Info for partners (Relationship challenges)

Info for partners (Disclosure) - LivingWell At Living Well, we recognize that there is not a lot of information and support out there for partners of men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, particularly in relation to the impact on couple relationship. Whilst relationships can be a place where difficulties, including difficulties with trust, intimacy and sex can appear, they are also somewhere, where these difficulties can be worked through and resolved. This page, details some of the challenges partners of men who have been sexually victimised report facing and some ways of responding.

All relationships require work

Before discussing some of the ways sexual abuse can impact on men and partner relationships, it is important to acknowledge that all couple relationships require time, effort and commitment from both parties to be successful. All relationships can be a place of intense joy and pleasure and at times can produce considerable heart ache and distress. Relationships where one or both parties have experienced childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault are no different, they benefit from partners talking, sharing interests and working together to address difficulties as they arise. A healthy relationship is therefore not about there not being difficulties, it is about having the skills, time and energy to work things out and grow together.

The impact of sexual abuse on relationships

There is no prescribed way that an experience of sexual abuse will impact on a man or on his relationships. Everyone is different. Men will often try to find his own way to deal with the experience of sexual abuse and work hard to limit its impact on his life and relationships. Although hearing that a man has been sexually abused is distressing, sometimes this information can help a partner make sense of some of the behaviours they have been witnessing and provide a starting place for positive change.

Men and their partners have identified a number of ways that the experience of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault has impacted on them and their relationships.

  • Avoidance of some people, places or situations. He may leave the room when some things come on television, he may change the subject when some things are talked about, there may be certain types of people that he stays away from, or there may be parts of his past that he avoids talking about. These are common ways that people try to keep themselves safe and try to keep distressing memories at bay.
  • Bad dreams, being preoccupied and spacing out. At times he may seem to be in “another world’ and appear to be disconnected or vague. Sometimes, after a traumatic experience, people can experience flashbacks to an event or series of events, to the point where they are re-living the past in the present. Memories of sexual assault for some men can “pop in” uninvited at any time of the day or night even while asleep in the form of nightmares and this can be very exhausting. (See Dealing with flashbacks and Dealing with nightmares).
  • Being jumpy, easily startled and preoccupied by safety issues. He may seem overly concerned with checking doors, windows, visiting crowded places, uncomfortable on public transport and be extremely nervous when you or the children are not at home. Again this makes perfect sense in terms of his desire to keep himself and his loved ones safe as he knows first hand what it is like to be unsafe.
  • Having difficulty trusting people, even you at times. When somebody has been hurt by a person they are supposed to be able to trust it can be extremely difficult to take trust for granted in later relationships. Or alternatively he may trust you, but nobody else.
  • Mood swings. It is common for people who have experienced sexual abuse and or assault to find that they can swing from feeling ok to angry to sad or to other strong feelings quite quickly and without much warning. These strong feelings might not make much sense on the outside as there can appear to be no external cause for them. However, they are usually connected to a thought or memory that has come uninvited and that brings with it some of the distressing feelings of the original event.
  • Behaviours that don’t make sense. Sometimes people who have experienced sexual abuse and assault develop behaviours that seem to be self-defeating such as problematic use of drugs and or alcohol, gambling, workaholism, over-exercising, overspending, over eating or consuming very little food or having complex rituals around the quantity and timings of meals. Others might be more directly involved in self-harming or obsessing about their bodies’ appearance in various ways. Many of these behaviours are not necessarily harmful in and of themselves, in fact some like exercising and hard work are admirable and as a society we approve of men who are active in these ways. These activities and behaviours are self soothing, calming, offer a sense of control, and have an internal logic that can take the person away from difficult thoughts and feelings. But they can become problematic when they are used to the extent that the person is not able to incorporate or to manage other aspects of daily life in reasonably balanced ways.

The behaviours listed above, might have developed as a direct result of being sexually abused or in an effort to manage the trauma. They should not be seen as evidence of a damaged person. It can be useful to talk and understand how this behaviour developed, the reason behind it and how it has become a habit. Some behaviours that may have worked for a while or in particular circumstances can overstay their welcome and become unmanageable, becoming unwelcome for your partner, for the relationship or you. With enough support, it is possible to develop alternative, more sustainable and more life-giving ways of coping.

For a long time, until I could talk about it all and find some other ways of getting by, I just tried whatever was available. Some of those things took the edge off things for awhile and that’s probably why I kept doing them”

Negotiating difficulties and improving the relationship.

It is really important to avoid seeing EVERYTHING that happens in a relationship through the prism of sexual assault. Relationships don’t come with a rule book. Couple relationships often involve two people muddling their way through, negotiating and sorting things out, to ultimately build satisfying and supportive lives. Many of the ways you have used to get through difficult times together will continue to be helpful in overcoming problems related to sexual abuse or sexual assault. You probably already have most of the tools you need.

Partners and men who have been sexually abused have identified a number of themes that can appear in their relationships:

  • Closeness / Distance. You might experience a see-sawing in your relationship, with your partner at times seeking out re-assurance and assistance and sometimes distancing himself, wanting to work it out on his own. Some men try to manage feeling moody, withdrawn, uncertain and uncommunicative, by taking himself off and keeping himself to himself with the idea that this will help stop things from getting worse or help keep his partner safe.

What can you do? Understanding that in all relationships there are times for togetherness and there are times where a little space is welcome. It is good to regularly check in with a partner to see how they are travelling and keep them up to date as to how the relationship is going for you and them, without increasing pressure to have stuff resolved right now. It is also good to remind yourself that although you are impacted by his behaviour, it is not all about you. One of the best things you can do is to keep the respectful communication flowing. Remember to take time out if it gets too intense and then to return to the topic and talk about the important stuff when you have had a breather

  • Unhelpful behaviours. Some of the ways he has learned to cope, or to keep the thoughts and memories of the abuse at a distance may be “playing themselves out” in your relationship with him, for example, self-soothing by use of alcohol, overwork, excessive interest in sex or pornography.

What Can You Do? You do not have to accept or approve of behaviours that are not working for you or your relationship, nor is it your job to fix them. It is worth encouraging him to access support that helps him develop more life-affirming patterns and ways of dealing with stress and distress. Also, to make sure that you are properly supported and informed about ways of looking after yourself and dealing with the impact of sexual abuse. Sometimes, it is only when things aren’t playing out the way that you hoped for that you identify what you most value and appreciate about relationships and what you want from a partner. This then, provides an opportunity to talk and confirm there is a shared vision that you can both work towards. (See our page on Men and intimacy).

I always thought that if he loved me enough he would stop doing those things – now I can see that it was his way of switching off and although I still don’t like it and want him to change, at least I can see it for what it is”

  • Shame. A partner’s, and possibly even your own sense of shame around what happened, its effects and the fear of other people’s reactions may make it extremely difficult to talk to each other.

What Can You Do? We know that shame – just like mushrooms – grows best in the dark. Remember, your partner has probably had a lifetime of messages about what it means to be a man, and that includes being tough and bullet-proof and he may be struggling with his own masculinity and this will reinforce his feelings of shame. Men’s sense of shame is often made worse by society’s negativity towards male on male sexual relations (to the extent that the focus is more on the fact that it was male on male sexual contact than that the contact was abusive). It is useful therefore to access quality information, to not deny or ignore a man’s sense of shame or your own struggles, but to talk it through and firmly place the sense of shame back with the person who committed the sexual abuse or assault (See Kevin’s Letter). Sometimes, rather than working overtime on this sense of shame and trying to evaluate whether you or your partner needs to feel ashamed for either the abuse or some actions you have taken since then, It can be useful to check in with yourself "How is holding on to this sense of shame working for me, for my life and for my relationship? And if it is not providing some demonstrable benefit to make a decision to try putting it down for a while.

Heaps of the things he has always done which seemed a bit strange suddenly started to make sense. I also realised that it wasn’t down to me to change it all – in fact, it isn’t all bad. He’s always wanted to be around me and the kids a lot in everything we do and that’s actually really nice – some of my friends wish their husbands could get a bit more involved.”

  • Understand the way trauma can “act itself out” in a relationship. Many of the ways that people react to traumatic events such as avoidance, not trusting some people or situations, fear for the safety of loved ones and being their own harshest judge, can act themselves out in a partnering relationship. As a result of childhood trauma, some men can become extremely protective of partners and children, to the point where his behaviour can feel ‘over protective’, even controlling.

What Can You Do? Knowing that these behaviours have an internal logic and might be a response to trauma can both gain perspective and provide a picture of what might help in making things better. When some behaviours are spoken about and become understood in their historical context, it can provide a platform for change. By talking about what is happening in a safe supportive environment, individuals and couples can find solutions. Just as behaviour is learnt and becomes habit overtime, alternative ways of doing things can be developed, encouraged and supported. Like in all couple relationships, relationships work best when each partner takes responsibility for themselves, for managing and looking after themselves and working together to support and encourage each other in building a caring respectful futures.

Note: See our For Partners section for more information that might be useful for partners of men who have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault.


  • melissa

    I’m starting to think my husband had been sexually molested bcs he has been doing strange things for a very long time and has no answer as to why he does certain things. All he can say is he needs help but continues to do them. I noticed he had a sexual addiction a few years ago when I googled it and saw the symptoms. He started going to a sexual therapist and then stopped bcs of finicial reasons.
    Some of the things he has done is drink until he is numb and doesn’t remember anything and starts to either fight or go online and message random girls and talks about sec. That’s all it was for a very long time. Until it started to escalate into texting my friends and recently my sister in law and saying he wanted sex from them.
    This is affecting our relationship very much. I have no idea why is he doing this and he direct revenge doing it and it’s just becoming extremely embrassing.
    Can you help bcs at this point I just want to take my kids and leave. Should I try
    To keep seeking therapy for him so he can attend or just end the relationship after 17yrs. He still hasn’t spoke to me about it and this happened on sat.

    • Gary

      Thanks for contacting Living Well and sharing your concerns.

      It sounds like a really difficult situation. I am hearing that you are concerned about what may have happened for your husband in the past, what he is currently doing and how this impacting on your relationship. There really is no way of knowing whether your partner has been sexually abused in the past from his current behaviour. It is good that he is acknowledging that he needs help and that he has previously engaged with a therapist. I would definitely be encouraging him to talk with his doctor and to see if they can assist with obtaining access to a counsellor or therapist at minimal cost (also to consider making use of relevant free help lines if he is in distress or concerned about the way he is acting).

      I see you said that this is a 17 year relationship and that you have children together. It will be useful for you also to make sure you are supported and assisted in thinking through what your options and priorities are, and deciding where to from here for you. It is helpful if you are clear about what kind of relationship you want, what expectations there are in relation to how partners behave in this relationship, and how you show love, care and respect for each other. This will mean working out and being clear as to what is and is not acceptable behaviour. Providing a clear message about what your expectations and limits are is important.

      I encourage you to continue to seek out information and support. You might want to talk with one of our counsellors online or on the telephone to help work out where to from here for you. Wishing you all the best – The team at Living Well.

  • Jane

    I often wonder if my partner has been sexually abused as a child but he says he hasn’t. The reasons I think he has been abused are that he has exposed himself to my friends and family members a number of times, always under the influence of alcohol. His recollection of these incidents is foggy, but he has admitted to them and felt deep shame. He is very withdrawn socially and has extremely low self-esteem. He has overdosed on medication while drunk and been admitted to hospital numerous times. He has self-harmed, cutting himself on his arms and on private parts of his body. He says he doesn’t know why he’s done this. He cannot cope with stressful situations and suffers from high anxiety. He has attended numerous forms of professional counseling and group support but nothing seems to make any difference for him. I have a strong sense he has been sexually abused in his childhood but he says it’s not the case. I feel like there is nothing I can do to help him. Are my instincts realistic? Is it possible he can’t remember the abuse if it has happened to him? How common is it for people to not remember the abuse?

    • Jess

      Hi Jane, Thanks for contacting Living Well. It sounds as if there is a lot going on for your partner and for you, and it is difficult trying to work out where to from here.

      In relation to your question “How common is it for people to not remember the abuse?” Research and practice suggests that a majority of people who have been sexually abused have very strong memories of the abuse, although they may not talk about it for a number of reasons. However, there are also some people who have been sexually abused whose memories are not clear or absent for long periods of time, who may remember and piece together fragments of memories later on in life. A difficulty is that you can only work with what is available and searching for a memory of childhood sexual abuse may lead to more distress, confusion and uncertainty.

      Your partner’s behaviour in exposing himself when he has been drinking is clearly upsetting for both of you. Given the other difficulties that you have identified – that he is socially isolated, has low self esteem, has self harmed and overdosed, does not cope well with stressful situations and has high anxiety – I suggest it is important that you access professional assistance from a qualified health care professional; from a doctor or mental health care worker. Whether your partner has been sexually abused or not it is important to access support to help him better manage difficult thoughts, emotions and behaviours. A priority is an emphasis on safety and stabilisation, in supporting him to develop skills to take care of himself and express his distress in less destructive and hurtful ways for him and those around him.

      I encourage you to keep working to ensure both you and him access quality counselling and support that addresses your concerns. Although it takes perseverance and hard work people can recover from such difficulties and live fulfilling, connected lives. Take care.

  • Piyush

    I am from India. In my state mostly marriage are arranged (parents choose a bride/groom for their son/daughter).
    Should I tell the girl (I have never met before) about my child sexual abuse?
    I want to let her know but I am a little-bit afraid if she tell anyone else.

    • Jess

      Hi Piyush,
      Firstly thank you for reaching out for some support with this. I know it isn’t an easy thing to put yourself out there like that.

      I see that you are considering letting your possible future partner know about your experiences, and it might be that you choose to do this. However sometimes with information like this it is important to choose the right time and be clear about what the purpose is in telling her at this time. I would advise that you first think about why you feel it is important to tell her about it now? What are you hoping might happen by telling her about it?

      Is this something that impacts on you in your life, and so you want her to be able to understand this? Or is it more that you want to be open and transparent in your relationship from the very start?

      It might be important to take some time first to get to know this woman: What her interests are, what is important to her, what are her hopes and aspirations for her life? It might be that in developing a relationship with her over the coming months that your history of sexual abuse is something you will share with her at the right time and place as you develop your relationship. At that point you might be better able to predict her reaction to it – particularly if you are concerned about her telling other people. At this point it is impossible to know.

  • Natasha

    Over a year ago I told my co-worker I had feelings for him and he said he thought about me as well but nothing could happen between us. I didn’t understand why and after a few weeks of getting really close with him and becoming good friends he confided to me he was sexually abused when he was 6 by his older cousin. It went on for years and he didn’t tell anyone about it. He’s 23 now and still a virgin, had very little sexual contact or intimacy with a girl. He told me his last relationship was about about three years ago and had ended because his girlfriend tried to kiss him. He said he freaked out on her and basically cut her out of his life. He had told me he can’t be with anyone at least not right now because he’s damaged goods and doesn’t want to bring anyone into his life. Over the past year we became good friends, really close to the point where it felt like a relationship but it was a cycle of getting really close to each other and then us not talking mostly because of my own feelings for him. I couldn’t separate my own feelings from our friendship. He also said and did things to show that he cared about me more than a friend which didn’t help me to move on but whenever I would mention it to him we would fight and stop talking. Then days or weeks later we would start talking and get close again. During the last months he said he doesn’t have feelings for me that way anymore and that I should move on. But again his actions showed differently to the point where even his close friends started accusing him of leading me on. We never crossed the physical boundaries but about 3 weeks ago we were at a party where he was severely drunk and crossed those physical boundaries. He approached me and was very sexual. I never seen him act like this before and even I knew it was out of his character. When I mentioned it to him days later he said he couldn’t remember anything. I showed him what he did and he apologized profusely saying he was drunk and maybe did it to me because there was history there. This emotional tug of war got the best of me and I messaged him saying really nasty things that I never said to him before. I was intoxicated and angry and hurt and confused at the time and just lashed out at him. I’ve been trying to apologize to him eversince that day because I knew what I did was wrong and shouldn’t have reacted to him that war. He never responded to anything I said and completely ignores me at work now. When i tried talking to him at work he would yell at me and tell me to go away that he wants nothing to do with me. I’ve stopped trying to apologize and just let him be now. What I want to know is that he won’t even talk to me and just cut me out of his life and I don’t know if it’s because of the message or a build up of the emotional rollercoaster that we been through or if his past has anything to do with him not wanting me in his life even as a friend. Are you able to shed some light on this?

    • Jess

      Hi Natasha,
      This sounds like a really tough situation for both you and your co-worker. Building a friendship or relationship can be difficult to negotiate at the best of times, but even more so when it involves a dual relationship as it does here, where you are personally close but also need to work together as colleagues.

      It can be even more difficult for people who have been sexually abused or have struggled in the past with relationships, where they are left with feeling not good enough or ‘damaged’ in some ways. Of particular relevance here is the difficulty with trust that people who have been sexually abused can experience, both trusting themselves and trusting others, and how this can be played out in relationships by seeking closeness and then pushing people away. This can indeed be a bit of an emotional roller-coaster and really confusing for everyone involved. It seems that you’ve tried to be understanding and respectful of boundaries, but have been pushed to your own ability to handle a really complicated situation. However it sounds as though by acknowledging where things went wrong and apologising to him you have let him know that you are open to talking and being his friend in the future, and rebuilding that trust. As such it will probably take some time for both him and you to sort out your feelings and decide where to from here.

      Best of luck Natasha. Let us know if we can offer any further support.

  • Charlie

    Hi there. Great article, thank you.

    My partner has recently revealed to me that he had slept with another woman during the duration of our (short) relationship. We immediately began counseling, and throughout the process it is unearthing that the woman was very manipulative, abusive, and in the end took advantage of him whilst he was under heavy medication and was in no way able to push her off. Furthermore, it appears that she was emotionally, verbally and sexually abusing him for the entire time, and he did not want to participate in sex but she would threaten him if he didn’t comply.

    I have evidence that this was in fact the case, but of course am dealing with my own sense of betrayal. He is too terrified to take any action with authorities, but is clearly experiencing trauma. I want to help him, and in some ways can empathize with what he is going through as I was sexually abused and blackmailed when I was a teen. However, I am finding resources for Adult Male Assault/Abuse almost impossible to find – most are designed for men who were abused as children. Do you have any recommendations of resources for us to try?

    Thank you.

    • Heather

      Hi Charlie,
      The experience that you describe for you and your husband is one I know from experiences with other clients. This can be a very difficult and distressing situation. Despite the distress for you both, it does sound like you are communicating and are trying to work this through together- or at least to understand.

      It would be best if we could talk this matter through – rather than offering resources, I am thinking what you both need is support. We at Living Well can provide the necessary information and support you might need. In order for us to best assist we would need to know where you live. There might be a very suitable service nearby that can assist you.
      We will be in touch via email. All the best.

  • qtpikimb

    I have a son from a previous marriage. I am now married to a man who was molested as a child. I know the details and we have talked about it. My son loves him and i believe he loves my son very much. I have never noticed any innapropriate behavior. But as my childs mother should i be worried? Am i just paranoid and should trust my spouse loves us? I do suffer from major depression and he has been faithfully by my side. Idk if im just fearful or if im doing the right thing?

    • Jess

      Hi Kimberly
      Thank you for contacting Living Well. I read that you are concerned for the well-being of your son and husband. I also read that your son loves your husband, your husband loves your son and that you have ‘never noticed any inappropriate behaviour.’ I just want to let you know that there is no evidence to suggest that men who have been sexually abused will automatically go on to commit sexual offences (check out our page on addressing the victim to offender cycle). Research evidence actually suggests that over 95% will not. What we do know is that men who have been sexually abused as children are concerned for the well-being of children, and if anything can be overly protective (they don’t want what happened to them to happen to another child). As a parent, I am sure you will want to keep talking and building the relationship with your son, so that if there is anything worrying him at home, at school or in the neighbourhood he can come and talk with you about it. This is the best thing you can do. Thank you for the question. I wish you, your son and husband well.

  • Elizabeth

    My husband came clean to me about the sexual abuse that happened to him as a child when I found out he was on websites looking at other men. He said he has been w a man before but is not “gay” he said he had an encounter w a man while we were engaged. This was a yr ago, just recently I found out he’s been on chat sites talking to men again and frequently watches gay porn but will hardly ever have sex with me and I have a pretty high sex drive so it’s not me pushing him away. So after the last chat site I told him I was leaving and he beggede to stay, is going to counseling and taking pills for depression. Just tonight I saw that he is
    Looking at gay porn again…I really don’t know what to do! I feel like I can not talk to anyone I know about this because it is very personal to him and humiliating to me. A part of me feels like I should stay and see if the therapy does anything, another part is just so hurt and depressed I feel like I need to go for my own good. For my sanity. What hurts is that he’s looking on these porn sites at men probably getting off but
    Not even touching me. It makes me feel worthless. I really don’t know what to do from here. We are both in our mid 20s and have only been married
    For two years but I feel like all he’s done is lie to me these past two yrs. I also feel like it’s not his fault, because he was molested so
    I should stay and try. Idk, any advice from anyone? He truly is a good person deep down anyone can see that.

    • Gary

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for contacting Living Well. I hear that you want to be supportive and understanding of your partner and to try and make the relationship work. It is good that he is now obtaining assistance from a counsellor and looking to better manage depression. One of the difficulties that face partners of men who have been sexually abused is that they feel they can’t discuss what is going on with their usual support network of friends or family. I would definitely recommend that you find an experienced counsellor who you feel comfortable talking with. You deserve support yourself.

      All relationships can face difficulties that can take some working out, whether a person has been sexually abused or not. What is important is that each partner takes responsibility for themselves and there is a shared understanding and commitment to making this a supportive, caring, respectful relationship that works for both of you. Secrecy about things that are shameful can be a legacy of sexual abuse, but this is not helpful for a mutually supportive relationship. It sounds as if you have been clear that his accessing gay porn and chat rooms and ignoring you is something that pushes you apart. The fact that he is accessing gay porn can add another layer of confusion and complexity. In order to work this out and not become side tracked (the gay issue can be side tracking), it might useful to invite him to consider what he is doing in terms of commitment to the relationship and to you. It will be important to be clear to him that if he chooses to access gay porn and lie to you, he is not showing love and respect to you and your relationship. He is an adult who has choices about how he behaves and where he puts his energy. He can choose to spend time with you doing things that you enjoy together, to nurture and build a more intimate, caring, sexy relationship. Relationships do take commitment and can be rebuilt.

      In working this out, I would encourage you to take care of yourself. An experienced counsellor will help you to talk through options in a way that is respectful of both you and your partner.

  • Marie

    I have been married to my husband for 5 years. Early in our marriage he had a bit too much to drink and he mentioned that he was sexually abused as a child by a man. He refuses to talk about it and just gets angry when I mention anything close to the subject.

    The first 4 years of our marriage, I would catch my husband visiting porn sites on the internet. I expressed to him that I did not like him doing that and to my knowledge, he tried to stay away from it. But recently his behavior has escalated from porn to contacting women on dating sites looking for one night stands to confronting a woman and giving his number to her as they text back and forth. I would approach him, and he would deny it until I would show him the evidence. He would delete his account or stop texting women but then once I turn my back, he is searching for escorts in town and when he is out of town. Again he would deny it and then make me feel like it was my fault for bringing it up again. He says that he doesn’t know why he has these urges and that he is stupid and weak. I want to help him and save our marriage so I have had us seeing a marriage counselor. But I don’t know how much more I can do if he refuses to tell the counselor that he has been a survivor of sexual abuse as a child.

    What more can I do? How can I approach my husband in a loving manner? I don’t know how to since he gets angry any time I bring it up.

    • Jess

      Hi Marie, Thanks for contacting Living Well.

      It is good to hear that you are seeing a counsellor about the relationship difficulties you are experiencing, including your partner using porn and dating sites. As you are probably aware, sexual abuse can have a profound impact on people’s lives. I also want to make sure you’re aware that many men who have been sexually abused are very reluctant to speak about it, even if they are struggling to cope or engaging in unhelpful behaviours. This is for many reasons, some of which you can read about on our Men and disclosure pages.

      Although there may be a connection between his experience of abuse and his accessing porn and dating sites, it appears he is just not willing to talk about the abuse at present. It seems however that he is identifying that he has urges that he is struggling to cope with. It would be useful for him to talk with a counsellor, if he is willing, about the habit of accessing porn sites and how he might stop this.

      It would certainly be useful for him to understand that this behaviour of his is impacting negatively on your relationship and your wish to be close to him.

      Just because someone identifies an urge, does not mean they have to act on it. Although it might take some work, people can learn to control their behaviour (whether they have been abused or not), and to work with a partner to rebuild trust and improve the relationship. It sounds as if you really do care for your husband and your relationship. Working to improve your relationship need not necessarily be about the abuse. I would suggest that you continue to be clear with him that you care for him, whilst at the same time being clear that you do not accept his use of dating sites and talking with other women as part of a loving relationship.

      Good luck Marie and I hope this assists.

  • Anna

    My boyfriend recently told me that he was sexually abused at the age of 9 by a Mexican man that was drunk and punched him in the face. My boyfriend started drinking at the age of 9. He told me he was exposed to his Dad’s porn at the age of 5. His dad was a womanizer and drunk. Every time I wanted to get close to my boyfriend…he’d tell me he was in love with an ex-girlfriend. He did cheat on me, texted various women, has never added me to his Facebook, but has added those women. He was in the military briefly and was released due to an accident, but he never served during war time (never saw combat). He told me that he sees me as “family” and that he loves me, “but not in the way that you want me to love you” and isn’t intimate with me at all. -We had sex in the past, but since reuniting after breaking up for 2 years…he has not asked for sex or anything. -He’s never had a desire to kiss me. Tonight he drank too much and became violent and escalated when I asked him to leave my home and told me to call the cops. He escalated further and choked me and hit me hard in the face and is in jail. I doubt he’ll remember much when he sobers up tomorrow. If he does sober up, I doubt he’ll remember how hard he choked and hit me to leave marks and bruises. -He thought I was exaggerating when I was crying and asking him to stop and told me that I was “weak”. I do truly love him. But he consistently gave me mixed signals then would get mad if I wanted to break up. -When he’d say he’s not my man…he’d become insecure and jealous and want to look at my phone, emails, Facebook and hacked into them. He said he was “in it for the long haul” and wanted to “merge our lives together” yet would say he’s not my boyfriend and had no interest in being more than a friend to me…but told the police that he has been my boyfriend for 8 years and included the 2 years we were broken up, because I kicked him out when I saw he was texting his ex-girlfriend in another state (he went to that state to be with her and she rejected him and he immediately called and begged me to take him back…I didn’t and let him stay there until recently when he called and told me his Dad was dying of lung cancer and that he needed me and wanted to come back to be with me and see his Dad). He’s in jail now. I have no idea what to do. I do love him. But he refuses to go to Counselor or get help and denies that he has been sexually abused and doesn’t remember telling me he was abused when he was drunk. I want to visit him at jail, but was told due to him choking me that he is restrained from me and cannot even call me. I have no idea what to do other than continue to pray for him. Thanks.

    • Jess

      Hi there Anna,
      It seems as though you are in a really difficult place right now. I understand your concern and wish to support your boyfriend as a survivor of child sexual abuse. He has a really painful history behind him and, as you clearly care for him so much, you want to be there for him and be close to him. I’m hearing that the mixed signals you’ve been getting from him are making this even more confusing and painful for you and you’re at a loss as to what to do now.

      Anna I’m hearing that you’ve so much care and concern for your partner, however I need to be clear that his behaviour is not okay. What you described above is intimate partner violence, or domestic violence.

      If he is serious about sorting himself out, it is important that he gets serious about addressing the violent behaviour, whether he remembers it or not. The fact that he had been drinking at the time does not excuse the violence or make it any less worrying. If he wants to build loving, caring relationship in the future, now is the time for him to stand up and be counted on to take responsibility for what he has done, and to address that behaviour so that it never happens again.

      Supporting someone to take responsibility for themselves does not mean accepting or excusing the violence. Be aware that men who have been violent in relationships will often minimise, deny and blame. It is more than possible that he will minimise the extent of the danger or harm to you, deny his responsibility for it (for example by saying, “I was drunk”) or blame you for saying something or doing something (“you provoked me,” or “you should know better”).

      To demonstrate his commitment to building healthy, safe relationships, he can start by enrolling in a men’s non violence group (such as Living Without Violence). It is important that people around him encourage him to do so. This is about him practically committing to change for himself and those around him, for everyone’s safety and security.

      Please take some time to look at:
      Domestic Violence Resource Centre or 1800respect if you’re in Australia.
      The Hotline if you’re in the USA.

  • mary

    I am looking for advice for a man living with dissociative identity disorder because of child sexual abuse. The memory is not clear to him, but he knows it happened and that it occurred at a very young age. I discovered this mental state and was the one to tell him what I had observed. I persevered through some horrible times with him; I care too much about him to ever turn my back….no matter how much it kills my own self. The alternate states of mind are his child self and his abusers. I have witnessed his abuse second hand; his memories are verbally reinacted during his sleep. It is as if I am there hearing a narration of the most devastating circumstances. It is hard for this to not run his life, though he tries so hard to live a happy life. He is seeing a counsellor but I just wanted to hear some sort of supportive words online I suppose.

    what can I do? I feel like we are both being traumatised, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t cry…but I know I would cry more if I were to turn my back :(

    • Cate

      Hello Mary,
      Thank you for your comment and our apologies for not responding earlier. As a counsellor of men who were sexually abused as either children, young adolescents or as adult men, I appreciate how difficult things can be for both you and for your partner. I’m sure being troubled by things that are heard during his sleep is frightening, and as you say might feel like you “are both being traumatised”. In some ways this is in fact quite true. As counsellors we might describe this as a secondary traumatisation, and it can create the same or similar feelings of helplessness. It can be as disturbing to the individual as the original experiences might have been to the person who was abused. This is especially so for those who are in a close relationship and want so much to be able to help.

      Mary there are a few things that might be useful for you to consider here. The first is that it is important to not feel that you have to “fix” him, or that it is your responsibility to do so. You mentioned not “turning your back on him,” and I am not suggesting that you do. However, the reverse of taking full responsibility for identifying the problem, and then trying to deal with the pain that he appears to have experienced, is just not helpful either. It tends to keep him in a position of powerlessness in relation to managing the impacts of his experiences, and may indeed add an extra pain in his awareness of burdening you also. And it may also make you feel that it is all up to you to make it go away somehow, which of course you can’t do!

      Secondly what might be more helpful for you both is to take a step back together to decide what would be useful for you to do when these dreams occur. Should you wake him gently and try to talk him through some grounding exercises? Perhaps share a glass of water; put on a soft light or some soothing music and draw his attention to it while you allow it to calm you also? During your waking hours discuss and experiment with the strategies that work best for you both. Empowering him with the solutions and putting yourself as assisting him rather than rescuing him will help both of you to feel more able to deal with it all.

      I understand that you might be hearing some of the hurt that he may have experienced as a child through his dreaming, but it is important that you engage with him as an adult partner in the present, rather than engage with him as a child or engage with the voice or actions of the abuser from the past.

      The third thing here Mary is that it is so important that you take good care of yourself. By practicing self-care and engaging in positive life affirming activities and energy, you will be modelling self-care for him also. This can be a challenge for persons whose boundaries have been compromised by others during their early lives, so showing him how much you can enjoy your life and encouraging (not insisting) him to do the same can be of great benefit. The result is often less nightmares and anxiety, and a greater sense of control generally.

      I hope that the above is helpful for you and wish you and your partner all the best

  • Jean

    My husband and I married at 18 and 19 we’ve been married for 40 years. For about 30 of those years he wouldn’t sleep in our bedroom and we rarely had sex. We’ve never had a great sex life. He’s just not interested.
    I have been in counseling for years because of frustration in our marriage and finally got him to agree to go last year. It didn’t last long he said that he didn’t have anything to talk to the therapist about – and stopped going.

    Recently his distance and lack of intimacy caused me to tell him it was over – that after 40 years I was moving out. I have tried everything I knew how and at almost 60 I couldn’t do it anymore – I needed intimacy.
    I asked him again if he had had an adult sexually approach him when he was a child (I had reasons to suspect this might have happened to him) He then admitted to me that a male teacher had tried to kiss him. He said it wasn’t an issue because he stopped him and nothing happened. But this teacher drove 500 miles to come to our wedding and also visited us once after we married. We also used to party with him before we were married.

    All the time we’ve been married – and his time in therapy – this never came up! He said its because it was no big deal. But I can’t help believing that this has something to do with his inability to be intimate. I feel sad for all the frustrated years I have tried to make our marriage better. he’s been holding back.

    • Cate

      Hello Jean,
      Thank you for contacting the Living Well service. I am a counsellor who assists men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and or adult sexual assault, and we also support partners and others as an acknowledgement of how important those relationships are. Childhood abuse can be very hard to talk about, and it is not unusual for men to want to keep it to themselves for many years, and even sometimes for a lifetime. Childhood sexual abuse impacts on people differently, and some do manage to live “normal” lives and to have happy and satisfying relationships. However as you are aware some don’t, and issues such as intimacy, whether this is sexual or emotional intimacy, can be real problems within otherwise stable relationships.

      He appears to be saying that he didn’t experience a traumatic event, which you may think is his attempt to minimise something more “serious” than a kiss from a male teacher. Only he knows what occurred and how it has impacted on him, and it might distance him from you further to insist on the “whole story.” It may be that he truly can’t remember because his undeveloped brain as a child had not recorded the event fully. Perhaps, as he says, it has not impacted greatly on him. Perhaps he really doesn’t want to talk about it, which after all is his right not to.

      Jean it sounds like you have identified that your needs are not being met within the relationship at this point in your life, and perhaps in recent times also. Making the decision to end a long term commitment is never easy, and it is natural to want to find reasons for things not working, and perhaps someone or something to blame it all on. Some knowledge of potentially traumatising events such as an experience of childhood sexual abuse in your partner’s life can appear to be the reason why sex and intimacy has been less important to him, and of course this may in fact be the case. But the fact is he is not identifying this to be true for him (of course this may equally not be the case).

      Unless he sees a relationship between these issues, counselling is unlikely to be helpful for him, and ultimately not for you either in solving this particular problem.

      Jean I would encourage you to practice some self-care and, whether you leave the relationship or not, to give him the opportunity should he wish to talk to you about it, but it is not something that you can force. He may not be “holding out” on you, but may truly not recall much about it. In either case your needs are important too.
      All the best for your future,

  • Mira

    I’ve been seeing a man for 3 months now. We’re both in our 50’s. He was married for 20 years, has 2 children and his wife passed away about 3 years ago. I am divorced with a pre-teenage son.
    He confessed to me last night that at the age of 12, he was forced into a sexual humiliation abuse with a group of older boys. They made him promise not to say anything, and he didn’t, but they told everyone in the neighborhood, which created a constant source of degrading comments, nicknames and teasing for him for almost a year. His Father died when he was 16 and that began a 6 year journey of alcohol, drugs, bars, (where he would give and receive oral from other men) and whatever decadent behavior he could find.
    He told me he’s not gay, not attracted to men, hasn’t engaged in any homosexual behavior, since he was 21-22 and has no interest.
    I don’t know what to do. I’m going to speak with a counselor about it next week. I have very strong feelings for this man and I know those feelings are reciprocated, but I’m worried. I’m worried about him spending time with my son. I’m worried that sexual dysfunction (which happens infrequently with him, but he is in his 50’s…) will make me wonder if he’s attracted to me at all or is in denial about his feelings toward men. Will I every trust that he’s telling me the whole truth? I feel like I’m in a nightmare and I realize it can’t compare to what he went/goes through about it, but it’s effecting me deeply.
    I just don’t know how I feel about it or if I can handle this. I’m very willing to listen to whatever he needs/wants to tell me, I just have no idea what it will do to me psychologically.

    • Jess

      Hi Mira,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I’m hearing that your partner has just shared with you his childhood experience of sexual assault and that this has been a really difficult revelation for you. You care for your partner deeply but have concerns that you’re not sure you can handle. I think it will definitely be useful for you to talk with someone who is experienced to help think this through in your mind, so I’m pleased to hear you’ll be broaching it with your counsellor.

      Mira I just want to acknowledge the level of trust in you that your partner has shown in sharing this. Childhood abuse can be very hard to talk about, particularly for men. It is not unusual for men to feel the need to keep it to themselves for many, many years, and even sometimes for a lifetime. Please take a look at Men and disclosure: How you can help for some more information about the barriers men face, and how loved ones can support them through disclosure. I guess I’m highlighting this with you because I really don’t think that the fact he hasn’t told you about this before means you have reason to mistrust him now. In fact, your partner is unlikely to have opened up if he did not believe this was an important relationship and wished to be honest and open with you. I’d say his decision to tell you has been building up for quite a while.

      You mentioned some concern regarding the safety of your son. Please know that it is actually a myth (and a very unhelpful one) that men who have been abused will automatically go on to commit abuse. In fact, often men will work to be even more protective and supportive of children. Please take a look at our information Addressing the victim to offender cycle, which details a lot of research in this area.

      In terms of his sexuality, whether or not your partner is gay seems to be something he has worked through. He was introduced to same-sex sexual contact through an abusive experience in which he had no choice, which can be a really confusing experience for a young boy. However now, as a mature adult in his fifties, he is making clear choices.

      The value of good communication in intimate relationships cannot be overstated. I would encourage you both to notice the things that bring you together; the things that you enjoy together and which make this a healthy, pleasurable relationship. I also really want to stress that you take good care of yourself through this, because these experiences can be so hard on partners. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a look at the steps to take care of yourself on the Information for partners page.

      Please let us know Mira if there is any other way we can support you or your partner.

  • maggie

    My boyfriend of 6 years left me 6 months ago.He came back a few times after he left. He told me he was molested as a young boy between the ages of 12 and 14.He stopped talking to me not long after gw told me his story.. His mom told me that she rarely sees him. I asked him to get meds and therapy. But last I knew he had not done this.He is boxing himself in at his sisters vacation home. I can’t force him to get help.He claims he had therapy as a young teen. This did not help him.any advice? I am waiting for him to get better and come back to our home..

    • Gary

      Hi Maggie,
      Thanks for contacting Living Well. You describe a difficult situation. I hear that you care and are concerned for your boyfriend of 6 years and want him to get the best possible help he can. I hear he is isolated or isolating himself and it is difficult to know what is going on for him at the present. I would continue to encourage him to access support/counselling, and/or to talk with his GP. I would be clear that there is a difference between counselling as a teen and accessing counselling as an adult, when you have more resources and there are more opportunities for support. I would encourage you to make sure he has some up to date useful information and support that is relevant for where he is at now (this website is a good starting place regarding sexual abuse matters, but that may not be the main thing for him right now). If possible, it is good to continue to reach out and engage with as you would any friend. It is useful for his sister, mother and yourself to invite him to get out and about, to do things that he enjoys or used to enjoy, to help him to connect in with people. We are happy to send our booklet or to help access additional support for you or him, if you believe this might be useful. It can be helpful to let someone know that you are there for them if they want to talk or can connect them in.
      I hope this assists.

  • Jessica

    I’v been married to my husband for 4 years now. I found out after we had been dating for 3 months that he was talking to girls on Craigslist. I then found out after we were married and had a daughter that he was masturbating and talking to guys on Craigslist. At that point he confessed that he used to receive oral from men prior to being with me but that he wasn’t gay. He swore he only did it for money. We went to counseling and that didn’t last long. Now we have a son and a daughter and I found out 3 months ago that he has been cheating on me all along by receiving oral from men he would find on Craigslist. So many lies throughout our entire relationship. He has started going to sex and love addicts meetings and we go to therapy once a week. Last night during our therapy session I brought up the fact that he doesn’t allow me to be intimate with him sexually or emotionally. Specifically sexually, he does not like me to touch him or kiss his neck and or any other sensually arousing stuff. Our counselors mentioned that sometimes that is symptom of sexual abuse as a child. His mother introduced him to hardcore porn at the age of 6 saying “I won’t let my boy be uneducated”. Aside from this he swears nobody ever touched him or molested him in any way. But there is this part of me that just feels like he’s not telling me the whole story. Maybe he doesnt even remember or want to remember the whole story. His drug addict Mom had several boyfriends come in and out of her life while he was young. One in particular he especially hates. He says its because the guy used to hit his mom but sometimes I wonder if maybe this guy sexually abused my husband. I guess what my questions are, are: 1) Can you be sexually abused and truly not remember it? 2) Can your mother introducing you to porn at an early age be just as harmful as molestation? 3) Should I be concerned about letting his mother be alone with our children?

    • Gary

      Hi Jessica
      Thank you for contacting Living Well. I will try and answer your post and questions the best I can. I am pleased that you are seeing a counsellor/therapist, as it sounds as if there is lot you are trying to understand and deal with. I see you mention concerns regarding his behaviour prior to marrying and soon after, questions concerning sexuality and appropriate sexual behaviour, infidelity and betrayal of trust, him distancing himself and not wanting to be intimate with you, plus concern about his mother exposing him to porn and witnessing violence.

      In trying to work this out I would note and make a distinction between behaviour that occurred as a child, behaviour that occurred as an adult and behaviour that is occurring now. In marking these different time frames, I am aware that although there may be connections and some behaviours are concerning and distressing, we cannot change what has happened as a child, we cannot change what happened in the relationship up until now, hwoever your husband can change and work to improve his life in the present. Whatever has happened or not, there are opportunities to commit and work individually and if he is interested together, to build an honest, caring, loving life and relationship.
      I would note that when the infidelity involves another man, the question of sexuality, of whether your partner is straight, gay or bisexual, can be quite confusing. If you can it is useful to put this question to one side and focus on what is important in your relationship, for him to recognise that being unfaithful is pushing you apart – for him to accept responsibility for his choices.

      In relation to your questions.
      1) Can you be sexually abused and truly not remember it?
      Yes, some people can supress, bury or completely blank out sexual abuse and traumatic memories. For some people there are fragmented, partial memories and some have very strong, clear, overwhelming memories of abuse. It is difficult for people to speak about sexual abuse, even when they have clear memories, as it involves secrecy and deep feelings of shame.

      2) Can your mother introducing you to porn at an early age be just as harmful as molestation?
      Exposing a child to pornographic material is recognised as a form of sexual abuse. It can leave lasting memories and influence people’s sexual desire and arousal. One of the difficulties with addressing problem porn behaviour is that it involves secrecy and feelings of guilt and shame. However, it is also possible for your partner to address this behaviour, for your partner as an adult to choose to put his energy into building a caring, intimate sexual relationship with you. Please take a look at our page on intimacy.

      3) Should I be concerned about letting his mother be alone with our children?
      If you are concerned that she is going to expose them to pornography, yes. It will be important to have a conversation with your husband and maybe your mother in law, if you believe their safety may be compromised in some way.

  • Miranda

    The man I love, my future husband, just shared with me the pain of his past. He was sexually abused as a child by someone he thought he could trust. He did’t say anything because he didn’t fully understand then nor for other reasons as well. For 28 years he has keep this to himself. Last night he told me. I saw the pain and suffering that it caused and stills causes him; like it keeps happening all over again. I love him with all my heart and I realize this is the time he needs me most. I do not know what my actions should look like though. Should I comfort him and love him or give him space? How do I encourage him and let him know we will make it through this? How do we make it through? My heart broke when he told me…I cannot see him hurt like that again.

    • Jess

      Hi Miranda,
      Thanks so much for your patience while we got back to you.
      I’m so sorry to hear that your husband went through this, and that it is causing you both such hurt. I commend you for doing some research and thinking about the best way you can respond and support him right now.

      Hearing that someone close to you has been sexually abused is never easy – it can be shocking and painful. Even though he may only have recently told you about the abuse, it is likely that he had been questioning in his mind how he could tell you, and whether he should, for quite some time. There are a lot of barriers to men’s disclosure of sexual abuse, so sharing this information with you shows a lot of trust in you – and a belief that you can support each other through anything.

      Please take a look at When a man discloses: How you can help.

      The best things you can do for him are:

      • Believe in him and let him know this. Telling him that you believe in him might be the single most valuable thing that you can say to him.
      • Express how you feel about what he has told you. He has probably been taking in your facial expressions, your body language and all of the other ways that you can tell him how you are feeling as well as the words that you say.
      • Let him know that you will respect his confidentiality. It is very common that your partner may have some sense of shame or guilt and may not want others to know about his experiences. It is very important that you respect that this is his story and belongs to him, and that he should tell whom ever and when ever he chooses to tell and that others are told by you only with his expressed permission. Having this sense of control and trust will help him move forward after years of “holding” this alone.
      • Seek support for yourself. If he asks you to keep this information to yourself you may be feeling unsupported. It is best to talk with him about identifying a safe and trusted person or a counselor perhaps, that you can seek support from and who will respect his confidentiality. If you have discussed this with him and he knows who you are seeking support from then he will know that you want to be there for him and he may worry about you less as well.
      • Continue your usual activities. This shows your partner that even this new element in your lives does not have to change things.

      It seems you are based in the US. I invite you to check out, which will have further resources and supports for you both. Best of luck Miranda.

  • Alicia

    I met my husband 6 years ago when we became good friends. When we first started dating he was open to me about being sexually abused. He has never told me details, but I don’t think I want to feel that pain and make him relive it anyway. He has extreme trust issues and it took him a couple years to fully trust me, and after that he became extremely attached to me. Along with being sexually abused, he was adopted from his birth mother when he was 18 months and at the age of 12 his adoptive parents couldn’t handle his angry behavioral issues (probably caused by the sexual abuse that they don’t know occurred) and abandoned him at his uncle’s house to live on a farm for 2 years. So I feel his trust issues come from multiple sources.

    Recently we have been discussing having children within the next 5 years or so, and he doesn’t seem optimistic about it. When he first told me about being molested, I already knew the statistic that sexually abused men have a higher chance of sexually abusing others. My husband does not have cruel bone in his body. He is very emotional and sensitive. I do not see him being a danger to others. But that statistic has always been in the back of my mind. Then last night he opened up to me that his biggest fear is that he would sexually abuse our hypothetical children. He says he has never had the urge, but he’s scared that one day he could. So it reaffirmed my fear.
    Should we plan on not having children? Could therapy help him? What can I do to help him?

    • Gary

      Hi Alicia,
      Thank you for contacting Living Well.
      The idea of the cycle of abuse can be very distressing to men who have been sexually abused. Unfortunately it is often uncritically presented in the media as a fact. In reality the overwhelming majority (over 95% in the most recent Australian study) of men who have been sexually abused do not go on to abuse children. In fact because these men know how wrong and distressing sexual abuse can be they are very committed to protecting and caring for children. Sometimes we work with men who identify as being over protective and not wishing to let children out of their sight because they are concerned that they will be safe.

      We have written a web page addressing this issue, see Addressing the victim to offender cycle.

      In relation to what to do with reference to having children, it sounds as if in order to properly address your husband’s concerns, it would be useful for you and your husband to talk with a counsellor who has up to date knowledge and expertise in this area. Sometimes couples find it useful to see counsellors individually and sometimes they find it useful to speak with a counsellor together, there is no right way. As a partner, I would continue to seek out information and support for yourself and your partner.

      It sounds as if you are a loving couple who care for each other, who are committed to creating a safe, caring, loving environment in which to bring up a child.

      Wishing you and your husband all the best.

  • Cindy

    I found out that my husband was abused when he was about 11yrs old by his older cousin. It was a one time thing that neither of them ever talked about. His cousin was drunk and during a sleep over he was awakened to find his cousin had taken off his pants and was pushing his legs up. He was penetrated anally. When his cousin finished he went to sleep and it was never discussed again. He does not want to talk about it and refuses counseling even though he is having erection problems that is affecting our sex life. I feel that he is having sex with me as a way to fulfill his desire and that it is lacking the intimacy I desire. I am in college to become a counselor but have not taken any classes that can help me with this. He says anger is the only emotion he feels about it and gets angrier the more he thinks about it. When I try to get him to talk about it, he says there is no need to talk about it. It is the past and he want to leave it there. Is there anyway that I can help him to work through this and can it help his sexual problems or is it better to leave it alone?

    • Jess

      Hi Cindy
      Thank you for contacting Living Well. You mention the sexual abuse your partner experienced as a child and that there are a number of difficulties that you and your partner are confronted by in the present. It is good to hear that he is talking with you. It must have been really difficult for your partner, as an 11 year old, to have this done to him.. and then for the cousin to never mention or discuss it again. At the time this would have been profoundly confusing for your partner, but now, as an adult, it sounds as if he (and you) can make sense of it as sexual abuse.

      It is not uncommon for men who have been sexually abused to disclose what has happened to a partner, and then choose not to speak about it again. He might not want to upset you with extra details, and it might be that for him enough has been said. This can leave a partner, such as yourself, confused and unsure what to do, as you mention.

      Working out what current difficulties may or may not be related to the sexual abuse can be a challenge. Men who have been sexually abused often mention difficulties expressing emotions other than anger (take a look at our men and emotions page, for example). However, men who have not been sexually abused can also identify difficulties in expressing, feeling and discussing emotions. When men struggle with emotions such as joy, fun, love, affection, empathy, and care, it can make developing closeness and mutually satisfying sexual intimacy with a partner difficult to achieve. Especially as partners often typically want a man to be emotionally as well as physically present.

      It might be worth putting aside some time to actively work on developing greater emotional literacy and to prioritise intimacy in your relationship – sex often works better in a context of generally increased intimacy.

      In relation to erection difficulties, it can be worth talking to a doctor to have a physical check up, as there are quite a few different reasons a man can be experiencing erection difficulties that may be not related to a history of sexual abuse.

      You mention training to be a counsellor. The thing is, it will be important that in being together your partner feels you are present as his loving wife who wants to have fun and enjoy life together, and that you are not being the ‘counsellor’ you.

      Having said all of the above, I would encourage you to make sure you are properly supported and feel good about how you are interacting with your partner. Sometimes seeing a counsellor can help.
      Good luck, Cindy.

  • Ann

    I have Been married for 3 years. I found out that my husband was sexually abused by his dad when he was a child. During our the coutmanship we had a healthy sexual life and the year we got married it started to decrease. this year it has been almost a year since we haven’t had sex and he always says he doesn’t want to talk about it. I try not to initiate it because I’m afraid he’ll reject me. Supposively he’s seeking therapy but he never wants to talk about it. I feel very excluded in this relationship. Besides that he makes me laugh, he is an ideal husband except the sexual intimacy part. I don’t know what to do?

    • Gary

      Hi Ann
      Thanks for contacting Living Well.
      Developing and maintaining a mutually satisfying sex life can take some negotiating for any couple relationship, whether one partner has been sexually abused or not. The difficulties you mention are not uncommon for some men who have been sexually abused (Check out our page on sexual intimacy for more information).

      I note that an added difficulty you face at present is that your husband ‘doesn’t want to talk about it’. In responding to your query, I am aware there is no one way of working things out; it very much depends on each person and couple. You mention that in many ways he is an ideal husband. In seeking greater closeness and sexual intimacy I would encourage you to foreground the good qualities that you appreciate in the relationship. This helps to be clear that you are not complaining, but want to further deepen the closeness and intimacy of your relationship, to share and express your love for him.

      Working things out as a couple might mean putting some time aside and doing something different, maybe getting away from the usual routine and life’s pressures. It is good to hear your husband is seeking support from a counsellor or therapist, even though he is keeping the content of these conversations private at present. I encourage you to consider accessing support for yourself from an experienced counsellor or therapist, to make sure you are properly supported in your efforts to build greater sexual intimacy in the relationship.
      All the best.

  • Athalia

    I found gay porn on my husbands cell phone last week, He was searching “straight guy gets jerked off” and watched videos. I confronted him about it. After a long fight he admitted to looking at it and it wasn’t for the last three months but started a few years ago. He says it has to do with him being sexually abused by a friend when he was young. I hugged him and cried along side with him and told him I understand, as I was abused too. He told me no I don’t understand, and didn’t want to get into it as no child should ever have to go through this. He is disgusted by it. Our son is now 4 years old and not sure if having a child together triggered the memory, as having my daughter, who is 9 now, triggered my memory. Looking at gay porn doesn’t bother me but it was him lying to me that got to me and I told him that. I also said everyone has the right to explore and express their sexuality and he told me he wasn’t raised that way. I wasn’t either but have learned life is to short to be afraid. So I told him all this. Anyways, we are good but I just don’t understand how sexual abuse as a child from a male would cause him to watch gay porn? Would this not trigger the memory or cause more harm to him as a person? Please help me understand. Thank you

    • Gary

      Hi Athalia,
      Thanks for getting in touch.
      It sounds as if you handled a difficult and confronting situation really well. It is difficult to know what might have influenced your husband to start watching this gay porn. It might be returning memories or flashbacks that could have been triggered by many things, like stress at work, reminders of the abuse, or having a child or a child close to him turning the age he was when first abused.

      I think your approach of acknowledging that people explore and express their sexuality in diverse ways is important, as often men who have been abused are hyper critical of themselves, or expect judgement from others, closely followed by feelings of shame and disgust for themselves. This happens even if they are clear that the abuse was not their fault.

      I am not sure what the circumstances of the sexual abuse of your husband was, I presume the friend who abused him was a male – 80% of boys are sexually abused by males. Men sexually abused by males often speak of being confronted by questions of sexuality, worried that others will think they are gay or they question their own sexuality and why they did not stop it.

      For some men the flashbacks can be physically and emotionally charged (some people use the word arousing). As such, they can be drawn to look at gay porn as a way to try and understand what is happening, whether the flashbacks are related to the trauma of the abuse or questions of sexuality.

      One of the difficulties with porn is that it can start to shape desire and stimulate what you find sexually arousing, as pop ups appear of more and more ‘exciting’ material. It can be addictive, a bit like gaming machines. I think it is telling that your husband searched ‘Straight guys get jerked off.’ In so doing he is clearly identifying as ‘straight.’

      In some ways questions around sexuality are dead-end questions – they don’t go anywhere. It can be more useful to think in terms of where he chooses to put his emotional energy, love and affection.

      It is good to hear that in talking about this, however difficult it has been, the subject has now been named and you have been able to confirm your love for him and a wish for a close, intimate relationship without secrets. I would encourage you to check in with an experienced counsellor or therapist if you think you will benefit from more help.
      Take care, Athalia.

      • Athalia

        Thank you for helping me understand. This has brought us more closer together and we both realized this immediately. Not judging and being understanding does help.

  • Rachel

    My boyfriend and I met two years ago and have been off an on since. The first month of ever dating was perfect, but then he began to express a side of him that I had not expected to see such as twisting things in his head to make it seem as if I did something bad to him, or not admitting to his lies even if I had proof. Even when he cheated on me with multiple girls he refuses to delete them from his phone because he says I am trying to control his life. Now, every time he lies he gets extremely worked up and just responds by calling me rude names instead of owning up or giving reasoning. During the first month he told me his mom’s fiance had hung himself when he was in 7th grade but when i asked why he said “I have never told anyone and I never will.”

    Last year his mother finally validated my assumptions and told me he was sexually abused by her fiance from 2-7th grade. He does not know that I know but we recently broke up and he began to get violent. His family told me that he went to counseling only for a few months but would not say a word. On top of that, he never took his medicine. His parents provide him with no guidance, I am only 18 but I have done more for him than anyone and he recognizes that but he still does things that he knows hurt me. I am not sure if I should give up or keep trying. I haven’t given up over the past two years but after seeing the violent side of him, I am afraid I need to let him go.

    Should I tell him that I know he was sexually abused? Or how do I convince him he needs therapy without sounding offensive? And should I give up?

    • Jess

      Hi Rachel
      Thank you for contacting Living Well.
      What you have detailed is a really difficult situation. I hear you care for your ex-boyfriend, and want to do the best by him, but you aren’t sure how you can best help.

      You mention that you would like him to see a therapist or counsellor. One of the difficulties is that if someone does not see that they have a problem, or if they don’t believe that a therapist can help, they are really unlikely to access support.

      You also mentioned that he sometimes lies to you, and on occasion has been aggressive and violent towards you. In seeking to help him, it is important that you are clear that you will not tolerate him being manipulative, aggressive or violent. Whatever has happened to him, it is important to always prioritise safety and to remove yourself from a situation if you think he is becoming agitated or aggressive.

      If you are very clear with him that you will not tolerate this aggressive behaviour, and signal to him that he needs to get help, this might be the encouragement he needs to see a counsellor.

      You mention that you are unsure whether to mention that you know he was sexually abused. I think this is a tricky one, as it could be that he feels further let down by his mother for telling you, or angry at you for bringing it up. If he ever does express his distress to you, or his inability to cope for whatever reason, this might be an opportunity to indicate that you are aware that you know you can’t help with some things. This would be a good opportunity to encourage him to talk with someone you can help.

      Even if you have limited contact with your boyfriend from now on, I would encourage you to make sure you have support around you, and to find a counsellor or someone who you can talk to. It is always good to prioritise your own well being and make sure you are properly supported. Everyone needs help at different times in our lives.

  • Amy

    I had a 7 month affair ( I know…..shame on me) with a married man who has 2 male children. He was with his wife for almost 20 years, but she has just filed for divorce because he began a new relationship with another woman immediately after ending it with me, even though he claimed it was to go home and fix his marriage. He lied and manipulated me to no end…..I had no idea that although he and his wife were separated, he was still going home and having sex with her….often within hours of having sex with me.

    He is in a position of power (security guard) and is very large and powerful. He seems to value this position greatly. In his shallow relationships, he comes across as very charming, loving, and caring, and for a very long time he was very caring and loving with me. He never, ever hurt me physically. But he had a lot of interest in sex toys, bondage, etc….things that did not interest me and he never pushed.

    The new woman he is with enjoys being beaten and he has been bragging to his friends that he has choked her out to the point of unconsciousness and revived her multiple times. All of us (me, his wife, his friends) are all very confused about his behavior. He comes across as very calm, confident, and without any worries. One time we had a conversation about death and he told me it “just doesn’t affect him”. I asked, “but what if it was one of your kids?” His answer was chilling. He just didn’t show any affect.

    Because he was so wonderful to me, I let it go and didn’t think anything of it. But now (and it’s a long, long story that I won’t get into) I wonder if he was sexually abused as a child. He seems to be a sexual addict and enjoys sexually deviant behavior. He always wanted me to have sex with him in his wife’s car (which I refused) and is now in this BDSM relationship and enjoys the rush of hurting this woman who for whatever her own sick reasons, enjoys it, too.

    One time many months ago, he and I were watching a movie in which an adult male showed affection and admiration for a 13 year old girl. Nothing happened, there was no abused, etc, but he showed so much anger and emotion over the man liking this young girl. It was very strange to me and I couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much.

    He vacillates between coming to my home and crying and telling me he is a monster and crying and then telling me not to contact him and to leave him alone. We think he is now doing hard drugs. I suppose I shouldn’t care about him anymore after all that he has done to me (which I know I didn’t describe) but I can’t help loving him and being concerned. He displays characteristics of a sociopath.

    With this limited information, does this sound like a man who was sexually abused as a young person? I am afraid for him and for his children.

    • Jess

      Hi Amy,
      Thanks so much for your patience with us over this busy season.
      It sounds like you have been through a turbulent relationship; one that continues to have effects on you.

      There is clearly a lot you are trying to deal with here. You’ve witnessed and experienced some pretty confusing behaviour from this man and are trying to make sense of it. While it seems there is a lot going on for him, there really is no way of knowing whether your partner has been sexually abused in the past from his current behaviour. There is no checklist of symptoms that will tell us for sure, as there are a great many reasons people engage in different forms of sexual behaviour, or become emotional watching certain movies. This is made more difficult by the fact that it is something that can be almost impossible for a man to talk about, whether it is something he has experienced directly or not.

      The main thing is, given everything that has happened, where to from here? The main point I got from your comment was that, even though it is over between you now, you care for this man, are concerned for him and for those around him. You mentioned concerns regarding his behaviour, sexual aggression, attitude towards death, infidelity and betrayal of trust, and much more you haven’t gone into. The fact that he has come to you remorseful and upset indicates that he acknowledges he could do better. This means he could potentially benefit from some support (whether he has experienced abuse or not), but of course he is the one who needs to make that decision.

      I am unsure if this man is still in your life. If he is, and you are seeking to help him, it is important that you prioritise your own safety and well-being. Be clear on what behaviours you will and will not tolerate, such as manipulation, deceit, etc. As it is clear how much these concerns are getting to you, consider engaging in some self care, talking things through with someone you trust (or even a counsellor), and setting some goals for how to move forward.

      Best of luck, Amy.

  • Kathie


    My husband and i have been married for 3 years now, but when started dating 7 years ago, he told me he was molested by his uncle when he was a child.
    Right now, im 29 weeks pregnant, and have noticed that my husbands libido has gone down, and in the mist of all the insecurities of pregnancy, etc, i asked him, and he confirmed that his libido was low, and that he had something else to share with me. He told me he has been struggling with porn since he was a child/ teenager, right after his abuse. He also told his uncle abused him more than one, and that his uncles and cousins used to bring women to the house and have sex in front of him. He told me he was sorry he had to tell me all this because he was afraid i was going to take it as if i was the problem, and he said he wished he would have told me about the porn early enough in our relationship.
    I never saw a clue of porn in his celphone, tablet or computer, but since i trusted him so much, i wasnt looking for it either.

    Now, most of all, i know the porn addiction is coming from his past abuse, but im left with doubts and insecurities given that he doesnt want to tell me the details of the abuse or how frequent he watches the porn. I feel cheated and betrayed.
    Now, we are having a baby boy and i dont know what to do, i feel like the devil is trying to rob us from the joy we are supposed to be feeling about this.

    I am also scared that he wont be able to show our baby boy the love he deserves as he has difficulties expressing love and trusting people. He doesnt have the best reslationship with his dad or with his mom either.

    Please help, how can i deal with this? how can i help him? how can i help myself and be strong for us and our family?

    Many thanks!

    • Jess

      Hi Kathie,
      Thanks for contacting Living Well in this difficult time. I’m hearing you’re going through a lot of uncertainty and pain right now.

      You outlined how you’re pregnant and your husband is experiencing decreased desire for sex, and that he has been struggling with porn. This sounds like it really is hard on both of you; I’m guessing he has wanted to tell you about this for quite some time.

      I’m also hearing that you are feeling quite uncertain, as he doesn’t want to go into the details of his abuse, or of his porn use, with you. As you’re probably aware, men who have been sexually abused are generally very reluctant to speak about it, even if they are clearly struggling to cope (or engaging in unhelpful behaviours). This is for many reasons, some of which you can read about on our Men and disclosure page. In terms of the porn use, it is important to keep in mind that although you are impacted by this behaviour, it is not all about you. Having said that, while it is not your job to “fix” it, neither must you simply accept it.

      It is definitely worth encouraging him to access support that can help him develop more helpful ways of dealing with stress and trauma, and also perhaps that can give him some skills and confidence in opening up and communicating with those around him. This is something, given a history of childhood sexual abuse, that does take some time; however it would seem he has taken some significant steps towards this in sharing some of these details with you. I think that is something to be heartened by and proud of him for.

      It is really important that you make sure that you are properly supported and informed about ways of looking after yourself and dealing with the impact of sexual abuse. Be sure to take some compassionate care of yourself, and engage in counselling for yourself if you feel you could be comfortable with that.

      If you are both engaging in helpful strategies and seeking support, this could be an opportunity to open lines of communication about what you both appreciate, and want to work on, in your relationship together. This can enable you to talk and confirm there is a shared vision that you can both work towards (The page on Men and intimacy might be helpful here).

      Again, thanks for sharing your experiences with us Kathie. We wish you all the best as you move forward.

  • Gillian

    I have been dating a lovely Muslim man for 8 months. I suspect that he has been sexually abused- he was at a boarding school in his home country and I think it may have happened there. I have never broached the topic, but I have long suspected that something is not right and I found myself nodding my head at everything in your article.
    He has an obsession with self-control that goes well beyond the norm- at first I thought it was cultural because he fasts and will never allow himself to have orgasms when we are making love. He is so extreme in these practices that I have come to believe that the fasting and holding back are actually practice for keeping total control over his emotions.
    He recently broke up with me because he was falling in love with me and things were going too well. He has told me that he never wants to have an emotional bond with anyone though at times he really wavers and I can see he enjoys being held and loved. He is much more open and affectionate at night. He is very distant during the day- he will not talk about himself or his past, he often “zones out” and has trouble making decisions, he has odd, almost paranoid behaviour (ie: he will not let anyone into his house, he never answers his phone or door). A few times during sex he has bitten me (leaving marks) and has told me repeatedly that he wants to bite certain parts of my body off (I don’t think that he would as he is very squeamish but it really creeps me out). He has also asked me to bite him and “damage” him. He always pays compliments to me but if I try to tell him how wonderful he is he stops me and insists on changing the topic. We don’t have good communication but we do talk or write a lot. He seems to be in constant conflict about the relationship but he loves to be held and kissed once he relaxes- I know he loves me but he won’t say it.
    I don’t know how to proceed – he will never, ever consider counselling. Is there some way I can speak to him to help him to trust me or at least believe that I won’t hurt him and that he is safe with me? I always have to be so careful with what I say so that he doesn’t withdraw. I love him very much and care for his well being but I am lost.

    • Jess

      Hi Gillian, Thank you for contacting Living Well.

      There are clearly aspects of the relationship that are important to you and much that you feel drawn to about this man. There are obviously also things that concern you about some of his behaviour and practices. It is possible that your suspicions regarding past abuse are right, but there is no way to know. There is no checklist of signs that will tell you someone has been subjected to sexual abuse. I gather from your post that he has not said anything about being subjected to abuse.

      Is it possible to let him know that there are aspects of the relationship you want to talk about? Focussing on what is happening in the present, and discussing together your hopes for how you want the relationship to be, avoids the pressure of being pushed into disclosing (or denying) any history of sexual abuse. It might be helpful to keep the issues separate until (and if) he is ready to talk about his past (if, in fact, this is relevant). This helps keep sight of the fact that you have a right to express how you think the relationship is going, while leaving the issue of disclosing any history of sexual victimisation in his control (again, you simply don’t know if this is the case).

      IF he has been subjected to sexual abuse, it is important that he is in control of whether and when to disclose this. Our pages addressing the process of disclosure may be worth looking at: Men and disclosure and How you can help. Men generally report that being pressured to talk about sexual abuse is not helpful. Your approach – of letting him know that it is safe to talk to you without feeling judged or pressured to say more than he chooses – is on track.

      There are many reasons men may struggle with intimacy, sexuality and communication. Some of these reasons may be related to particular cultural or religious practices (although not limited to a specific culture/religion); other reasons may related to ideas and expectations about masculinity and being a man; and the individual history of a person plays a part as well. It’s a complicated puzzle to unpick at the best of times.

      In regard to your reactions to some of his sexual requests, if you are feeling creeped out it is important to pay attention to this and not feel you have to go along with ANYTHING you are uncomfortable with. If you are getting warning signs or bad feelings about some of his behaviour, pay attention to what your instincts are telling you – gut feelings about your safety are worth heeding. If he has hurt you during sex, if he has done things to you without your consent, this is not something you should be expected to tolerate. Any sexual activity that is not consensual is a criminal offence.

      I hear that you care for his well-being and I would encourage you to care for your own too. It is apparent that you would like a caring, intimate relationship with him, and it sounds like you have let him know this. You have every right to try and make the relationship work if that’s what you want; you also have a right to decide how much you are willing to compromise on what is important to you in a relationship. Unfortunately, we can’t make other people change, we can only let them know we care and are there to listen.

  • Eva

    My husband was sexually abused from the time he was about 7-13 years old by a cousin. I am a trauma therapist myself and I can see that some of his behaviors are that of PTSD. He is very paranoid about safety in general; always checking to make sure things are locked and if we go out making sure everyone is safe. He is also very avoidant of intimacy. Our sexual intimacy is not that of a standard marriage. He only likes specific positions and very is very distant when we are intimate.
    Recently I found out that he has been getting erotic massages. I’m hurt, feeling betrayed, angry…but I am also feeling empathetic and compassion for him. I often wonder the severity of the abuse given his behaviors.
    I keep trying to convince him to seek treatment but he always gets defensive and says because I am a therapist I should understand. It is difficult when you are on the inside.
    Can a marriage really survive through this? I just feel like he will hide it better next time.

    • Cameron

      Hi Eva

      The fact that you have started to open up this conversation about getting support is fantastic. We know that many men never disclose that they were sexually abused. One of the reasons Living Well puts such an emphasis on web and mobile content is to provide another way that men can access information that we hope helps with the process of making sense of sexual abuse. For some couples this has served as a starting point for conversations.

      If he doesn’t want to try any form of counselling, I would suggest there is not much you can do about that until he is ready. Most men will say that feeling pressured or pushed to talk about sexual abuse is not helpful (see these words from men). Having said that, I have certainly worked with men that attended counselling largely due to their partner’s insistence! It may or may not help him to know that a good counsellor won’t pressure him to talk about traumatic memories. The focus is generally more on strategies for coping in the present, until such time as the man wants to address past experiences (if at all). I’m sorry that there is no clear answer: you know him probably better than anyone, and are in the best position to assess how much it is useful to encourage him to see a counsellor. In any case, you are entitled to seek support for yourself to get clear about what you need from the relationship.

      Is it worth considering couples counselling as something you can do together? Would this feel safer? This might provide an opportunity to be clear about what the current issues are. Your message makes it clear that these difficulties are leading you to question how long things can continue as they are. Sometimes it can be helpful to focus on what is happening now in the relationship and your hopes for the future. It may or may not be related to past abuse, but it can feel more hopeful to be focussed on what can be done now rather than the daunting prospect of going over past trauma. There can be a place for that of course, but that can only be his decision.

      You have every right to feel hurt and betrayed. It is OK for you to have limits and boundaries in the relationships – being supportive does not mean having to tolerate anything your partner does, especially when it leaves you feeling the way it has. Perhaps the expectation that you should ‘be a therapist’ in your relationship is worth assessing? In your relationship you are an equal partner with needs, expectations and wishes of your own. Your training and expertise no doubt gives you some information and perspective, but does this mean you should be expected to put your own feelings aside in your relationship?

      You mentioned that you wonder about the severity of the abuse. This may or may not be something he will talk about at some point. We know that severity of abuse is one of several factors that can influence the impacts of abuse (the response of people around him at the time is another big factor). However to put what he has told you in context-by the time he was 13, the abuse had been going on for almost half his life, over the period in life when puberty was starting. It’s reasonable to assume that his first ‘sexual’ experiences may have been in the context of being abused. For men in this situation, sexual feelings may become tied up with a range of physiological sensations and emotions- confusion, arousal, disgust, fear, pain, and importantly, shame. Sex may be experienced primarily as a source of discomfort and distress rather than pleasure. This can make it very difficult to have what is often already a delicate conversation about sexual intimacy for many couples. Working through this is often a slow process that requires a great deal of mutual care.

      It’s clear from your message that you have a great deal of compassion for your husband and want to share a close, intimate relationship with him. Your effort to reach out and support him as well as yourself is a courageous step. Ultimately, there are no simple answers. Hopefully this provides you with some helpful information, but we always encourage people to seek out a good counsellor if they can. Living Well can help find someone in your area if you need assistance with this.

      I wish you and your husband the best of luck.

  • Zarafa

    Thank you for this resource, it’s been very helpful during a difficult few weeks.

    I’ve been dating a wonderful kind man for the last eight months. There was a strong attraction from the start and we became close friends quickly. At first I thought he was shy and understood why the physical side of our relationship was slow to develop. We would hug, hold hands, kiss and share intense eye contact but if I touched him under his clothes or when he wasn’t expecting it he would freeze and become distant. He also seemed scared of touching me in any gently way (though would hug the breath out of me while we slept). He sometimes also expressed fear of hurting me and his instability in relationships. I’ve never experienced anything like this and assumed he just wasn’t attracted to me. He became frustrated and upset, telling me he wanted to be sexually intimate but that ‘his body didn’t work’ and that perhaps we should ‘just be friends’ I tearfully tried to end the relationship. He became upset and told me he loved me and that I was extremely important in his life and that he wanted to continue. This led to a brief sexually encounter and then he withdrew from contact for a week. I respected his space and when he made contact again we continued dating and sharing a close friendship but he began avoiding situations or making excuses where staying over or physical intimacy might be likely. Several times when I asked him to stay he told me he was uncomfortable but couldn’t explain why. He also began mentioning in a semi-joking manner that he ‘might be gay’. I’ve always strongly suspected that that there was something he wanted to tell me.

    Two weeks ago we moved into a temporary living situation together and while he initially seemed excited by the idea once we moved in things were different. He began sleeping fully clothed on the couch while enthusiastically trying to take care of me in every other way possible, particularly by providing for me, cooking for me etc. I felt upset and uncomfortable after the first few days and told him. He explained again that he couldn’t give me what I wanted, that he thought we were friends and that he should move out. I asked if something had happened to him in the past to which he withdrew. I let it go.

    The next evening after a few drinks he again mentioned being gay. I asked why he would say that and if he thought that he might be. He said no. I asked if something had happened to make him question his sexuality. It turns out that a year or so before we met he was sexually assaulted by a male roommate while passed out drunk. Two male friends had seen it happening and walked away. When he confronted the friend who had assaulted him he was told it wasn’t the first time it had happened. We talked very briefly before he said he didn’t want to ‘go back there in his mind’ and the feeling I got is that he has accepted that this guy was infatuated with him and in some way has forgiven him. He went on to tell me that a girlfriend from a previous relationship was raped while out one night without him and that there was more ‘much worse’ but that I can’t hear everything at once.

    I feel like this goes a long way to explaining what has been happening in our relationship. I found his disclosure emotionally very difficult and draining and needed space outside where we had been staying for a few days because I feared I would make it worse by being close and overly emotional. I feel like I didn’t react in the best way possible but I have since written him a letter explaining that I’ll always listen and support him, that it was not his fault in any way and that its completely normal to question his sexuality and have intimacy issues after an assault but it doesn’t need to be permanent.

    As horrible as this is I feel like it has made us closer. I would like him to talk to someone but I’m not sure if he is ready and I’m unsure how to approach him about this. I’m generally unsure how to talk to him and I don’t want him to think that its anything he needs to feel ashamed about. I also don’t want to bring it up if he doesn’t want to talk. Should I just let him talk to me in his own time? I’m also conscious of looking after myself. Any ideas for a way forward would be much appreciated. Thanks again.

    • Cameron

      Hi Zarafa,

      Thanks for contacting Living Well. You obviously care deeply for this person in your life and want to support him with this really tough issue. It is encouraging to hear that you are conscious of looking after yourself as well.

      His disclosures to you suggest that he trusts you a lot. Many people who have experienced sexual assault are aware of the possible judgments they might face and weigh up pretty carefully who they decide to talk to about it. The fact that two of his roommates saw the assault and did nothing about it is likely to have added another barrier to disclosure. It might be helpful to keep in mind that disclosing (talking about) sexual assault is more of a process that occurs over time, rather than an ‘event’. He may be taking some time to process the fact that he has told you about something that he may never have told anyone else. There is some information on the Living Well site about disclosure: Info for partners (Disclosure) and Men and disclosure – Deciding to tell.

      It seems that that the relationship is important to you both, and both of you are trying to create closeness and intimacy in your relationship, each in your own way. Developing and negotiating sexual intimacy in any relationship is often complicated and difficult. There are so many factors that come into play for each partner: previous experiences, expectations, ethical/moral/religious commitments, sexual preferences. There is a wide diversity of human sexual desires and expression, that don’t always match up with how we think we’re expected to feel or behave. For men, this can create a lot of confusion if they don’t feel particularly interested in sex, as this does not fit the image of men as always ready for sex.

      When one or both partners have a history of being subjected to sexual abuse, this can add another very complex layer. You mention that your partner seems to ‘freeze’ when you touch him. It is common for people to have ‘fight/flight/freeze’ physiological responses if they are triggered in some way in relation to a traumatic experience or memory. These responses can lead men to judge themselves harshly, particularly in relation to some unhelpful and unrealistic social/cultural masculine ideals (e.g. that men should always be ready for sex). I wonder if this is the context for his comment that his body ‘doesn’t work’.

      Confusion about sexuality and sexual orientation is an unfortunate consequence of sexual assault for many, if not most, men who have been subjected to sexual abuse. This is partly because we tend to understand sexuality as closely tied up with our sense of identity as a person. However, the search for a categorical sexual identity (Am I gay? Am I straight? Am I bisexual?) can be a kind of ‘dead-end’ that takes up a lot of energy. It can be more useful to think in terms of where he chooses to put his emotional energy, love and affection. There may be some useful sections on our page about sexual assault, arousal and sexual confusion.

      I think you are right to allow him to feel in control of when and how much he talks about the assaults. Letting him know that you’re OK to listen and talk when he is ready is a sensible approach. At the same time, this is your relationship too, and it is not reasonable for you to constantly feel as if you are second guessing what’s going on. There’s no simple prescription for working out how to balance this. Finding a good counsellor can be a starting point (Living Well can help if you need assistance finding someone in your area).

      Thanks again for contacting us, I wish you the best of luck.

  • Violet

    Thank you for this article. My husband and I are currently separated due to his inappropriate relationship regarding sex. He informed me approximately a year ago of an incident that occurred when he was about 12 – but that he didnt look at it as abuse, rather he was turned on by it. Since then, I discovered his activity on chat rooms with other women and wanting approval from them and exploring his sexuality with them. I asked him to get help and he refused to see a therapist, but managed things for a while on his own. Since then I caught his activity again (6 months later) and hence our current situation. He is now seeking help, realizing that he is losing me. He wont admit he has an addiction to sex – however I believe that to be the case. He is always looking for the next exciting thing and constantly wants to expose himself to me and be close, sexually with me. I have set up boundaries and have explained how this isnt appropriate behaviour. I would like to know how else to cope. Is there hope of him getting a better relationship to sex. Or is this just him. He has always been a very sexual being – but it has just gotten so much worse.

    • Jess

      Hi Violet,
      Thanks for getting in touch with us.

      As you’re possibly aware, people can have varying responses to child sexual abuse, which can change over time. For some men it can result in them avoiding sexual contact or any form of sexual intimacy. For others it can mean an increased interest in sex, and seeking validation of self and self worth through sexual relationships. However, if he doesn’t see the incident as abuse, it may not be helpful to push him to talk of it as such.

      In relationships, sex and sexual intimacy is something that needs to be worked out between couples – each individual will have different preferences and expectations. A part of any relationship is being open about expectations, and also boundaries of what is acceptable, and respecting these. I’m hearing that until recently your husband has had trouble with this.

      The difficult thing about some porn and chat rooms is that it can lead to chasing ever more ‘stimulating’ experiences, in ways that do not meet the reality of real day to day relationships.

      I would encourage you to continue to be clear about your expectations, hopes and aspirations for any relationship. Ask the same of him. Have conversations around what steps you can both take to move towards these aspirations. Perhaps broach the subject of couple’s counselling – emphasising that it only need to be about the two of you now and in the future, not the past.

      Have conversations around what behaviour brings you closer together and what pushes you further apart.
      He always has a choice. If it is an addiction, even this can be changed if he puts energy into it and prioritises your relationship.
      Thanks Violet and best of luck.

  • Broken mom

    I’m sorry to comment here as I’m not a spouse but I am a mother who is very concerned about my 28 year old son. Two years ago a family friend (same age as our son) told my husband that our son told him that he was molested by his grandfather (my dad) when he was a child. My husband asked our son about it and he said “it didn’t happen”. That’s all he said and all I was able to say to our son, at the time, was that if something did happened, he was not at all to blame. Here we are, over two years later with no closure. Are we even doing the right thing to not encourage him to talk about it? In my mind, it’s a huge “elephant in the room”.

    I am so worried about how he’s doing. He seems fine but I know there may be coping mechanisms in place. My hope is that, maybe because we know about it, he doesn’t carry the shame anymore; that he’s healing. I want that so much for him. If only I could know that for sure. I feel guilty and I have a cloud of shame hanging over me constantly. How did we not see the signs? How did my dad get him alone to do this to him? We failed to protect our son!

    Also, my husband is not even 100% sure that it did happen because the discloser back-peddled when my husband approached him for more information (Discloser said that he may have misunderstood). Furthermore, this is not a person that our son is close to so it has caused a lot of confusion as to why he would tell him something so personal. We’ve also had family members that have spoken about the discloser (in the past) in a manner that implies that he’s not trustworthy. So…Did it happen? Did it not happen? I want to ask my son again but I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do. I’m afraid I’ll push him away. I feel so stupid about not knowing what to do.

    The good thing is that our son seems to be thriving. He’s living on his own and has a good job. He’s not only functioning, he looks genuinely happy when we see him. He has close, long-time friendships and his life appears normal. I just hope he’s not dying inside.

    I think my husband chooses to be in denial in order to cope. I tried to tell him recently how I was feeling and he got so angry that he was ready to go and have it out with my dad. It’s like he was hearing about it for the first time, so now I keep my mouth shut. I also want to confront my dad but if it was a misunderstanding, how do we approach it?

    Anyway, I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s there all the time. The guilt and shame is suffocating me because I believe that it did happen. Is there any way for us to talk to our son about it without him feeling violated again? I just want to do right by him and to make up for what happened to him….

    • Jess

      Hi there, and thanks so much for your comment. Not to worry if you’re not a partner, this information is made available for family and friends as well.

      You and your family have been navigating a very complex situation, one made more difficult by the uncertainty of it all. The main thing that came through to me is how deeply you all care for each other and want to support and protect each other.

      Please do not blame yourself. You were so right to tell your son that it was not his fault – now you need to tell that to yourself. You would never have let this happen if you had known.

      It is not unusual for men to have great difficulty talking about childhood sexual abuse. Whether or not it was a misunderstanding between your son, the family friend and your husband, it does seem that your son is not ready or able to talk it through with you yet. I think though it is important to note that, even though there haven’t been conversations as yet, it is clear he knows that you and his dad are aware that this happened, and that he is supported. If he ever does reach the point where he feels he can talk about it, he will know that you are completely on his side.

      The general thought is that not pressing him to talk about it is probably the right thing to do. Most men say that feeling pressured or pushed to talk about sexual abuse is not helpful (see these words from men). The other thing is that it might be simply too difficult to talk to you and your husband yet, as you are pretty close to it. This doesn’t necessarily mean he is not seeking support at all.

      Please be encouraged by the fact that your son is getting on with his life and is doing well. That is a great sign. If this did happen to him, the thing he needs most from you is simply to know that he can talk to you when and if he is ready. I’m very much getting the sense that this is the case.

      It seems that your husband is also not yet in a place where you feel you can talk it through with him. I would really encourage you to talk with a counsellor so you can work through your feelings around this, as it’s clear it’s quite a burden on you. Please know you needn’t go through this alone. I invite you to check out our partners in Canada, at

      I wish you well.

  • Jen

    My boyfriend and I have had a largely healthy, loving relationship for about two years now- we communicate well, have a fun and “warm” sex life and generally tell one another the truth. We have had our troubles, but we work through them and love each other. We also spend a great deal of time together, and he has recently moved in.

    However, Following some recent relationship troubles, I stumbled across some hidden email accounts he has made. When I confronted him about it (fearing infidelity) he was surprisingly reticent to let me see (usually the choice he would’ve made) and, at length, he confessed it was actually to access pay porn. I laughed at this, unperturbed by a little porn, and was like “show me briefly” (I have a history of dating men who used the web to aggressively cheat in this way, so porn is actually a nonissue) but he remained stubborn. At length, he confessed it was sometimes sort of niche gay porn.

    He says he is not gay (and I do believe this) but then confessed that he was sexually abused repeatedly as a child (and then rejected by his parents for it when he tried to get help). He has only told one person this other than these family members (an ex who cheated on him a week later) and gets depressed and confused sometimes and finds himself watching it, in a cycle of reinactment of the abuse. He says it hasn’t translated to acts, but honestly I doubt he’d admit it if it had. I wouldn’t even blame him and I”m I’m no hurry to assign anything to him. I just want to understand the psychology, the layers of lies and what on earth I can do for him, for us, etc.

    While I know the abuse was terrible, not his fault and traumatic, and while I hate that he has been made to feel ashamed of something that was fundamentally an act of violence, I feel lied to, uncertain as to “what else is coming” and helpless to talk about it with him. His sexuality is obviously confused and to some extent linked to shame, the people who are supposed to love him have abandoned him over this, and I feel that our relationship’s long term will depend on him or us getting outside help for this—-more reinactment and disclosures, probably the opposite of what he wants. My boyfriend is a kind, caring man and I love him deeply. but I do not know how to move this forward in a way that is “safe” for us both.

    • Jess

      Hi Jen,
      Thanks for contacting Living Well. I’m not sure how many of the previous comments you’ve read, but I’m sure you’ve realised by now that you are not alone in facing these issues.

      As you acknowledged, childhood sexual abuse carries with it a history of secrecy, being silenced, and deep shame. These experiences, carried since childhood (and especially when reinforced by family or the abuser), can be so difficult to overcome that many men never tell anyone about what happened. Please do not take this secrecy personally. Your partner has taken a massive step by being so vulnerable with you about this, particularly since he has had such terrible experiences with telling loved ones previously.

      For men, using gay porn is very much linked to the abuse. Confusion about sexuality and sexual orientation is an unfortunate consequence of sexual abuse for many men. However focusing on the issue of sexuality can be a bit of a side track. It may be more helpful to think in terms of where he chooses to put his energy, love and affection.

      In terms of how to talk about this with him, please take a look at our page Men and disclosure: How you can help. It looks like you are in Canada, so if you or he would like some further support, please visit our partners at They support partners as well as men, so even if he isn’t ready to get support yet himself, please consider finding someone to talk through your own feelings and responses, as this is a big shock for you. Be sure to take care of yourself in this difficult time.
      Best of luck Jen.

  • Broken mom

    Dear Jess,
    Thank you so much for your reply and your encouraging words. I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear all that you said. You really put things into perspective. I will definitely check out your Canadian partners. I need the help!

    Again, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart.

  • Marie

    I’ve had suspicions for awhile that my boyfriend may have been sexually abused. Mostly due to intimacy problems we had in the first year of our relationships and some other things as well. I’ve been with him now for 3 years and we live together. A few nights ago we were watching a movie where a character had been sexually abused as a child. He started talking about abuse and pedophilia and almost was defending it. He was talking about when a child “pursues” an adult for a sexual relationship. I made it clear that I do not believe a child can do such a thing as they are unable to consent or even really know what sex his. He said he has read a lot about it. I started to feel nauseous. I asked him if he had experience with this and he didn’t say much, but he said yes and that he will never tell anyone, not even me. And that he was a “knowledgable child.” and that it was the past. This all leads me to believe he thinks that he initiated the relationship with his abuser. Should this make me worried that he may abuse someone himself later? Or is this just his way of dealing with how it affected him? By blaming himself in a way? I really don’t know what to do or how to even address this again. He clearly did not wish to discuss it further.

    • Jess

      Hi Marie,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear you’re experiencing such confusion in this way.

      Please know that that there is no evidence to suggest that men who have been sexually abused will automatically go on to commit sexual offences (check out our page on the myth of the victim to offender cycle). Research evidence actually suggests that over 95% will not.

      I think you are not far off in your interpretation. It isn’t uncommon for people who have experienced a childhood trauma like sexual abuse to take on responsibility for what happened. This is just one way to make sense of the abuse and to regain a sense of control in a situation where the only other option is to feel completely helpless and powerless.

      I also think you approached this in a helpful way, by simply stating your belief that it was not his fault, and not really pressing him to talk about it before he is ready. Many men do not disclose their abuse until much later in life (read more about the issues around disclosure) so at this stage the best thing you can do, though I know it isn’t easy, is simply to wait until he is ready to discuss it again.

      In the meantime it might be helpful for you to talk to someone about your own feelings around it as this is a lot for you to process.

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