Effects on Many Aspects of Development
Unwanted and abusive sexual experiences in childhood are never disconnected from the rest of a child’s life. So their consequences can be quite complex – and take time to sort out, understand, and deal with in healthy ways.
Let’s get a sense of this complexity and bring some order to it…
These experiences happen to boys who are developing in many ways, including:
- In their thinking capacities.
- In their abilities to deal with emotions.
- In abilities to relate to other kids and adults.
- As moral beings with values learned from others and increasingly chosen for themselves.
- As boys heading toward manhood.
These things are interwoven. What’s going on in one affects the others. For example, the kinds of relationships we have are determined by how we think, by how we deal with our emotions, and by what we believe and value. And our thoughts, emotions and values are influenced by our beliefs about how boys and men are supposed to be.
Unwanted boyhood sexual experiences can impact – and shape – many aspects of development. This has been shown by decades of scientific research. It’s discovered every day by men who’ve had these experiences and the people who know them well.
Factors That Can Shape the Effects
Several things can influence the impacts of such experiences, especially:
- Age when the experiences happened. Younger is usually more harmful, but different effects are associated with different developmental periods.
- Who else was involved. Effects are generally worse when it was a parent, step-parent, or trusted adult than a stranger.
- Whether the boy told anyone, and if so, the person’s response. Doubting, ignoring, blaming and shaming responses can be extremely harmful – in some cases even more than the sexual experiences themselves.
- Whether or not violence was involved, and if so, how severe it was.
- How long the experiences went on.
Other factors that that play out differently for every guy:
- Whether the experiences involved deliberate humiliation.
- How “normal” such experiences were in the extended family and local culture.
- Whether the boy had loving family members, and/or knew that someone loved him.
- Whether the boy had some good relationships – with siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, etc.
- Whether the boy had relationships in which difficult and “vulnerable” feelings were acceptable, and could be expressed and managed in safe and healthy ways.
Some of the those reflect how abusive the experiences were, and some the kinds of the relationships in which the experiences and the child’s reactions played out. They’re all very important.
Lots of research has been done on how such things determine the consequences of unwanted or abusive childhood sexual experiences. Researchers talk about “risk factors,” which make bad effects more likely, and “protective factors,” which make bad effects less likely.
Every man who’s had such experiences is different, and has a unique combination of risk and protective factors that have influenced the effects in his life.
Some Bottom Lines and Suggestions
- The effects of unwanted or abusive boyhood sexual experiences, and what determines such effects, can be very complex.
- It can be helpful to learn about how such experiences can – depending on a variety of other factors – affect various aspects of boys’ and men’s lives.
- You don’t have to figure everything out, which may not even be possible, especially in the short term.
- It’s helpful to keep in mind the “big picture” and avoid over-simplifying things too much.