Myths impacting sex and intimacy
This section should be presented with each 'myth' read out, plainly labelled as factually untrue, and a summary of the facts relating to each topic. Periodically check in with the participants to see if any of them thought this, or did they learn such myths from others (including their perpetrators):
1. If a male becomes sexually aroused, then he is an equal participant in the abuse.
- Many victims of sexual violence get aroused during the abuse. However, with males, it is more evident. Arousal by the child does not mean consent. (Refer to the Living Well page on sexual assault and arousal for further information if required: http://www.livingwell.org.au/managing-difficulties/sexual-assault-and-arousal/)
2. Most sexual abuse of males is perpetrated by homosexual men.
- Most male sexual offenders of children self-report they are heterosexual men, often having female sexual partners. It would be more appropriate to consider that these offenders may be best defined as paedophiles—people who have a sexual orientation to children.
- While this conception does not address the myriad of sexual offender typologies found in forensic psychology, it helps shift the conceptualisation of offending behaviour away from a heterosexual/homosexual conceptualisation to one that primarily rests with sexual interest being one towards adult versus children.
- This conceptualisation does not suggest that all people with paedophilic inclinations abuse children. Like other issues relating to sexual orientation, one must not confuse sexual orientation as necessarily leading to sexual behaviour.
3. Sexual abuse turns a boy/youth gay.
- Sexual orientation is not created or changed due to the trauma one experiences. However, the experience of child sexual abuse can instil a questioning of one's own sexual identity—i.e., 'Am I straight or gay?' Sexual identity confusion can be more pronounced if the sexual abuse occurs before the child has had some formative engagement in intrinsically knowing his own true sexual orientation. [This myth will be expanded upon in the second part of today's session].
4. Sexually abused boys/youth inevitably become sexually abusive men.
- Only a small minority of boys sexually abused as children go on to sexually abuse others when they are adults. Some boys who have been victimised do sexually abuse other children. However, for this subpopulation of boys, chances are that they do not continue this behaviour onto adulthood (see http://www.livingwell.org.au/managing-difficulties/addressing-the-victim-to-offender-cycle/ for more information).
5. Males are less traumatised by sexual victimisation than females.
- There is no evidence to suggest that one gender is more or less traumatised than the other by sexual victimisation. Boys and girls, like men and women, do manifest their post-traumatic behaviour in certain, gender-influenced ways. While boys and men demonstrate greater likelihood that they will not self-disclose past abuse, this should not be inferred as the experience being less traumatic.
6. Perpetration by females is rare.
It is conventionally understood that females constitute 20% of all sex offenders against children. However, some researchers believe this estimate is low. As female sexual offending is less overt (i.e., generally it is non-penetrative), less victimising, and supported more by popular culture (see the following myth), it has become more invisible by broader society.
7. Perpetration by a female is less harmful than by males. In fact, if the perpetrator is female, then the straight boy/youth got 'lucky'. He is fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity. Similarly, a gay boy/youth is 'lucky' if he has been initiated into homosexual activity by an older male.
- Like the previous myth, this belief is rooted in the social invisibility that males can’t be hurt by childhood sexual experiences, particularly if the offender matches the gender of their sexual orientation.
At this stage of Foundations, participants will have already benefited from a sensitive portrayal of issues surrounding male sexual abuse. The following presentations focus on the challenges that may arise for men around intimacy and sex.
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