I hurt for a long time because of childhood sexual abuse. Now I want to provide a safe place for hurting men to connect with other survivors of sexual abuse. Talk to us. You don't have to use your real name to share your experiences or ask questions.

An Act of Power?

When I read anything about rape these days, it all seems to say, “Rape is an act of power. Dominion over another.” Maybe that’s right, but I don’t agree that we boys were chosen so that a bigger person could have control over us.

For me, the perpetrators were blinded by their own needs. I call it an addiction, even though many would disagree. I see our exploitation as a result of a compulsive, overpowering urge.

A few perpetrators have said, “I couldn’t help it. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.” That sounds like an addiction to me.

For me, such admissions don’t fit with domination or control. It says to me that the victimizers were their own victims. Out of their own overwhelming lustful need, they seduced us boys.

I’m not excusing them; I’m trying to understand why they do such evil things. For me, that’s the only satisfactory solution. When they’re engaged in the sexual act, it has one purpose: to provide them with sexual gratification. And it works. They are satisfied—for the moment. And then the urges and the compulsion returned—following the pattern of an addiction.

I understand compulsion because I was a smoker for six years. Once I got hooked, I couldn’t stop. At times I was tormented and had to force myself not to think about cigarettes. Once I had that white stick in my mouth I was satisfied, although I detested the fact that I was addicted and realized that tobacco controlled my life patterns until I broke free.

During the past two decades, I’ve spoken with perhaps a dozen former perpetrators. None of them have ever spoken about power unless it was to say they felt powerless to stop.

The practical side of this is that it enables me to feel compassion for those who victimize. I remind myself that they didn’t seduce us to rack up trophies of conquest.

“I hated myself,” one former teacher told me. “I couldn’t stop even though I knew it was wrong—and I didn’t quit until a parent reported me.” He spent two years in prison and is today registered as a sexual offender.

Power? Really?

A Manly Self-image

What is a real man?

I assume every male survivor asks this question in some form. The answer comes largely from our personal enculturation. We Americans have applauded the strong, silent image of John Wayne, or the suave James Bond. These days theaters are filled with the exploits of those super-sized heroes from Marvel Comics.

All of us were exposed to stereotyped patterns of male images. Too often we assumed that true men were self-sufficient, the taciturn, no-nonsense individual who needed nothing. And then we can cry—but only at funerals of a parent or a spouse.

Despite all our images of the strong, resourceful male, this morning I thought about biblical heroes. Jesus’ first disciples heard him say, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God” (John 14:1). During that same time, he said he was leaving them his peace, “So don’t be troubled or afraid” (verse 27).

When Judas came with soldiers and betrayed Jesus, do you know what the 11 remaining disciples did? They ran away in fear of their lives. If you read the stories of Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament, they were both fearful men and God had to keep telling them he was with them.

And yet those men are our heroes—a serious disconnect from the images around us.

Here’s a little of what I wish my dad or a caring adult male would have said to me: “It’s all right to feel your emotions. You don’t have to be strong all the time. To fear, question, and doubt are human feelings that only real men know how to express.”

I didn’t hear those words and I doubt that most male survivors did, but the message is still true.

I claim my right to feel.
I claim my right not to be ashamed of any of my emotions.

It Was a Crime

When we were exploited as children, we were the victims of a crime. Our perpetrators broke the law. Most of us understand that when we read about people like Jerry Sandusky and pedophile priests. And yet, most of us rarely think that way when we look at our own lives.

They robbed us of childhood. They stole a precious part of our lives.

To admit that reality can be a source of freedom. It’s like saying, “You victimized me and left me this way.” (That doesn’t mean we must stay the victim, but that’s where many of us need to start the journey.)

A reader of this blog, Roger Rowe, wrote to me privately, admitting that wasn’t his real name, which is all right. Here is a slightly edited version of what he wrote:
I underwent therapy and couldn’t seem to make any progress. I felt guilty and filled with self-condemnation. After about the 10th session, my therapist said, “The TV news reported a home invasion and the intruder shot and killed five couples. If they hadn’t lived in that house, they would be alive today.” 
“That’s crazy,” I said. “They did nothing to—”
“So how does it feel to exonerate your abuser? You’ve taken the blame on yourself.”
That was the turning point for me. I was blaming the victim (myself) for what was done to me.

Are you still blaming the victim?

“But It Felt Good” (Part 2 of 2)

We survivors grew up in a convoluted world. Because we were vulnerable, needy kids, our abusers took advantage of us. As a result, we felt guilty over sexual stimulation. Frigidity is usually a female malady, but it applies to males as well (even though we use different terms). Some of them can’t achieve an erection and have other problems associated with normal intercourse.

We’re ashamed that our bodies “betrayed” us and some men never get free. Some become promiscuous, running from one sexual partner to the next. It’s as if they shout, “See, I’m all right and abuse didn’t affect me.”

We respond differently to the horrible experiences of childhood. The often-silent voices come from feeling ashamed of having erotic feelings.

“Of course it felt good!” I wish I could get that message across to every male who was raped. That’s why we have so much pain and guilt today—those selfish perpetrators destroyed the placidity of our childhood. They did the evil deed and we pay the consequences.

My abuse felt good, which is natural and normal. I accept that and I remind myself that I was a normal, needy kid whom someone exploited.

“But It Felt Good” (Part 1 of 2)

I don’t know how many men I’ve talked with who equated abuse with excitement. It felt good, and consequently, they questioned their own sexuality, whether they actually did something to make it happen.

To add to that, it may push them to wonder if they’re really gay. It’s as if they say, “If I was normal, it wouldn’t have felt good.” We need to admit that when we were sexually assaulted it felt good. Of course it did.

I still recall the old man running his hands around my body telling me how soft it felt, and I enjoyed this touch. All of us have skin hunger, and no one in my family ever touched me—or if so, I don’t remember.

Everything the old man did to me felt good. In retrospect, I felt shame for responding to a natural, normal act—the human touch.

An online article stated that three of four Americans suffer from skin hunger. I don’t know how they arrived at that statistic, but I accept it. Our perpetrators used that unfulfilled human need and we suffered because of it.

I was an innocent boy who needed loving touches;
my perpetrator exploited a basic human need.

Sexuality and Shame

Shame is one of the common elements of us who are survivors of childhood abuse. My definition of shame is that it’s a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong behavior or imagined bad behavior.

My definition means that regardless of who assaulted us, on some level we sensed it was wrong. Individuals older and larger took advantage of us, and we didn’t know any better. We were immature children and didn’t know what else to do, but we had some awareness—possibly while it was going on or later—even though our perpetrator certainly didn’t inform us.

Because of that, as adults we struggle with shame. We have no logical reason for those feelings. We were innocent and powerless. We forget that shame is an emotion and doesn’t obey rules of logic.

As an adult, I understand shame is part of our socialization process. Someone said, “No action is required; merely existing is enough.” We can’t change the feeling, but we can change our attitude toward the effect.

One day I realized, “I wasn’t a bad kid. Those who abused me were bad.” The shame didn’t disappear, but it troubles me less and less. After that, one of the things I said to myself daily for months was, “I wasn’t bad; something bad was done to me.”

How do you deal with your sense of shame?

The Exercise Factor (Part 4 of 4)

Along with moving the body, something else I’ve learned is to incorporate positive self-talk while I’m on the move. We chatter to ourselves all the time, and it’s impossible not to talk to ourselves. When I caught on to that years ago I realized I could improve my life by choosing to say positive things to myself and about myself.

My rules (which I learned from others) are simple.

1. State facts that are true.

2. Commit yourself to goals you can easily achieve.

For example, I started making two statements to myself:
  • I need to exercise.
  • I will exercise three times a week.
Both were positive and easily accomplished. At times I had to push myself to do three mornings a week. But once it became habitual, I increased it to five times. Over a period of weeks, I realized how much better I felt about Cec, and I was more energetic and creative in my work. And in those days I was running one mile. Before long I got up to six miles each day.

I kept telling myself the positive effects of those two things. I kept my goal simple and obtainable.

Perhaps I sound like a fanatic on this topic. I know only that I’ve reaped immense benefits, and exercise has played a major role on my healing journey.