Boys and Sexual Abuse: The Untold Stories of Trauma

Psychological science explains the effects of sexual trauma on boys.

Posted May 31, 2019

Image via Big Stock Photo
Source: Image via Big Stock Photo

Childhood sexual abuse is a serious concern that continues to impact the lives of many children and their families. Historically, sexual abuse is often discussed in relation to girls and women. However, the importance of recognizing that males are victims of sexual abuse has been a growing topic of discussion in recent years due to allegations of abuse by teachers and more celebrities opening up about their childhood sexual abuse.

According to data, 1 out of every 9 girls, and 1 out of every 53 boys under the age of 18 are sexually abused (Finkelhor et al, 2014). More recent data reports that 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse during childhood and/or adolescence (Romano, Moorman, Ressel, & Lyons, 2019). Sexual abuse often goes unreported and rates of non-disclosure are often higher among males than females. Research by Romano and collaborators (2019) state that “males’ underreporting may be partially explained by factors such as masculinity stereotypes (e.g., males should protect themselves against aggressors, sexual activity with an older female should be considered positive, males are not victims) and abuse characteristics such as fears of being labeled homosexual if the perpetrator was also male.

Earlier in May 2019, two public figures, Common and Keyon Dooling, openly discussed their childhood sexual abuse. Rapper and actor, Common, recently released his book, “Let Love Have the Last Word” in which he details his childhood abuse. In an article published in the Washington Post, Common discussed that he wanted to open up about his abuse with the hopes of breakdown the stigma around Black men opening up about their abuse.

Childhood sexual abuse and disclosure

In a previous blog, I noted that abuse is not reported by many children due to fears of breaking up the family and that the allegations will not be taken seriously. Among adult men with a history of childhood sexual abuse, data indicates that on average it takes approximately 21 years before males disclose sexual abuse (Romano et al., 2019). Furthermore, when male survivors of sexual abuse open up about their abuse history, they frequently disclose their abuse to their spouse or partner (27%) and then about 20% report the abuse to a mental health provider (Romano et al., 2019).

In a recent interview, Former NBA player Keyon Dooling discussed his childhood abuse with Red Table Talk. Dooling has previously described being sexually abused age of 7 by his older brother’s 14-year old friend. In his interview with Red Table Talk, Dooling stated that he appreciated the support of his wife and members of the Celtics team for helping him through his healing. Dooling has stated “In their eyes, I didn’t see judgment or fear. I only saw kindness and confusion. They just wanted to help me, because they knew that something terrible must have happened to the man they knew."

The psychological effects of sexual trauma

The American Psychological Association notes that “the effects of abuse don’t end when the abuse stops.” Children who experience abuse are also at a higher risk of:

  • abusing their own families.
  • using violence to solve their problems.
  • having trouble learning.
  • having emotional difficulties.
  • attempting suicide.
  • using alcohol or other drugs.

Turning to more positive outcomes, recent studies (including males and females) have found that not all individuals with histories of childhood sexual abuse experience mental health problems and some, in fact, exhibit resilient functioning. Although negative psychological effects are possible, research also indicates that not all individuals with histories of childhood sexual abuse experience mental health problems and some exhibit resiliency. Romano et al (2019) rates of resilience (defined primarily as lack of psychopathology) can vary between 15–47% among adult males and females. Furthermore, disclosing one’s sexual abuse can be pivotal in stopping further instances of sexual abuse, reducing feelings of shame and hyper-vigilance related to secret keeping, and creating opportunities to secure intervention services (Romano, Moorman, Ressel, & Lyons, 2019).

Resources for seeking professional help

1. Visit the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network


2. SAMHSA's National Helpline


Phone: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889

3. For help locating African American providers, you can visit Melanin and Mental Health, Therapy for Black Girls, or Therapy for Black Men.  

4. You can also visit the Psychology Today directory or the APA Psychologist locator.

Copyright 2019 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.


American Psychological Association (2019). Protecting Our Children From Abuse and Neglect. Retrieved January 15, 2019 from 

Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2014). The lifetime prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault assessed in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(3), 329-333.

Romano, E., Moorman, J., Ressel, M., & Lyons, J. (2019). Men with childhood sexual abuse histories: disclosure experiences and links with mental health. Child Abuse & Neglect, 89, 212-224.