Male Victim of Incest

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Question

How do I tell — or should I tell — a female sex partner that I was sexually abused as a child? I wish that those experiences did not affect my sexuality as an adult, but they have. I usually have to avoid situations that make me feel trapped. For example, I can't have a woman get on top of me because the thought of being held down makes me lose my erection. I've had a hard time pleasing my girlfriends with oral sex because I can't deal with the pressure of her thighs around my head, or not being able to breathe if she pushes my head into her crotch. I don't enjoy re-living horrible experiences from my childhood, so I'd rather talk about them as little as possible. And frankly, I feel that it makes me less of a man to have been exploited sexually, even though there was nothing I could do at the time to stop it. How is a woman going to react to my story? I fear that she will see me as damaged goods, and go on to somebody who is less fucked up. Your work has inspired me to think that I don't have to give up pleasure just because I was sexually abused, but how do I put that into practice?

Answer

You probably do have to share your history with a partner if you're going to be able to salvage your sexuality. Not talking about sexual abuse reinforces the perpetrator's manipulation or threats about keeping it a secret. You didn't do anything wrong (although I know you sometimes don't feel that way).

An important part of healing from sexual abuse is becoming strong enough to know that you won't let yourself get treated badly again. You will defend yourself and take care of yourself, especially if you sometimes regress and once again feel like a hurt child. It's very important for you to screen your sex partners to make sure they are compassionate, patient women and good communicators who are genuinely interested in your emotional well-being. One way to do that is to tell her just a little bit about your situation, such as, "I was molested when I was a child," without any graphic details. See how she reacts. Does she come across as the kind of person who would want to know the whole story or understand how to make you feel safe while you told it?

It sounds like you have tried to deal with flashbacks by avoiding sexual situations that might remind you of the abuse. So there are certain sex acts, like oral sex, that you don't perform; or certain positions for intercourse that you feel you can't enjoy. But what are you going to do if a partner of yours really needs oral sex in order to have an orgasm, or if you think that seeing her riding your cock would look really hot and amazing?

Staci Haines has written The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How to Have an Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse. This is an amazing book about sexual healing. Unfortunately, she deliberately wrote the book for female victims only. Most of what she says is applicable to guys as well, but the repeated use of female pronouns is alienating for many men. It's especially hard to use this book as a resource if you feel that being molested endangered your masculinity or your sense of yourself as male. But most books about incest advise survivors to avoid the entire realm of sexual expression, based on the attitude that reclaiming your pleasure is not very important. Haines takes the reader through an important step-by-step process of identifying safe space for sexuality and learning how to function despite being triggered. So read her book; take what you need and leave the rest.

(VE note: Staci Haines has also produced a DVD called Healing Sex that is explicitly for and about both male and female victims of abuse.)

Consenting adult sex is not the same thing as the incest that was forced upon you. If a sexual partner gets on top of you or fondles your head while you lick her clit, she isn't trying to pin you down or smother you; she's just expressing her passion for you. It might help, during oral sex, to take a position that puts your feet by her head. Don't get in between her legs on your belly to go down on her. Lap her vulva from the side, with your hands on her thighs, so you can keep them separated enough to allow yourself to breathe freely. In any sexual situation, let your partner know you may need to abruptly stop things and take a break so you can calm down and come back to the present, where everything is okay. I'm sure you will need to test your partner by asking for a couple of these breaks. If she is okay with that, flexible, affirming of your value and able to continue to hang on to her arousal, you may need to ask for breaks less and less as time goes by.

Joining a group for other male survivors of childhood sex abuse can also be empowering, provided the group is well-structured and sex-positive. Other men who have been coerced into sex are not going to judge you. They can validate your experiences and help you to feel less invisible. Keeping all of these difficult memories to yourself is stressful. It's pretty hard, at first, to speak about it, but telling the stories does get easier. You need to be able to express a feeling before it can change. If no such group exists in your area, a therapist trained in treating sex abuse can usually get one started.