It’s not only what you did, it’s everything that came after.
“By age 16, as many as one in six boys in America has had unwanted sex with an adult or older child. Millions of men, abused as children, continue to live with the debilitating effects of shattered trust.
It’s disturbing to think about what it means to a boy when he’s sexually abused by someone he trusts. Uncomfortable as we feel, however, we must either talk about the reality of his experience or continue to live in silence, with devastating consequences.
Abusers use their age or authority to satisfy their own needs without regard to those of their victims. Seemingly unbreakable bonds are broken when treachery is introduced into these relationships. Consequently, many sexually abused boys grow up distrustful, considering people dishonest, malevolent, and undependable. They often become frightened of emotional connection and isolate themselves. This may alternate with merging with loved ones so they hardly know where they end and others begin.
Confusing affection with abuse, desire with tenderness, sexually abused boys often become men who have difficulty distinguishing among sex, love, nurturance, affection, and abuse. They may experience friendly interpersonal approaches as seductive and manipulative. On the other hand, they may not notice when exploitative demands are made on them – they’ve learned to see these as normal and acceptable.
Believing sexual closeness is the way to feel loved but experiencing love as abuse, some of these men solve their dilemma by engaging in frequent, indiscriminate, and compulsive sexual encounters. These are not free, joyous expressions of erotic passion. Sex is pursued incessantly, but with little chance for intimacy. Although strongly desiring love, these men have no sense of feeling loved once the sex act is concluded. They’re left feeling empty and lonely, while the idea of fully pursuing relationships fills them with dread.
Finally, when the abuser is male (and even sometimes when she is female), many boys – whether straight or gay – develop fears and concerns about sexual orientation. Conventional wisdomsays sexual abuse turns boys gay, although there’s no persuasive evidence that premature sexual activity fundamentally changes sexual orientation. Nevertheless, a heterosexual boy is likely to doubt himself, wondering why he was chosen by a man for sex. A homosexual boy may feel rushed into considering himself gay, or may hate his homosexuality because he believes it was caused by his abuse. Whether boys are gay or straight, these manipulative introductions to sexuality can set lifetime patterns of exploitation and self-destructive behavior.
These aftereffects are ugly. They’re not only painful for victims but also costly to our society. Boys who grow up without coming to terms with their childhoodabuse often struggle as men with addictions, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide as well as the inability to develop or maintain relationships.
The good news: healing is possible.
A first step is acknowledging that abuse occurred and articulating what has been silenced. Putting the experience into words is freeing for many men, whether they tell a loved one, a professional, a confidant, or simply write in a journal. Beyond that, there are several options. Knowledgeable professionals can help, as can healing retreats, some 12-Step programs, and men’s groups focused on victimization and masculinity.”
Richard Gartner, PhD, Training and Supervising Analyst, faculty and Founding Director of the Sexual Abuse Program at the William Alanson White Institute. He wrote Betrayed as Boys: Psychodynamic Treatment of Sexually Abused Men, for professionals, and Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life after Boyhood Sexual Abuse, for the general public.