CONTENT WARNING: this article contains detailed descriptions of sexual abuse, which some readers may find extremely upsetting or distressing, so please read with caution.
Last year, I opened up for the first time about the sexual assault that happened to me as a child by my primary school bully.
It was a repressed memory for over 17 years and only now am I really beginning to process the profound and long-term impact that one moment of abuse has had on my life.
Despite the fact I have already spoken about it multiple times previously, I am still nervous as I type this, wary of the response or possible impact this might have when it is shared.
Would my friends think I’m weird or abnormal? The latter being the more prominent thought in my head.
Would a girl I’m interested in read this and run away at lightning speed? Maybe, maybe not. However, I have heard stories of this happen to women when men have found out about their experiences of sexual assault/abuse and your mind naturally imagines scenarios where you might end up in that same situation.
Since opening up about my experience, I have begun to realise that a lot of the scars I have around relationships, sex, women and my triggers have stemmed from this moment.
I have always felt a certain degree of anxiety over sexual performance and the nervousness around not being able to perform sexually with any partner for the first time.
Has my failure to adequately process this trauma consciously or subconsciously affected the romantic experiences (or lack thereof) I’ve had growing up?
Given how experiencing sexual abuse as a child can set people onto wildly different paths depending on how they’re impacted it, one thing I NEVER wanted to ever exhibit is inappropriate or even predatory behaviour towards women, such was my hyper-awareness over my experience of being abused. Did either of these scars affect my normal behaviour around girls? Again, it’s hard to say.
As I’ve begun to reflect more on this incident, I realised there were far deeper and more stigmatised behaviours I had to address. These are things rarely spoken about by men, let alone male survivors of sexual assault.
When it comes to my triggers, one thing that highly triggers me is watching any visual content which shows scenes of sexual abuse, rape, or even more general abuse like detailed torture scenes where objects are inserted into someone against their will.
It has also affected my relationship with pornography to a large extent. My mind cannot watch any highly-explicit pornography with male or female genitalia prominent. I can still watch and enjoy softer forms but nothing graphic and I don’t do this often, if at all.
Thankfully, I have been told by other survivors and therapists that this behaviour is normal as for a long-time, I thought I was abnormal.
In school, it was deemed a weird badge of honour by some insecure boys to have watched the most disturbing forms of pornography which they would tell everyone about in great detail.
I’m starting to realise that this incident of abuse is in some way linked to how I masturbate as well, which is very, very rarely. Whether my mind links this 3-5 second incident I was subjected to all those years ago to the action you would perform to masturbate is difficult to say for certain but I know on some level, it’s affected it.
Callum’s experiences comparatively speaking were much more traumatic and the abuse that he experienced was not just a one-off occasion but took place over a longer period of time. In this podcast, he spoke about how the abuse he had received made him question his own sexuality despite him never having experienced any romantic or sexual feelings towards a man.
Given my complete lack of sexual experiences in secondary school, over the years, I cannot deny that this doubt has happened to me as well. Although I didn’t experience it to as high a level, it has more been fleeting one-off thoughts which exit your mind as quickly as they enter. Such one-off moments are still deeply unsettling and anxiety-inducing.
I’m sure this also wasn’t helped by the rampant toxic masculinity in my school, the sexual inferiority I felt through having acne, being at the bottom of the food chain when it came to girls and the stigma that came with being a virgin in school.
If it wasn’t for the the inspirational work of male sexual abuse survivors like Callum, BBC News LGBT Correspondent Ben Hunte, The Offside Trust as well as female sexual abuse survivors like Toni, the founder of men’s mental health resource ‘For Our Men’, I would not have the courage to write this article. There are hardly any male sexual assault survivors out there so to have these men pave the way has helped me enormously.
Toni’s openness on social media in particular has been massive for me in reducing the stigma I felt in opening up for the first time, let alone the second and third time.
I acknowledge that the next stage of this journey is to seek professional help for this trauma which I have started the process of doing.
To be perfectly honest, I would rather talk about suicide than this. This is not the stuff men talk about, even in their darkest moments.
However, I know that in order to move forward with my life, this article needs to be the first step in managing this trauma, maybe one day overcoming it.
I hope I can look back on this article in a few years and think to myself: ‘you were a brave lad to do this Fred but I’m glad you did, because I’m in a much better place now’.
Freddie is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.
You can follow him on Twitter @freddiec1994.
Read more articles like this in our Experiences section here.