Addressing individual experiences of sexual trauma is a complex process. For men with a strongly defined sense of masculinity, the additional layer of gender roles oftentimes feeds into their feelings of shame and anxiety around disclosure. For some, the solution is to find more socially acceptable outlets that allow for traumatic experiences to remain masked or hidden as much as possible.
The following reactions have been reported by males with childhood histories of sexual trauma:
- Denial: Males will push away, minimize or forget traumatic memories in an effort to avoid experiencing underlying emotions. Others rework their traumas with fantasies of early sexualization as unique experiences of initiation into manhood, to keep from further unpacking any wounding.
- Confusion: Since abuse is frequently framed in a way to make victims feel responsible for the experience, questions arise around ones role in accepting or encouraging the behavior. Conflictual feelings may surface from the enjoyment of physical stimulation, physical and/or emotional comfort, increasing a sense of ambivalence and perpetual guilt.
- Anger: As the most socially acceptable means of emotional expression for men, aggression becomes a preferred method for the channeling of trauma. Some men will pair anger with use of substances to further aid in the avoidance of their past abuse.
Because sexual abuse interferes with healthy sexual development, one manifestation of sexual trauma is problems with intimacy and sexual behavior. Difficulties can range from sexual inhibition to excessive sexual encounters that feel disconnected and emotionally devoid. Both may be conceptualized as coping mechanisms due to a lack of emotional safety: one as avoidance of a potentially triggering experience and the other as an attempt at mastery.
Since traditional masculinity is associated with sexual competence, recurring difficulties in the sexual arena may help bring male sexual trauma histories to the forefront. Once the anxiety and pressure to perform is addressed, individual and societal attitudes should be considered to fully understand their impact on male sexual abuse. Healing and recovery is more sustainable by challenging gender roles and negotiating sexual expectations.
Source: Alaggia, R., & Millington, G. (2008). Male Child Sexual Abuse: A Phenomenology of Betrayal. Clinical Social Work Journal, 36, 265-275.