Sexual Orientation and Sexual Abuse

Artwork by Studio Bethany:

This post is in response to the idea that some people have about the causes of people falling in love with someone of the same sex.

Many of you will be familiar with the false ‘theory’ that is ‘false memory syndrome’ made up by child molesters to discredit child sexual assault survivors who disclose abuse as adults.  I think there are parallels here to the discussion about whether child sexual assault makes a person gay. The intent is the same, to reinforce through shame the message of “shut up about it” and “don’t trust your own truth”.

I’m a left brained, logical person who has studied child sexual assault academically. The scientific method works like this:

  1. Person with relevant education has a theory
  2. Person figures out a way to test the theory and does that.
  3. Person discloses the results even if they don’t support the theory.
  4. Other people with specialized knowledge in this area look over the results and give feedback on the methods used to get the results.
  5. Person revises theory to fit results of their own research and others’ results.
  6. Person tests theory again.
  7. Other researchers come in and summarize the results of everyone’s research and publish ‘consensus papers’ which analyze what most of the studies agree on and where they don’t.
  8. At no point (except #1) is there a place for personal prejudice in this process, provided people tell the truth about their methods and results, which is why it can be trusted. If bias does creep in, step #4 is designed to correct that.

Actual qualified researchers have done actual research testing various theories about the causes of homosexuality. You can bet your boots they tested out the theories based in prejudice. They haven’t been able to prove them correct. I find this a lot more compelling than the words of one or even a thousand people with a religious or philosophical prejudice.

Here is a link to  an example of a credible summary of the research from a highly reputable source, the American Psychological Association, written for a general public audience.

Here’s a quote from it:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal,
developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

Here is some more evidence-based information from another reputable source:

“[N]o specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified, including histories of childhood sexual abuse. 

Sexual abuse does not appear to be more prevalent in children who grow up to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, than in children who identify as heterosexual.”

American Psychiatric Association

These two organizations are not left or right wing lobby groups. They are about as mainstream as it gets. In order to be a psychiatrist in the US, I’m almost positive you have to be a member of the American Psychiatric Association, and the same goes for psychologists and the American Psychological Association. Both organizations have members from all stripes of the political and religious spectrum, but disregard those biases in favour of the evidence.

I think the sexual abuse I experienced made me vulnerable to not listening to my own authentic self, particularly around sexuality. When I was younger and less healed than I am now, I had relationships with men. They would be attracted to me, and I would feel flattered and go along with it. I really had no idea what I wanted at the time. I was better at figuring out what I didn’t want, which was to be mistreated, so thankfully all the guys I was with were kind and respectful. I cared about all of the men I was in relationship with, and loved most of them, but did not feel the kind of rightness and passion that I later felt for most of my women partners, including my wife.

Once I was better able to listen to my own self, I followed my heart and began having relationships with women, who I had been falling in love with since early adolescence. Once I started doing that, my own feelings and heart confirmed that this was right for me. If I had not been sexually abused, I believe I would have avoided the step of dating men completely, and started dating other girls when I first started dating in high school.

So yes, being abused does make people confused and uncertain about what they really want sexually and emotionally. We get cut off from our bodies and our own truth for awhile, and have to fight hard to get all that back.  Like me, I think a lot of survivors experiment with partner types who are not their heart’s choice during the time of figuring all that out. I’m guessing even non-survivors do that, such as the women who are ‘gay in college’ as part of figuring out their adult sexuality and what works best for them. There is nothing wrong with experimenting. However, our actual orientation, whether we are straight, gay or bisexual, is underneath waiting for us to connect with it and embrace it.

5 thoughts on “Sexual Orientation and Sexual Abuse”

  1. Pingback: Help for Partners of Childhood Sexual Assault Survivors | May We Dance Upon Their Graves

  2. Pingback: Ethical Polyamory | May We Dance Upon Their Graves

  3. Our actual orientation is waiting for us to connect with us. That is a great way of understanding this. Thanks so much for this. I’m glad that you were able to find yours. Good and healing thoughts to you.


  4. butterflysblog

    Hi Warrior – I completely agree. I think, as a general rule, a person inherently understands who they are, and who they are attracted to. I think the real problem is when people have some weird need to judge what kind of consensual love is acceptable, and what kind isn’t, according to their own flawed notions of right and wrong.

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