The Hidden Epidemic of Childhood Sexual Abuse of Boys

This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen and comedian Paul Gilmartin discuss the myths shrouding sexual abuse and how survivors can start to heal.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
3-minute read
Episode #206

The #metoo movement has shed much-needed light on sexual assault and harassment. But sexual abuse of another kind remains hidden even today. In the United States, it is estimated that one in six men was sexually abused as a child, which means that in the U.S. alone, more than 25 million men are survivors, living with and trying to heal from the effects of childhood sexual abuse.

To all listeners: today’s episode focuses on male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and in order to cover the topic openly and honestly, the language and stories today are graphic, so listener discretion is advised.

Today's guest is comedian Paul Gilmartin, host of the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast. Psychology Today calls his show “remarkable” and says it “normalizes what so many others feel but have been too fearful or ashamed to express.” The New York Times calls it “a perversely safe place” because it busts wide open the myth that you are alone in mental illness and no one understands how you feel. It’s a blisteringly honest and supportive place where you can find validation (and some laughs) for any experience you can imagine.

In this episode, you will learn that:

  • Healing from childhood sexual abuse can start at any age. Paul’s realization came at age 49. Yours can come decades earlier or later—it’s never too late.
  • Next, we usually think about sexual abuse as overt sexual abuse—rape, penetration, fondling, molestation, and the like. But sexual abuse can also be covert. It’s common for survivors to feel like covert sexual abuse isn’t legitimate, and to downplay or minimize what happened, but remember, the act isn’t the deciding factor. Instead, look at your functioning and coping in the present day. If your life is negatively affected today—you have trouble trusting others, you don’t feel safe, you feel a deep sense of shame or worthlessness, you think all you have to offer a relationship is sex, you can’t feel loving or close to a partner--whether your experience was overt or covert doesn’t matter. No matter what, reach out, educate yourself, get support, and start to heal.
  • It is a myth that women cannot sexually abuse boys, and a bigger myth is that mothers cannot be abusers. But they can and are. In fact, women make up 40% of perpetrators of sexual abuse.
  • Just like hearts beat and brains make thoughts, genitals respond. If you felt aroused during abusive situations, it does not mean you liked it, you wanted it, or that it was your fault. It only means that you have nerve endings.
  • Many men who are abused are afraid that they are destined to become abusers themselves. They worry they shouldn’t have children or be left alone with children. And while it is true that most people who abuse kids were abused themselves, the reverse is not true. The fact is that the vast majority of people who are abused break the cycle and do not become abusers.

For more information on all these topics and more, check out the advocacy group 1in6.org.

Be sure to subscribe to Paul's podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour, wherever you like to get your podcasts. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @mentalpod and on Facebook at facebook.com/mentalpod.

Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.