Sexual Orientation and Sexual Abuse

Sexual orientationGays and lesbians are a bit more likely to have been sexually assaulted than others.

Are abusers more likely to target them? Or does something about the attack affect them, or how they see themselves?

Most people who are gay or lesbian were not abused, but a higher percentage are than you find in the general population.

They may be more targeted, maybe due to homophobic gay-bashing.

Or, causality could go the other way.

Consider that there is a continuum with some people being very straight, some people very gay, and others standing at points in between.

If a “very straight” woman is molested by a man she might start associating sex with something horrible and to be avoided. Teri Hatcher has said that being molested by an uncle left her disinterested in sex.

But what if a woman has some flexibility? She certainly grew up in a society that idealized, and bombarded her with, straight images: Most of our movies, television, commercials, billboards, books, magazines, etc. are about straight couples. And non-straights can be punished. So although she has some flexibility, she’s more in touch with her straight side, maybe having little or no consciousness of other possibilities. But if she were molested by a man, instead of becoming asexual she does have an option. Sex with a man might seem horrible, but she might become more aware of sexual interest in women, since she has this outlet available?

Turning to men, a man with some flexibility who has been raised in straight society — with his potential for bisexuality ignored and punished — might go his entire life thinking of himself as straight. It works for him just fine. But if he were molested he might start wondering if he is gay, especially if he were aroused. (Molestation can arouse. And consider the highly publicized pretty blonde middle school teachers who have had affairs with 13-year-old boys. This is molestation, but the guys may have found it arousing.)

And, environment — social and biological — appears to affect gene expression. So maybe that could be happening?

Or, maybe abusers are simply more likely to target gay and lesbians due to homophobia.

We don’t really know the direction of causation. But here are some possibilities.

(Last in a 3-part series on sexual orientation.)

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 11, 2015, in feminism, LGBTQ+, psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Even though homosexuality has become more acceptable and people feel more comfortable coming out and living as themselves, it is still not viewed as normal or the “default”. Heterosexism is still rampant in our society and many cishet men still feel a sense of superiority over queer individuals and women. I do not believe that a woman’s traumatic experience with men in a sexual way always has an impact on her sexuality; more often I think it is the woman’s sexuality that causes men to assault them. The idea that a man can “change” a lesbian woman because she just “hasn’t met the right man yet” is a gross thought, but it leads to the assault of many gay women. Men have been the center of society and relationships for years, and the thought that a woman is not attractive to them in any way is detrimental to that notion. I think there is a similar thought process that goes for cishet men that assault gay men. If a man is into other men, then that man must be attracted to every man, including the one that is doing the assaulting. There is also the humiliation factor that come into play with sexual assault, and the assault of gay men in particular. Because homosexuality is not widely accepted, many cishet men find gay sex to be a degrading act. By assaulting a gay man, they are ingraining the idea that their pleasure is embarrassing or shameful in some way, and is therefore wrong.

  2. Could it be that queer males are more likely to be sexually assaulted because of the stereotype of queer men in regard to sex and sexuality? While such stereotypes are, well, stereotypes, there are some queer men that embrace the stereotype of being sexually active. Aspects of gay subcultures, such as drug use, alcohol, and parties, may also contribute because once one is intoxicated, giving consent would be impossible to do.

  3. What you wrote in this post about sexual abuse is it related to this post from a feminist:

    • This is so ridiculous that I don’t plan to promote the link, so I took it out. And just because someone calls herself or himself a feminist doesn’t mean they are. I don’t see how it’s related at all.

  4. Why do people still believe that women’s sexuality is biologically more fluid than men’s?

    There is a case where homosexuality is very common among men:

    • I have another article coming up discussing why women’s sexuality seems to be more fluid. I plan on posting it in January.

      But the bulk of the evidence points to nurture, not nature.* Societal factors. And Afghanistan has some different societal factors than you find here.

      Before discussing them I’ll also say that when you have a small population that “inbreeds” — doesn’t have sex with people outside their small group — you can have some genetics that differ from most other social groups. So it’s possible that this population is just more genetically inclined toward homosexuality because they don’t mate with people outside their group much.

      Otherwise, there are very high levels of man-on-boy sexual abuse in Afghanistan.

      Both genetic and social evidence in Afghanistan actually fits with what I was discussing.

      * The exception to “nurture, not nature” lies in the breast fetish. Gay men don’t seem to get aroused by female breasts despite the fetishization of them in our culture — yet a lot of straight women find them arousing (even if they have no desire to have sex with a woman — so their sexual orientation hasn’t changed, even though they become responsive to this symbol). And I discussed why that could be the case. See these posts:

      Women Are More Sexually Fluid
      Sexual Fluidity, Images & Biology

  5. I’m confused about the purpose of this article. I dare say there are cases where sexual violence causes a person to confront the truth about their sexual orientation, but it’s a little dangerous to argue that sexual violence can change it.

    “In effect, this proposes that a female becomes a lesbian as she is so scared of men because she relates all men to her male abuser. BUT a male actually becomes gay, and hence seeks relationships with men, because he had a male abuser??”
    Pandora’s Project 2009 The problem with the belief that child sexual abuse causes homosexuality / bisexuality

    What is certainly clear is that bisexual women are particularly vulnerable to recurring sexual violence.

    “Bisexual women had significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner”
    NISVS 2010 Findings on Victimisation by Sexual Orientation

    Sexual violence is a major concern also for asexuals who are often victims of ‘corrective’ rape.

    “You deserved to be attacked. Also, your partner’s desires are more important than your bodily autonomy.”
    The Asexual Agenda 2013 Challenges faced by asexual spectrum survivors of sexual violence

    • How would it be dangerous? If anyone else who is reading this feels it would be dangerous I would be curious to hear your reasons for why you think so.

      As to your links, none of them actually go against what I was talking about. Except for the first one, but I explain why the response would be different for women and men. Otherwise, they support various points I brought up. But I feel like you included them as a rebuttal.

      And you asked about the point of the article. I’m a social scientist and we look at causes of social behavior in societies.

      It occurs to me that you fear this would encourage “corrective” rape. If sexual abuse could in some cases cause homosexuality then “corrective” rape would really backfire, wouldn’t it?

      Some rape and say they’re trying to correct a problem. Others rape and say they do it because they couldn’t resist because of what the woman was wearing. Neither of these things is really true, anyway. It’s just a “justification” (in their own minds) for what they want to do, anyway.

      The reason behind rape is almost always men trying to feel powerful. As I wrote to someone else in the comments above (Or below) in our society men, but not women, are taught that they are supposed to be powerful — it’s part of the male gender role. We also rank male and masculinity above female and femininity. Put it altogether and when a man feels disempowered and low status some will use rape to feel like they got their power and status back as they overtake another person’s body sexually. They feel their power over that person, and they feel superior to them as they dominate them.

      • I was not disputing your facts – I have huge respect for you and trust you to do your research. But there are two discussions here:

        Non-straights are more likely to be victims of sexual violence, and this is not restricted to gays and lesbians (and yes I know you didn’t intend it to be, but it’s worth mentioning that bisexual women are particularly at risk).

        It’s *possible* that innate sexual orientation can be influenced by environmental and experiential factors, but really it’s all speculation and far too many people have used it as justification for coercive attempts at ‘correction’.

        By mixing these two discussions, I felt *almost* that you were arguing that the statistics reflected, in whole or in part, changes of orientation in response to sexual violence. And I really don’t think that’s what you were trying to say.

      • It occurred to me — before I got your latest comment — that “Corrective rape” might be your worry — making rape more justifiable in terms of gays and asexual’s.

        And yet if sexual abuse could in some cases cause homosexuality and asexuality then “corrective” rape would really backfire, wouldn’t it?

        And it’s not the real reason that rapists rape anyway — as I discussed in my other response before seeing this one. So this information won’t have any effect on the rate of rape. People who want to abuse women and sexual minorities will find an excuse to justify it, Regardless. And people who don’t want to abuse them aren’t going to suddenly do it because of this information — which as I said, would completely backfire, creating more gays, lesbians and asexuals, anyway.

        But thanks for filling in some points, and for making me think through some issues some more. Always appreciate hearing from you.

  6. In both cases, you assume that the abusers are always male.
    What if the abusers are females?
    When female teachers are seducing underage male students they don’t turn gay

    • Because we don’t live in a gender equal society, gender patterns don’t match up. About 90% of sexual abusers are male. So the percent of female sexual abusers don’t have much effect on this data.

      When women are abused, stressed out, anxious, depressed… they tend to take it out on themselves. When men are, they tend to take it out on other people. For instance, people who are sexually abused will try to control something to get their power back. Women are more likely to control their intake of food, leading to eating disorders. Men are more likely to sexually abuse someone else to get their power back.

      When you look at the largest motivation behind the perpetration of sexual abuse, it’s men trying to feel powerful. In our society men, but not women, are taught that they are supposed to be powerful — it’s part of the male gender role. We also rank male and masculinity above female and femininity. Put it altogether and when a man feels disempowered and low status some will use rape to feel like they got their power and status back as they overtake another person’s body sexually. They feel their power over that person, and they feel superior to them as they dominate them.

      And when the female teachers seduce, the keyword is seduce. That’s unlikely to make sex with women seem abhorrent to the young men.

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