MALE PSYCHOLOGICAL ADJUSTMENT RELATED TO
EARLY SEXUAL EXPERIENCES
SIDNEY MICHAEL TRANTHAM
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
For all brothers, but especially Jeffrey, David and Seth.
My gratitude is extended to each of my committee members for their guidance
during this project. A special acknowledgment is made for Dr. Duane Dede, who
encouraged my development as a researcher and a clinician but has also been my friend. I
will be forever grateful for his teaching me to "see the glass as all full."
This project would also not have been completed without the continuous effort of
my research assistant, Shannon Rimmer. Her loyalty was inspiring and an essential
element in completing this project.
As always, there are few words that adequately express my appreciation for the
endless love and support of my family and friends. Thank you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS .............................................. iii
ABSTRACT ..................... ................................. vi
IN TRO D U CTION ............... ............................... 1
2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE ....................................... 4
Sexual D evelopm ent ........................................ 4
The Development of Gender Identity ..................... 5
Sex Differences in Behavior ............................ 6
Sexual Identity Development ............................ 7
Sexual Preferences .................................. 10
A nxiety .. .. 13
Parent-child Relationship and Sexual Development .......... 14
Innate Factors Involved in Sexual Development ............ 15
Development of Sexual Preferences: Females .............. 16
Sexual A buse ............................................ 17
Impact of Child Sexual Experiences: Females .............. 20
Impact of Child Sexual Experiences: Males ................ 22
Reporting A buse .................................... 25
Comparison of Male and Female Abuse ........................ 26
D efining Abuse ..................................... 26
Sym ptom s ......................................... 27
R acial Issues ............................................. 29
3 MATERIALS AND METHODS ................................... 35
P ropo sal .. ..... .............. ... .. ........ ........ .. 35
Hypotheses to Be Investigated .............................. 36
H ypothesis I ....................................... 36
H ypothesis II ...................................... 40
Hypothesis III .................................... 41
H ypothesis IV ...................................... 4 1
M easures .......................
Demographic Questionnaire ...
Sexual History Questionnaire ..
A nalyses ........................
4 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION ...........
R esults .........................
Descriptive Statistics .........
T -T ests ...................
Chi-Square ........ .......
D iscussion ......................
Review of Purpose ..........
Current Study Findings .......
T rends ...................
Measurement Issues .........
Unique Sample Characteristics
5 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS ........
A DEMOGRAPHIC QUESTIONNAIRE ......
B SEXUAL HISTORY QUESTIONNAIRE ....
REFERENCES ....... ......................
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ....................
. 10 2
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
MALE PSYCHOLOGICAL ADJUSTMENT RELATED TO
EARLY SEXUAL EXPERIENCES
Sidney Michael Trantham
Chairperson: Duane E. Dede, Ph.D.
Major Department: Clinical and Health Psychology
There has been increased concern regarding the impact that childhood experiences
have on development. Research of female childhood sexual abuse has found that adult
women who report sexual experiences in childhood with older adult men often exhibit
higher levels of anxiety and depression compared to their non-abused peers. However,
there are few studies of male childhood sexual abuse and even fewer which examine a
One hundred thirty college males between the ages of 17 and 47 volunteered as
subjects. Subjects anonymously completed three questionnaires: a demographic
questionnaire, the Sexual History Questionnaire, and the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised
Results indicate that for this sample of college males, there was little difference in
level of general psychological distress based on sexual experiences in childhood, as
measured by a self-report scale. Subjects unanimously identified themselves as
heterosexual, and the majority of subjects who reported a sexual experience in childhood
consistent with this study's definition of sexual abuse indicated that the older partner was
female. Few subjects rated their experience as unpleasant or having a negative impact on
their lives. Although no statistical significance could be found, subjects who reported a
sexual experience in childhood consistent with sexual abuse evidenced slightly higher
mean t-scores on the SCL-90-R. Level of parental support, age at time of sexual
encounter, and gender of the perpetrator had little impact on ratings of level of
It is still unknown if there are significant negative emotional symptoms for men
who are sexually abused as children. This study's data suggests that whatever impact
remains in adult life is clinically mild. The limited sample size and mild magnitude of
this phenomenon suggest caution in generalizing these findings. Future research in this
area should include larger sample sizes, assessment of male subjects' perception of
male/female gender roles as a possible mediating factor in response to sexual experiences
in childhood, and multiple data collection methods.
Within the past decade, there has been increased concern regarding the impact that
childhood experiences have on development. Parents and consumer groups have
organized to protest what they perceive as the increasing violence in various media,
suggesting that children exposed to violent acts will suffer detrimental effects such as
decreased empathy and increased aggressive behavior. Lobbying on behalf of such
beliefs has resulted in significant changes in all forms of popular media, including
children's television programming, movies, music, and video games; each of these areas
now has explicit guidelines for what is acceptable as well as recently constructed
"parental advisory" and "violence level" warnings.
Similar concerns about child development have led to research on children's
reaction to abuse. There are several methodological difficulties inherent in child abuse
research, the most prominent being the retrospective nature of most studies and the
significant amount of concurrent forms of abuse, such as physical abuse and emotional
neglect, sexual abuse and physical abuse, neglect and emotional abuse. Continued
refinement of research methodology has gradually led to a vast amount of knowledge on
specific forms of abuse. It appears that there is no specific outcome following abuse, but
rather a multitude of outcomes dependent on several factors. While there are some points
that researchers continue to dispute, most agree that child abuse negatively affects the
psycho-social development of the child.
Research on child sexual abuse has predominately been based on the maltreatment
of females. While the abuse of females in this society is clearly significant, there is
increasing evidence to suggest that the sexual abuse of males is more prevalent than
previously believed. There have been a limited number of studies examining the
immediate outcome of sexual abuse for males, and even fewer studies examining the
long-term correlates of childhood sexual abuse of males. In addition, research findings
are more inconsistent within the area of male childhood sexual abuse, and there is little
comparability between studies of female childhood sexual abuse and male childhood
One explanation for the contradictory findings in the literature on male childhood
sexual abuse is the reliance on measures of sexual behaviors as the outcome. Sexual
functioning is often used as the barometer of psychological adjustment in males; this may
not be an accurate assumption. In addition, many studies of male childhood sexual abuse
are descriptive in nature, and there is evidence that males are reluctant to acknowledge
sexual abuse due to strong societal notions of masculinity. The Symptom CheckList 90-
Revised is a well-standardized measure of psychological adjustment that has been used
frequently in studies examining the sequelae of sexual abuse of females. There is limited
literature of the SCL-90-R's use in studies examining the sequelae of sexual abuse of
The purpose of the present study was to examine the psychological adjustment of
adult men who reported childhood sexual experiences consistent with criteria for
childhood sexual abuse. It was anticipated that the use of measures previously used in
studies of both male and female sexual abuse would clarify previous findings in the
literature as well as allow comparison across studies. It was also anticipated that distinct
groups of adults would be present when additional factors such as gender of the abuser,
age at time of abuse, and other family variables were accounted for.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Various theoretical models have been proposed to explain the sexual development
of humans. Few of these models predict how an individual's development will proceed,
and prediction becomes near impossible when sexual development is viewed through any
single explanatory process (Bancroft, 1989). Argument continues as to whether sexual
development depends on innate factors (nature) or environmental factors (nurture), but it
has become increasingly clear that the issue of sexual development is not an "either/or"
case. There is some consensus that on a general level, sexual experiences in childhood
have an impact on sexual development and later sexual behavior. This suggests that there
are many points along the path of sexual development that are disrupted by an experience
of sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse during childhood and adolescence may lead to concerns about
sexual identity and sexual performance. Abused males frequently have concerns about
their masculinity, being homosexual, and being sexually attractive (Faller, 1989; Gilgun
& Reiser, 1990; Krug, 1989; McLaren & Brown, 1989). In an attempt to understand
relationships with others, the male who has been victimized frequently seeks to define
what is normal; how does the typical male demonstrate maleness, what is acceptable
sexual behavior, and what does it mean to be a victim of sexual abuse for future
The Development of Gender Identity
Gender can be manifested in at least seven levels: chromosomes; gonads;
hormones; internal sexual organs; external genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics;
the gender assigned at birth ("It's a boy"); and gender identity ("I am a girl"). Each of the
above levels leads to the next as part of the development process. The last two, gender
assignment and gender identity, are of interest for the purpose of this examination of
How a child develops in terms of psychological gender depends in large part to
how he or she is brought up. How that child is brought up depends on the initial
observation of anatomical gender--"it's a girl." If anatomical development has proceeded
normally, this initial observation and gender assignment should not be a problem.
However, if anatomical development has not proceeded normally, there may be ambiguity
of the external genitalia which can lead to an arbitrary gender assignment for the child.
Case studies of psuedohermaprodism and ambiguous genitalia have examined the
psychological gender of the child and suggest that there is a critical stage in psychological
development when the belief ("I am a female" or "I am a male") becomes fixed (Bancroft,
1989). This point is often referred to as the core gender identity and occurs between the
ages of two and four (Cole & Cole, 1989; Gleitman, 1987). It is hypothesized that core
gender identity development is related to the stage of cognitive development when gender
begins to have meaning (Cole & Cole, 1989; Gleitman, 1987). There is uncertainty about
how fixed the core gender identity remains after this critical phase, and whether
reassignment can successfully occur at a later stage. Bancroft (1989) cites evidence of
one case in which incorrect assignment was successfully reversed as late as 13 or 14 years
of age. Bancroft suggests that the successful gender reassignment may depend on the
degree of uncertainty about the child's identity in the first place. If, by the age of 4, a
child feels unquestionably female (or male), then later attempts to change identity will
probably fail; however, if the child is still questioning gender identity and feels
uncomfortable with the assigned gender, then reassignment may be very successful even
at a relatively late stage of development (Bancroft, 1989).
Sex Differences in Behavior
In addition to the core gender identity, a child develops a sense of masculinity or
femininity and expresses this through typically masculine or feminine behaviors (Cole &
Cole, 1989; Gleitman, 1987). In American society, boys show more physical activity
such as rough and tumble play, more active physical exploration, and interest in war
games; girls typically engage in more domestic play. These are generalizations that apply
to the majority, but are culture specific; other societies may have the reverse. This raises
the controversy of how much gender roles are socially determined versus how much
gender roles are due to inherent qualities about males and females. To what extent is
typical boy and girl behavior learned?
Sexual Identity Development
Bancroft (1989) proposes a 3-stage model of sexual identity development:
I. pre-labeling stage: when childhood and early adolescent sexual experiences occur
without the need to categorize them as either homo- or heterosexual.
2. self-labeling stage: at some stage the individual asks the question "Am I straight
or gay?" and begins to interpret experiences as evidence for or against.
3. social labeling: at some later stage, the social world asks the same question about
the individual, influencing the cognitive learning process and reinforcing labels as
well as providing the underlying assumption: "You are either one thing or the
One of the most significant periods of gender and sexual identity development
occurs during transition from childhood to adolescence (Bancroft, 1989; Gilgun & Reiser,
1990). There are important hormonal changes during this period, as well as
psychological changes. Prior to this stage, a pre-pubertal child may have become
extremely competent and confident in his or her childhood gender role, and may become
confused about that role by the changes that occur during puberty (Bancroft, 1989). For
example, changes in the body appearance and shape may produce a phase of uncertainty
about the future, e.g., "will I always look like this?" In conjunction with dramatic
physical changes, there are also accompanying emotional changes such as feelings of
social awkwardness and emotional instability, partly due to hormonal changes. And
finally, the rules about the relationship between males and females change, as sexuality
becomes a very important aspect of gender (Bancroft, 1989). Success in sexual
encounters may be used to bolster self-esteem or exert control or dominance
(Giannandrea, 1985; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990).
Some adolescents postpone their entry into this sexual phase of development,
substituting nonsexual supports for both their gender identification and self-esteem
(Bancroft, 1989). For example, a boy may concentrate on a sport, justifying avoidance of
sexual contact as a necessary part of his dedication (Bancroft, 1989). This may be
effective to some degree, but it also serves to alienate him from his peers and delay
learning how to manage male-female relationships. For other adolescents, early attempts
at forming sexual relationships are largely aimed at proving their newly reestablished
gender identity; such adolescents are likely to seek multiple sexual experiences as a way
to assert their masculine or feminine gender identity (Giannandrea, 1985; Goff, 1990).
Kagan and Moss (1962) assessed the degree of heterosexual interaction (i.e.,
interaction with children of the opposite sex) and opposite sex activity (i.e., interest in
and practice of activities traditionally associated with the opposite sex) at different stages
of childhood and adolescence. Between the ages of six and 10, boys and girls played
predominantly in same-sex groups. Children, especially boys, who did not conform in
this respect were often rejected by their same-sex peers (Kagan & Moss, 1962). With
opposite sex activity they again found greater predictability in boys than girls. Even as
young as three to six years, the extent of opposite sex behavior was highly correlated with
opposite sex behavior of adults. Competitiveness and involvement in mechanical, gross
motor and aggressive games during the preschool years were prognostic of sex role
activities 20 years later (Kagan & Moss, 1962). In another study of preschool children,
boys who engaged in stereotypical feminine behavior received a considerable amount of
disapproval from their peers, and to a lesser degree from their teachers (Fagot, 1977).
This pattern was not observed in girls. Fagot asked the interesting question of why this
behavior persisted in the face of such unremitting discouragement, and suggested that
either opposite influences in the child's home were operating or possibly some biological
factor, unresponsive to social learning, was involved.
Kagan and Moss (1962) also assessed anxiety about sexual behavior at the late
adolescent and early adult stages. For the boys, but once again not for the girls, the
absence or lack of clearly masculine behavior between the ages of 3 and 10 years was
associated with greater anxiety about sex in early adulthood. In addition, early masculine
behavior was predictive of earlier dating and involvement in erotic heterosexual activity
The timing of puberty also has a bearing on gender identity, sexual identity, and
personality development (Bancroft, 1989). Boys who are late in reaching puberty tend to
be less popular and less assertive. "Manliness" and sexual vigor are highly regarded
attributes among adolescent males, and boys who have not reached puberty by 16 years or
so may begin to doubt their masculinity and become anxious and introspective about their
development; girls' reactions to early or late puberty are more complex and there are
fewer clear advantages to early maturation in females (Bancroft, 1989; Kinsey, Pomeroy,
& Martin, 1948).
Adolescence is the period where gender identity, sexual responsiveness, and
sexual preferences are becoming integrated (Giannandrea, 1985; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990;
Gleitman, 1987; Goff, 1990). Gender identity continues to undergo periods of change
with increasing age. Work role identity becomes an important aspect of gender identity
during early adulthood. Work role identity tends to reflect the prevailing sex role
stereotypes; for males, the work role tends to bolster a sense of masculinity, while for
females it generally produces conflicts with her femininity (fears that being successful in
a career will make her less attractive as a woman and less successful as a mother)
(Bancroft, 1989; Cole & Cole, 1989).
Other factors such as work, parenthood, and hobbies gradually begin to reinforce
gender identity, and it becomes less necessary to rely on sexuality to define one's gender
identity. This change in what reinforces gender identity allows for the establishment of
mutually rewarding and mature sexual relationships (Bancroft, 1989). Each partner is not
working toward incompatible goals through their sexual exploits, and thus they
concentrate more on establishing intimacy and forming a relationship. However, if one
partner experiences a crisis in a nonsexual area (such as the threat of losing a job), a
previously stable sense of gender identity may be undermined. Such a threat to gender
identity may result in a regression in the individual's use of sexuality, and sexual
relationships may be exploited to bolster self-esteem (Bancroft, 1989; Giannandrea,
Sexual preference indicates the type of person (or thing) and/or type of activity
with that person that is most likely to evoke sexual interest and arousal. The choice of
partner may reflect other needs of equal or greater importance than the experience of
sexual pleasure (e.g., marrying for money rather than love). A controversy arises between
those who see sexual preference as a manifestation of early organization or learning and
those who see it as a product of an ongoing development process that is malleable
(Bancroft, 1989; Cole & Cole, 1989; Gay, 1989; Giannandrea, 1985; Gleitman, 1987;
Kagan & Moss, 1962; Kinsey et al., 1948; Seligman & Hager, 1972). Most
psychoanalytic theories emphasize the importance of early experience in determining later
sexual preference (Cole & Cole, 1989; Gay, 1989; Gleitman, 1987). Theoretical models
posited from such positions are frequently difficult to test.
The most important dimension of sexual preference is the gender of the preferred
partner. Are we attracted to someone of the same gender, different gender, or both
genders? Are sexual preferences predominately homo- or heterosexual? Connected to
this is the type of person we are attracted to: businesswoman or housewife, jock or
bookworm? Although there are themes shared with other people, each person is unique
in his or her pattern of preferences (Bancroft, 1989; Cole & Cole, 1989; Kinsey et al.,
1948). This factor is important because it determines the type of relationship we will
have with others (Bancroft, 1989; Goff, 1990). For example, a person attracted to
married men will have a different type of relationship with men (and women) than a
person attracted to single males. Other qualities which factor into what we consider
sexually attractive include such things as body shape, facial characteristics, age, and body
movement or behavior (Bancroft, 1989; Cole & Cole, 1989; Kinsey et al., 1948).
Another characteristic of human sexuality is the person's tendency to prefer
certain kinds of sexual activity. Preferences for particular types of sexual activity also
vary from person to person, and this variability also influences the nature of our
interpersonal relationships. People vary in their preference for certain positions during
intercourse, oral-genital or anal stimulation (Bancroft, 1989; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990;
Kinsey et al., 1948). If our preferences in sexual activity match our partner's, then they
may strengthen or at least enhance the relationship (Bancroft, 1989). However, if they are
unacceptable or threatening to our partner, then the relationship may be weakened or even
destroyed (Bancroft, 1989; Goff, 1990).
There is considerable debate regarding how sexual preferences are established,
with much of the controversy surrounding two aspects of the above: what physical
characteristics are considered sexually attractive and what gender we are attracted to.
Often a "nature/ nurture" debate ensues when discussions of the establishment of sexual
preferences, with some suggesting sexual preferences are learned behaviors and able to be
changed, while others suggest sexual preferences are biologically determined and
immutable (Cole & Cole, 1989; Fagot, 1977; Gay, 1989; Giannadrea, 1985; Gleitman,
1987; Kagan & Moss, 1962; Kinsey et al., 1948; Seligman & Hager, 1972).
There is some indication that society influences what is considered sexually
attractive and acceptable (Bancroft, 1989; Giannandrea, 1985). For example, it has been
suggested that what is considered attractive varies according to gender and the times.
Men are typically described as placing an emphasis on more physical and visual
attributes, while women often are described as having a wider range of qualities that they
find attractive, including social class, wealth, or power (Bancroft, 1989; Cole & Cole,
1989; Giannandrea, 1985; Gleitman, 1987). During the 15th century, Botticelli painted
women that were considered highly desirable due to their "full figured" and "voluptuous"
forms; Calvin Klein currently showcases the latest trend toward younger, prepubescent
looking women being considered highly desirable. Similar to this, women with thin,
demure lips were highly sought after by men at one time; recently women with fuller lips
have been considered more sexually attractive, and have led to a significant number of
women seeking cosmetic surgery to achieve this quality. Bancroft (1989) also noted that
review of the literature suggests that in societies and time periods with a stronger
patriarchical influence, homosexuality is not tolerated and frequently persons exhibiting
such behaviors are persecuted; in contrast, societies and time periods with a stronger
matriarchical influence at a minimum tolerate homosexual relationships.
Anxiety associated with certain types of sexual activity or partner may "push" a
person away from such a preference. Two types of threats may be involved, including
fear of failure and fear of success (Bancroft, 1989; Cole & Cole, 1989; Gleitman, 1987).
Fear of sexual failure or rejection by a sexual partner is usually associated with lack of
self-confidence or low self-esteem, or uncertainty about one's gender identity, sexual
attractiveness, sexual competence or sexual preference (Bancroft, 1989; Briere & Runtz,
1988; Faller, 1989; Finkelhor, 1990; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990). For example, a man unsure
of his masculinity or attractiveness to women may feel safer in sexual involvement with
another male (Gilgun & Reiser, 1990; Goff, 1990; Harry, 1989). Fear of success is the
fear of the actual sexual encounter; this is often related to guilt about sexual enjoyment or
fear of its consequences, learned during childhood and is often reinforced by a sexually
repressive environment (Bancroft, 1989; Gay, 1989). The Oedipus complex, a central
aspect in the psychoanalytic theory of sexual development, is an example of this guilt or
anxiety about the sexuality of one's relationship with the opposite-gender parent (Gay,
1989). If a boy learned to be threatened by the sexual implications of his relationship
with his mother, he may avoid sexual relationships that appear similar, such as women
who appear similar to his mother, relationships involving love, or heterosexual
relationships altogether (Bancroft, 1989; Gay, 1989).
Anxiety may also act to "pull" a person toward certain preferences (Gilgun &
Reiser, 1990; Harry, 1989, Muehlenhard & Cook, 1988). An example would be where
sexual activity becomes a method of dealing with a threatening relationship; homosexual
relationships in prisons frequently involve one partner who engages in homosexual
behaviors due to anxiety and fears about what would happen to him if he did not (Myers,
1989). Again, psychoanalytic theory suggests that during the Oedipal phase of
psychosexual development, males may cope with a threatening male figure by developing
homosexual preferences (Bancroft, 1989; Gay, 1989).
Parent-child Relationship and Sexual Development
As noted above, psychoanalytic theory implicates the parent-child relationship as
a significant factor in the sexual development of children. Theorists suggest that
particular types of mothering techniques may lead to specific forms of male sexual
development; for example, mothers that are described as binding and overly intimate with
their sons are commonly cited for being related to males developing a homosexual
identity (Bancroft, 1989; Gay, 1989; Pierce & Pierce, 1985). Others focus on the father-
son relationship; fathers ranging from absent, to detached, to hostile have been implicated
in the cause of male sexual disorders (Giannandrea, 1985; Harry, 1989; Violato &
Genius, 1993). However, much of the support for such theories rests on examining
psychiatric populations, and other evidence suggests that the child's gender identity
problems influence the parent-child relationship. Thus, rather than parental behaviors
causing the child's homosexual behaviors and subsequent parent-child discord, the child's
atypical gender role behaviors may cause disturbed parent-child relationships (Bancroft,
1989; Benedict & Zautra, 1993; Fagot, 1977; Finkelhor, 1994; Harry, 1989).
Innate Factors Involved in Sexual Development
It has also been theorized that learning does not play a major role in sexual
development, and that humans are born programmed to learn certain things more than
others (Bancroft, 1989; Gay, 1989; Giannandrea, 1985). Seligman and Hager (1972)
coined the term "preparedness for learning," which means that there is something innate
which makes us particularly susceptible to certain types of environmental influence. This
seems to make sense when considering the preference for same-gender (homosexual)
activities and cross-gender (heterosexual) activity. Support for innate factors is best
represented by genetic research, which finds a greater concordance for homosexuality
amongst monozygotic twins than dizygotic twins (Bancroft, 1989). In addition, it is
common clinical experience that some men have sexual preferences so fixed and specific
that they must resort to specific fantasies and activities in order to get any sexual pleasure
(Bancroft, 1989; Goff, 1990; Kinsey et al., 1948). For example, men who can only
experience sexual pleasure when their sexual partner is a small, large breasted woman
with small hips and large thighs. Proponents of such a biologically driven model of
sexual behavior suggest that there is an innate drive in heterosexual men to find such
women more attractive in order to ensure the continuation of the species (Bancroft, 1989;
Giannandrea, 1985). For the majority of persons (heterosexual and homosexual), there is
some sexual adaptability, but the above does suggest that sexual preferences are not
entirely based on learning experiences.
Development of Sexual Preferences: Females
The preceding review of sexual development began by describing general issues
and factors common to males and females, and then gradually became more focused on
male sexual development. While the sexual development of females is just as important
and complex, the scope of this study is to examine the psychosexual development of
males. It is assumed that many of the mechanisms that underlie male sexual development
are present in female sexual development. However, females evidence differences that
may elaborate on male sexual development.
For example, the more bizarre and fetishtic types of preferences common to males
are rarely, if ever, seen in females (Bancroft, 1989; Gay, 1989). While women have been
shown to exhibit sadomasochistic tendencies to a limited extent, they do not develop
fetishes and rarely participate in antisocial sexual behaviors such as voyeurism (Goff,
1990; Krug, 1989; Peluso & Putnam, 1996). Sexual abuse of children by women occurs
more than originally believed, but is undoubtedly less common than abuse perpetrated by
males (Faller, 1989; Finkelhor, 1990; Krug, 1989; Metcalfe, Oppenheimer, Dignon &
Palmer, 1990; Muehlenhard & Cook, 1988; Myers, 1989; Peluso & Putnam, 1996;
Roane, 1992; Watkins & Bentovim, 1992). Some researchers of sexual behavior also
suggest that while women do develop homosexual preferences, they may be less frequent
than males (Bancroft, 1989; Faller, 1989; Gay, 1989). It has been speculated that because
females do not have as clear a genital signal (e.g., penile erection) as males do from
arousing visual stimuli, females are less likely to learn sexual responses to both "normal"
and "abnormal" stimuli (Bancroft, 1989). This explanation is often used in support of the
common view of adolescent female sexuality as less genitally oriented (Bancroft, 1989;
Estimates of the number of child abuse and neglect cases in the United States
range from approximately 500,000 per year to as high as 2.3 million (Widom, 1989).
Reports of the prevalence of sexual abuse of females range from 6% to 62% (Carlin &
Ward, 1992; Metcalfe et al., 1990). Reports of the prevalence of male sexual abuse range
from 3% to 30% among men, with the general consensus among researchers that
prevalence is quite high (Carlin & Ward, 1992; Faller, 1989; Finkelhor, 1990). In 1995,
local child protective service agencies identified 126,000 children who were victims of
either substantiated or indicated sexual abuse; of these, 75% were girls (Department of
Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 1995). In 1995,
32,130 males age 12 and older were victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault
(Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 1996).
Finkelhor's review of the literature included examination of early and long-term
effects of sexual abuse. Empirical studies he reviewed affirmed the presence of a variety
of symptoms in children immediately following sexual abuse. Such symptoms include
fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and sexually inappropriate behaviors (Finkelhor, 1990).
Childhood sexual abuse appears to be related to increased adult psychopathology and
symptoms; long-term symptoms commonly cited following sexual abuse include
depression, self-destructive behavior, anxiety, poor self-esteem, sexual maladjustment,
substance abuse, and difficulty trusting others (Carlin & Ward, 1992; Finkelhor, 1990).
Personality disorders have also been found to be associated with childhood trauma. Most
notably, borderline personality disorder and sexual abuse have been linked with
childhood sexual trauma (Carlin & Ward, 1992).
However, while there tends to be a greater incidence of personality disorders
associated with a history of child sexual abuse or adult sexual assault, no single diagnosis
has been particularly associated with child sexual abuse (Carlin & Ward, 1992). This has
led many researchers to conclude that abuse may be a general, nonspecific factor which
contributes to psychopathology. In general, it is believed that abused children's emotional
and behavioral development will be affected by such factors as the age that abuse begins,
the nature of the abuse, and other environmental factors. For example, research by
Williamson, Borduin, and Howe (1991) found significant differences in the behaviors of
groups of adolescents who had been neglected, physically abused, and sexually abused as
compared to a non-maltreated comparison group. In general, their findings suggest that
adolescents who were primarily neglected tended to be socially withdrawn, while
adolescents who were primarily physically abused exhibited a higher frequency of
externalizing behaviors, and adolescents who were primarily sexually abused exhibited
the highest frequency of internalizing behaviors, as measured by the Revised Behavior
Problem Checklist by Quay and Peterson (Williamson et al., 1991).
Central aspects involved in the sexual abuse of children is the betrayal of trust
between the adult and child, coercion (both subtle and overt), and physical violation
(McLaren & Brown, 1989). Research is currently examining the relationship between the
developmental level of the abused child at the time of abuse and the sequelae that follow
the abuse. In general, sexually abused children of all ages have been described as in a
state of emotional and moral confusion (McLaren & Brown, 1989). Young school age
children may not fully comprehend what is happening to them but tend to have a general
sense that something is wrong (McLaren & Brown, 1989). They tend to present with
symptoms such as a variety of sleep disturbances (insomnia, nightmares, enuresis, and
sleepwalking), as well as various somatic complaints (abdominal pain, headaches,
gynecological problems) (McLaren & Brown, 1989).
Older children who have been sexually abused often are described as guilty,
blaming themselves partly for the abuse, as well as exhibiting more acting out behaviors,
such as running away, and also more self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse
and actual or attempted suicides (McLaren & Brown, 1989). And finally, a common
observation of children who have been sexually abused is that they exhibit sexual
knowledge and behaviors inappropriate for their level of development, often resulting in
their sexualizing their relationships with others and behaving promiscuously (McLaren &
Carlin and Ward (1992) suggest that childhood sexual abuse is likely to produce
gradations of changes in thinking, behavior, and symptoms that are best characterized by
dimensional scales. These authors question the use of categorical systems such as the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual--Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) (American Psychiatric
Association, 1994), which they see as too insensitive to detect many of the behavioral
gradations and tendencies seen following childhood sexual abuse (Carlin & Ward, 1992).
Impact of Child Sexual Experiences: Females
Investigators have usually compared abused and non-abused women as if abused
women form a homogenous group. Both clinical experience and the lack of specific
effects suggest that abused women are not homogenous in their response to their abuse.
Some of the heterogeneity may be due to differences in abuse history. Briere and Runtz
(1988) found that more symptoms in college students were associated with more invasive
forms of abuse, greater duration of abuse, and a number of experiences.
Carlin and Ward (1992) used the MM.PI to examine a population of psychiatric
inpatient women who had histories of varying abuse. The authors hypothesized that
subgroups of women with greater pathology would be characterized by younger age of
victimization, greater invasiveness of the experience, higher frequency and greater
duration of victimization, and a within-family relationship to the perpetrator (Carlin &
Ward, 1992). Cluster analysis of the women's MMPI revealed four clusters, with abuse
history significantly related to cluster membership (Carlin & Ward, 1992). The authors
found that the prevalence of abuse in one of their subgroups was higher than the base rate
of abuse for a psychiatric population, while lower among members of another subgroup
(Carlin & Ward, 1992).
The authors concluded from their findings that the overall high prevalence of
abuse in psychiatrically hospitalized women suggested that sexual abuse engenders an
increased risk of severe psychiatric disorder, but without specificity in regard to type of
disorder (Carlin & Ward, 1992). Carlin and Ward (1992) also found greater invasiveness
scores among women diagnosed as suffering from personality disorders, leading the
authors to conclude that although experiencing sexual abuse may not predispose its
victims to a specific diagnosis, more offensive forms of abuse may be associated with
more persistent and embedded forms of psychopathology. Their data did not support the
hypothesis that specific aspects of abuse such as chronicity, frequency, and relationships
to the perpetrator would be associated with specific diagnoses (Carlin & Ward, 1992).
The authors conclude that sexual abuse does not have a single outcome in terms of
psychopathology and note the need to examine other factors that shape women's
responses to sexual abuse, including coping styles and the role of support and
intervention (Carlin & Ward, 1992).
Roland, Zelhart, and Dubes (1989) examined three groups of college women who
reported differing child/adult sexual contact; contact with father/stepfather, with other
persons, and a control group which reported no such experiences. The authors used the
MMPI as a measure of psychological adjustment. Mean MMPI validity and clinical
scales showed the father/stepfather group to have several subscales elevated in the
clinical range, including scale F, scale 2 (Depression), scale 4 (Psychopathic Deviate),
scale 7 (Psychasthenia), and scale 8 (Schizophrenia) (Roland et al., 1989). None of the
subscales for the remaining groups were elevated.
In a similar study, researchers examined the ability of the MMPI to uncover
histories of childhood abuse in adult female psychiatric patients (Goldwater & Duffy,
1990). More specifically, the researchers examined the relationship between the standard
and extended Scarlett O'Hara V MMPI configuration and histories of nonsexual abuse,
sexual abuse, alcoholic caretaker, and combinations of the above (Goldwater & Duffy,
1990). The Scarlett O'Hara V configuration generally refers to MMPI profiles that have
scale 5 (Masculinity/Femininity) at T score below 35, with scale 4 (Psychopathic Deviate)
scale 6 (Paranoia) at T scores 65 or above (Goldwater & Duffy, 1989). Combining blind
raters reviews of patient charts for histories of abuse with MIMPI profiles obtained at
admittance, the authors concluded that the MMPI Scarlett O'Hara V configuration
significantly predicts histories of childhood abuse or alcoholic family environment
(Goldwater & Duffy, 1989).
Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Males
Finkelhor (1990) suggests that close to one-fourth to one-third of all victims of
sexual abuse are boys based on meta-analysis of the literature. Determining the
prevalence of sexual abuse of males is hindered by many of the same obstacles that exist
in the research in sexual abuse of females. Sexual abuse runs the continuum from
exposure to sexual situations inappropriate for the child's age to genital fondling to
sodomy; researchers frequently do not elaborate on the criteria used to define abuse,
making it difficult to compare results across studies (Widom, 1989). In addition, relying
on subjects' retrospective memories of experiences may not provide accurate information.
Some obstacles in doing research on child sexual abuse may be unique to males. Social
role expectations work against male reporting of sexual abuse, as males are frequently
socialized to be self-reliant and strong, and being identified as sexually abused is viewed
by many to represent lack of masculinity, homosexuality, or mental weakness
(Hernandez, Lodico, & DiClemente, 1993).
Fromuth and Burkhart (1989) criticize the descriptive nature of studies of male
sexual abuse, noting that they typically have focused on such issues as incidence rates and
have been less methodologically sound than research with females. Research
investigating the sexual abuse of males commonly has not used established, valid, and
meaningful measures, relied more on subject self-definition of abuse, and has involved
less comprehensive examination of sexual behavior and experiences as compared to
research investigating sexual abuse of females (Fromuth & Burkhart, 1989).
Investigations of the sexual abuse of males typically involve case studies and
description of the etiology, variation, and long-term consequences; there has been little to
no systematic investigation of male sexual abuse. One reason for this is that males
typically report such events during the course of psychotherapy. Krug (1989) reviewed
eight therapy case histories in which mothers sexually abused male children. He
concluded based on therapy experience that while the sample was small, there was little
question that each of the men was pathologically affected by the sexual abuse. All eight
cases demonstrated impaired ability as adults in relating to others in an intimate,
sustained, and meaningful manner (Krug, 1989). The author noted that 88% of the
subjects fit DSM-III criteria for Dysthymic Disorder (Krug, 1989), and 63% of the men
were involved in drug abuse. The author noted significant sexual identity issues in each
of the cases.
Female pedophilia has been reported as rare, with women being viewed as
sexually harmless to children (Krug, 1989). The literature examining the sexual abuse of
male children by mothers is lacking in comparison to the literature on sexual abuse of
female children by fathers and stepfathers. One figure cites approximately 1% of all
incest cases include mother-son incest. Typical explanations for why the incidence of
mother-son incest is so low is that there is a strong cultural taboo due to the mother's
primary caretaker role and the obvious opportunity for sexual abuse being so high, and
the pure physical aspects of intercourse in a mother-son incestuous relationship limit the
sexual abuse of males by their mothers (Krug, 1989). Mothers who do engage in
incestuous relationships with their sons are often described as "psychotic," which serves
to support the idea of the strong societal taboo, and thus, avoidance of this topic as an
area of research.
Fromuth and Burkhart (1989) examined the psychological adjustment of two
samples of college age men with histories of childhood sexual abuse. These authors
noted that long-term effects frequently associated with childhood sexual abuse, such as
anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, feelings of isolation and stigma, difficulties in
trusting others, self-destructive behaviors and sexual maladjustment, were limited to
studies of sexually abused females; there has been little research addressing the long-term
psychological correlates of sexual abuse of males. Fromuth and Burkhart (1989) posited
that based on the different socialization experiences of males and females, there may be a
different effect of sexual abuse based on gender. Using a broad definition of sexual abuse
that included both contact and non-contact experiences, they interviewed two samples of
college men (a total of 582 subjects) who reported sexual experiences with older females.
The authors used several survey instruments; a modification of the childhood
sexual victimization questionnaire originally developed by Finkelhor (1979), Finkelhor's
Sexual Self-Esteem scale, the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist (SCL-90), the Beck
Depression Inventory--Short Form, a Locus of Control Scale, and a modified version of
Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Scale (Fromuth & Burkhart, 1989). The authors also attempted
to compensate for the confound of family background factors; several researchers have
noted that the effects attributed to sexual abuse might be, in part, due to family
background factors (Benedict & Zautra, 1993; Faller, 1989; Johnson & Shrier, 1985;
Lindholm & Willey, 1986; Myers, 1989, Roland et al., 1989; Violato & Genuis, 1993;
Yama, Tovey, & Fogas, 1993). Fromuth and Burkhart included Fromuth's Parental
Support Scale and Parental Bonding Instrument (Fromuth, 1986; Parker, Tupling, &
Most of the men did not perceive their experiences as negative (Fromuth &
Burkhart, 1989). Interestingly, in spite of this report, many sexually abused men were
less well adjusted psychologically than non-abused comparisons (Fromuth & Burkhart,
1989). Men reporting sexual abuse also reported a higher incidence of difficulties
achieving and maintaining an erection, as well as problems with premature ejaculation
(Fromuth & Burkhart, 1989). In addition, the authors found a discrepancy between their
midwestern sample and their southeastern sample; a history of childhood sexual abuse
was not related to psychological adjustment in the southeastern sample. This finding
could not be explained by differences in the nature of abuse, culture, or region of the two
groups; this illustrates the dependence of findings on characteristics of the sample. The
authors conclude that their finding of a relationship between sexual abuse and later
psychological functioning is consistent with studies involving females (Alexander &
Lupfer, 1987; Briere & Runtz, 1988).
Many clinicians have wondered if the impact of sexual abuse on boys differs from
that of girls. There is a common presumption that sexual abuse of boys is most often
initiated by the child and that boys are less negatively affected by the abusive experience
(Metcalfe et al., 1990). On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is suggested that the
response of boys to sexual abuse would differ from girls because boys are less likely to be
abused by family members and must deal with fears of homosexuality (Finkelhor, 1990).
The general view of the male perpetrator and female victim often makes it difficult for
male victims of sexual abuse to report such an event; this theory is often used to explain
the discrepancies between incidence rates for males and females. Pierce and Pierce
(1985) note that, while more than likely there are fewer father-son/male perpetrator
(homosexual child abuse) and mother-son/female perpetrator encounters, fears of the
male victim being identified as homosexual and of being exposed as vulnerable lead to
both the male victim and others knowledgeable of the male victim's plight to not report
such abuse. Thus, societal notions lead to the naive assumption this type of child sexual
abuse never occurs.
Comparison of Male and Female Abuse
Another difficulty in identifying male victims of child sexual abuse is the
difference in which abuse is defined based on gender. Different agencies (medical, legal,
etc.) as well as different researchers define sexual abuse with different criteria. For
example, some studies, when examining sexual abuse of females, define abuse as
"aggravated rape, sodomy, vaginal penetration, fondling, etc." (Fromuth & Burkhart,
1987; Johnson & Shrier, 1985; Pierce & Pierce, 1985). Such definitions do not always
apply to male victims, for obvious reasons, but also for more subtle reasons. For
example, a definition requiring penetration does not take into account sexually
stimulating behaviors such as a mother who continues to bathe, dress, or sleep with her
adolescent son (Pierce & Pierce, 1985). Such behaviors stop short of intercourse, making
it unlikely to be reported as child sexual abuse; however, there may be significant
consequences on the son's sexual development (Pierce & Pierce, 1985).
Mental health clinics and treatment facilities have particularly large numbers of
clients who report histories of sexual abuse, both males and females (Hernandez et al.,
1993). One in five men in sexually transmitted disease clinics reports histories of sexual
abuse (Hernandez et al., 1993). Psychiatric populations have found the prevalence to be
much higher (Hernandez et al., 1993). Several recent studies have focused on clinical
samples of boys with histories of sexual abuse. Findings include that most of the
perpetrators were related to the victims, consistent with childhood sexual abuse of girls;
the most common form of abuse of males was attempted or completed anal penetration;
and both boys and girls sexually abused in childhood exhibited increased depression, sex-
behavior problems, aggression, and hopelessness compared to non-abused, non-clinical
peers (Violato & Genuis, 1993).
Pierce and Pierce (1985) reviewed cases of child sexual abuse reported to an
abuse hotline for a four-year period, encompassing 304 subjects. They examined several
variables which they believed were related to the abuse, including perpetrator variables,
variables that sustained the abuse, and differences between male and female victims.
Specific findings of their study include the sexually abused male was significantly
younger than the sexually abused female [mean age (male = 8.6), (female = 10.6)], 32%
of the males were African-American, 44% of male victims came from homes with four or
more children present, and only 4% of male victims compared to 20% of female victims
were removed from the home as a precaution against further abuse (Pierce & Pierce,
1985). The authors suggested that this last finding indicated protective services biases
toward not viewing males as vulnerable to continued sexual abuse. In addition, the
authors found a significant difference in family composition. Thirty-eight percent of the
males had no father figure in the home compared to 12% of the females, and only 24% of
the male victims versus 58% of the female victims lived with their natural fathers (Pierce
& Pierce, 1985).
In Pierce and Pierce's (1985) sample, all of the perpetrators were family members,
relatives, or caretakers. Males were more likely to be abused by stepfathers than females,
but females were more likely to be abused by their natural fathers than males. Males
were also more likely to live with their natural mothers and to have no father in the home.
Perpetrators also most often engaged in oral intercourse with males (52% of the cases)
than with females (17% of the cases), masturbation of males (40% males vs. 21%
females), and fondling was more prominent with females than with males (63% vs. 32%,
respectively) (Pierce & Pierce, 1985). Finally, the perpetrators engaged in three or more
kinds of sexual activity with most of the male children (92%), which was almost twice as
often for females who experienced multiple sexual acts (48%) (Pierce & Pierce, 1985).
The emotional and physical health of the non-perpetrating parent contributed
significantly to differences in abuse of males and females. Persons who abused females
were judged more often to be alcoholic as well as less often emotionally ill than those
who abused male children (Pierce & Pierce, 1985). The use of force or threats was found
to occur significantly more for males than females; of the males, 45% felt forced and 43%
felt threatened, as compared to 35% of females felt forced and 30% felt threatened.
Interestingly, males were less likely to see the perpetrator as a tyrant than females (Pierce
& Pierce, 1985).
The authors conclude that one difference between male and female child sexual
abuse is that society tends to blame the abuser if the victim is a male, while the female
victim is viewed as seductive and inviting of the abuse (Pierce & Pierce, 1985). Also, the
authors suggest that given the large number of abused males that lived in a home with a
mother and no father, males were more psychologically vulnerable because of their need
and desire for a male role model. It was hypothesized that sexually abused males may be
afraid to refuse sexual advances of relatives or friends because they might then have no
one to care about them. Mothers of the abused males were also seen as more emotionally
disturbed, suggesting less emotional support for the abused child.
Just as there is conflict of the similarity and dissimilarity of symptoms between
male and female victims of sexual abuse, there is conflict over the role race and ethnicity
plays in sexual abuse. Mennen (1995) argues that a child's cultural group influences the
values and norms the child develops, characteristic coping and defensive styles, and
views toward and the meaning given to life events. Thus, a person's racial or ethnic
background affects attitudes about what constitutes acceptable sexual behavior and may
influence the way the experience of sexual abuse is processed, the meaning attributed to
the abuse, and the severity and types of symptoms that may develop following the abuse.
Mennen (1995) cites several studies that have found racial or ethnic differences in the
symptoms related to sexual abuse, but notes that findings remain conflicting and
While there has been an increase in attention to examining sexual abuse issues in
terms of males, there has been little improvement in investigation of the relationship
between race and sexual abuse. Many researchers put forth the idea that abuse is equally
prevalent across socioeconomic levels; this may be true. However, when other variables
such as race, family structure, and physical and mental health are factored in, children
from lower socioeconomic environments show an increased likelihood of experiencing
sexual abuse. Children from low socioeconomic environments and single-parent homes
are more frequently targeted for abuse, as are children with physical, neurological, or
emotional problems (Hernandez et al., 1993). This suggests that African-American
children, especially African-American males, are at higher risk of sexual abuse compared
with other groups of children (Hernandez et al., 1993). Demographics indicate that
African-American males are over-represented in such situations as above; however, there
is scant research on this population or other ethnic minorities.
Priest (1992) specifically examined the prevalence of childhood sexual
victimization and subsequent utilization of mental health services in a selected sample of
African-American college students. He relied on Finkelhor's (1979) child sexual
victimization questionnaire, an instrument previously discussed and widely used in
studies of sexual abuse. Fifteen-hundred students at 12 of the 110 historically African-
American colleges and universities were randomly selected; a total of 1040 of these
questionnaires were included in the study. Twenty-five percent of the female respondents
and 12% of the male respondents reported that they had been sexually abused before age
17 (Priest, 1992). Of the female victims of sexual abuse, only 19% of them received
mental health treatment following the abuse, and none of the males had received any form
of counseling (Priest, 1992).
Lindholm and Willey (1986) analyzed 4132 cases of child abuse that were
reported to the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department in order to examine possible ethnic
differences in child abuse and sexual abuse. Of the cases involving sexual abuse, 95% of
them involved female victims (Lindholm & Willey, 1986). When the dimension of
ethnic group was added, the authors found that for their sample, African-American
children were less likely to be sexually abused than Caucasian or Hispanic children
(Lindholm & Willey, 1986). Fewer Caucasian females had to participate in sexual
intercourse compared to Hispanic and African-American females, and oral copulation
occurred more frequently with Caucasian children than with Hispanic and African-
American children. Sodomy was generally rare, but Hispanic boys were slightly more
likely to have been sodomized than Caucasian boys, and African-American boys did not
report sodomy at all in those cases reporting sexual abuse (Lindholm & Willey, 1986).
The authors also discovered that 95% of the perpetrators of sexual abuse were male and
5% were female (Lindholm & Willey, 1986).
Lindholm and Willey (1986) conclude that there are significant ethnic differences
in many aspects of child abuse, and those differences may reflect the variation in family
structure and child rearing attitudes. Fathers were most often the suspects in Anglo and
Hispanic families where sexual abuse was investigated, but mothers were the
predominant suspects in African-American families where sexual abuse was investigated.
Female suspects were two-to-three times more likely to be single parents than male
suspects. In addition, many of the reported cases of abuse involved an adult perpetrator
who was "standing in" for a parent (such as a stepparent, common-law parent,
boy/girlfriend of the mother/father). Hispanic families showed the greatest concern for
physical injury and sexual abuse, while African-Americans showed the greatest tendency
to use objects in whippings or beatings as a form of punishment (Lindholm & Willey,
1986). The authors conclude that there are many significant differences in types of abuse
observed based on ethnicity, and that such factors must be examined in attempts to
understand factors that promote abuse of children.
Mennen (1995) found that in a sample of Hispanic females, girls who experienced
vaginal penetration as part of the sexual abuse had mean scores greater than one standard
deviation of the standardization samples on measures of depression and anxiety. In
contrast, Hispanic girls who were sexually abused but did not experience vaginal
penetration produced mean scores closer to the mean of the standardization sample.
Mennen (1995) notes that there was little discrepancy in scores of Caucasian and African
American girls on measures of depression and anxiety based on the type of abuse. He
concludes that the traditional emphasis on purity and the importance of virginity for
Latinas may lead to the differences for Hispanic girls based on the type of sexual abuse
(Mennen, 1995). Hispanic girls that experience penetration during sexual abuse may
have the trauma of sexual abuse compounded by their perceived loss of virginity, and this
could increase their feelings of worthlessness.
The amount of information about sexual abuse in Asian populations is almost
negligible. Rao, DiClemente, and Ponton (1992) examined distinguishing features of
sexual abuse in Asian populations through retrospective chart reviews. Several
significant findings resulted from this approach. First, Asian victims were on average
older than their Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic counterparts (Rao et al.,
1992). The fact that Asian children were older may explain another finding: that Asian
victims experienced less physically invasive sexual abuse than other ethnic groups (Rao
et al., 1992). A significant number of the Asian victims and their families were
immigrants, and they were more likely than other groups to be living with both parents
(Rao et al., 1992). A male relative was more likely to be the perpetrator of sexual abuse
in the Asian cases, and this may be due to the fact that the perpetrator was also more
likely to be living with the victim's family at the time of the abuse (Rao et al., 1992).
There were also significant differences in symptomatology following sexual abuse based
on racial and ethnic differences. Asian victims were less likely than other ethnic groups
to express anger and hostility but most likely to express suicidal impulses (Rao et al.,
1992). The authors speculated that the reason for this finding is related to cultural
pressures within Asian communities to not express hostility openly and to internalize
severe conflicts (Rao et al., 1992). Asian family members were least supportive to the
victim of sexual abuse. Asian families were least likely to report the abuse, to refer the
victim to authorities, to believe the abuse occurred, and to be involved in the evaluation
and treatment process (Rao et al., 1992). Following this, Asian victims of sexual abuse
were less likely to disclose abuse to such family members as compared to other ethnic
and racial groups (Rao et al., 1992).
Rao et al. (1992) also found that Hispanic children were similar to Asians in
several ways. Hispanic children were also older than Caucasian and African-American
children when abused, and they were also more likely to be living with their assailant at
the time of the abuse (Rao et al., 1992). The authors suggest that such factors as
immigration status, parental marital status, and cultural expectations help explain some of
the differences between Asian/Hispanic children and Caucasian/African-American
children. African-American victims in their sample tended to the youngest victims, were
the least likely to come from intact families, were least likely to be victims of interracial
abuse, and suffered more physically invasive forms of sexual abuse (Rao et al., 1992).
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Based on the above review of the literature, research is proposed to investigate the
relationship between childhood sexual experiences and adult male psychological
adjustment. In this study, sexual abuse will be broadly defined to include non-contact
encounters to contact encounters (e.g., exposure to another's genitalia to penetration).
Furthermore, both coercive and non-coercive events will be defined as sexual abuse; that
is, a requirement that the sexual contact be unwanted is not part of the definition. There
is some indication that this distinction may account for many of the discrepant findings
across studies in terms of symptoms following abuse, the effect of perpetrator gender on
male victim outcome, and the relationship of race and ethnicity to sexual abuse of males
(Finkelhor, 1979; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987; Hernandez et al., 1993).
In order to exclude cases of age-appropriate sexual experimentation among peers,
an age criterion will also be employed. Specifically, if the subject was 12 years old or
younger at the time of the abuse, the older partner had to be at least 16 years old and at
least 5 years older than the subject; if the subject was between the ages of 13 and 16 at the
time of abuse, the partner had to be at least 10 years older than the subject (Finkelhor,
1979; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987, 1989). This definition has been used in several studies
cited above and will allow for more generalizability of these findings. In addition, there
is some speculation of a differential outcome based on age at time of abuse (latency vs.
post-latency), with some suggestion that adolescent males have a greater tendency to seek
out sexual experiences with older partners while younger children have sexual
experiences thrust upon them (Briere & Runtz, 1988; Faller, 1989; Fromuth, 1986;
Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990; Goff, 1987; Johnson & Shrier, 1985;
Krug, 1989; Peluso & Putnam, 1996; Watkins & Bentovim, 1992).
Hypotheses to be Investigated
The primary question of interest is the relationship between reported childhood
sexual abuse experiences and adult male psychological adjustment. It is hypothesized
that men who report sexual experiences consistent with this study's definition of abuse
will be less well-adjusted psychologically compared to men who do not report such
experiences as measured by mean T-score elevations of the three global indices on the
SCL-90-R. Specifically, men who report experiences of childhood sexual abuse should
endorse significantly greater number of items and at greater intensity than non-abused
comparisons as measured by the Global Severity Index (GSI), the Positive Symptom
Distress Index (PSDI), and the Positive Symptom Total (PST).
Surrey, Swett, Michaels, and Levin (1990) examined 140 women outpatients who
reported a history of sexual or physical abuse, both or no abuse. The authors
hypothesized that female outpatients would have high rates of reported abuse but lower
than an inpatient population; that the severity of overall symptomatology would be
greater for outpatients with a history of abuse compared to non-abused peers; that the
patterning of symptoms and diagnosis could be used to identify patients with a reported
history of abuse (Surrey et al., 1990).
Eighty-nine of the women (64%) reported a history of abuse. Seventeen (12%)
reported sexual abuse only, 37 (26%) reported physical abuse only, 35 (25%) reported
both types of abuse, and 51 (36%) reported no history of abuse (Surrey et al., 1990). Of
the 76 women who reported the age at which they were first abused, 56 (74%) reported
that it was prior to age 18; 12 (16%) reported sexual abuse only, and 28 (37%) reported
physical abuse only, and 28 (37%) reported both types of abuse early. Seven (23%) of the
30 patients reporting early sexual abuse also reported later sexual abuse, and 18 (53%) of
the 34 patients reporting early physical abuse reported later physical abuse (Surrey et al.,
Of the 17 patients reporting sexual abuse, 15 identified their abuser as a friend (4),
father (3), other family member (3), stranger (3), an authority figure (1) or an unspecified
person (1). All of the 37 patients reporting physical abuse identified their abuser as either
a father (11), spouse (9), mother (6), brother (5), stranger (3), friend (2), and other family
member (1). Of the 35 patients reporting both physical and sexual abuse, only 32
indicated the nature of their relationship to the abuser as father (12), stranger (7), brother
(3), friend (3), mother (2), sister (2), uncle (1), spouse (1), or a person in authority (1).
The authors found that results of a one-way ANOVA for the Global Severity
Index (GSI) of the SCL-90 were statistically significant when scores for four categories of
abuse history were compared (physical, sexual, physical and sexual, no abuse). The
means for patients reporting one or both types of abuse were significantly higher than
those reporting no abuse (Surrey et al., 1990). The result of a one-way ANOVA on the
GSI for first abuse prior to age 18 or no abuse was also statistically significant, with
patients reporting one or both forms of abuse having higher mean scores than those
reporting none (Surrey et al., 1990). A probit regression analysis carried out determined
that the GSI score of the SCL-90-R could correctly identify 68% of the patients with a
reported history of abuse (Surrey et al., 1990). A stepwise multiple regression analysis
using physical abuse and sexual abuse as the independent variables and GSI as the
dependent variable revealed that while physical and sexual abuse were significant factors
in predicting scores, abuse accounted for only 7% of the variance measured by the
coefficient of multiple determination. This finding suggests that other unknown factors
contributed/affected the scores.
In a similar study, Swett, Surrey and Cohen (1990) surveyed an adult male
psychiatric outpatient population. The authors investigated the relationship between
physical and/or sexual abuse of males and their current adult functioning. Again, it was
hypothesized that there would be a higher percentage of the psychiatric population
reporting abuse histories as well as a higher level of symptoms compared to non-abused
men (Swett et al., 1990).
A total of 125 men were surveyed; the majority of subjects were Caucasian,
single, employed or in college, with a mean age of 37.1 years. Sixty of the subjects
(48%) reported some history of abuse during their life. Nine (7%) reported sexual abuse
only, 44 (35%) reported physical abuse only, seven (6%) reported both types of abuse,
and 65 (52%) reported no history of abuse (Swett et al., 1990). Of the 53 men who
reported age at time of first abuse, 45 (85%) reported that abuse was prior to age 18.
Seven (13%) reported sexual abuse only, 34 (64%) reported physical abuse only, and four
(8%) reported both types of abuse. The nine patients with histories of sexual abuse only
identified their abuser as a friend (2), brother, uncle, authority figure, other person, or
stranger (1 each), and some other family member (2).
Similar to the study with female outpatients, a one-way ANOVA found there were
significant differences in SCL-90-R mean Global Severity Index (GSI) T-scores when
scores for the four categories of abuse history were compared (physical, sexual, physical
and sexual, no abuse). The means for patients reporting one or both types of abuse were
significantly higher than those reporting no abuse (Swett et al., 1990). Of the subjects
who reported abuse prior to age 18, results of a one-way ANOVA revealed that such
patients had statistically significant higher scores on five of the subscales and the GSI
(Swett et al., 1990). Thirty-two subjects reported some form of abuse prior to age 12 and
one-way ANOVA showed the same trend toward higher SCL-90-R scores for those who
reported some form of abuse compared to subjects with no history of abuse. Results of a
two-way ANOVA with the two types of abuse as independent variables and the SCL-90-
R scale scores as dependent variables were not significant, indicating that there was no
interaction effect (Swett et al., 1990). A probit regression analysis revealed that the GSI
of the SCL-90-R could correctly identify subjects with histories of abuse in 68% of the
subjects (Swett et al., 1990). A stepwise multiple regression analysis using physical and
sexual abuse as the independent variables and the SCL-90-R GSI as the dependent
variable revealed that physical and sexual abuse were significant factors in predicting
scores. However, abuse accounted for only 15% of the variance according to the
coefficient of multiple determination, suggesting that other unknown factors also were
important (Swett et al., 1990).
A second hypothesis is that of the men who meet this study's criteria for
experiencing sexual abuse, there will be a significant difference in mean scale GSI
elevations on the SCL-90-R based on family/parental support, but not based on gender
and/or relationship of the perpetrator to the male subject. That is, subjects who report a
sexual experience with an older partner as well as lower ratings of parental support will
have higher levels of distress as measured by the SCL-90-R GSI, regardless of the gender
of the older partner or the relationship of the partner to them. The findings of the Roland
et al. (1989) study support investigation of differences based on role of the perpetrator for
abuse of females; however, research of male sexual abuse has not resulted in a distinct
outcome based on the gender or role of the abuser (Johnson & Shrier, 1987; Krug, 1989;
Pierce & Pierce, 1985; Faller, 1989; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1989). Males who are sexually
abused appear to consistently struggle with fears of homosexuality and low self-esteem,
regardless of the gender of the perpetrator (Johnson & Shrier, 1987; Pierce & Pierce,
1985; Faller, 1989).
A third question to be investigated in this study is the relationship of age at time
of abuse and adult male psychological adjustment. It is hypothesized that there will be no
significant difference in mean scale elevations on the SCL-90-R between subjects who
report sexual abuse prior to age 12 and subjects who report sexual abuse following age
12. That is, there should be no discernable difference in adult psychological adjustment
based on age of abuse, as measured by mean scale elevations on the SCL-90-R. Again,
there are inconsistent findings regarding the impact of abuse at various ages. Some
studies suggest that abuse of younger children creates more severe and long-lasting
problems (Hernandez et al., 1989), while others suggest that abuse of older children is
more detrimental to psychological adjustment (McLaren & Brown, 1989).
Finally, it is predicted that there will be a significant difference in abuse status
related to the racial/ethnic background of the subjects. That is, minority subjects will
have a greater frequency of abuse compared to non-minority (Caucasian) subjects. As
reviewed above, while all forms of abuse occur over the spectrum of socioeconomic
levels, additional factors such as racial and ethnic background may increase the chances
of having a history of sexual abuse. As previously discussed, differences in abuse
patterns by race have been noted in the literature (Hernandez et al., 1993; Mennen, 1994;
Mennen, 1995; Priest, 1992).
Subjects consisted of college males (N = 164) from a state university representing
suburban and rural north-central Florida. Data were collected at five occasions over a 20
month period between April 1996 and December 1997. Potential subjects were recruited
through the research subject pool program organized by that university's undergraduate
psychology program. In this program, students in psychology classes are required to
participate in psychological research in order to receive necessary academic credits. At
the time that subjects signed up to participate in this research project, they were simply
informed of the project identification number and the number of credits offered; they did
not have prior knowledge of the nature of the research. At the time that subjects met to
complete the test materials, they were not informed of the nature of the study; that is, they
were not told that one area of the study was to explore the issue of child sexual abuse.
Research assistants conducted most data collection sessions after several training
sessions. Subjects completed the testing session in a small group format with no more
than 10 subjects per group. All questionnaires (the demographic questionnaire, the
Sexual History Questionnaire, and the SCL-90-R) were number coded, with each
individual subject's questionnaires having the same number code. Each subject was
instructed not to place any identifying information such as their name or social security
number on any of the forms. When subjects completed the questionnaires, they were
directed to place all materials in an unmarked manilla envelope and place it in a pile for
the research assistants.
Following completion of the study and review of the database, 34 subjects were
removed from the data pool due to multiple incomplete data points, reducing the total
sample by almost 21% (N = 130). Criteria for removal from the database were one or
more of the following:
1) failure to complete the demographic questionnaire or
2) failure to complete one or more of the 4 sections of the Sexual History
3) omission of 18 or more items from the SCL-90-R.
Subjects ranged in age from 17 to 47, but predominately between ages 18 and 20;
one subject was an outlier at age 47 and increased the variance sevenfold. When this
subject is removed from the data, mean age was 18.73 (see Table 1). The vast majority
(72.3%) of subjects were Caucasian (see Table 2). Given the small number of subjects
who identified as non-Caucasian, race was re-organized as a dichotomous variable,
Caucasian vs. Non-Caucasian (see Table 3). Thus, slightly more than one quarter of the
sample was non-Caucasian (27.7%). Reported family income ranged from less than
$10,000 to $90,000 and higher, with the most frequent family income reported as $90,000
and higher (see Table 4).
The demographic questionnaire was rationally derived for this study. It employs
several items from various forms used in the University of Florida Psychology Clinic (See
Appendix A). The form seeks information regarding subject age, racial/ethnic
background, family composition, family income, and sexual orientation.
DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: AGE
AGE FREQUENCY PERCENT
17 1 .8
18 70 54.3
19 34 26.4
20 15 11.6
21 5 3.9
22 4 3.1
TOTAL 129 100
MEAN AGE 18.73
STANDARD DEVIATION 1.03
n = 129 (1 subject removed due to outlier at age 47)
DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: RACE / ETHNICITY
RACT/ETHNICITY FREQUENCY PERCENT
African-American 8 6.2
Latino/Hispanic (non-Black) 10 7.7
Asian/Asian-American 16 12.3
Caucasian 94 72.3
Other 2 1.5
TOTAL 130 100
DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: RACE / ETHNICITY
(CAUCASIAN & NON-CAUCASIAN)
CAUCASIAN 94 72.3
NON-CAUCASIAN 36 27.7
TOTAL 130 100
DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: FAMILY INCOME
INCOME FREQUENCY PERCENT
Under $10,000 2 1.5
$10,000 $20,000 3 2.3
$20,000 $30,000 9 6.9
$30,000 $40,000 8 6.2
S40,000 $50,000 13 10.0
$50,000 $60,000 25 19.2
$60,000 $70,000 11 8.5
$70,000 $80,000 13 10.0
$80,000 $90,000 12 9.2
$90,000 and above 34 26.2
TOTAL 130 100
Sexual History Questionnaire
Subjects were asked to complete a self-report research survey questionnaire
previously used in studies of college students (Fromuth, 1986; Fromuth & Burkhart,
1987; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1989). The survey questionnaire is an extensive modification
by Fromuth and Burkhart (1989) of the Sexual Life Events inventory created by David
Finkelhor (1979); Fromuth's modified version has been used in several studies and
continues to be used in current research (Benedict & Zautra, 1993; Finkelhor, 1979;
Fromuth, 1986; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1989; Metcalfe et al., 1993; Yama et al., 1993;
Fromuth, 10/95). Fromuth's questionnaire includes an extensive survey of childhood
sexual victimization experiences, as well as items related to family composition and
functioning and current sexual and psychological adjustment. For the purpose of this
study, the most current and modified version of Fromuth's survey questionnaire will be
referred to as the Sexual History Questionnaire (see Appendix B).
One important aspect of the Sexual History Questionnaire is the objective
categorization of abuse. A major component of this process is the use of an age criterion.
The age criterion serves to exclude potential age-appropriate sexual experimentation
among similar aged peers as well as identify significant discrepancies in age among
sexual partners. Specifically, if the subject was 12 years old or younger at the time of the
abuse, the older partner had to be at least 16 years old and at least 5 years older than the
subject; if the subject was between the ages of 13 and 16 at the time of the abuse, the
partner had to be at least 10 years older than the subject.
The use of such an age criterion distinguishes between latency-age sexual
experiences and adolescent sexual experiences. In more psychodynamic theories of
psychosexual development, the latency phase (roughly age 7 to 12 years) is a period in
which there is a decrease in the prominence of pre-Oedipal and Oedipal striving in terms
of both intensity and direction (Cole & Cole, 1989; Gay, 1989; Gleitman, 1987; Lewis,
1996). The degree of preoccupation with sexual impulses and interests that are explicitly
connected with the assumption of parental roles is significantly diminished during this
phase of development (Cole & Cole, 1989; Lewis, 1996). Individuals use denial,
avoidance and repression as ways to manage sexual impulses, and gradually also learn to
use intellectualization, humor, obsessional interests and sublimation as ways to avoid the
original impulse and the anxiety attached with sexual longings (Cole & Cole, 1989;
Gleitman, 1987). The central threat to the latency-age child is the re-emergence or
breakthrough of the original sexual and aggressive fantasies of the Oedipal phase,
particularly when associated with the urge to masturbate (Gay, 1989; Lewis, 1996).
Sleeping difficulties; nightmares; worries about burglars, bodily harm and death and the
ease of regression to earlier modes of relating to parents (e.g., struggles over food, self-
care, household responsibilities) may be some of the behavioral phenomena present when
a latency-age child is confronted with his sexual impulses (Lewis, 1996).
Adolescence is typically thought to range from approximately age 12 to age 20
years. It is often described as one of the most dramatic phases of human development,
marked by profound changes in biological, psychological and social functioning (Cole &
Cole, 1989; Gleitman, 1987; Lewis, 1996). The early part of adolescence, or pre-
adolescence, is notable for the individual's renewed interest in anatomical differences and
masturbation (Cole & Cole, 1989). The next phase of adolescence is usually
distinguished by the endocrinological and biological processes of puberty, that is, the
development of primary and secondary sexual characteristics (e.g., hair growth, voice
changes, menarche, nocturnal emissions) (Cole & Cole, 1989; Lewis, 1996).
Adolescence often marks a dramatic shift in how children relate to their parents, with
most often seeking ways to become more independent and autonomous (Cole & Cole,
1989; Gleitman, 1987; Lewis, 1996).
Included in Fromuth's sexual experiences survey questionnaire is the Parental
Support Scale, a 12-item measure developed by Fromuth (1986) to examine perceived
parental supportiveness. It has been suggested that family background and variables are a
significant mediating factor in determining the outcome for subjects who had experienced
childhood sexual abuse (Fromuth, 1986 and Violato & Genuis, 1993). Subjects are asked
to rate on 5-point scales their agreement or disagreement with each item. Both parents
are rated separately on each item and then scores are combined to produce a total score.
Fromuth (1986) found that the scale exhibited good internal consistency (alpha
coefficient = .90) and correlated in the expected direction with other items related to
parental supportiveness. The Parental Support Scale correlated with feeling emotionally
neglected as a child [r(440)=-. 5 1, p<. 0001 ]; with perceiving the parental marriage as
unhappy [r(438)=-. 36, p<. 0001 ]; with reporting being physically abused by father
[r(448)=-.21, p<. 0001 ]; and with reporting being physically abused by mother [r(446)=-
.28, p<.000I] (Fromuth, 1986). The Parental Support Scale also was significantly
correlated with a history of childhood sexual abuse [r(383)=-. 15, p<.O1] (Fromuth, 1986).
For all subjects, item 9 of this questionnaire was of specific interest. Item 9
contains 12 statements which subjects rate their mother and father separately on. Each
statement is based on a Likert scale, with 1 being "never" and 5 "very often" (see
For subjects who reported having a sexual experience with an older partner (that
met this study's criteria for an abusive sexual experience) before they were 13 years old
or after age 13, several items were of interest. Specifically, the subject's age at the time
of the experience (items 12, 33), their estimate of the partner's age at the time of the
episode (items 13, 34), the gender of the partner (items 14, 35), how the partner was
related to them (items 15, 36), what sexual behaviors were engaged in (items 16, 37),
who started it (items 17, 38), was force used (items 18, 39), the subject's reaction at the
time of the episode (items 24, 45), the subject's feeling at the time of the experience
(items 29, 50), and the subject's retrospective view of the effect the episode had on their
life (items 30, 51) (see Appendix B).
Finally, several similar items were of interest for subjects who reported engaging
in a sexual episode with someone much younger than themselves and consistent with this
study's criteria for a sexually abusive experience. Specifically, how old the subject was
at the time of the episode (item 54), the age of the younger partner (item 55), the gender
of the younger person (item 56), how the younger partner was related to the subject (item
57), the nature of the sexual behavior (item 58), who initiated the sexual episode (item
59), the use of force (item 60), the subject's reaction at the time of the experience (item
66), the subject's feeling about the experience (item 71), the subject's assessment of the
impact on his life (item 72), and the subject's assessment of the impact of the episode on
their younger partner's life (item 73) (see Appendix B).
Finally, subjects were asked to complete the Symptom CheckList-90-Revised
(SCL-90-R). Several studies examining adult female psychological functioning following
experiences of childhood sexual abuse have used the SCL-90-R (Derogatis, 1994 and
Surrey et al., 1990). The SCL-90-R is a 90-item self-report symptom inventory designed
to reflect the psychological symptom patterns of community, medical, and psychiatric
respondents. It is a measure of current psychological symptom status. The SCL-90-R is
designed for use with psychiatric patients, medical patients, and individuals in the
community who are not currently patients. Test-retest reliabilities are superior for the
SCL-90-R and there do not appear to be any significant practice effects that might bias
the results of repeated administration (Derogatis, 1994). A sixth grade reading level is
required to take the SCL-90-R. Each item is rated on a five-point Likert scale (0-4)
ranging from "Not At All" to "Extremely."
The SCL-90-R is scored and interpreted in terms of nine primary symptom
dimensions and three global indices of distress. The primary symptom dimensions
include the following: Somatization, Obsessive-Compulsive, Interpersonal Sensitivity,
Depression, Anxiety, Hostility, Phobic Anxiety, Paranoid Ideation, and Psychotism.
These primary symptom dimensions evolved through a combination of clinical/rational
and empirical/analytic procedures; each dimension has been empirically verified
(Derogatis, 1994). The syndromes of the SCL-90-R were selected on the basis of clear
and consistent definition in the literature so that confusion about what was being
measured could be averted (Derogatis, 1994). The authors also required that tangible
manifestations of each construct be measurable via standard scales, and particularly, that
they be amenable to the self-report modality (Derogatis, 1994). Finally, each of the
symptom constructs required empirical confirmation in order to be included in the test
The three global indices include Global Severity Index (GSI), Positive Symptom
Distress Index (PSDI), and Positive Symptom Total (PST). These indices were
developed to provide more flexibility in the overall assessment of the patient's
psychopathologic status and to furnish summary indices of levels of symptomatology and
psychological distress. Research supports these three indices as separate aspects of
psychological disorder (Derogatis, 1994). The function of each of these global measures
is to communicate in a single score the level or depth of the individual's psychological
distress. Each measure reflects a somewhat different aspect of psychological distress.
The Global Severity Index (GSI) is the best single indicator of the current level or
depth of the disorder (Derogatis, 1994). It combines information concerning the number
of symptoms reported with the intensity of perceived distress. The GSI is recommended
as the single summary measure of psychological distress (Derogatis, 1994).
As reviewed above, both physical and sexual abuse have been linked to
psychological distress. The SCL-90-R has been used in several studies to examine sexual
and physical abuse, including studies of abusive parents, abused adolescents and adults
who report a history of childhood abuse (Derogatis, 1994). Consistent across several
studies has been lower SCL-90-R scores for non-abused subjects compared to both
inpatient and outpatient subjects who report a history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or
both (Derogatis, 1994). The SCL-90-R has also been used to investigate sexual
function/dysfunction. Derogatis and Myers (Derogatis, 1994) reported on a heterogenous
sample of men and women with sexual dysfunction and found that mean SCL-90-R scale
scores were elevated into the clinical range.
Subjects were group administered the protocol containing the three questionnaires
and the Informed Consent by two research assistants (male and female) trained by a
graduate student in clinical psychology. Groups ranged in size from 4 to 10 subjects.
Subjects completed all forms in a classroom setting at their university. All forms were
number coded and students were informed not to place identifying information on any of
the forms. Administration time was approximately 45 minutes on average.
Scoring of the SCL-90-R was done by hand and completed by the primary
investigator. The process of scoring the SCL-90-R questionnaires revealed 28 missing
data points randomly dispersed across 19 subjects. The SCL-90-R administration manual
notes that approximately 20% (<=18) of the items can be omitted randomly from one
profile without substantially affecting the GSI (Derogatis, 1994). Corrections for missing
data are made by using the actual number of responses (rather than the total possible
number of responses) to calculate the index scores. Scores derived using such a method
are adjusted estimates, but are considered valid if missing responses are sparse and
distributed randomly. Review of the data suggests that this correction method provided
valid estimates of the three primary indices of interest (GSI, PSDI, PST).
Coding of the demographic questionnaire and the Sexual History Questionnaire
was completed by the primary investigator. Based on this, three areas were of interest
from the demographic questionnaire and items coded included racial/ethnic background,
sexual orientation, and family income. Several items were of interest from the Sexual
History Questionnaire; please refer to Table 2 for a complete list of item numbers and
For clerical purposes, three weeks following the initial scoring of the SCL-90-R,
the SCL-90-R was re-scored and all discrepancies were accounted for and corrected by
the primary investigator. Similarly, coding of the demographic and Sexual History
Questionnaires were matched though analysis of computer printouts and all discrepancies
were accounted for and corrected by the primary investigator.
Three areas of statistical analyses were performed using Statistical Package for the
Social Sciences (SPSS). First, descriptive data regarding the subjects were investigated.
Following this, Pearson bivariate correlations for the SCL-90-R and Sexual History
Questionnaire were computed. Third, several T-Tests, Analyses of Covariance and
Multivariate Analyses of Covariance controlling for family support and age at time of
abuse were conducted in order to explore mean differences between subjects' responses
to the SCL-90-R.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The majority of subjects (n = 106, 81.54%) did not report having a sexual
experience with an older partner either before age 13 or after age 13. Of the subjects who
did report having a sexual experience with an older partner and consistent with this
study's definition of sexual abuse, only 15 (11.54%) reported experiences before the age
of 13 and only 9 (6.92%) reported after age 13. (see Table 5).
ABUSE FREQUENCIES: BEFORE AGE 13 AND AFTER AGE 13
Abused: prior age 13 15 11.54
Non-abused : prior age 13 115 88.46
Total 130 100
Abused : after age 13 9 6.92
Non-abused : after age 13 121 93.08
Total 130 100
One subject reported sexual experiences with an older partner both before age 13
and after age 13. For subjects who reported having a sexual experience with an older
partner before age 13, the mean age at the time of the experience was 8; the mean age of
their partner was 19.5. For subjects who reported having a sexual experience with an
older partner after the age of 13, the mean age was 17; the mean age of their partner was
24. Slightly more than half the subjects who reported having a sexual experience with an
older partner before age 13 did so with a female partner (n = 10) rather than a male (n =
4); one subject did not respond to this question. In contrast, all subjects who reported
having a sexual experience after age 13 with an older partner stated that it was with a
female (n = 9).
Most subjects who reported such experiences before age 13 noted their reaction
was one of interest or pleasure in the sexual episode; however, a small number did note
experiencing fear at the time of the sexual episode (see Table 6).
ITEM 24 (REACTION AT TIME OF EXPERIENCE): PRE-13
perp. gender fear shock surprise interest pleasure total
male 0 0 0 3 1 4
female 3 0 1 2 4 10
total 3 0 1 5 5 14
n = 14 (1 subject did not respond)
These same subjects overwhelmingly rated their feelings about the experience as
neutral to positive at the time it occurred (item 29) and found in retrospect that the
experience had a neutral to positive impact on their lives (item 30) (see Table 7).
ITEM 29 (HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT EXPERIENCE?)
ITEM 30 WHAT EFFECT ON YOUR LIFE?) PRE-13
positive mostly neutral mostly negative Total
item 29 5 1 7 1 1 15
item 30 3 18 3 0 15
In contrast, the majority of subjects who had sexual experiences with older
partners after the age of 13 noted their reaction as one of interest and pleasure at the time
of the episode; only 1 subject noted experiencing fear at the time of the sexual episode
(see Table 8).
ITEM 45 (REACTION AT TIME OF EXPERIENCE): POST-13
perp. gender fear shock surprise interest pleasure total
female 1 0 0 5 3 9
Also differing from subjects who reported sexual experiences with older partners
before the age of 13, not one subject who had a similar experience after the age of 13 felt
negative about the experience or that it had a negative impact on their lives. These
subjects overwhelmingly rated their feelings about the experience as neutral to positive at
the time it occurred (item 50) and found in retrospect that the experience had a neutral to
positive impact on their lives as a whole (item 51) (see Table 9).
ITEM 50 (FEELING ABOUT EXPERIENCE)
ITEM 51 (EFFECT OF EXPERIENCE ON LIFE :POST-13
positive mostly neutral mostly negative Total
item 50 6 2 1 0 0 9
item 51 12 12 5 0 01 9
A much smaller number of subjects (n = 6; 4.62%) reported experiences in which
they engaged in sexual behaviors with partners much younger than themselves and
consistent with this study's definition of abuse. The mean age of subjects who engaged
in a sexual episode with a younger partner was 14.7, while their partner's mean age was
8.4. Subjects primarily engaged in sexual activities with younger females (n = 4); one
subject did not respond to this question. Most subjects described their reaction at the
time of the sexual episode as one of interest (n = 3) or pleasure (n = 2); only 1 subject
reported experiencing fear at the time they engaged in a sexual episode with a younger
Most subjects reported the experience as pleasurable for themselves at the time
(item 71). Their assessment of the impact of the sexual episode on the other person was
that it was a neutral to mostly positive experience for the younger partner (item 72). In
contrast to this, in retrospect they felt the sexual episode with a younger partner had either
no impact or mostly negative impact on them (item 73) (see Table 10).
ITEM 71 (HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT EXPERIENCE)
ITEM 72 (EFFECT ON YOUR LIFE)
7"1 (IT1-1717fT (Thi V31 INCPR PARTNERS l.W1 ,IF )RPPTR
positive mostly neutral mostly negative Total
item 71 0 0 3 2 0 5
item 72 0 0 3 2 0 5
item 73 0 1 4 0 0 5
n = 5 (1 subject did not respond)
Finally, mean GSI t-scores were not clinically significant, regardless of subject
groupings (see Table 11).
MEAN GSI T-SCOES (PER GROUP) ....
Mean GSI T-score Standard Deviation N
Abused 58.74 10.88 23
Non-Abused 57.06 10.58 107
Abused: prior age 13 60.00 10.91 15
Non-abused : prior age 13 57.01 10.57 115
Abused : post 13 57.67 11.14 9
Non-abused: post 13 57.33 10.62 121
Perpetrator 61.67 8.07 6
Non Perpetrator 57.15 10.7 124
Whole Sample 57.35 10.61 130
Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were computed for SCL-90-R
indices (GSI, PSD, PST). Of the three possible correlations between the SCL-90-R
indices, all three were found to be significantly and positively related to one another (see
PEARSON PRODUCT-MOMENT CORRELATION COEFFICIENTS SCL-90-R
GSI PSDI PST
PSDI .534** 1.000
p =.000 p=.
PST .902** .436** 1.000
p =.000 p =.000 p=.
N = 130
** correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (1-tailed)
The GSI and PST appear to be very highly correlated ( r = .902, p = .000), with
81% of the variance in PST predicted by the GSI. This suggests the GSI and PST are
similar measures of the same construct, namely overall level of distress. However, the
correlation between the GSI and the PSDI was less strong ( r = .534, p = .000), with only
29% of the variance in the PSDI predicted by the GSI. The PST and PSDI were even less
related ( r = .436, p = .000), with only 19% of the variance in PSDI scores predicted by
the PST. Based upon issues of multicollinearity, the GSI was decided upon post-hoc as
the sole measure of psychological functioning.
Additional Pearson product-moment correlation calculations found no significant
statistical relationship between current ratings of mental health on the SCL-90-R (GSI)
and level of reported parental support = -.073, p =.409, N = 130). This suggests that for
this sample, there was little relationship between reported closeness with parents and
ratings of current mental distress.
In order to examine the relationship between abuse status and perpetration of
abuse toward others, chi-square tests were performed. Abuse status prior to age 13
(abused vs. non-abused) was found to be independent of reporting of perpetration of
sexual abuse (sexual contact with a much younger partner) (chi-square = .162, p = .687).
Interestingly, the relationship between abuse status post age 13 (abused vs. non-abused)
was not found to be independent of reporting of perpetration of sexual abuse (chi-square
= 6.809, p = .009). For this sample, subjects who reported no experiences of sexual abuse
after the age of 13 exhibited a higher number of sexual experiences with much younger
partners, consistent with perpetration of sexual abuse.
Several T-tests were conducted to determine if there were differences between
subjects who reported sexual experiences consistent with abuse and those who did not.
Abuse prior age 13
There was no significant difference between groups (abused vs. non-abused) for
reported level of current distress (GSI: t(128) = -1.027, p = .306). There was also no
distinction between abused and non-abused subjects based on their race or ethnicity
(Race: t(128) = -. 516, p = .607), reported level of family income (Income: t(128) = .560,
p = .576), or feelings of closeness with their parents (Parental Support: t(128) = -1.1146,
p =.159). In general, there was no marked distinction between subjects who did or did
not report sexual experiences with an older partner before the age of 13 in reported
distress and other demographic information (see Table 13).
T-TEST FOR EQUALITY
OF MEANS FOR ABUSED AND NON-ABUSED
(PRIOR AGE 13)
ABUSED NON- t df significance mean
ABUSED (2-tailed) difference
GSI MEAN 60.000 57.009 -1.027 128 .306 -2.991
SD 10.909 10.570
RACE MEAN 1.333 1.270 -.516 128 .607 -0.064
SD .488 .446
FAMILY MEAN 6.667 7.052 .560 128 .576 .386
SD 2.413 2.520
PARENTAL MEAN 71.600 67.609 -1.146 128 .159 -3.991
SD 9.046 10.407
PERP. MEAN .0667 .043 .400 128 .690 -0.023
SD .258 .205
Abused n = 15
Non-Abused n = 115
Abuse post age 13
Similar to subjects younger than 13, examination of sexual experiences after the
age of 13 found no significant differences between those who did report such experiences
and those who did not. There was no significant difference between groups (abused vs.
non-abused) for reported level of current distress (GSI: t(128) = -.091, p = .927). There
also was no distinction between abused and non-abused subjects based on their race or
ethnicity (Race: t(128) = .377, p =.707), reported level of family income (Income: t(128)
= 1.236, p = .219), or feelings of closeness with their parents (Parental Support: t(128) =
-.985, p = .327). In general, there was no marked distinction between subjects who did or
did not report sexual experiences with an older partner after the age of 13 in reported
distress and other demographic information (see Table 14).
T-TEST FOR EQUALITY
OF MEANS FOR ABUSED AND NON-ABUSED
ABUSED NON- t df significance mean
ABUSED (2-tailed) difference
GSI MEAN 57.667 57.331 -.091 128 .927 -.336
SD 11.136 10.618
RACE MEAN 1.222 1.281 .377 128 .707 .059
SD .441 .451
FAMILY MEAN 8.000 6.934 -1.236 128 .219 -1.066
SD 2.646 2.486
PARENTAL MEAN 71.333 67.826 -.985 128 .327 -3.507
SD 10.271 10.311
PERP. MEAN .222 .033 -2.660 128 .009 -.189
SD .441 .180
N = 130
Abused n 9
Non-abused n = 121
Subjects who perpetrated sexual abuse
Examination of sexual experiences with a much younger partner, consistent with
this study's definition of sexual abuse, found no significant differences between those
who did report such experiences and those who did not. There was no significant
difference between groups (perpetrator vs. non-perpetrator) for reported level of current
distress (GSL: t(128) = -1.020, p = .310). There was also no distinction between self-
reported experiences of sexual abuse perpetration and non-perpetration based on race or
ethnicity (Race: t(128) = -1.248 p = .214), reported level of family income (Income:
t(128) = 1.011, p = .3 14) or feelings of closeness with their parents (Parental Support:
t(128) = -0.024, p = .981) In general, there was no significant group difference between
subjects who did or did not report sexual experiences with much younger partners (see
The relationship between abuse status and ratings of mental distress on the SCL-
90-R GSI while controlling for family support was initially proposed to be investigated
through the use of discriminant function analysis. However, because the three indices
originally intended as dependent variables (GSI, PSDI, and PST) are highly correlated,
only the GSI was used in the analysis, as the best overall indicator of global distress.
Accordingly, potential group differences in ratings of mental distress (GSI T-scores) for
abused and non-abused subjects after controlling for perception of parental support were
tested through a one way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA).
There was no significant difference in mean GSI T-scores based on abuse status
(see Table 16). Perceived parental support also had no significant influence on self-
ratings of current mental health. Thus, this study's first hypothesis was not supported:
there was no significant difference in mean GSI T-scores based on report of a sexual
experience in childhood consistent with abuse while controlling for parental support.
T-TEST FOR EQUALITY OF MEANS FOR PERPETRATOR AND NON-
PERP. NON-PERP. t df significance mean
GSI MEAN 61.667 57.145 -1.020 128 .310 -4.522
SD 8.066 10.699
RACE MEAN 1.500 1.266 -1.248 128 .214 -.234
SD .548 .444
FAMILY MEAN 6.000 7.057 1.011 128 .314 1.057
SD 2.967 2.480
PARENTAL MEAN 68.167 68.065 -.024 128 .981 -.102
SD 7.574 10.444
N = 130
Perpetrator n = 6
Non-Perpetrator n = 124
HYPOTHESIS I: BETWEEN SUBJECTS (ABUSE STATUS) ANCOVA
WITH PARENTAL SUPPORT AS CONTINUOUS COVARIATE
SS Df MS F Sig. ofF
Covariate 122.135 1 122.135 1.074 .302
Main Effects (Combined) 200.268 2 100.134 .881 .417
Abuse (<13) 197.847 1 197.847 1.741 .189
Abuse (>13) 70.688 1 70.688 .622 .432
2-way Abuse (<13)
interactions X 85.593 1 85.593 .753 .387
Abuse (> 13)
Model 312.891 4 78.223 .688 .601
Residual 14208.833 125 113.671
Total 14521.723 129
a computed using alpha = .01
b R-Squared = .022 (Adjusted R-Squared = -.010)
Hypotheses II and III
For subjects who reported an experience of sexual abuse in childhood, the
relationship of gender of the perpetrator and relationship of the perpetrator to the subject
was of interest. However, as noted earlier, research suggests that family variables (such
as perceived parental support) may influence the impact the child's response to the abuse.
It was hypothesized that men who meet the criteria for sexual abuse would demonstrate
greater distress as measured by the GSI when the perpetrator was male and a close family
For subjects who reported sexual abuse prior to age 13, a 2 X 4 (Gender of
Perpetrator X Relationship of Perpetrator) two between group ANCOVA was performed
on the dependent variable GSI, while controlling for age at the time of abuse and
perceived parental support (see Table 17). Relationship of Perpetrator to the subject was
based on Item 15 on the Sexual History Questionnaire. Given the small number of
abused subject per cell, this variable was re-coded as a dichotomous variable (Family vs.
HYPOTHESES II AND III: 2 X 2 (GENDER X RELATIONSHIP) ANCOVA
WITH AGE AND PARENTAL SUPPORT AS CONTINUOUS COVARIATES (PRE-13)
Type III SS Df MS F Sig. ofF Observed
Corrected 355.891b 5 71.178 .489 .777 .031
Intercept 1045.126 1 1045.126 7.180 .025 .353
Item 12 4.248 1 4.248 .029 .868 .011
Parental 41.048 1 41.048 .282 .608 .018
Item 14 51.687 1 51.687 .355 .566 .020
Item 15 31.334 1 31.334 .215 .654 .016
Item 14 80.102 1 80.102 .550 .477 .026
Error 1310.109 9 145.568
Total 55666.000 15
Corrected 1666.000 14
a: computed using alpha = .01
b : R-Squared = .214 (Adjusted R-Squared ff-.223)
CHI-SQUARE TEST OF INDEPENDENCE (RACE X ABUSE STATUS)
Abused Non-Abused Total
Caucasian 16 78 94
Non-Caucasian 7 29 36
Total 23 107 130
Pearson X'(1) =.105, Asymp. Sig. (2-sided) = .746
The observed chi-square value (X2(1) =.105, p = .746) is quite small and
negligible; therefore, we must fail to reject the null hypothesis. It must be concluded that
for this sample, race and history of abuse are independent of one another; that is, non-
Caucasians were not more likely to report experience of abuse compared to their
Review of Purpose
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between childhood
sexual experiences and adult male psychological functioning. Specifically, this study
sought to examine the impact of sexual experiences that subjects had with older partners
on their later psychological functioning; such experiences would be classified as sexual
abuse based on the age difference between the partners and the sexualized nature of the
Much of the literature examining sexual experiences that occur in childhood
classify sexual relationships between an older male and a younger female as sexual abuse
Given the small sample size (n = 15), power was low and no significant main
effects, interactions or covariates were discovered. Perpetrators of the sexual experiences
were primarily female (n = 11), while the distribution of partners was equally distributed
between family (n = 7) and non-family (n = 8).
For subjects who reported sexual experiences with an older partner after the age of
13, all subjects reported having such an experience with an older adult female (n = 9). In
addition, each subject who reported having a sexual experience with an older adult female
also indicated that their partner was a non-family member (n = 9). Thus, statistical
analyses similar to the ones used to examine group differences in reported level of
distress based on gender of the perpetrator and relationship of the perpetrator to the
subject could not be conducted.
Based on review of the literature, it was predicted that non-Caucasians would be
more likely than Caucasians to report having had a childhood sexual experience with an
older partner. In order to examine potential differences in reporting of sexual experiences
consistent with abuse based on issues of race or ethnicity, a chi-square test of
independence was conducted on the sample (see Table 18).
and have found that females who report such histories have greater incidences of anxiety,
depression and a variety of psychiatric disturbances (Briere & Runtz, 1988; Carlin &
Ward, 1992; Falter, 1989; Finkelhor, 1990; Fromuth, 1986; McLaren & Brown, 1989).
There have been fewer studies investigating the nature of male childhood sexual
experiences with older adults, and the research in male child sexual abuse has been less
conclusive (Finkelhor, 1990; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987, 1989; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990;
Goff, 1990; Johnson & Shrier, 1985; Krug, 1989; Metcalfe et al., 1990; Muehlenhard &
Cook, 1988; Watkins & Bentovim, 1992). Such research is important, as there is growing
agreement that a large number of males have a sexual experience with an older partner,
whether they classify it as abusive in nature or not. Finkelhor (1994) has called a 1985
Los Angeles Times survey finding that approximately 16% of the general population of
males have been sexually abused as children as "defensible as the only truly national
estimate." The current study is consistent with this base rate, as 17.69% of this sample
reported sexual experiences in childhood that objectively could be classified as sexually
Current Study Findings
In general, there was no statistically different reporting of distress related to
subjects' childhood sexual experiences with older adult partners, regardless of the gender
of the adult partner. While such subjects did have slightly higher mean T-scores on the
SCL-90-R global indices of distress (GSI, PST, PSDI), their scores were neither in the
clinical range of significance (T score = 65 or higher) or significantly different from their
peers who did not report such sexual experiences while growing up. The effect size of
0.16 suggests that whatever group differences exist between subjects who reported sexual
experiences in childhood with an adult partner and those who did not is of a very small
The absence of significant findings in any of the four hypotheses of this study
suggest that, as measured by the approaches used herein, boys are not significantly
negatively affected by sexual contact with persons older than themselves. This conclusion
is borne out by the following results: men who reported boyhood sexual contact with an
older person did not report greater distress on the GSI than those who reported no such
contact. Additionally, the age of the child at the time of the contact did not seem to affect
the level of distress later reported. There were no demonstrable differences in the amount
of parental support experienced by the boys who had had these sexual experiences; and
there was no evidence that minorities were any more likely to have experienced this type
of sexual contact as children than non-minorities.
The lack of power to test the aforementioned hypothesis was a significant
limitation in this study. The small overall sample size, further subdivided by the
groupings of men into subcategories, created a strong possibility of a type II error in the
study, or missing a difference that did in fact exist in the population. The small sample
likewise also affected group means used in calculating effect sizes, with an attendant loss
of statistical power therein as well. The small effect size found in this study coupled with
the base rate of abuse reported in the 1994 Times study indicates that much more subjects
would be needed to fully test the hypotheses in this study.
While no statistically significant differences were found between subjects who
reported sexual experiences with older partners and those who did not report such
experiences, several trends did emerge. Subjects who reported having sexual experiences
with older partners had a mean GSI score that was not significantly different from cohorts
who did not report such experiences, but was closer to clinical significance as measured
by the SCL-90-R. These group differences were in the direction originally hypothesized.
For example, of the 6 subjects who reported sexual experiences with persons younger
than themselves, the mean GSI score approached clinical significance (n = 6, Mean GSI
T-score = 61.67, SD = 8.07) and was slightly higher than subjects who did not report a
sexual experience with a younger person (n = 124, Mean = 57.15, SD = 10.7).
Fromuth and Burkhart (1987) found a trend based on age at time of abuse: boys
who were younger than 13 tended to have more neutral response, while after age 13 more
positive. Similarly, trends observed in this study were that the majority of subjects who
had sexual experiences before the age of 13 felt it had a neutral to mostly negative impact
on their lives (n = 15; positive = 3, mostly positive = 1, neutral = 8, mostly negative = 3),
while those whose experiences occurred after age 13 were split between neutral to
positive (n = 9; positive =2, mostly positive = 2, neutral = 5).
Literature in the area of sexual abuse has also been concerned with the possibility
that people who are abused will go on to abuse others. Meta-analyses of the literature
suggest that this is not true; a review by Widom (1989) found that approximately 66% of
subjects who report extensive physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect do not go on to
abuse children. Results of the current study show little evidence to suggest that boys who
experience youthful sexual contact with older persons go on to sexually abuse children
themselves. Of the 15 subjects who reported abusive experience prior to age 13, 1
reported a sexual experience with a person much younger than themselves and consistent
with sexual abuse. Similarly, 2 subjects who reported sexual experiences after age 13
with someone older acknowledged later sexual experiences with persons much younger
While it was difficult to find statistically significant evidence of a negative impact
of childhood sexual experiences with older partners, it may be inaccurate to conclude that
there was no impact on the subjects and that the experience was totally benign. It is
known that anxiety is present for women at the time of an abusive situation; male denial
of this would not preclude anxiety from having an impact on their subsequent sexual or
emotional development. This is alluded to by slightly higher mean GSI T-scores for
subjects who reported experiencing a sexual episode with an older partner in childhood,
regardless of how they viewed the episode. The slight discrepancy between subjects'
positive perception of the sexual encounter and current ratings of psychological distress is
consistent with prior studies in which subjects reported childhood experiences consistent
with sexual abuse, denied a negative impact from it yet revealed higher incidences of
sexual dysfunction and general distress (Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987, 1989). There are
several possible factors that influenced this study's findings and may explain the lack of
significant group differences. Yet, the aforementioned statistical power limitations did
not allow for an adequate examination of this question. The "negative" results in this
study may, like previous studies, represent the subclinical sequalae of this phenomenon.
However, the most plausible conclusion that can be drawn from this data at this point is
that the question remains unanswered to any degree of scientific certainty.
In addition to low statistical power, there are several possible factors that
influenced this study's findings and may explain the lack of significant group differences.
Future research in this area would be well served by considering these issues.
One of the greatest difficulties in studying male sexual abuse is the variation in
definitions of abuse that exist between studies. Often, differences in how researchers
define inclusion/exclusion criteria determine the rate of abuse that is found in their
sample (e.g., non-contact behaviors vs. contact behaviors). Some studies rely strictly on
the subject's perception of the experience (e.g., was the experience unwanted? Was the
experience perceived as abusive?). Fromuth and Burkhart's (1987) review of the
literature suggests that substantial variations in the rates of abuse reported can be found
even when similar definitions appear to be used.
In this study, an age criterion was used in order to exclude what may have been
age-appropriate sexual experimentation among similar aged peers. Specifically, if the
subject was 12 years old or younger at the time of the abuse, the older partner had to be at
least 16 years old and at least 5 years older than the subject; if the subject was between
the ages of 13 and 16 at the time of the abuse, the partner had to be at least 10 years older
than the subject. This definition of sexual abuse has been used in several studies
(Finkelhor, 1979; Finkelhor, 1990; Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987; Fromuth & Burkhart,
1989) and was used in the hopes of gathering more descriptive data regarding male sexual
experiences as well as improving cross-study comparison.
The use of the Sexual History Questionnaire was also felt to improve the
generalizability of these results. The use of such a questionnaire allowed for an objective
categorization of subjects and then examination of the relationship between such
categorization and their perceptions of the experience.
One explanation for this study's findings is that the measures used (SCL-90-R,
Sexual History Questionnaire) were too general. The SCL-90-R may not be sensitive to
picking up more specific sequelae of this type of abuse (e.g., male childhood sexual
abuse). In addition, the Sexual History Questionnaire relied on a wide definition of abuse
in which sexual abuse is defined by a continuum of non-contact encounters (e.g.,
exposure to another's genitalia) as well as contact behaviors (e.g., intercourse). In fact,
Fromuth and Burkhart (1987) found that the more stringent the definition of abuse used in
research, the more clearly sexual experiences are identified as being abusive and the more
similar data appear from study to study.
Given the differences that arise based on varying definitions of abuse, it is also
likely that how information regarding male sexual abuse is obtained may determine the
type of results found. Most studies using college males tend to use a questionnaire
approach such as the Sexual History Questionnaire (Finkelhor, 1979, 1990; Fromuth &
Burkhart, 1987; Priest, 1992). Unfortunately, the use of broad, funnel-sampling
techniques appears to define different groups in males and females. Females tend to
show more similarities between clinical and non-clinical populations with sexual
experiences consistent with abuse being seen as having more negative impact (Carlin &
Ward, 1992; Faller, 1989; Fromuth & Burhkhart, 1987; Goldwater & Duffy, 1990). In
contrast, males reveal more heterogeneity in non-clinical samples using the same methods
and data from samples of non-clinical male subjects appear very different from studies
that specifically recruit men who report being sexually abused or men in psychotherapy
(Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987; Goff, 1990; Muehlenhard & Cooks, 1988; Pierce & Pierce,
1985). For example, Murphy (as cited in Fromuth and Burkhart, 1987) found that 3% of
males sampled using a telephone survey had an unwanted sexual contact before age 18.
In contrast, the current study with college males found 18.46% of the sample (N = 130)
reported sexual contact with an older partner before age 18.
The use of paper and pencil questionnaires may also have made subjects more
reluctant acknowledge experiences that might be considered shameful or embarrassing.
The use of such a highly complex questionnaire as the Sexual History Questionnaire,
which relied heavily on the use of contingent questioning, likely contributed to lost data.
One study of sexual and drug behaviors found significant differences in how subjects
responded based on the format in which the questions were asked. Males who answered
questions using an audio computer-assisted self-interviewing (audio-CASI) program were
almost four times more likely to report having same-gender sexual experiences in
adolescence, compared to their same-age peers who answered the same questions using a
paper and pencil questionnaire (Turner, Ku, Rogers, Lindberg, Pleck & Sonenstein,
1998). Subjects were also less likely to use "I don't know" or "refuse to answer" options
when using the audio-CASI questionnaire form when compared to responses to the same
paper and pencil questionnaire form (Turner et al., 1998). The use of the computerized
questionnaire form may allow participants in research projects to feel more anonymity,
thus increasing their likelihood to accurately report on more sensitive or particularly
stigmatizing topics such as male childhood sexual abuse.
Given the above, the use of the broad definition of sexual abuse used in this study
likely had a mixed impact on the results. On the one hand, the use of such a definition
resulted a number of subjects reporting experiences consistent with abuse and with the
known baseline for male sexual abuse. Use of a more narrow definition, such as
inclusion of subject's definition of the experience as abusive, would likely have resulted
in fewer subjects acknowledging such events in their childhood. However, the use of the
paper and pencil questionnaire format may have made subjects more reluctant to
acknowledge the negative impact of such experiences. In addition, the SCL-90-R may
have focused more on general, global behaviors and not been as sensitive to the more
subtle emotional and dynamic impact of childhood sexual experiences. The use of
measures that looked at each subject's current relationship style and patterns, conflicts
and attributions may have found greater differences between groups.
Another factor which may have influenced the findings is the retrospective nature
of the study. Subjects were removed in time from the events they reported on, in some
cases more than a decade. Questioning them in what may be a relatively benign period in
their lives may have led to less emphasis on the impact of any childhood sexual
There are several societal perceptions and presumptions which contribute to
difficulties in studying male child sexual abuse. Finkelhor (1979) noted that "a priori
assumptions involving the presumed nature of sexual abuse with boys, specifically
presumptions of more self-initiated sexual behavior and less negative impact, may have
considerable impact on researchers' orientation to investigating this area."
It is important to note that in the current study, all subjects defined themselves as
heterosexual. Of the 15 subjects who reported sexual experiences with an older partner
before the age of 13, only 4 reported experiences with male partners, while all 9 subjects
who reported sexual experiences with older partners after age 13 stated it was with female
partners. Male sexual socialization encourages men to define sexual experiences as
desirable as long is there is no homosexual involvement. Thus, given that all of the men
in the current study defined their sexual orientation as heterosexual and reported sexual
experiences with older females, it is perhaps not surprising that the men report these
experiences as relatively non-exploitative and without negative effects. Bancroft's model
of sexual development suggests that for many males, the self-labeling stage of sexual
identity development is a critical period in which males consciously examine their
sexuality (Bancroft, 1989). It is possible that if male subjects in this study did experience
anxiety at the time of their childhood sexual encounter, the next stage of social labeling
may have retroactively transformed the experience. That is, the ever present myth that
"any young man is lucky to have a sexual encounter with an older female" may have
resulted in subjects denying their anxiety. In addition, non-sexualized issues may have
also come into play, such as over-learned sex-typed behavior (e.g., "men are not victims,
they are aggressors").
Unique Sample Characteristics
A unique characteristic of this sample was the relatively high level of reported
family income. More than half of the subjects reported a family income of $60,000 (n =
70), and of those 34 subjects reported family incomes that were $90,000 or greater. It is
possible that subjects from such social strata felt even more pressure to not reveal
potentially embarrassing information. These findings are consistent with other studies
where subjects with reportedly "middle-class" or higher family incomes, often present a
more mixed and sub-clinical level of symptoms (Fromuth, 1986). One factor which may
mediate individual response to sexual abuse is family income (Hernandez et al., 1993).
While it may be true that child sexual abuse is prevalent across all socio-econonomic
strata, the impact of such experiences may differ based in part on the level of family
income. Thus, individuals from families with limited financial resources and the various
life stressors that often accompany lower income may be at increased risk for developing
more significant pathology in response to childhood sexual experiences.
College males are often plagued with a multitude of doubts and fears concerning
self-esteem, abandonment, bonding, trust, and self-disclosure (Goff, 1990). Young men
in this age group are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy,
especially with regards to their own sexuality. Many males, including males who may
define themselves as homosexual, must grapple with societal views on same sex
experiences which often includes explicit expectations regarding gender role behavior as
well as both religious and moral condemnation when such roles are rejected. For many
college males eager to belong, such a risk of alienation may well influence them to
conform to societal expectations regarding their gender behavior. This may result in
males masking any behaviors that are not consistent with their idea of masculinity, such
as displaying emotion, acknowledging weakness, or homosexual desires.
Such a discrepancy between internal states and projected behavior may explain
some of the variable findings in studies of male childhood sexual abuse. It may explain
differences between ratings of sexual experiences and reported anxiety/distress; that is,
men who report experiences consistent with an abusive sexual episode, deny negative
impact but still endorse high levels of distress (Fromuth & Burkhart, 1987, 1989). Thus,
any study of college male sexual experiences must attempt to deal with the confound of
developmentally appropriate feelings of inadequacy, depression and anxiety that are
common in many college males as well as the added possibility that subject's are
reconstructing past childhood experiences to conform to their ideas of gender appropriate
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Based on the above findings, it is concluded that for this sample of college males
sexual experiences while in childhood with an older adult partner had no significant
negative impact on their later adult functioning. There was little relationship between
self-reported sexual experiences in childhood and current self-ratings of general mental
health. While older partners were almost exclusively female, there did not appear to be
any significant differences in reported mental health based on the gender of the older
sexual partner. This data does suggest some possible trends, including multiple sexual
experiences in childhood may have a more negative influence on later psychological
functioning. This trend would be consistent with research of female sexual abuse.
The SCL-90-R may not be the most sensitive instrument in examining issues
related to male sexual abuse with a non-clinical population. Other measures which
examine more intrapsychic factors such as gender conformity may help in understanding
such complicated data. For example, the use of the MMPI-2 Masculinity/Femininity
subscale in conjunction with measures of sexual behavior may provide a better
understanding of male sexual abuse. Also, measures of subject's sense of control may
also be helpful in understanding male reaction to sexual abuse; while many reported that
the older partner initiated a sexual encounter, it was unclear if the subject felt helpless, if
they felt the other person was in charge and how such perceptions of their own autonomy
influenced their reaction to the sexual experience.
While this study did attempt to encourage open and honest reporting by subjects
through an anonymous data collection process, it is possible that subjects still did not
respond candidly to the questionnaires. Given that the current study consisted entirely of
subjects who identified themselves as heterosexual and the predominate belief in a
heterosexually dominate culture such as ours that sexual experiences with older females
are "acceptable if not desirable," it is likely that such a powerful societal norm impinged
on any recollection of anxiety, trepidation or fear.
These findings reflect the complex interaction of self-reporting, gender identity,
sexual identity and abuse. This may explain some of the trends found in the data. It was
hoped that anonymity would improve self-disclosure; while the use of an additional
interview may have been helpful in clearing up any missing data points, it probably would
have been more difficult for subjects to speak directly with another person regarding their
sexual behavior regardless of the nature of such experiences. Given the societal factors
which increase the likelihood of men not perceiving their sexual experiences in childhood
as abusive, it may be important to continue to rely on broad funnel-type methodology to
gain information regarding male sexual experiences and male child sexual abuse. More
information is needed regarding male sexual abuse and continued use of similar research
methods may better clarify the nature of this phenomenon.
The generalizability of this study is somewhat limited by the small,
nonrepresentative sample size on which it is based. While attempts were made to
encourage a broad sample of college males, the majority of subjects represented a largely
homogenous group across racial and socioeconomic variables. Future studies using such
a questionnaire may benefit from using additional measures which directly question
subject's regarding their understanding and perception of sexual abuse. While subjects
generally did not feel that their experiences with an older sexual partner had a negative
impact on them, their perception of what is considered abusive is uncertain and reliance
on an age difference to define abusive relationship is not sufficient.
In conclusion, it is still unknown if there are significant negative emotional
symptoms for men who were sexually abused as children. This data suggests that
whatever impact remains in adult life is clinically mild. Yet, the limited sample size and
mild magnitude of this phenomenon suggest caution in generalizing these findings.
Replication with a larger sample and more control over previously discussed
measurement issues may unravel this complex and important puzzle in the future.
Date of Birth:
2) Current Marital Status
I / Ethnic Identity
other (please describe):
is your religious background?:
other (please describe):
5) How do you define your sexual orientation?
d) other (please describe):
6) How many sisters do you have?
Please list their ages:
7) How many brothers do you have?
Please list their ages:
8) How many step-/half-sisters do you have?
Please list their ages:
9) How many step-/half-brothers do you have?
Please list their ages:
10) Please circle your family's yearly income:
a) Under $10,000
b) $10,000 $20,000
c) $20,000 $30,000
d) $30,000 $40,000
e) $40,000 $50,000
$90,000 and above
11) What degree are you expecting to attain in your current program?
SEXUAL HISTORY QUESTIONNAIRE
We would like to gather some information about MEMBERS OF YOUR FAMILY.
First, about your FATHER.
a. Is he:
1. Living with your mother
2. Divorced or separated from her
4. Living apart for some other reason
b. Was there any time before you were 16 when you didn't live with him for more than one
1. Yes 0. No
c. When you last lived with him, how close did you feel to him?
1. Very close
3. Somewhat close
4. Not close
2. Did you also have a STEPFATHER?
1. Yes 0. No
3. Now about your MOTHER
a. Is she:
1. Living with your father
2. Divorced or separated from him
4. Living apart for some other reason
b. Was there any time before you were 16 when you did not live with her for more than one
1. Yes 0. No
c. When you last lived with her, how close did you feel to her?
I. Very close
3. Somewhat close
4. Not close
4. Did you also have a STEPMOTHER?
1. Yes 0. No
5. When you were 12, how would you say your parents' marriage was?
2. Not very happy
3. Somewhat happy
5. Very happy n-7
6. When you were 12 did you have:
1. Many good friends
2. A few good friends
3. One or two good friends
4. No good friends
7. Do you feel you were emotionally neglected as a child?
1. No, not at all
2. Yes, mildly neglected
3. Yes, moderately neglected
4. Yes, severely neglected
8. How would you describe your family life while you were growing up?
2. Not very happy
3. Somewhat happy
5. Very happy
9. Answer the following questions about the set of parents you had when you were 12. If you did not
live with both parents when you were 12, answer for that parent at some earlier age when you were
living with him or her.
Never Rarely Sometimes Often Very Often
1 2 3 4 5
How true was this of your father and mother?
a. Treated you as if you were important 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
b. Was verbally abusive of you 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
c. Played with you 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
d. Was tense, nervous, worried 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
e. Was ill 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
f. Drank heavily 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
g. Understood you 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
h. Kissed you 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
i. Hugged you 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
j. Talked to you when you had a problem 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
k. Was responsive to your emotional needs 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
1. Had emotional problems 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
It is now generally realized that most people have sexual experiences as children and while they are still
growing up. Some of these are with friends and playmates, and some with relatives and family members.
Some are very upsetting and painful, and some are not. Some influence people's later lives and sexual
experiences, and some are practically forgotten. Although these are often important events, very little is
actually known about them.
We would like you to try to remember the sexual experiences you had while growing up. By "sexual", we
mean a broad range of things, anything from playing "doctor", to sexual intercourse -- in fact, anything that
might have seemed "sexual" to you.
We want you to think of three sexual experiences -- or however many up to three -- that you had BEFORE
the age of 13 with someone who was at least 5 years older than you. This might include strangers, friends
or family members such as cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, father or mother. Pick the three most
important to you and answer the following questions.
Take one experience and answer all the questions on the three pages that pertain to it, and then return to
answer the same questions about experience #2 and #3.
11. No such experience ( ), go to question #32.
With regard to the first experience:
Exper. Exper. Exper.
# 1 #2 #3
12. About how old were you at the time the experience started?
13. About how old was the other person? (If not sure, please estimate)
14. Was the other person: 1 for male 1 2 1 2 1 2
2 for female
15. Was the other person:
A stranger 1 1 1
A person you knew, but not a friend 2 2 2
A friend of yours 3 3 3
A male friend of your parent(s) 4 4 4
A female friend of your parent(s) 5 5 5
A cousin 6 6 6
An aunt or uncle 7 7 7
A grandparent 8 8 8
A brother 9 9 9
A sister 10 10 10
A father 11 I1 11
A stepfather 12 12 12
A mother 13 13 13
A stepmother 14 14 14
A teacher 15 15 15
A boss 16 16 16
16. What happened? Circle I for Yes
0 for No
a. An invitation or request to do something sexual 1 0 1 0 1 0
b. Kissing and hugging in a sexual way 1 0 1 0 1 0
c. Other person showing his/her sexual organs to you 1 0 1 0 1 0
d. You showing your sex organs to other person 1 0 1 0 1 0
e. Other person fondling you in a sexual way 1 0 1 0 1 0
f. You fondling other person in a sexual way 1 0 1 0 1 0
g. Other person touching your sex organs 1 0 1 0 1 0
h. You touching other person's sex organs 1 0 1 0 1 0
i. Other person rubbing their genitals against your body 1 0 1 0 1 0
j. Oral-genital contact other person stimulating you 1 0 1 0 1 0
k. Oral-genital contact you stimulating other person 1 0 1 0 1 0
1. Anal intercourse 1 0 1 0 1 0
m. Intercourse 1 0 1 0 1 0
n. Other person took pictures of you while you were naked 1 0 1 0 1 0
o. Other, please mention:
17. Who started this?
Exper. Exper. Exper.
# 1 #2 #3
2. Other person 1 2 1 2 1 2
1 2 1 2 1 2
18. Did other person threaten or force you?
2. Yes 1. A little 0. No
19. Did other person try to bribe you with promises, candy, money, etc...
1. Yes 0. No
20. Had the other person been drinking or using drugs?
1. Yes 0. No
21. Had you been drinking or using drugs?
1. Yes 0. No
22. Please estimate how many times you had a sexual experience with
23. Over how long a time did this go on? (Indicate number of days,
24. Which of these would best describe your reaction at the time
of the experience?
1. Fear 4. Interest
2. Shock 5. Pleasure
25. At the time it happened, who did you tell about this, if anyone?
I =YES 0=NO
1. No one
4. Other adult
7. Other, please specify
2 1 0 2 1 0 2 1 0
1 0 1 0 1 0
1 0 1 0 1 0
1 0 1 0 1 0
Exper. Exper. Exper.
#1 #2 #3
26. Did you ever tell anyone about this experience?
1. Yes 0. No 1 0 1 0 1 0
27. Was this experience ever reported to the police?
1. Yes 0. No 1 0 1 0 1 0
28. Have you ever talked to a counselor about this experience?
1. Yes 0. No 1 0 1 0 1 0
29. At the time, how did you feel about the experience?
1. Positive I I 1
2. Mostly positive 2 2 2
3. Neutral 3 3 3
4. Mostly Negative 4 4 4
5. Negative 5 5 5
30. In retrospect, what kind of effect did this experience have on your life?
1. Positive 1 1 1
2. Mostly positive 2 2 2
3. Neutral 3 3 3
4. Mostly Negative 4 4 4
5. Negative 5 5 5
NOW GO BACK TO PAGE 3 AND ANSWER THE QUESTIONS ABOUT OTHER EXPERIENCES.
IF NO OTHER EXPERIENCES, ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION AND THEN GO ON TO
THE NEXT PAGE.
31. Pick one of these experiences and describe how it started. Please use the back of this page to
write your answer.
We would like you to think of any sexual experience that occurred to you AFTER the age of 12 with
someone at least five years older than you. ALSO, please report any sexual experience that occurred to
you, regardless of age, which you did not consent to. That is, a sexual experience which was forced on you
or which you didn't want to happen. Do not repeat a relationship which you described earlier. Pick the
three most important and answer the following questions; take one experience first and answer all the
questions; then return to answer the questions on experience #2 and then #3.
32. No such experience ( ), go to question #53.
With regard to experiences AFTER age 12 or that were nonconsentual:
Exper. Exper. Exper.
#1 #2 #3
33. About how old were you at the time the experience started?
34. About how old was the other person? (If not sure, please estimate)
35. Was the other person: 1 for male 1 2 1 2 1 2
2 for female
Exper. Exper. Exper.
#1 #2 #3
36. Was the other person:
A stranger I I I
A person you knew, but not a friend 2 2 2
A friend of yours 3 3 3
A male friend of your parent(s) 4 4 4
A female friend of your parent(s) 5 5 5
A cousin 6 6 6
An aunt or uncle 7 7 7
A grandparent 8 8 8
A brother 9 9 9
A sister 10 10 10
A father I I 11 11
A stepfather 12 12 12
A mother 13 13 13
A stepmother 14 14 14
A teacher 15 15 15
A boss 16 16 16
37. What happened? Circle I for YES
0 for NO
a. An invitation or request to do something sexual 1 0 1 0 1 0
b. Kissing and hugging in a sexual way 1 0 1 0 1 0
c. Other person showing his/her sexual organs to you 1 0 1 0 1 0
d. You showing your sex organs to other person 1 0 1 0 1 0
e. Other person fondling you in a sexual way 1 0 1 0 1 0
f. You fondling other person in a sexual way 1 0 1 0 1 0
g. Other person touching your sex organs 1 0 1 0 1 0
h. You touching other person's sex organs 1 0 1 0 1 0
i. Other person rubbing their genitals against your body 1 0 1 0 1 0
j. Oral-genital contact other person stimulating you 1 0 1 0 1 0
k. Oral-genital contact you stimulating other person 1 0 1 0 1 0
1. Anal intercourse 1 0 1 0 1 0
m. Intercourse 1 0 1 0 1 0
n. Other person took pictures of you while you were naked 1 0 1 0 1 0
o. Other, please mention:
Experience # 1
38. Who started this?
1. You 2. Other person 1 2 1 2 1 2
1 2 1 2 1 2
39. Did other person threaten or force you?
2. Yes 1. Alittle 0. No 2 1 0 2 1 0 2 1 0
40. Did other person try to bribe you with promises, candy, money, etc...
1. Yes 0. No
41. Had the other person been drinking or using drugs?
1. Yes 0. No
42. Had you been drinking or using drugs?
1. Yes 0. No
43. Please estimate how many times you had a sexual experience with
44. Over how long a time did this go on? (Indicate number of days,
45. Which of these would best describe your reaction at the time
of the experience?
1. Fear 4. Interest
1 0 1 0 1 0
Exper. Exper. Exper.
#1 #2 #3
1 0 1 0 1 0
1 0 1 0 1 0
46. At the time it happened, who did you tell about this, if anyone?
I =YES 0=NO
1. No one
4. Other adult
7. Other, please specify
47. Did you ever tell anyone about this experience?
1. Yes 0. No
48. Was this experience ever reported to the police?
1. Yes 0. No
49. Have you ever talked to a counselor about this experience?
1. Yes 0. No
50. At the time, how did you feel about the experience?
2. Mostly positive
4. Mostly Negative
Y N Y N Y N
1 0 1 0 1 0
1 0 1 0 1 0
1 0 1 0 1 0
51. In retrospect, what kind of effect did this experience have on your life?
1. Positive 1
2. Mostly positive 2
3. Neutral 3
4. Mostly Negative 4
5. Negative 5
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