"When he told me he had been raped I actually found myself wondering if he really was gay – you know, you hear all this stuff about being 'turned gay' by abuse and I guess I had taken a fair bit of that on board."
Most of the information contained in the relationships pages is equally valid for same-sex relationships. However there are a few specific points that you might like to think about if you are in a same-sex relationship with a man who has experienced sexual assault.
If your partner has experienced abuse by a male he may have been influenced by the myth that this is what "made him gay." There is no evidence that there is any basis to this myth, (see General Information: Unhelpful Myths), but it still has a powerful currency in our society. This may have influenced your partner to question his sexuality, to wonder if he is "really gay."
Alternatively, your partner may wonder whether he experienced abuse because somehow he was perceived to be gay – even if he was very young at the time and had no awareness of his own sexuality.
You may also have wondered whether your partner is "really gay" and whether your relationship and his sexuality are what you thought they were.
Some sexual acts and behaviours may be very difficult for your partner to participate in, particularly if they involve parts of the body that were touched during the abuse he experienced. Anal and oral sex may be particular triggers.
Some gay porn, even though it may involve consenting adults, suggests age and power differences, with very boyish-looking actors. Some gay porn – especially S & M or leather porn – involves fantasies of being sexually assaulted and can mimic images of boarding schools, prisons, military settings, construction sites or other all-male environments. Be aware that this may be difficult for your partner to watch because of the memories it could trigger.
Some parts of male gay culture use expressions that could trigger difficult thoughts and feelings – in particular, the use of expressions such as "daddy," "bear and bear cub" and "boy" could be very distressing.
Gay men may have access to anonymous sexual encounters at beats and sex-on-premises venues – your partner may have found these places and situations repellent or attractive, or both, and he may be deeply ashamed of these feelings.
Some same-sex attracted men who have experienced sexual assault have been reluctant to seek help from existing services because of a fear that they will be judged or that the response will be homophobic (particularly when services are located in a faith-based organisation). Some men have also been reluctant to join groups for men who have experienced sexual assault because of their fear (well-founded, sometimes) of the reactions of the other men in the group.
What you can do
Talk with your partner – although it is not your job to shield him from triggers, if you know what they are you can be sensitive.
At the same time, identifying particular acts or themes as triggers should not mean it becomes seen as something he should 'get over.' You and your partner are both entitled to feel safe in your sexual relationship. Try to bear in mind that just because particular kinds of sexual act might be considered normal or enjoyable by you and others, it doesn't mean there is something wrong if your partner does not enjoy them.
Explore sexual intimacy with your partner with an awareness that some areas may be difficult for him but can also be satisfying if you take some time – remember, sex doesn't have to be quick!
Read whatever you can about this issue – be familiar with the myths that float around.
Support your partner to seek help from an organisation that makes it explicit that they welcome GLBT clients (look for rainbow flag or specific reference in their promotional materials).
Make sure you have sufficient support for yourself.
Make sure you attend to your self-care needs.
"I would say my partner … changed my life because I was a mess, and for a long time I couldn't even let someone touch me … I mean I would jump, you know, when someone tried to caress my face. I would do it automatically. I just, my body was just, I don't know. Constantly I would jump and I had problems with that and he helped me. And he helped me, he gave me back, he showed me how to love, and he was able to help me to let go." (M Kia-Keating et al, 2005: 181).
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