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As a man who has experienced sexual abuse, why do I feel so much shame?

For men who have experienced sexual abuse or assault—either in childhood or adulthood—feelings of shame can be confusing. Learn how shame can be both understood and overcome.

First off, you’re not alone. Lots of men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences struggle with shame.

Shame is about who you think you are. It involves feeling unworthy of respect from others, feeling like you deserve to be judged and criticized, and feeling embarrassed.

We could almost answer this question with another one: How could a man not feel shame after having sexual experiences that totally conflict with how society tells us males are told they’re supposed to be? We’re told:

  • Males are not supposed to be used sexually.
  • Males are supposed to be the sexual aggressor.
  • Males are not supposed to have sexual contact with other males (an even more damaging message for gay or bisexual men.)
  • Males are supposed to want and to feel lucky for every sexual experience they have.
  • Males are not supposed to feel vulnerable or fearful about sex.

In short, you’ve always gotten the message that what society deems as ‘real men’ don’t have the experiences you’ve had, so no wonder you feel ashamed about having them.

It’s also possible that the shame you feel, if it’s very intense and almost constant, has other sources, particularly shaming experiences with parents or others that left you feeling “less than” and unworthy of respect or care. Both shame and guilt are discussed in more detail in the Masculinity, Self-Esteem & Identity section of Topics.

Finally, and we can’t repeat this enough: You can overcome shame, even the most extreme shame.