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WHEN MEN ARE SEXUALLY ABUSED

In my clinical practice I have helped many female patients over the years, who experienced sexual abuse as children from their relatives, babysitters and strangers. With support from their caring friends and relatives and professional help from our clinic, they were able to heal and recover and start a new life by creating loving relationships in which sex and intimacy were enjoyable rather than painful.

        Over the years I have also met some men who suffered from sexual abuse but they were either not aware or not ready to deal with the emotional pain caused by sexual abuse. They suffered because of emotional and sexual problems that eclipsed their marital and family lives. They had no idea how to receive help and deal with their struggles. As they felt connected with me they shared their past and felt confident to deal with their emotional pain. I was glad to help them in their journey of sexual healing. One such person was Stephen ( I have changed his name and his female friend’s name to respect their privacy. He has also signed a written consent allowing me to include his story in my essay) who came to see me for his personal and family problems. As therapy progressed he got in touch with his past unresolved issues. One day he shared his story in these words, 

41 Years of Pain 

What I realized on Tuesday at school (Nov 25th) was that I too was a victim of sexual abuse twice in my life. The first time was when I was 12 and the second time was at the hands of the black dancer who tried to have sex with me while I was in my third year at the University.  He played with my penis for some time and tried to physically force himself upon me and also mentally convince me that it was consensual sex when it was not.

What I did not realize, all these years, until I read the article on living with your partner’s PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder], was that I was living the side effects of my own PTSD.  I was trying to help my friend Joanne get over a reaction to her sexual abuse many years ago at the hands of her uncle.  She had smelled something in the staff room that brought all of the memories of her incident back to her.  She was so upset and I wanted to help her so I looked up and found two articles on recovering from sexual abuse.  The second article outlined the symptoms associated with PTSD and how the partner of a victim should best behave.  It was when I re-read the symptoms that I realized that I was looking at myself.

Upon reflection, I can see now that almost immediately after the incident in London, I began, without realizing it, to exhibit some of the symptoms mentioned in the article.  I engaged in risky sexual behavior with Josephine which resulted in her getting pregnant.  I became promiscuous in my own sexual behavior from 1968 until 2002.  I engaged in risky sexual activity with girls in body rub parlors over a number of years from 1973 until 1985.  I felt trapped while making love and often felt the need to get up afterwards because I felt constricted and could not breathe.  I do not feel comfortable in the company of men, especially in public change rooms and shower areas.  Two marriages have failed because of my promiscuity and need to escape and not be trapped.

In the last year I have become friends with Joanne and because of her insistence that it not be physical, I have finally got to know a woman without having sex with her.  She is a wonderful, tender and caring person and we are very compatible.  In helping her deal with her sexual abuse, it appears as if I am finally ready to face my own experience.  I want to heal from this and be a reliable, caring partner who practices safe sex and has a dependable lifestyle.  I always knew something was terribly wrong because I had all of these urges to do these things, but I never understood why.  I have caused a lot of people a lot of pain and now that I see why, I want to learn how to heal myself and reach a full understanding of what has happened and how to deal with it long term.

 

Stephen showed a number of symptoms that victims of sexual abuse show in their behaviors and lifestyle. Such symptoms in men are not much different than in women. Wendy Maltz in her article Sexual Healing from Sexual Abuse highlights ten of those significant symptoms in these words:

1.      “avoiding or being afraid of sex

2.    approaching sex as an obligation

3.    experiencing negative feelings such as anger, disgust or guilt with touch

4.    having difficulty being aroused or feeling sensation

5.    feeling emotionally distant or not present during sex

6.    experiencing intrusive or disturbing sexual thoughts and images

7.    engaging in compulsive or inappropriate sexual behaviors

8.    experiencing difficulty establishing or maintaining an intimate relationship

9.    experiencing vaginal pain or orgasmic difficulties

10.                        experiencing erectile or ejaculatory difficulties”

Many people wonder how frequently men are sexually abused by other men. David France in his article Love Among the Ruins reports that according to a research conducted in University of Massachusetts Boston one in six American men were sexually abused before the age of 16 and there are nearly 17 million American men who suffering due to such abuse by turning to drugs, alcohol, obsession with food, compulsion with work, promiscuity and having difficulties in their emotional and romantic relationships. In some cases the symptoms appear when their sons reach the age when they were abused and they become overprotective of their children.

        When I review the healing journey of my male patients I can see that they passed through the following milestones.

1.      Awareness of Abuse. For many patients it was a surprise or even shock when they discovered that they were sexually abused as they had repressed their painful memories of their childhood when those memories were triggered by a traumatic experience as flashbacks.

2.    Getting over shame and guilt. Many men felt shame and guilt for being abused and were reluctant to share it with anyone. It challenged their sense of masculinity and they were afraid that nobody would believe them.

3.    Reading books and watching videos. After getting involved in therapy I asked them to read literature about sexual abuse. Reading other people’s stories helped them realize that they were not the only ones experiencing such emotional pain.

4.    Sharing the story with a caring friend. After my patients shared their story with me they felt comfortable and confident that they could share the story with a special friend, neighbor, relative or sweetheart. Breaking the taboo of secrecy about sexual abuse helped them heal and accept the painful realities of their life.

5.    Joining a support group. I encouraged my patients to join a support group like Male Survivor on the internet or in their neighborhood to interact with other survivors and find ways to heal.

6.    Keeping a journal. I found the experience of journal keeping quite helpful. It gave people an opportunity to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It helped them in their catharsis as well as rehabilitation as they discovered that writing can be part of healing.

7.    Creating a healthy intimate relationship. After healing from past abuse many men were able to initiate and maintain a healthy, happy and peaceful relationship that was emotionally and romantically intimate. They were ready to grow alone as well as grow together with their sweetheart.

8.    Educating the partner of sexually abused person. It is becoming more and more evident that the partners of sexually abused men also need help to understand the dynamics of their relationship and support their partners in their healing so that both of them enjoy each other’s love. Usually it is a painful process but in the end it is worth it.

I think time has come for all sexually abused people, men or women to receive the help they need. We need to educate mental health professionals as well as the public about sexual abuse in men so that they can be helped in leading a healthy and happy life and enjoy loving relationships with their sweethearts.