Therapy for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Male rape and sexual abuse is far more common than many people realise. According to Safeline, an organisation dedicated to working with men who have experienced sexual abuse, 5 million men in the UK have been targets of rape or sexual abuse – that’s one in six! Out of these, it is estimated that 12,000 men are raped in the UK annually, and over 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted. These figures are provided by Survivors UK, who specialise in helping male, trans and non-binary victims deal with their experiences. It is difficult to know the real numbers, which are likely to be higher, because many men are hesitant to report and even to talk about their experiences.

Did you know? If a boy or man got sexually aroused during the abuse, this does not mean he wanted or liked being abused, or is in any way responsible for the abuse

Why can it be so difficult for many men to talk about or report their abusive experiences?

Cultural norms and expectations can play a part in whether the reports of male abuse are taken seriously, especially if the perpetrators are female. Thinking that they may not be believed can put many off from sharing their experiences. In addition, there are certain cultural beliefs around what it means to ‘be a man’ and being ‘masculine’. These often include such attributes as being physically and emotionally strong, being good at sports, bravado and being good at achieving sexual conquests, amongst others. These reasons are central in often stopping men and people in male bodies from seeking help. Many can come to perceive themselves as not a ‘real man’ if they ask for help and support.

This is because being a victim of attack can be seen as not being ‘strong’, and getting help can be perceived as ‘emotional weakness’. Many survivors feel a lot of shame and guilt, and this can also stop them from going to get help. Straight men can also worry if being a victim of rape or assault makes them gay, and can feel much confusion over sexual orientation. In reality, boys and men from all walks of life can become victims, and this has nothing to do with being a ‘real man’. It is also not true that a heterosexual man becomes gay after experiencing abuse from another man.

Did you know? Whether a  boy or man is gay, straight or bi-sexual, their sexual orientation is neither the cause nor the result of sexual abuse

The impacts

The impacts of having experienced assault and abuse are the same for all victims, regardless of whether they are straight, trans or gay. All can worry about being rejected by loved ones, and all can start to feel isolated if they don’t seek the help they require. Seth Shelly, a survivor, shared a common sentiment on a TED talk: “Real men are strong. Real men don’t get raped”. Not talking about his experiences led him to living with suppressed anger. Other survivors report feeling “numb” and “apathetic”, with ongoing memories of the events.

Those men who are abused as boys can grow up still carrying the imprints of their experiences. A study done by David Lisak on The Psychological Impact of Sexual Abuse [on] Male Survivors found some common traits. These included: “sexual problems, dysfunctions or compulsions, confusion and struggles over gender and sexual identity; homophobia and confusion over sexual orientation; problems with intimacy; shame; guilt and self-blame; low self-esteem and negative self-images; anger; substance abuse; symptoms of PTSD; depression,” amongst others.

How tantric therapy can help heal from past abuse

  • De-armouring helps to process past experiences and relax

De-armouring is a practice by which emotional tension that is held within the body can be released by relaxing the physical body. Because the mind and body are connected, tensions in the physical body often indicate that some unprocessed emotions are being held there. The therapist can help the client to safely explore, release and integrate these past experiences. This can lead to both greater physical relaxation and better peace of mind.

Clients are invited to bring awareness to their bodies in the present moment, noticing and observing themselves throughout the session. Often, they will notice different sensations, such as tightness, or areas of relaxation within. By becoming more mindful of their thoughts and physical sensations, clients will often start to notice underlying emotions. In some cases, these may have been repressed for years, even decades. It can take some time to get to this point, however, once clients become conscious of these, they can either release strong emotions by acting them out, or simply notice them.

Did you know? Most boys and men who have been sexually abused or assaulted will not go on to sexually abuse or assault others

Being able to consciously feel uncomfortable emotions, without feeling the need to outwardly express them, can help to integrate them, healing the nervous system in the process. This works by gradually stretching and widening the ‘window of tolerance’ of what we can comfortably experience. It is important that the therapist not go too fast with this process, as this can lead to re-traumatisation.

Breathing plays an important role in the healing process. Holding the breath and breathing in a shallow way is often a way of not feeling. At the same time, taking long, slow and deep breaths can help to observe and feel anything which is happening in the body, allowing repressed material to be accessed, processed, released and integrated.

  • Healing from trauma and abuse involves healing the nervous system

Whether an event is experienced as traumatic or not depends more on how the nervous system reacts to it, rather than the event itself. Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger, sums it up as: “Trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event.” For example, two people travelling in the same car which bumps into another may have very different experiences. One may walk out undisturbed, whilst another may experience a lot of stress and subsequent flashbacks.

Trauma can be described as anything which happens to us which is too much, too soon, or too fast. So what is traumatic for one person may not be for another. Therefore, the various symptoms of trauma are the result of energy in the nervous system, which has not been fully discharged, and not in the event itself. This means that symptoms can be experienced, and healed, in the present moment, and this can often be done without having to re-live anything from the past. The bodywork therapist works with the client to help them become more aware of their experience in the present moment. Clients are then invited to use such tools as breath, sound and movement, combined with therapeutic touch from the therapist, to re-regulate their nervous systems.

More information

I offer in-person sessions in Teesside/ North Yorkshire and London, as well as online sessions to individuals and couples. Please get in touch for more information.

Contact me