The reality is that sexual assault can occur to a person, no matter that individual’s age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Men and boys experience many of the same emotions and reactions in the aftermath of a sexual assault as do women. With that said, men and boys can face additional challenges following a sexual assault because of societal stereotypes about masculinity and men. This discussion of these issues is intended to be direct and honest, focusing on what advocates and counselors discuss when assisting males who are victims or survivors of sexual assault.
Common Reactions of Men and Boys Following a Sexual Assault
Every individual – male of female – has unique reactions to being sexually assaulted. There are some more commonplace reactions that men and boys report experiencing in the aftermath of being sexually assaulted. These include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Eating disorders
- Avoid places that remind victim of assault
- Avoid people that remind victim of assault
- Questions about sexual orientation
- Fear of the “worst happening” or extreme dread
- Sense of a shortened future or even life
- Feel less of man
- Feel loss of control over body
- Feel on-edge
- Difficulty sleeping
- Withdrawal from relationships of different types
- Increased isolation
- Fear of disclosing sexual assault for fear of disbelief of judgment
- Sense of shame
- Sense of blame
Many of these responses to a sexual assault are magnified if the victim experienced an erection at the time of the incident. This particularly is the case when it comes to a sense of shame and sense of blame.
Can Sexual Assault Affect Sexual Orientation?
When the issue of the sexual assault of a man by a male is brought up, a recurring question is can this type of sexual assault affect the sexual orientation of the victim or survivor? The answer, in a word, is: No.
The reality is that male on male sexual assault is not related to the sexual orientation of either the perpetrator or victim. Whilst a perpetrator of male on male sexual assault might be homosexual, that is not always the case is not the determining factor of whether some men select males to sexually victimize.
A sexual assault of a man or boy cannot cause the victim to become homosexual. A victim or survivor of male on male sexual assault may question his own sexual orientation after being sexually abused or assaulted. That is an understandable response, which was noted a moment ago. A man or boy is most likely to question his sexual orientation following a sexual assault by a male if he experienced an erection or even an ejaculation during the incident. A man or boy needs to understand that an erection or ejaculation is an involuntary physiological response over which a man or boy doesn’t have true control.
Perpetrators of male on male sexual assault oftentimes use these physiological responses experienced by a victim as means of maintaining secrecy. This particularly is the case when the victim is a boy. The perp will utilize phrases like “you know you liked it” as a means of preventing the victim from talking about the incident.
Advocates for male survivors of sexual assault use very plain language to underscore that this type of victimization is not the fault of the target. They make clear that “in no way does an erection invite unwanted sexual activity and ejaculation in no way condones an assault.”
Supporting a Male Victim or Survivor of Sexual Assault
There are key ways in which you can support a male victim of sexual assault. These include:
- Validate feelings
- Express concern
- Don’t seek details
- Assist in finding resources
Bear in mind that it can be particularly difficult for a male sexual assault survivor to disclose a sexual assault to another person. This arises from stereotypes about masculinity and other issues. Thus, when a male survivor of sexual assault reaches out to you, listen closely. Give the survivor your undivided attention.
Validate the feelings expressed by a male survivor of sexual assault. Don’t make canned responses like “it will get better.” Rather, focus on making statements like “that sounds like a truly hard, difficult thing to through” or “I believe you.”
Directly express your concern to a male survivor of sexual assault. You can underscore this by making truly unequivocal statements like “I am here for you.”
When talking to a male survivor of sexual assault, don’t ask for details. If the survivor elects to share details, listen intently and in a supportive and nonjudgmental way.
Finally, you can be truly helpful to a male survivor of sexual assault by assisting him in finding appropriate resources. For example, you might be able to assist a male survivor of surviving sexual assault in finding a suitable counselor or therapist.