Man standing in front of a waterfall, wondering about male sexual abuse
By Categories: Sexual Abuse7.7 min read

Were you sexually abused as a child or teenager, or do you suspect that you were a victim of sexual abuse? If so, you’re probably having some conflicting feelings. Maybe you’re angry or confused. Many men who were abused judge themselves harshly or make assumptions based on stereotypes.  Here’s a reality check.

  1. It wasn’t really “abuse.”
  2. Boys can’t be victims.
  3. I must have wanted it or invited it.
  4. If I was abused by a man, that means I’m gay.
  5.  don’t remember much about it.  Maybe I imagined the whole thing.
  6. Therapy won’t help.

It wasn’t really “abuse.”

Sexual abuse is any non-consensual act of sexual coercion and/or domination that the physical and/or psychological well being of the person who is abused. It is a misuse of power and may or many not involve physical force or direct sexual contact. It may include unwanted sexual touching, uninvited sexual exposure, uninvited exposure to pornography, harassment, sexual assault, rape, or incest (sex with a family member or relative).

In addition, physical or psychological coercion is often subtle. You may have been led to believe that the behavior was consensual. Perhaps you were abused by a woman, who claimed to be doing you a favor by “initiating” you sexually. If you didn’t want it, it’s not a favor — it’s abuse.

Boys can’t be victims.

Do you believe the stereotype that boys should always be able to protect themselves? That they could never be forced into something (especially by a women or girl), because boys are stronger? Remember, unwanted sexual acts or sexual behavior are not always defined by physical force. While boys are most commonly abused by older males, there is also a high percentage of cases of female to male sexual abuse. The abuse could take the form of unwanted touching, somebody exposing him/herself to you, or the use of sexual or provocative language. It could be verbal threats, coercion, or any non-consensual sexual behavior. Maybe you were in a situation where you felt obligated to join in, or there was a power differential. The abuser might have been a person who had authority over you, such as a teacher or parent. Maybe it was another adult you trusted, such as a priest or a neighbor. Perhaps you were tricked or enticed. Up to one out of six men report having had unwanted sexual contact with an older person by the time they reach adolescence. An even higher percentage state that they were subject to indirect (non-contact) sexual victimization, such as sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact, unwanted exposure to pornography, and bullying.

I must have wanted it or invited it.

Boys often feel physical or sexual arousal during abuse even if they are repulsed by what is happening. That’s because erections and orgasms are not entirely voluntary. They are normal physiological reactions to stimulation, and you don’t have much control over them.

If you’re worried because you didn’t try to fight it off, keep in mind that when faced with perceived danger or significant threat, human beings are programmed to shut down. You may have felt physically frozen, or paralyzed, while the abuse was happening. That’s a normal biological response in animals and human beings. The brain instructs the body to shut down in order to survive an assault or traumatic situation. You may also have shut down emotionally and psychologically, so that the whole experience took on the feeling of something surreal or imaginary. Bottom line: The abuse was not your fault. The fault lies with the abuser.

If I was abused by a man, that means I’m gay.

Sexual abuse does not make you gay. Sexual contact with a man or woman, against your will, does not make you gay. Nobody can “make” you gay. Sexual orientation is a complex issue. A certain percentage of the people in any given population have a homosexual orientation, but there is no direct correlation between homosexuality and early experiences of abuse. Boys abused by males often believe that something about them sexually attracted their abuser, and that the abuser had a way of discerning their orientation. Remember, even if you were aroused during the abuse, your sexual feelings and preferences were not created by the abuse.

I don’t remember much about it. I could have imagined the whole thing.

Memory is imperfect. Over time, your mind can make you forget an entire episode that took place in your life. By contrast, your mind can also highlight particular details of an event so that those details stand out in your memory. Many people who were abused block out certain parts of the experience. Other people have no memory at all of the abuse for many years after it happened. The memories may resurface spontaneously when they are adults, or they could come up when if the person is engaged in self-exploratory work such as psychotherapy.

Perhaps you’re worried that nobody will believe you. You are probably aware of organizations that say that survivors of sexual abuse are lying about their experiences. They say that the memories often recovered spontaneously or in therapy are not true. They think that victims who report abuse have been influenced by news reports, movies or books on sexual abuse — or that therapists have put crazy ideas into their heads. Many survivors have been accused of something called False Memory Syndrome.

Psychological research has shown that individuals are likely to forget or repress (make themselves forget) traumatic events. This happens to combat veterans, people who have been in motor vehicle accidents, and victims of natural disasters or terrorism, such as hurricanes or the destruction of the World Trade Center. Trauma, such as sexual abuse, can affect memory. You might remember, or relive, particular aspects of the abuse. People who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident or who have been the victims of a crime might not remember all the details. Those individuals might, however, have a reaction (physical and/or emotional) to sounds, smells, or specific places that remind them of the trauma and trigger a response. Some of the symptoms that survivors of sexual abuse have reported include: startle responses, nightmares, panic attacks, and negative reactions to sexual relationships and intimacy.

Trust your feelings.

Can therapy really help?

Yes!

Therapy can help you uncover your authentic self, in a safe, non-judging environment. My insight-oriented therapy focuses on talking out your fear and anxieties. You will explore feelings and memories as they arise, at your own pace, so that you won’t feel overwhelmed or scared. You can learn to live in the present rather than the past. I will help you understand why you feel the way you do and how you can make different choices that will lead to stronger relationships and improved self-esteem. With my guidance, you can take an honest look at your behaviors, thought, and feelings, and become aware of old attitudes and ways of living that are no longer effective and which hold you back. Then the healing process can begin.

But Wait…

“Won’t admitting to these experiences make me look weak?”

Many men who have experienced sexual abuse don’t want to talk about the past or their feelings. In our society, many people think that women are usually the target of sexual abuse. But men and boys also experience this terrible trauma. The abuse you have or suspect you have experienced is not your fault and doesn’t make you any less of a man. sissy, or any less of a man. Admitting to trauma is not degrading—It is the first step to making your life better

“I just need to get over it! Talking about it won’t help!”

Men are not encouraged to talk about their feelings. You may feel that you should  just ignore it Maybe going to the gym will help. Unfortunately, it won’t. It’s not the best solution for something this serious. These experiences can be damaging, and talking about them may seem shameful or frightening, but the best way to overcome these feelings is by acknowledging them.

Why Dr. Thomson?

Exploring and providing resources for men who have experienced sexual abuse has been a focus of mine for a long time. I am a member of Male Survivor, an organization dedicated to assisting men and boys who have experienced sexual abuse. During my training at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, my research focused on male sexual abuse. I have been a licensed psychologist since 1995, and have operated my own private practice since 2000. I have worked with many men dealing with trauma just like yours, and I believe that my insight-oriented therapy method will produce the results you are looking for.

What’s Next?

If you often feel self-doubt, interpersonal anxiety, or guilt and shame surrounding traumatic memories of your past, you deserve a life free from these problems, Interpersonal therapy with me can help you take back your life.

If you are ready to take the next step toward healing, please call Dr. Peggy Thomson at (212) 666-0332, or email peggythomsonphd@gmail.com to set up an appointment.

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Peggy Thomson, PhD, Therapy in NYC

Peggy Thomson, PhD, is a psychologist based in New York City, providing psychodynamic psychotherapy online and in-person. Find tips, resources and strategies here in her blog.

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Please call at 212-666-0332 or send me an email to set up a consultation.