If your partner was sexually abused, you undoubtedly have many unanswered questions. Here at Living Well we receive a large number of questions and requests for advice from partners, family members and loved ones of men who have experienced sexual abuse or sexual assault. These are people who are deeply concerned about the men in their lives, and at a bit of a loss for how to best support them. See the comments and questions asked on our page Information for partners of men, as an example.

Often a partner is the first person that a man will ever disclose a history of sexual abuse to. We want to acknowledge that this can be challenging and confusing for partners, and that, regardless of the closeness of your relationship, this information can be difficult to process and respond to. Not only do you want to support your loved one, you also need to deal with your own thoughts and feelings about it all.

Often there is a lot of worry around how to respond appropriately, and also worry about what this may mean for you as individuals, as a couple, or as a family.

my partner was sexually abused

Sometimes the man discloses the abuse, or you deduce it has happened and he acknowledges it, but he then is not ready to discuss it further, let alone seek help or tell anyone else. This can be a really uncomfortable place for you to be in, as now you have this information but are unsure what to do with it.

If, as we know, there is not a lot of support out there for men who have experienced sexual abuse or assault, then neither is there much information for the people who care about and wish to support these men.

Below are some of the most common questions we get. We acknowledge that every situation is different, and ask that you please keep that in mind while reading over these. Please also take care of yourself in reading through, as these topics can be confronting.

We have generally used the word “partner” to refer to the man in your life, but these words can apply to any man — friend, son, father, brother, client, or any other man you care about.

Due to his behaviour, I think my partner may have been sexually abused, but he denies it. Is he just hiding it from me?

Some of the behaviours that people have described to us include:

  • Infidelity, sexual addiction.
  • Complete disinterest in sex.
  • Unusual sexual or sexualised behaviours.
  • Porn addiction.
  • Consuming gay or same-sex porn.
  • Strong emotional reactions to the mention of sexual abuse of others.
  • Depression, anxiety, self harm.
  • Abuse of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Very protective behaviours towards children.

While it may seem as though there is a lot going on for him, there really is no way of knowing, from a person’s current behaviour, whether he has been sexually abused in the past.

The difficulty is, even if your partner demonstrates every single behaviour on a list of problems common to sexually abused men, it still does not necessarily mean he was sexually abused. There are a great many reasons that could potentially explain why people might engage in different behaviours or have different reactions. It is simply not possible to predict any one individual’s reaction, so there is no checklist of symptoms that will tell us for sure.

It may indeed be that your suspicions regarding past abuse are right. However unless he is open to talking about it, there is no way for you to be certain. We can only work with what we know for sure.

This question is made more difficult by the fact that, when a man has been abused, it is something that can feel almost impossible for him to talk about. Many men do not disclose sexual abuse or sexual assault for decades after the fact, if ever. Check out our page on Men and disclosure, which outlines some of the barriers men face.

What should I do if he won’t tell me?

So let’s say you suspect your partner or loved one was sexually abused or assaulted, but you don’t know for sure. You may have asked him already, but he won’t talk about it. If you are in this situation, there may be things that sadden or concern you about some of his experiences or his responses. You might not know how best to help, or how to explore your respective needs in this situation, without causing more upset.

If he has not already told you that he was sexually abused, it is generally recommended to not pressure him to talk about it until he is ready. Remember, you do not know for sure if this is the case, but even if it is, ideally it is his decision to tell or not to tell. It is important you leave the power of that decision to him. Know that it is extremely difficult for men to disclose. If he is not ready to do so, it is no reflection on you, or on your relationship with each other.

We have heard from some men that they do not mind being asked, but they do not find it helpful to be pressed about it if they are not yet ready to talk.

It can be very difficult to want to support someone but to feel unable to do so. While it is not up to you to ‘fix’ him, there are ways you can support your partner if he ever does feel ready to broach the subject.

Let your partner know that you are always open to hearing his feelings, experiences, thoughts and stories. Be ready to listen in an open, non-judgmental manner.

If you feel he may disclose abuse to you, take a look at our page Men and disclosure: How you can help for some more information about how loved ones can support men through disclosure.

And through all this, above all else, make sure you take care of yourself. Step back for a while and look after your own well-being in the here and now. Engaging in self care in this way serves two purposes. The first is that it builds up your resilience and your ability to manage and cope with stress. The second is that it also means you are “modelling” self care for your partner – healthy behaviour tends to be “catching.” In either case, the importance of looking after yourself cannot be overstated.

We acknowledge and appreciate that you want to support and care for your partner, no matter what has happened — but it is important to keep in mind that you cannot make everything alright. Especially if you are losing sight of your own needs.

His behaviour is affecting me negatively, though. How else can I get him to change?

Regardless of whether or not your partner or loved one has experienced sexual abuse or assault in the past, you both always have a right to have your wishes, boundaries and desires respected.

If possible, let him know that there are aspects of the relationship you want to talk about. Focus on what is happening in the present, and discuss together your hopes for how you want the relationship to be. This avoids pressuring him 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 — that’s if his past is, in fact, relevant. Using this approach 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.

It is helpful if you are clear about what kind of relationship you want, and what expectations, needs, and boundaries or limits you each have. Envision this together — invite him to share his expectations and hopes with you. Talk about how you would prefer you both behave in this relationship, and how you show love, care and respect for each other. In stating your vision for your life together, and in asking him to share his, you are both making a commitment to this.

Map it out — what it will look like for both of you. Get specific. Take your time. Make it an ongoing process.

This will mean working out and being clear as to what is and is not acceptable behaviour. It is important in any relationship to provide a clear message about what your expectations and limits are, to hear those of your partner, and try to to meet in the middle. The main point is that both of you should feel comfortable with things. No one should feel pressured to accept something they’re not comfortable with.

Is it possible that he has blocked out the abuse, or doesn’t remember it?

Research shows that the majority of people who have experienced sexual abuse retain very strong memories of the abuse. It also shows that there are a number of reasons that people may not wish to talk about it.

Having said that, yes, there are some people who have been sexually abused whose memories are not clear, or are absent, for long periods of time. These people may remember and piece together fragments of memories later on in life. In fact, many people have noticed that these memories seem to come back once they have started to feel more stable, more strong, and more confident. In other words, just when you start to feel you’re really doing well, the memories start to return.

In this case, working through it may not be about avoiding the memories, or even trying to chase them down and confront them. It’s about building yourself up to the point where your mind can handle them, and has the strength to cope with them. It’s about being ready.

A difficulty here is that you can only work with what is available. Searching for memories of childhood sexual abuse may lead to more distress, confusion and uncertainty. Memory in general is very fallible. It may be more helpful to try to work on acceptance of the uncertainty of the issue. In this case it’s about learning to be okay with not knowing for sure.

In either case the emphasis should be on developing a strong, stable and confident sense of wellbeing.

He has a few issues at the moment that I’m sure are related to the abuse. Is it common for men to…

It is common for a man who has experienced sexual abuse to experience a range of effects over the years. There are many negative impacts that are commonly known to result from a history of such trauma, such as:

  • Flashbacks and invasive thoughts.
  • Nightmares and insomnia.
  • Anger, and thoughts of revenge.
  • Self blame, shame, and low self esteem.
  • Numbness.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Intimacy issues.
  • Difficulty trusting others.

A more complete list can be found on the page dealing with sexual violence, along with some further information.

In addition to the above, there are also secondary issues that can arise. Often these are emotional and behavioural strategies that men have used to help them cope with the primary issues above. These strategies themselves, while helpful at first, can become problematic. These can include:

  • Use of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Use of pornography.
  • Workaholism.
  • Risky behaviours.
  • Controlling relationships.
  • Avoiding relationships.
  • Self harm.

More on these types of unhelpful strategies can be found on the page Dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse.

Of course, not all of these issues, even if a man has experienced sexual abuse, are necessarily related to the abuse. Similarly, it is important to recognise men’s capacity to lead full and rewarding lives. Following an experience of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, it is not unusual for people’s understanding of their lives to become closely inter-connected with problems related to that experience. However, seeing the person as the problem, and the majority of his current difficulties as a result of sexual abuse or sexual assault, can be counter-productive.

When trying to work through any present issue, it can be more helpful to look at it in the present. Whether or not this issue stems from a history of abuse, it will generally be effective to deal with it in the here and now. Set goals, establish safety and support, and put strategies in place, just as we do for anything.

I really think my partner needs to get help for this, but he doesn’t want counselling. How can I convince him to get the help he needs?

Counselling can be a really useful way for someone to process and work though difficult experiences, to build up safety and stability, and to figure out goals and strategies for moving forward.

It may be that your partner or loved one has given counselling a try in the past and found it unhelpful, and now is reluctant to give counselling another go. This might involve thoughts like, “I’m beyond help,” or “counselling doesn’t work for me.”

When it comes to sexual abuse it can be crucial that the counsellor or professional has a good background in trauma informed care, and experience in working around sexual violence. It is a quite specialised area and it can be difficult to find a good professional. In this case it can be worth suggesting you do some research together to find someone who might be able to help.

It can also be helpful to note that every professional works differently and has a different style. The first counsellor an individual engages with may not be a good match for him. If this happens it can be easy to give it up as too hard, “well I tried.” Perhaps in this instance he could be encouraged to give it another go, to find someone who does suit him and his individual style, with whom he ‘clicks.’

If he has never been to counselling for this issue before and is nervous about what to expect, it may 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).

However, if he doesn’t want to try any form of counselling, we would suggest there is not much you can do about that until he is ready. Counselling is only therapeutic if the person is ready and has made the decision for themselves. As mentioned earlier, feeling pressured to talk about sexual abuse can be counter-productive. If he feels pushed into attending a session, even if he does go, it is unlikely to be beneficial for him.

Perhaps the best thing you can do right now is to let him know that, if he does ever feel open to trying, you’ll be ready to support him through the process.

I’m the only one who knows. How can I help him?

This is a big one. We recognise the huge amount of pressure that is put on partners, and other family and loved ones, of men who have been sexually abused or sexually assaulted. Unfortunately if there is not much support out there for these men, nor is there much at all for their supporters. And you need support too, because this is a really difficult position to be in.

The very fact that you are here shows that you already are helping him. You wouldn’t be doing this reading if you weren’t wanting to be as supportive of him as you can be, which says a lot. It’s also a big step towards becoming informed and learning what’s helpful and what’s less so, for both him and yourself. The links throughout this page should be helpful with this.

As mentioned above, sometimes the best (and sometimes the only!) way you can help him is to let him know that you will always be available to listen. That you are willing to hear his feelings, experiences, thoughts and stories – however he feels comfortable sharing them, and whenever he feels ready.

However, as much as we want to, we can’t ‘make everything okay’ for someone else. We know that partners can often find themselves in this kind of position, with very high expectations of themselves. It’s important that you not take on too much. It’s important that you do take care of yourself.

Whether or not your partner is ready to talk it through with someone, it is always an option for you, too. Counselling for yourself, as a partner, can help you to explore and process your own thoughts and feelings around this. It can help you to build up your own coping, resilience and wellbeing, and also to figure out how you can best support him.

My partner was sexually abused as a child. Should I be worried he might abuse our/my children?

There is no evidence to suggest that men who have been sexually abused will automatically go on to commit sexual offences. In fact, research actually suggests that over 95% will not. It is an unhelpful myth that men who were sexually abused in childhood are the ones who then abuse children. Check out our page on addressing the victim to offender cycle for more information.

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. Typically they don’t want what happened to them to happen to another child.

If you are a parent, I am sure you will want to keep talking and building the relationship with your children, so that if there is anything worrying them at home, at school or in the neighbourhood they can come and talk with you about it. This is the best thing you can do.

My partner was sexually abused as a child. I found gay porn on his computer, but he says that he isn’t gay. Why does he look at gay porn then, or chat with other men online?

This is an issue that can be really confusing, embarrassing and hurtful to partners of men. It can also be embarrassing and confusing for the man involved, who may not understand it himself. The fact is, it’s not unusual for men who were sexually abused or assaulted by another male to feel the urge to watch same-sex porn, or to visit male sex websites or chat sites.

Using same-sex porn can add to the already existing sense of shame, given the taboos in some communities about same sex attraction. It gets very mixed up with the experience of abuse and trying to work out ‘who I am.’

When a man was sexually abused as a boy by another man, it is usually the case that this was his first experience with any form of sexual contact. This can influence the way a person thinks about sex for the rest of his life. It does not mean he is gay, just that his first sexual experience was a very confusing one.

For some men, memories of the abuse, including flashbacks, can be physically and emotionally charged. As such, they can be drawn to look at same-sex porn as a way to try and understand what is happening. It can be a way to seek answers about the trauma of the abuse, and also about questions of sexuality. Confusion about sexuality and sexual orientation is an unfortunate consequence of sexual abuse for many men.

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

I asked my partner to stop using porn. He said he would, but I’ve learned he’s still been doing it in secret. What can I do?

Porn use in general can be an issue. Where there has been sexual abuse, porn can feel like a relatively safe space to explore and work through confusing and unsafe thoughts and experiences related to sex. This can be difficult to make sense of, and can cause problems in relationships when the man struggles to stop.

One of the added difficulties in this instance is that the sense of secrecy and shame around accessing porn can increase distress for men who have been sexually abused. Secrecy around things that are considered shameful can be a legacy of sexual abuse; it can almost be considered a coping strategy — a way to deal with the effects. However it can be quite unhelpful in developing a healthy, supportive relationship.

If this is something that is coming between you, it can be important to be clear that his accessing porn or chat rooms is something that pushes you apart. It will be important to be clear to him that if he chooses to access 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.

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.

Where can we find help?

Help is available.

Living Well offers counselling to men who have experienced sexual abuse or sexual assault, and also to partners, families and loved ones.

If you live in the greater Brisbane region, we provide face to face counselling from Strathpine and Buranda.

If you live anywhere else in Australia, we provide telephone counselling and online counselling.

If you live elsewhere in the world, take a look at our list of worldwide services online.

Please get in touch.


  1. Comment by Carmel

    Carmel Reply September 6, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    I have been in a relationship for 9 years with a man who lives interstate. We are both in out fifties. It has never been a really successful relationship sexually. We broke up for two years because of this but got back together when he said he would try to communicate better. That was a year ago. Nothing has changed.

    I started thinking that maybe he had been sexually abused. He is a closed book, we never have sex and he doesn’t even like the mention of sex. He rarely appears naked and has extreme mood swings. Last week we were out to dinner with his brother and his wife, we were talking about their family and why my partner doesn’t connect with any other family members. My partner left the table to go to the bathroom and I said, almost jokingly, that I thought something may have happened to my partner at some stage. His sister-in-law answered that yes, he was ‘molested’ as a child. I was shocked. By whom, I asked, and was told that it was by his uncle. My partner’s brother said that it was all ok now, and that my partner is fine. I said that it certainly is not fine, and at that time my partner returned to the table. now I can’t think of anything but this. he would be furious if he knew I knew, and moreso if he knew how I came to know.

    I don’t know what to do. Should I tell him I know? Should I get more information from his brother? When we parted, before I told him that I couldn’t stay with him because he just never confided in me or got close emotionally, at that time he said, “it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I can’t.”

    • Comment by Jess [Living Well Staff]

      Jess [Living Well Staff] Reply September 9, 2016 at 11:46 am

      Hi Carmel,
      I am sorry to hear you have been put in such a difficult position. We know that this kind of situation can be so distressing for partners – to have this knowledge, to want to help, but to be sitting with so much uncertainty and just not knowing what to do.

      What to do next depends on what you want to happen, and what you think will happen. If your partner has expressed to you that he is not able to talk about this yet, then it may be that these events are not going to change that. As alluded to in the information on this page, the decision to talk needs to come from the man, particularly if it is going to be a helpful conversation. Making the choice to disclose can even be seen as a part of the process of becoming empowered and regaining control.

      Unfortunately, that his brother and sister-in-law were the ones to tell you may have served to take some of that control from him. I can imagine that this will be quite triggering and very upsetting for him. Seeking more information from his family would possibly only compound these problems. Eventually it may come out that yes, they told you about this when he was absent – it was a mistake and it just happened that way without much thought. Telling him that you went back and continued that conversation without his knowledge or consent would possibly only make it more hurtful.

      It might be helpful to ask yourself what you’re hoping this knowledge will change, and is it likely that this will happen? Many people hold the assumption that ‘talking about it’ is pivotal to healing and recovery, however we know that this is not often the case. While his struggles in communicating and intimacy may be related to the abuse, the fact is, at this stage, it doesn’t really matter either way. This is something that is impacting on your relationship now. These are issues that are best addressed in the present, with connection to and reflection on what is happening for you both now, given that you are adults who are capable of making your own choices and doing what is important to you.

      Having said all that, some men have indicated that, while it is not helpful to be pressured to talk about the abuse, sometimes it can be helpful to be asked the question. I wonder how it might go if you were to say to your partner something like, “I’ve been thinking about some of the difficulties we’ve had in our relationship, and doing some reading, and I’m wondering if you have had an experience of sexual abuse in your life? We don’t have to go into it now if you aren’t ready but it would be helpful for me to know, and to understand.”

      Please do have a read of some of the other information linked from this page on supporting a man with disclosure, as you have the opportunity to support him and to work towards healing (for you both) through your response to this.

      Best of luck, Carmel.

      • Comment by pam

        pam Reply January 15, 2017 at 1:05 pm

        I am 72 years of age and I have been kicking myself for years over the fact that I did nothing when my first husband told me once that his aunt had sexually abused him. I was in my early 30’s and did not know how to respond so let it slide.

        My husband would drink every day after work at his club and drank himself into oblivious one night and I had to go and pick him up. Very embarrassing for me having come from a home where there was no alcohol problem at all.

        I could not understand why he needed to drink and I was a very shy person and did not want to cause more arguments than we already had over his drinking.

        In the end after 11 years of marriage I walked out for another man I met through work who was also in a bad marraige. We have been married 27 years now.

        My ex husband eventually ended up in hospital through his drinking and rang me one day at work and told me he would pick fights with me just so he could go out and drink. I was totally amazed that he had done this.

        I now realise that when he told me about the abuse at the hands of an aunt he was crying out for help and I did nothing. The drinking I believe (now) was an escape from the thoughts he had of what had happened to him in his childhood. Maybe if we had had counselling things may have had been different.

        • Comment by Jess [Living Well Staff]

          Jess [Living Well Staff] Reply January 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm

          Hi Pam,
          Thank you for connecting with us and sharing your experiences here. That takes such courage.

          I’m hearing that you’ve been carrying some guilt around for quite a while now. Many years ago, your first husband was really struggling to cope. He was self medicating with alcohol and the damage to your relationship was extreme. At one stage he disclosed to you that he had been sexually abused by an aunt, however at that time you did not realise the significance of that disclosure. It sounds like you’ve regretted your response ever since.. particularly since hindsight has allowed you to put his damaging behaviours in perspective.

          You are absolutely not alone in your experiences Pam. Childhood sexual abuse (especially as experienced by men) is not an issue that is really talked about. I don’t think anyone can be expected to automatically know the appropriate way to respond to a disclosure, which is why we have so many articles on just that topic.

          Not to mention that this is something you had to deal with over thirty years ago. If education, information and support are lacking now, that is nothing compared to a couple of decades ago, when the topic was actively suppressed.

          Remember that when you made your choices you did not have the knowledge and experiences then that you do now. If you had, you undoubtedly would have made different choices.

          And even that may not have helped. It is not up to you to fix anyone else, even a husband. Nor is it possible. The decision to recover and move forward can only come from the individual.

          Which ultimately means that there is no blame here for you, Pam.
          You did the best you could in a terribly stressful situation that you couldn’t make any sense of. You tried for eleven years, working blindly, before finally accepting that things weren’t going to change. Try to think back on that time with self compassion, rather than undeserved guilt.

          Guilt is a natural response – it motivates us to behave differently next time. So ask yourself, will I behave differently next time? If the answer is yes, the guilt has done its work, and you needn’t hang on to it any more. Thank it, and let it go.

          Take care, and please get in touch if you would like to chat further.

  2. Comment by Carmel

    Carmel Reply September 20, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you Jess. You asked me ‘what am I hoping the knowledge will change’. I suppose that for all the years of our relationship, whilst I knew him to be a bit difficult, I always thought that time would help us build a closer , more intimate relationship. I thought that all I had to do was be patient. But that was wrong. It hasn’t happened. I often think to myself that we are at the dating stage. The relationship didn’t grow or morph into anything else. It’s the same after nine years as it was afte 9 months.. so I am hoping that if he knows that I know, the relief of sharing his secret will make us closer. I hope he might see my knowledge as a barrier coming down . On the other hand I am also afraid that if I bring it up as you suggested above, he could just as well storm off and never want to see me again. He could do that. He is SO private. I’m not a gambler, but For me ( and I know it’s not about me) I think I need to bring it up. I am seeing him this weekend.

  3. Comment by Anonymous

    Anonymous Reply October 2, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    Hi, I believe my husband was sexually abused as a child. The reason I believe this is there have been signs, and he almost let something slip. One time when we were still just dating, I forgot exactly what brought this up, it was something do with a friend who was coming stay with him. He stared blankly and then said, “I’ve got to make sure his bed in the guestroom is ready. I don’t like nobody sleeping in bed wth me. I had to share a bed with my cousin and he did, well uh, I just don’t like it.”
    I was like, “baby, nobody said he was going be in bed with you.”
    He was like “uh sorry don’t know what I was rambling about.”

    Now since we’ve been married, living together, he won’t go to sleep till he makes sure I’m safe in the bed. He has to have the door shut every night; if it’s not shut he almost looks terrified. He also flinches and jumps if you put your arms around him from behind, and I was going to be nice and wash his back while we were showering – he yelled “don’t do that!” soon as I touched his back. He said “I don’t like my back being washed.” He really sounded scared and defensive. It’s the same with his stomach, he flinches and tenses up.

    He wants love and reassurance, which I give him. My dad lives with us, and if I’m in the living room finishing a chore, talking to my dad, he will come in there and ask me “you going come watch tv?” I say “yes honey, just as soon as I finish,” and he will come back almost pouting. It’s like he feels safer when I’m with him.

    I wish he would tell me what happened, but I know it has got to be hard. What do you think? He really is the sweetest guy.

  4. Comment by Anonomous

    Anonomous Reply November 2, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    I am in my early 30s and have been dating on and off for 9years with man sexually abused by his mother. The push and pull of the relationship is relentless. To complicate matters more my mother was serverly abused as a child. When he is in other relationships he says that he has trouble in sexual relationships that he does not have with me and is always wanting to get back together with me. However I find he is not able to be transparent regarding is actions and I am stuck in a cycle of anxiety and mistrust. I get very worried for him as he cannot open up to people but I don’t think I can be this person anymore no matter how much he pushes for it.

  5. Comment by Pamela

    Pamela Reply November 29, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    My husband admitted he was abused as a child for many years. He has 3 children, his wife passed away, now remarried. Sex is a no go, as soon as we start it goes flaccid. I’m thinking now, is this a result off the abuse? He has kids, so I asked him about this and he said he was pressured into the act off sex to please his first wife, hence having kids.

    Is he secretly gay – he would never in a million years admit it. I’ve looked in his browser history and found porn there. I’m open minded and unshockable, I love him and want to help. His torment, his horror, I am the only person he’s told, no one knows even the dead.

    I love him and want him to make love to me. To be honest I don’t think we have consummated our marriage of 5 years. Could be a result of the abuse?

    • Comment by Jess [Living Well Staff]

      Jess [Living Well Staff] Reply November 30, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Pamela,
      Thanks for getting in touch with us here at Living Well. I’m definitely hearing from your message how much you care for your husband, and want to be supportive and understanding of him. You clearly want to be able to help him through the difficulties he’s experiencing, which are also having an effect on you.

      Childhood sexual abuse impacts upon people differently. Many people do manage to live full, healthy, functioning lives and to have satisfying, happy relationships. However, as you are aware, some people struggle a bit more. For them, issues such as intimacy – whether this is sexual or emotional intimacy – can be real problems within otherwise stable relationships. You are not alone in experiencing concerns about these issues.

      In terms of your husband’s sexuality, whether or not your partner is ‘secretly gay’ can be a bit of a side-tracking issue. It is not unusual for men who were sexually abused as boys to have questions and concerns about how this has affected their sexuality. When a young boy is introduced to (often same-sex) sexual contact through an abusive experience in which he had no choice, it can be an extremely confusing experience. However now, as an adult, it is the ways in which he chooses to behave that count the most. By being with you, and trying to work through this with you, he is making clear choices.

      I think the fact that he has told you about the abuse (the first time he has ever told anyone), and further has also told you about the sexual abuse he experienced from his wife (as being pressured into sex is also sexual abuse/assault), shows how much he trusts you and wants to increase intimacy with you. Being open about these things is a form of emotional intimacy. Talking about the abuse is something that is notoriously difficult for men to do, so I think it’s an important factor that he has felt able to open up to you. (Have a look at our page Deciding to tell and When your partner discloses to get an idea of some of the barriers men face.)

      That he has kept trying to work through his impotence with you also shows how much he wants to improve this. This is also something that is very painful for men to confront, as sexual ability is often directly related to learnt ideas about ‘being a man‘ and self esteem. If he is willing to experience the extremely uncomfortable feelings that come with sexual difficulties, then he must care about and want to please you a lot. Further reading that may be helpful for you includes: Male sexual assault and arousal, which explains some of the mechanics involved and also has some tips and strategies at the bottom that may help you and your husband improve sexual intimacy.

      Some men and their partners find it helpful to consciously put sex ‘on the backburner’ for a period of time, and instead focus on intimacy and play. This can ease the pressure on both partners. It can also help to have open and honest discussions with your partner about the anxieties that sex can raise for both of you, and what support you need from each other. For example, men might worry that their partner feels rejected or unattractive if he does not want sex, or can’t perform. Openly discussing these issues can help to understand what each partner really feels and thinks.

      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.

      Wishing you both the best, Pamela.

  6. Comment by Jane

    Jane Reply December 19, 2016 at 8:50 am

    My boyfriend of 5 years recently told me that he was molested several times as a child. I am the only one he’s told about it but now he’s pushing me away and has actually broken up with me because he wants to figure things out alone. he doesn’t even want me to check up on him. I’ve emphasized to him that I’m just here for him and am willing to listen to him regardless. I want to help him but I don’t know how. Could you please help me out with this?

    • Comment by Jess [Living Well Staff]

      Jess [Living Well Staff] Reply January 11, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Hi Jane,
      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like a tough situation, and one you’ve been trying to handle to the best of your knowledge and ability. It’s good to see you’re doing some research and trying to figure this out. That shows how much you do care, and want to do what’s best.

      I think in this situation you have done the right thing. You have let him know that you are available and willing to support him in any way he might find helpful, no matter what. At this stage, it is up to him as to whether he is open to receiving that support. If he is at a stage where he needs some time alone to figure things out, and doesn’t want you to check up on him, I think the only thing you can really do is respect that.

      If he has just opened up to someone about this for the very first time, it may be that it has all come to the surface and he has some processing to do. That is something he can only do on his own – but it sounds like he knows you are there for him if he does need some support.

      Take care of yourself in the meantime, Jane. Turn the focus to your own wellbeing and coping, for yourself, and also so that if the time does come where he needs help, you will be best positioned to provide it.

  7. Comment by Julie Hawkins

    Julie Hawkins Reply March 7, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Hi my name is Julie H. My husband was raped by a man when he was 10. He said that he could talk about it so it did not bother him. We had fun dating , he was caring and considerate . After he proposed to me and I accepted ,things started to change, he became distant quiet . Unattached is a better word I guess. He would hold my hand to a building store what have you but as soon as the door opened he dropped my hand and kept his distance. I took this personal of course. He would smile and talk to others but not to me, I got the empty look and no smile, depressed version while everyone else got what he used to give me. Years pass we had a baby girl, he was not close to her and when she turned 5 he almost treated her like she had done something to him. She is 22 now and their relationship is very strained. I noticed the same treatment started when my youngest now 6 ,turned 5. That coupled with opening our small business , his subsequent emotional affair with a women having marriage problems of her own .
    When I noticed looks between them I started snooping and found over two hundred texts. Him and her talking like they were married. Discussing their day and joking and laughing. This completely destroyed me emotionally. He had at that point not spoken to me smiled at me he has never complimented me , people that came in to our business didn’t even know he had a wife, the others thought she was his wife.
    I confronted her after I found the texts, she claimed just friends, I confronted him he was furious said it was nothing . He was caught red handed so he claimed I misunderstood everything . I developed internal shingles lost 30 lbs and had a miscarriage. I didn’t know I was pregnant. I had a nervous breakdown I think. I couldn’t be around crowds pregnant women or babies, I would just go to pieces. He ask me why I didn’t react that way when I lost the other 6. Like he thought I made it up or something. This upset me greatly , I later found out he blamed me for all the other miscarriages. I did not know this man I had been married to for 23 years. There are some patterns I’ve noticed in the last couple of years. When I go to him when I’ve been hurt or am upset with him, his response is ” how do you figure!” Which hurts me because next comes the blame. Then he brings up something I did to him (which he never mentioned before, it was as if he was saving it) and if it looks like I’m making since with my argument he stops me in the middle on making my point and says” look at how you’re talking to me, why are you so violent ” even though this argument is just a little loud not yelling. I’m always ( not kidding) always to blame. I asked him when had he ever come to me with a complaint , he was speechless. When he pushes me to the point I throw something ( not at him) he puts his arms out like Popeye and walked fast up to me like he’s going to hit me.( he has never hit me) I meet him nose to nose and tell him go a head you couldn’t possibly hurt me any more than you already have. He then walks off saying how this is never going to work. He always tries to jump ship first ,bringing up him leaving or something. I told him I was leaving if he didn’t get help. He is now in counseling . He has recently shared with me his abuse started when he was 5 with female babysitters molesting him .( all this time I was asking him during our fights why am I having to pay for what someone else did to you) he would say I wasnt. Up until he was 10 and raped several times by this man. He was molested by what seemed like everyone who he ever trusted. He has never let me in or our girls, he is trying now. But he told me his counselor (a woman) said she didn’t think his abuse is affecting him. She does not know how he treats me or his pattern of emotional abandonedment, or the women that molested him . He hasn’t told her , he told me this last night. She wants to see me next week. Any advise you could give me would be very welcome.

  8. Comment by Anonymous

    Anonymous Reply March 24, 2017 at 5:37 am


    So very recently my boyfriend mentioned he was molested by his stepdad. He didn’t go into a lot of detail. A few days ago, he sort of mentioned it again and he talked about it very vaguely. I want to help him and I’m not really sure how. My heart aches for him and I don’t want him to keep it bottled l up, but I also don’t want to push him into talking about it. Im the only person he’s told and I’m just kinda… At a loss. Any advice would help me. Thanks.

  9. Comment by Rehandra

    Rehandra Reply March 28, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    To this day I regret not asking my exhusband if he wanted to open up about being abused by an aunt.

    I would say to any woman whose partner mentions something like that to say “if you want to talk about I will listen”. It is then up to them.

    Don’t do what I did and say nothing. I was so taken by surprise. It was never raised again and to be quite honest I forgot about it.

    I now realise this is probably the reason he drank to excess “to blot it out”!

  10. Comment by crystal hill

    crystal hill Reply June 3, 2017 at 6:18 am

    I recently found my husband of 6 yrs on transgender dating sites when I confronted him he then confessed he was raped by another young boy at 10 yrs old he swears he’s not gay. But when he gets too drunk he goes back to gay porn sites idk what to do if he’s not gay why go watch gay sites and I often find him texting other women sending nudes back and forth that he doesn’t know or never meets. Any help here

  11. Comment by kyrstin

    kyrstin Reply November 28, 2017 at 7:27 am

    My husband of 2 years was drunk one night and was talking to a man sexually, then later on I found out he also tried to talk to my cousin; both of which are gay. I brought this to his attention and he admitted to me he was sexually abused as a child by another man. He told both my cousin and the other man he wanted them, but we had just had a baby, and it just now coming up. He said his brother brought this up and it triggered something for him. But if he doesn’t want another man then why go behind me and tell the men he wants them?

  12. Comment by Anonymous

    Anonymous Reply February 4, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    My partner was sexually abused as a child, and I am the only one who knows. He has reoccurring nightmares and very low self esteem in everything he does. He does not like to talk about it and always shuts me out whenever I bring it up or try to ask about it. I know very very little about the incident and it bothers me as I don’t know whether our sexual life is somewhat forced on him due to the pressure of being a man. I really think it would do him good to talk about it with someone but he just doesn’t want to face what happened and I am afraid it will ruin his life. What should I do to make him see this or at least open up some without forcing it?

  13. Comment by Stephanie

    Stephanie Reply May 16, 2019 at 5:20 am

    I’ve been in a relationship for almost 4 years, the relationship is caring and warm and I think we’re both really happy, but we’ve been having some intimacy problems for a couple years. My partner was abused when he was really young by a woman who helped care for him, so he has told me that he doesn’t feel sex is necessary or even particularly positive. In the first two years of the relationship we had a very active sex life, but it has since decreased dramatically. I know this is directly linked to his trauma and of course want to respect his boundaries, but the lack of intimacy does have a toll on me and the relationship. We discussed counseling, but he is very reluctant because he “doesn’t believe in psychologists”.
    I don’t know how to help him, and how to deal in a positive way with the lack of intimacy, it has been a long time, and I realize it’s not his fault, but I still feel affected by it. I’d like to know how to improve the situation for both of us.

    • Comment by Jess [Living Well Staff]

      Jess [Living Well Staff] Reply May 24, 2019 at 2:20 pm

      Hi Stephanie,
      Thanks for your comment. This does sound like a difficult situation, in which you both have different beliefs, feelings and needs in regards to sex and intimacy, and have been finding it a struggle to meet in the middle somehow. This is a far more common issue than many people admit, even in relationships in which no one has experienced trauma. However a history of sexual abuse does indeed add its own set of challenges.

      I commend you for coming to the table with an open and caring mind; considering your own needs as well as looking at it from your partner’s perspective and what’s going on for him. I think that opening up a conversation with him about it in this manner could only be helpful. Your relationship sounds very healthy and supportive in many ways, and with that in mind I wonder how your partner would feel to know the toll this is taking on you emotionally?

      You may possibly have had conversations about it in the past that didn’t result in much (or ongoing) change. It’s in this case that going together to talk to someone can be helpful.

      Often I think the position of “not believing in counselling” is a much safer way of saying it is a very scary prospect, particularly when there is a history of abuse. I know many people who have experienced any kind of trauma become very anxious at the belief that they will need to revisit and describe in detail “what happened” and how it affected them. Even in counselling solely about the trauma itself this is generally not the case; definitely not at first, anyway.

      In this particular instance, if seeing a professional were to be an option, I’m not sure it would be necessary to discuss the past much at all. It can be far more helpful to explore the present, and the relationship now. It would also be accurate to see the counsellor more as a “mediator” – someone to help you both be heard by each other in a safe way, with less chance of misunderstanding or unresolved hurt feelings. To ensure the conversation doesn’t get sidetracked, or deflected if it does become uncomfortable, and that it ends productively. Finally, it can be good to have the time set aside each week to continue the conversation – as this can be an ongoing process of sharing, learning and growth for you both.

      I hope that gives you some ideas for approaching this Stephanie. Best of luck.

    • Comment by Brooke

      Brooke Reply December 29, 2019 at 9:56 pm

      Hi Stephanie,
      It sounds like we have very similar situations. I have been married to my husband for 7 years, and he just recently told me about his abuse. He was forced to have sex with his older adoptive sister at a young age and was made to perform sexual acts on his brothers friends. We also had a much better sex life while dating, but even then would go a few weeks without sex. My husband and I have a great relationship, he is my best friend. The intimacy issues are our biggest problem. We’ve gone several months without being intimate and I don’t know what to do. He finally told me about the abuse, because I totally broke down one day, because I thought he was cheating. My heart hurts for him, but I also don’t know how our relationship can survive without the intimacy that I desire so much! He says he is still attracted to me and desires me, but I don’t feel that way.
      Sounds like we need a support group. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to connect and chat more. I feel like I need to talk to someone in the same situation.

  14. Comment by Ken T.

    Ken T. Reply March 12, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    I read in a book called “Daring Greatly” that, contrary to what many women are saying in this thread, women become unattracted to men who show vulnerability. Think about it. Most women are raised by emotionally stalwart fathers. By marrying and having kids with such a man, the moms have modelled to their daughter that this is how a masculine, sexy man does to sire kids. Then come the Disney films, all of which feature a male character rescuing a damsel in distress. Then in the teen years you have Hollywood movies, comedy sit coms, romance novels, Cosmo Magazine, sports coaches and other things that deride male who emotional vulnerability. So when a man reveals to his girlfriend of a year that he was raped by his cousin as a teen, she doesn’t know what to do. Men are supposed to be knights in shining armor. They are supposed to PROTECT women and children. How can they do that if they cry in horrible pain. What so many people do not get is that you NEVER get over rape and abuse. You just get better at dealing with it. The plain truth is that women are raised in this society to EXPECT men to be strong at all times, and it has to end. We go thru the same emotions and feelings you do, and we turn to women because unlike women, we cannot turn to our own gender for support because they deride vulnerability and weakness. Men view themselves as competitors, and to let you guard down is to let someone one up you. It is an awful situation. 20 years of counselling and I am still dealing with it, and I still haven’t found a female partner who can handle my past, even though I make it clear it is not her job to fix me. She can only support my recovery.

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