Common feelings & responses for men

Below is a list of some common reactions and feelings after a sexual assault/rape. You may be experiencing some of them, all of them, or none of them, and that is absolutely normal. 

Anyone can be raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually abused. Men and boys are subjected to sexual abuse too, usually perpetrated by other men but can be perpetrated by a woman.

The men who contact us often speak about experiencing different emotions and/or behaving differently after the abuse such as:

·         Damaging things or hurting themselves

·         Taking their anger out on others

·         Engaging in behaviour they wouldn’t usually in relation to sex, drugs, alcohol, crime.

However you react is a natural response to the trauma of sexual violence.

The short and long-term effects can be physical and emotional: pain, injury, fear, anger, sadness, shame, embarrassment, mistrust, and symptoms of trauma. Rape and sexual assault might result in injury and STIs.

If you were sexually abused as a child, being sexually assaulted as an adult can remind you about what happened. This can be very distressing, with symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks.

If you experience sexual violence when you’re older, it can challenge your whole world view: decades of believing the world works in a certain way, and then finding it doesn’t. As a result, you may feel anxious, frightened, angry, exhausted, confused, ashamed, isolated, depressed or suicidal.

It might be difficult for you to talk about what has happened because of the common view that men should be ‘strong’ and able to protect themselves.  You might be worried about coming forward because you think you will not be believed.

There are ways of coping which don’t harm you or other people, which won’t make things worse, and which in time can help you come to terms, in your own way, with what happened. Sexual violence affects men in different ways. It depends on what happened, when it happened, your response at the time and later, and the reactions of others around you. It can have a serious impact, but many men find ways of coping and getting their lives back on track.

If you are a man who has experienced sexual violence, it has happened because of who the abuser is, not who you are. It is an act of violence and was not your fault.

Below is a list of some common reactions and feelings after a sexual assault/rape. You may be experiencing some of them, all of them, or none of them and that is absolutely normal.

I had a physical response during the abuse…

Sometimes men get an erection or ejaculate during the abuse. These are involuntary physical reactions. If this happened to you it does not mean that you wanted or enjoyed the sexual violence. An abuser might try to make sure you have this sort of reaction so they can say that you must have wanted it.

I should have fought back…

People think that they know how they will act in a dangerous situation but our body’s response to dangerous or traumatic situations is not something that we consciously choose or can control.

Fight or flight are quite commonly known as responses to danger, but it is also very common and normal to freeze.

Fight, flight and freeze are all protective responses. You don’t know, and can’t control, how you will respond.

If you freeze, it doesn’t mean you let something happen. If you run away or don’t fight back, it doesn’t mean you are a coward. If you can’t remember anything from that time, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Any man can be abused, no matter their size, strength, appearance, age, occupation, race or sexual identity. Sexual violence is about controlling someone. People can be controlled in all sorts of ways: through fear, threats, and psychological abuse as well as by physical force.

I’m ashamed of or don’t know how to talk about what happened…

Beliefs about how men are supposed to be, such as ‘boys don’t cry and ‘men don’t talk about their feelings’, can also make men feel as if they are not ‘real men’ because they do cry, they do have feelings, and they want to speak about them.

This happened because of my sexual orientation and/or gender identity…

Men who identify as straight and experience sexual violence sometimes end up questioning their sexual orientation; they may think the abuse made them gay or that it happened because they are gay.

Some gay men may think that the assault happened because they are gay. They may have been taunted about their sexuality as part of the attack.

Some trans men may find that their experience of sexual violence increases feelings of dysphoria or impacts how they feel about their transition or gender identity.

Sexual violence has nothing to do with sexual orientation, sex or gender identity. It happens because of who the abuser is, not who you are. Sexual crimes are about abusers having power and control, not about sexual attraction.

I’m worried being abused will make me more likely to become a perpetrator…

Some men worry that if they experience sexual violence, especially in childhood, that this will ‘turn them into’ perpetrators. There is no evidence that this is the case. Men who perpetrate rape and sexual assault do so because they believe that it is OK for them to victimise another human being. They have a choice about how they behave towards others. You are in control of your own behaviour.

I should be over this by now…

Some men ask why they are still affected long after the abuse happened. This is most likely because they were not able to deal with what happened at the time. They may not have had the words to say what happened; they may have buried it. It may have felt as if it went away for a time but has come back because of some sort of trigger or significant life event (positive or negative) such as having a child, forming a new relationship, or further assault. There is no timeline for recovering from sexual violence. It is good if you can ask for help now.

These feelings can be made worse by trying to hide what’s happening from others; believing you are to blame for the abuse; or thinking you are powerless. It’s natural to think like this because the person who abused you may have told you that you are to blame. You may have been powerless because of their control over you, for example if you were a child at the time; or if they were threatening you in some way, for example to ‘out’ you

You are not alone | You are not to blame |  You have rights | You can get help

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