Understanding The Reality Of Male Sexual Abuse

Updated October 21, 2021

While everyone may experience the issues mentioned in this article, please note that as part of our initiative responding to the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men (2018), these articles will focus on how these topics affect men and boys. We use “men” to refer to people who identify as men.

Warning: This article discusses sexual abuse and child abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453), and the National Sexual assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) can all be reached 24/7.

In our society, sexual abuse and violence towards men is often overlooked and neglected. This is a real problem many boys and men have faced and face on a day-to-day basis. How can we further understand and prevent this reality?

What Is Sexual Abuse?

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Sexual abuse is described as unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators often using force and coercion when the individual doesn’t give consent. Sexual abuse is common between people who know each other and strangers alike.

What Happens When You Are Sexually Abused?

Anyone can experience sexual abuse, and can have many debilitating symptoms in both children and adults.

Signs Of Sexual Abuse In Children

Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse in children fall into three categories: physical, behavioral, and emotional.

Physical: Physical signs of abuse in children can take the form of bruises, bleeding, and even sexually transmitted infections.

Behavioral: Children can manifest different behavioral problems such as engaging in sexual activities, wetting the bed, excessive shyness, especially around removing clothes, and avoiding certain adults.

Emotional: Children who have been abused can begin to discuss sexually explicit topics, regressing to early childhood behaviors such as sucking their thumbs, having vivid nightmares, and showing signs of anxiety.

Sexual Abuse In Adults

College-age and older adults can experience sexual abuse and violence as well. The perpetrators can be trusted adults, peers, or even strangers. Young adults can find it especially hard to open up and communicate about their abuse, so it is crucial to look for the warning signs early.

  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Unexplained and poorly explained bruises or scars
  • Excessive drinking or drug use
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts
  • Changes in personal hygiene and self-care
  • A sudden decline in school or work performance
  • Panic attacks
  • Self-harm

What Is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is a term that encompasses all crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse. Terms vary from state to state, but this is a general overview.

  • Sexual Assault
  • Child Sexual Abuse
  • Sexual Assault Of Men And Boys
  • Incest
  • Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

Sexual violence can take on other forms that can be overlooked. It is crucial to look out for the warning signs, be knowledgeable, and be open about your experience. Some of the other forms of sexual violence include:

Stalking: “Stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear,” according to the Department of Justice.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical sexual harassment in the work environment or learning space.

Sexual Exploitation: Sexual exploitation can include unwanted sexual conduct of any kind between a professional and the individual seeking their services. These professionals can consist of and aren’t limited to police officers, doctors, lawyers, religious leaders, and professors.

How Do Men Face Sexual Abuse And Violence?

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As mentioned earlier, anyone can experience sexual abuse or violence. Men and boys face unique problems and challenges due to social attitudes and stereotypes regarding masculinity.

It is a common stereotype that men can’t be survivors of sexual abuse or violence. The topic of sexual violence towards men isn’t something you hear often. Oftentimes people believe men should be able to fight off an attacker, or that they can’t be forced into sexual acts. This stigma can lead male survivors to feel even more at odds with their experience and prevent them from seeking support.

Men and boys who have survived sexual assault can experience the same effects as survivors of other forms of abuse and trauma. Men who have experienced and survived sexual assault as adults can feel a sense of shame or self-doubt. Men can also have a more challenging time understanding their situation if they got an erection or ejaculated during the encounter. Ejaculation and erections do not suggest you wanted, invited or enjoyed the assault. This isn’t an all-encompassing list, but these are some of the shared experiences by both young and adult male survivors:

  • Feeling “less of a man” or feeling like you lost control of your own body
  • Difficulty sleeping, feeling on edge, or being unable to relax
  • Concerns or questions about sexual orientation
  • PTSD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and flashbacks
  • Withdrawal from relationships and social isolation
  • Fears of judgment or disbelief

Keep in mind that if you faced sexual assault or violence, it is never your fault. You are not alone in your experience or “less of a man” because of it. You are a survivor, and that makes you strong in its own right.

Most first-time survivors experience intimate partner sexual violence before 25, most commonly before the age of 18. Survey data has also found about 1 in 3 men will experience some form of sexual violence from a partner.

It’s also important to note that even though sexual violence is portrayed as mainly involving female survivors, there is a high rate of male survivors. 3 out of 33 studies show male victimization rates of more than 57%. This shows that contrary to popular belief, men and boys are just as likely to experience sexual violence.

How Gender Stereotypes Affect Male Survivors

Through gender stereotypes and gender role socialization, men are put into the sexually dominant role. This gender role socialization implies men are sexual opportunists and should “make the first move.” There is also the belief that men are always willing to engage in sexual activity.

This belief and stereotype can cause men to feel guilty for refusing sexual advances. The “sexual opportunist” frame can imply that men cannot experience negative consequences of sexual violence. Male survivors may also report fewer negative feelings to maintain this social script and their self-image. Evidence suggests that sexual violence can be even more traumatizing for men, given the sex-role stereotypes. Men can feel “unmasculine” and suffer from a fundamental identity crisis.

What Is The Meaning Of Male Violence?

Male violence relates to violent acts that are disproportionately or exclusively committed against men and boys. These violent acts don’t necessarily have to be sexual in nature.

Even though it is presented in society that women are at a higher risk of violent crimes, this isn’t necessarily the case. 2.5 percent of men 15 or older reported experiencing a violent crime versus 1.7 percent of women. Another study showed out of over 215,000 homicides, 77% of the victims were males. As a male, you may not have been raised to believe this, but it is the unfortunate reality we face today.

Women are often warned about sexual and physical violence, and men are often expected to just hold their own. This reinforces the idea that men cannot or are unlikely to be victims of sexual and physical violence. When men do face these experiences, it can be challenging for them to get help.

If you have faced any sexual or physical violence, do not feel ashamed or be afraid to speak up. Your experience is real, and you can receive the support and guidance you need to handle it accordingly.

Seek Outside Support

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No one should be subject to violence. Know that as a man, you deserve to be free of this pain. This is a real problem, and you are not alone or at fault. Check out BetterHelp to connect with professionals who can help.

“Whatever I say here, it won’t do justice to the professionalism or Dr. Kevin. He is an excellent human being, on top of his professionalism. He understood my every concern, the slightest detail s of my worries I can’t thank him enough for the work he did with me so far. I was almost a dead man walking and Dr. Kevin addressed my issues so competently to the point that he actually made me believe that life is worthy of living it, when one handles issues the proper way. Dr. Kevin is now a part of my life. I believe that I haven’t been the easiest and the most obedient client he probably had until now. But he made a hopeless man, feel alive again. The journey is not over yet for me. And there is no better commander out there than Dr. Kevin, who would fight for you. Thank you Dr. Kevin”


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