys and men who do not feel safe asking for help often cope with sexual abuse through behaviors such as self-isolation or bullying.
  • Those who feel they meet the criteria of someone who was abused can get help by finding a trained trauma therapist.

Maybe the recent media attention surrounding human trafficking and other pedophilic activity, hazing, and class-action lawsuits initiated by pro-hockey players now has you questioning experiences in your past. Or, perhaps you are wondering if what happened with your cousin, sister, babysitter or father would also be considered sexual abuse.

Was I sexually abused?

If you are a male who is questioning whether or not incidents you experienced in your past were sexual abuse, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When you were a child, were you touched in a sexual manner by someone two or more years older than you? Perhaps they seemed to know what they were doing, but you didn’t? Were you coerced or forced to touch them?
  2. When you were a child, did someone expose you to sexually explicit material then invite you to engage in the sexual acts you were looking at?
  3. Did an older friend, cousin, sibling, or friend of the family offer to teach you how to masturbate? Perhaps it was a younger friend or cousin? (While younger siblings might not be subject to charges, it could still be considered abuse/damaging to you).
  4. Were you under duress or was the person who coerced you into sexual activity in a position of authority over you?
  5. Were you asleep when the initial contact took place? (If you answer yes, you were not consenting to be touched. You must be awake to consent!)
  6. Were you under the age of 18 and the perpetrator several years older?

Confusion and false claims of "consent"

Male sexual abuse is often confused as a consensual or “coming of age" experience. This is especially true in acquaintance and sibling abuse. Those who offend against boys often work very hard to leave their victims confused about their willingness to engage in these activities. They will tell them that based on their arousal they obviously enjoyed the abuse, or point out that they had enjoyed their relationship prior to the abuse, and it is therefore consensual. Offenders use these and other sophisticated grooming tactics to keep their victims silent and confused after abusing them. This is why we have laws in place. Children can’t consent to sexual activity.

Coping behaviors

Boys and men who do not feel safe asking for help often cope with sexual abuse through isolating themselves, becoming bullies, or engaging in hyper-masculinity, promiscuity, workaholism, pornography, and/or substance abuse. Although using these “resources” to cope may work in the short term, the use of any addictive substances or avoidance tactics can have disastrous effects on male victims and their families in the long term.

Do I need help?

If you met the criteria of someone who was abused, you may also be wondering if you need help. Here are a few more questions to help you make that decision.

  1. Do you avoid deep conversations or getting close to people because you are afraid of where the conversation might go?
  2. Do you find yourself unable to engage in intimate relationships?
  3. Are you isolating or using substances as a means to numb out or feel alive?
  4. Are you easily irritated or do you experience excessive anger, anxiety, or depression?
  5. Do you feel like talking about your abuse would make you cry?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, find a trained trauma therapist. Help is available and you could be living a much richer quality of life.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

[1] Richard B. Gartner, “Relational Aftereffects in Manhood of Boyhood Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 29, no. 4 (1999): 319-53, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022982806437;

Richard B. Gartner, “Cinematic Depictions of Boyhood Sexual Victimization,” Gender and Psychoanalysis 4 (2000), https://doi.org/10.1300/J236v03n02_01; Gartner “Relational Aftereffects.”

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