Richard Gartner, Ph.D., joined us to discuss male sexual abuse and the stigma surrounding it. He talked about how men react to their abuse by displaying hyper-masculine behaviors, behaving in stereotypically masculine ways. Dr. Gartner noted that many sexually abused men, left untreated, develop depression, flashbacks, and compulsive behavior (for instance, becoming a sexually compulsive) to cope with being traumatized by the sexual abuse experience.
Audience members had questions about whether unwanted sexual contact with a man could turn a boy gay or affect one's sexual orientation. Others spoke about how being betrayed in an important relationship has now affected their ability to have intimate relationships.
Other topics included: being too ashamed to talk to anyone about what happened, the cycle of victimization, the fear of becoming an abuser (do boys who were abused become men who are abusive?), and where to get help.
David Roberts: HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Sexually Abused Men." Our guest is Richard Gartner, Ph.D, Director of the Sexual Abuse Program at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City. He's also on the board of directors of the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization. In addition, Dr. Gartner is the author of Betrayed as Boys: Psychodynamic Treatment of Sexually Abused Men. He is also the editor of the book Memories of Sexual Betrayal: Truth, Fantasy, Repression, and Dissociation.
Beginning of Chat Transcript
Good evening, Dr. Gartner and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. We appreciate you being our guest tonight. So we all start off on the same page, can you please define "sexual abuse" for us?
Dr. Gartner: Good evening, David and everyone. First of all, abuse is the use of power to get one person to fulfill another person's needs without any regard to the needs of the person who is the subject of the abuse.
Sexual abuse, uses sexual behavior to fulfill that.
David: One of the things I've gathered from emails I've received is that a lot of men are afraid to admit they've been abused. It seems it has a lot to do with the way they perceive themselves as men, or being afraid of how others will perceive their manhood.
Dr. Gartner: That's very common. Unfortunately, in our society, victim-hood is seen as the province of women and for men to acknowledge that they've been victimized to them is saying they aren't really "men." And this is a very unfortunate part of masculine socialization -- how we learn to be men. They feel shamed by the idea that others will think they are not male, just because they've been abused.
David: And so is there a different way that men perceive their abuse vs. the way women perceive it.
Dr. Gartner: Well, often men see early, premature sexual behavior as a sexual initiation. Often they convince themselves that they initiated the sexual situation with the adult. This is one way of feeling that they were in charge in an exploitative situation.
David: Does sexual abuse affect men differently than women?
Dr. Gartner: Up to a point, yes. There are many aftereffects that both men and women often show, like flashbacks, depression, or compulsive behavior of one sort or another. Men, however, have been socialized to believe that men do not have "weak" feelings so they do not let themselves be vulnerable if they can help it. I am speaking in generalities here, of course.
Often to avoid the sense of being powerless, they become what we call hyper-masculine, behaving in stereotypically masculine ways, but these hyper-masculine behaviors make it very difficult to process what was a very painful exploitation.
David: One of the things I read is that men aren't as traumatized, or don't feel as traumatized, by the sexual abuse experience. Is that true? And is that a result of the compensatory behavior -- acting more like a "man"?
Dr. Gartner: It depends how you measure the trauma. Men are likely to say that they were not traumatized by the abusive behavior, especially young men in their late teens to mid-20s. However, men with histories of unwanted childhood sexual behavior with adults are much more likely to come to psychotherapy than men without those histories, but for reasons that SEEM unrelated to the abuse.
David: How are intimate relationships affected?
Dr. Gartner: Dramatically. If a child is betrayed in an important relationship, especially with a loved and trusted caretaker, as is often the case, then the trauma is not just about the sexual acts but about the break in the trusting relationship. This makes it harder to enter trusting intimate relationships later in life.
A man may have some kind of sexual dysfunction which, of course, affects his intimate relationships. He may be sexually compulsive, or feel numb during sex, especially if he feels, even for a moment, that he is not in charge of what is happening, so he may not allow himself to truly BE intimate with another person.