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Male survivor related myths

Myth: Sexual Abuse doesn’t/ can’t happen to males

Reality: It does happen to males. Any man or boy can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, appearance, age, occupation, race, or sexual orientation.

Facts: It is estimated that 155,000 males aged 16-74 experienced sexual assault in the year up to March 20001

At least 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused of assaulted2

Approximately 12,000 men (age 16-59) are raped in the UK every year3

Myth: Sexual Abuse only happens to gay men and boys

Reality:  Any male can be raped or sexually assaulted, regardless of whether he identifies as heterosexual, gay, bisexual, transgender or fluid sexuality. Being sexually abused has nothing to do with your current or future sexual orientation.

Some men and boys have questions about their sexuality after surviving an assault or abuse—and that’s understandable. This can be especially true if you experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault. Physiological responses like an erection are involuntary, meaning you have no control over them.

Myth: If you were drinking or taking drugs, it was your fault.

Reality: Nothing you do entitles another person to sexually assault or abuse you.  If you had been drinking or taking drugs and someone sexually abused you, that doesn’t make it your fault or mean that you asked for or deserved what happened.

Myth: Men cannot be sexually abused by women.

Reality: Although the majority of sexual assaults of men are committed by men, women do sexually assault men. Sexual assault does not always involve physical force, it can involve control or manipulation whereby a man can be coerced into sexual act out of fear of potential repercussions for his relationships, work, etc. The number of men identifying sexual abuse by a woman as a boy or young man has increased over the past few years.

Myth: Erection, arousal or ejaculation during a sexual abuse means you “really wanted it” or consented to it.

Reality: Erection and ejaculation are physiological responses that may result from mere physical contact, pressure on the prostate or even extreme stress. It is important to understand that males can respond to sexual stimulation with an erection or even an orgasm – even in sexual situations that are traumatic or painful. That’s just how male bodies and brains work. These responses do not imply that you wanted or enjoyed the assault and do not indicate anything about your sexual orientation.

Some people who commit sexual assault are aware how erection and ejaculation can confuse a survivor, and use this to manipulate, maintain secrecy, increase their feelings of control, and discourage males from telling anyone what has happened to them. They do this by telling the man or boy that his sexual response shows he was a willing participant and complicit in the abuse. But that doesn’t make it true. Men and boys are not seeking to be sexually abused or exploited. They can, however, be manipulated into experiences they do not like, or even understand, at the time.

Myth: Being sexually abused will make you an abuser.

Reality: The majority of men who experience sexual violence do not perpetrate abuse or assault (they are horrified by such a suggestion). This is one of the most difficult myths for men: it can make men very reluctant to talk about experiences of rape or sexual abuse.

This myth is especially dangerous because it can create terrible fear in boys and men. They may not only fear becoming abusers themselves, but that others will find out they were abused and believe they’re a danger to children.

While it is true that many (though by no means all) who sexually abuse children have histories of sexual abuse, there is no evidence to suggest an automatic route from experiencing abuse to going on to commit sexual offences.

Myth: If a female sexually abused a man or boy, he was “lucky,” and if he doesn’t feel that way there’s something wrong with him.

Reality: This myth comes from the image of masculinity that can be learnt from very early on. It says not only that males can’t be sexually abused, but that any sexual experience with girls and women, especially older ones, is evidence that he’s a “real man.” Again, the confusion comes from focusing on the sexual aspect rather than the abusive one – the exploitation and betrayal by a more powerful, trusted or admired person (who can be a child or adult).

In reality, premature, coerced or otherwise abusive or exploitive sexual experiences are never positive – whether they are imposed by an older sister, sister of a friend, babysitter, neighbour, aunt, mother, or any other female in a position of power over a boy. At a minimum, they cause confusion and insecurity. They almost always harm boys’ and men’s capacities for trust and intimacy.

Being sexually abused, whether by males or females, can cause a variety of other emotional and psychological problems. However, boys and men often don’t recognize the connections between what happened and their later problems. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is never a good thing, and can cause lasting harm.

Myth: Most rapists are strangers.

Reality: Most men know the person who assaults them in some way. Often he/she is well known to them. They may be a friend, neighbour, boss, or relative; father, uncle, mother, aunt, brother, sister, partner or ex-partner. They may be a professional or tradesperson such as a doctor, teacher, trainer, psychiatrist, police officer, clergy, group leader or public servant.

Facts: 43% of rape or assault by penetration (including attempts) experienced by males aged 16 to 59 years since the age of 16 years were committed by a stranger4

28.5% of sexual abuse experienced by males before the age of 16 was perpetrated by a stranger5

Why are myths harmful?

The problem with the belief and acceptance of myths are that they:

  • Make it harder for men to tell someone about what has happened to them
  • Make it harder for men to seek support
  • Make it harder for men to report an incident to police
  • Make it harder to prosecute a perpetrator of sexual abuse

1 Crime survey England and Wales 2021

2 This is based on several studies conducted between 1990 and 2005 and excluded non-contact abuse

3 Crime survey for England and Wales 2017

  1. These stats are based on combined data from year ending March 2017 and March 2020 Office of National Statistics National Crime Survey for England and Wales
  2. Office for National Statistics – Crime Survey for England and Wales, year ending March 2019

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