Even the seemingly perfect relationships have their own distinct set of challenges. What can make any relationship even more difficult, is growing to care deeply for someone who is in a dangerous relationship with demons from their past. Being in a relationship with a man who’s been sexually abused can make you feel helpless and confused, but what you may not realize is that your partner may be battling many of those same feelings.
Ever since the 1997 imprisonment of Mary Kay Letorneau, a school teacher in her mid-thirties who admitted to engaging in sexual intercourse with 13 year-old student Vili Fualaau, sexual abuse involving male victims doesn’t seem to be taken nearly as seriously in society as cases in which the victim is female. Unfortunately this often results in many men believing that if society doesn’t take their situation seriously, then they themselves shouldn’t either. When a woman is involved sexually with a male who is significantly older than her she’s “violated,” but when a male has the opportunity to have sex with an older woman he’s often “congratulated.”
The truth is that when sex is used to manipulate and take advantage of anyone without the full capacity to consent and understand the situation, it’s a violation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blonde bombshell teaching in a classroom or your stereotypical “To Catch a Predator” assailant.
According to the online-support group BSAS (Black Sexual Abuse Survivors), 1 in 6 males have been sexually abused as children and 1.9 million African-American men have been sexually abused. Many black males are struggling with their masculinity, sexuality and even their very identities because they are burdened with the shame, self-blame and an inability to trust in relationships. This is especially true when the abuse occurs at the hands of another male. Heterosexual men often question their sexuality when they are raped or molested by another man and homosexual men may even feel that this violation is a punishment or that the situation is to blame for their sexual preference.
The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) states that some of the common stereotypes that surround sexual abuse of males include:
- “Men are immune to victimization”
- “Men enjoy all sex, so they must’ve enjoyed the assault”
- “Male survivors are more likely to be sexual predators”.
With little education or resources, when the man you’ve grown to look at as strong and powerful reveals to you that he was once in fact a victim, you may find yourself questioning many of those stereotypes. While there are many men who actively seek support to help deal with post-traumatic stress and other feelings that have created barriers in their personal relationships, there are some men who experience anxiety even thinking about the situation, let alone revealing it and risking being harshly judged by others. This can create problems in a romantic relationship, because although the partner is willing to be an active source of support, the victim to may not yet be ready to deal with his feelings.
After you’ve stripped yourself of assumptions and preconceived notions, one of the best things you can do when dating a man who is a victim of sexual assault is to educate yourself on the common effects that men can have as a result of being sexually abused. According to an article titled “Sexual Abuse” on AskMen.com, one of the most common effects of sexual abuse is emotional unavailability. Men who experience sexual abuse may experience feelings of mistrust towards anyone, especially those whom they are involved with romantically. They may also experience performance anxiety in the bedroom due to their internal turmoil surrounding confusion about their sexuality. Self-blame may also negatively affect self-esteem which can cause conflict within the relationship. More severe effects may include insomnia, poor anger management and paranoia. An inability to confront the issue may manifest into substance abuse and self-harm.
While you can’t erase the past, you can be a strong source of support in the present and help your partner navigate a brighter future. Don’t be intimidated by what you learn about the past. The very fact that he chose to reveal this information to you shows that on some level he trusts you and the last thing you want to do is shut him down. Sometimes just listening is a great way to show support. Just being there for moral support can make the experience of seeking professional help less scary. It’s also important to understand that many of the issues that are causing conflict in the relationship could be due to not dealing with the past. You might also be his best chance at understanding what a healthy sexual and romantic relationship truly is.
Take his hand and try making the first step to healing by visiting sites like MaleSurvivor.org or Adult Survivors of Child Abuse or calling toll-free hot lines where trained professionals are available 24 hours a day for help like 1-800-799-SAFE. With a bit of patience and empathy you can help your partner transition from being a victim to being a survivor.