Yes, it definitely matters, in a big way. But not the way many people think…
What matters most of all: that whatever you call your experiences, it works for you and gets you where you want to go.
Some people may say things like, “You have to call it ‘sexual abuse’ or you can’t heal,” or “If you can’t admit that what happened was [their label], then you’re in denial.”
Even coming from someone who genuinely cares and wants to help, such comments and demands are not helpful.
We certainly don’t want to label you in any way, or to tell you what you should call your experiences. You can decide on the words that you use to think and talk about what happened.
But we do have to use some language on this site. We’ve settled on “unwanted or abusive sexual experiences,” to refer to the kinds of sexual experiences that concern us here: those that can cause a variety of problems, regardless of when the experience took place.
We hope these words are OK with you, and encourage you to find language that works for you.
And what works for you depends on who you are and what you need right now. Of course your understanding and language, like your needs, can change over time. That’s fine too.
Some men find the words “victim” and “survivor” disturbing, even offensive. Others feel they are validating and empowering.
There’s no right or wrong here, and things can get complex and subtle. For example, for the same man, at different times, the same words may: initially freak them out, later on feel perfectly appropriate, and much later seem unecessary and unhelpful.
Again, only you can know what language works for you – or at least begin sorting it out for yourself.
And if you talk to someone who labels things in ways that don’t sit right with you, and even tries to get you to use the same labels, try not to take it personally. Try not to get bent out of shape, even if they’re pushy about it. But feel free to let them know it’s not working for you, and, if necesary, stop trying to talk with them about it.
Finally, you might want to read Definitions, Labels, and Sorting It Out For Yourself, as well as Mic Hunter’s Stages of Recovery, which describes how men’s perspectives on what happened can change dramatically over time.