About the Boys? Sexually Abused Boys Likely to Face Problems
Richard Gartner, Ph.D.
William Alanson White Institute released the following
commentary by Richard B. Gartner, Ph.D.
that Michael Jackson has gone to find a new Neverland
and renegade priests are yesterday's news, the public
may mistakenly assume the problem of childhood sexual
abuse has vanished as well.
what about the boys? By age 16, as many as one in six
boys in America has had unwanted sex with an adult or
older child. And what about the millions of men, abused
as children, who continue to live with the debilitating
effects of shattered trust?
the media did little to explore the lasting effects of
boyhood sexual abuse, instead focusing mainly on the daily
tribulations of a wayward pop star and the crises of a
church that harbored predators. But at least those scandals
brought boyhood abuse into the public discourse - at least
we can talk about it now.
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 face the reality of
his experience or continue to live with its aftermath.
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.
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.
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. Many believe sexually abused boys almost inevitably
become sexually abusive men. But, while a significant
proportion of male abusers were victims themselves, there's
evidence that relatively few sexually abused boys actually
become abusers. Because of the myth, however, many men
fear they'll become abusive or worry that if they disclose
their history, others will consider them predators.
abused boys are also troubled if they were aroused while
being abused. Teenagers have little control over the hormones
surging through their bodies. But if they're stimulated
by aspects of their experience, they may feel they participated
in or even invited the abuse. This confuses a boy who
also knows he was repelled by the experience. Feeling
guilty about any sexual pleasure he felt during his molestation,
he may become ambivalent about all sexual pleasure.
masculine gender expectations teach boys they can't be
victims. Boys are supposed to be competitive, resilient,
self-reliant, and independent, but certainly not emotionally
needy. "Real" men initiate sexual activity and
want sex whenever it's offered, especially by women. For
many men, these qualities define masculinity.
a result, boys may not even recognize their sexual victimization.
They may assert that they weren't abused, weren't hurt,
or were in charge of what happened. For them, acknowledging
victimization means admitting they're weak or "not
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
wisdom says 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.
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 childhood abuse often struggle
as men with addictions, anxiety, depression, and thoughts
of suicide as well as the inability to develop or maintain
good news: healing is possible. A first step is acknowledging
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.
The Internet offers several options, including web sites
for sexually abused men such as www.malesurvivor.org,
where men can find one another and talk, anonymously if
necessary, about their common dilemmas.