As trauma psychologists, we’re leading a team to help alleviate psychiatric distress in gay, bi and trans males who have been sexually abused or assaulted.
In collaboration with two nonprofit organisations, MaleSurvivor and Men Healing, we recruited and trained 20 men who have experienced sexual abuse to deliver evidence-based online mental health interventions for sexual and gender minority males – an umbrella term for individuals whose sexual identity, orientation or practices differ from the majority of society.
This study should help men in this group who have been sexually assaulted know that they are not alone, that they are not to blame for their abuse, and that healing is possible.
But, there are some things that trauma psychologists already know about these men, such as how prevalent sexual abuse of men is and ways to help men recover.
All too common, all too traumatic.
Sexual violation in gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals often complicates their sense of self, and how they fit, or don’t fit, into LGBTQ+ culture and communities. Such abuse may even impact their reaching out for help or reporting traumatic events as they fear stigmatisation or victim-blaming.
Men and women who have experienced sexual abuse and assault are at risk for a wide range of medical, behavioural and sexual disorders. They have high rates of several psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and dependence, depression and anxiety, as well as greater risk for suicide. They also have more educational, occupational and interpersonal difficultiesthan non-abused men. Further, sexual trauma is linked to medical illnesses, increased health care utilisation and poor quality of life.
But, sexual minority males who have experienced sexual trauma face even greater health disparities. Gay and bisexual men with histories of childhood and adult sexual victimisation are more likely to report greater numbers of sexually transmitted infections, increased sexual risk for human immunodeficiency virus, and higher sexual compulsivity than men with no history of sexual assault. In addition, sexual minority male survivors exhibit more negative psychological outcomes related to their sexual identities, such as lower self-esteem, distorted sense of self and difficulties forming healthy adult intimate relationships.
The cumulative impact of sexual abuse, in conjunction with individuals’ sexual minority status, also can result in higher rates of sexual re-victimisation, as well as anti-gay violence and discrimination.
Gay and bisexual men are also exposed to significant minority stress, a term used to describe the sociopolitical stressors placed on individuals as a result of their minority status. Sexual orientation disparities start relatively early in development. LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately exposed to day-to-day discrimination, peer and parental rejection, unsupportive or hostile work or social environments, and unequal access to opportunities afforded to heterosexuals, including marriage, adoption and employment nondiscrimination.
Chronic expectations of rejection, internalised homophobia, alienation and lack of integration with the community can understandably lead to problems with self-acceptance. As a result, a sexual minority male who has experienced sexual abuse may feel deficient, inferior or impaired. Further, they may view themselves as shameful, undesirable, undeserving, or incapable of forming a loving relationship.
Many sexual minority males who have experienced sexual abuse internalise harmful beliefs that make it harder for them to heal. These myths include the false belief that men cannot be forced to have sex against their will; that men who become sexually aroused or have an erection when assaulted must have wanted or enjoyed it; and that real men should welcome any opportunity to have sex.