Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is believed to be cyclical. Men and women who have survived CSA tend to repeat the cycle of abuse by either experiencing the negative symptoms of abuse or by becoming perpetrators themselves. Men in particular, are at an increased risk for committing acts of sexual abuse or sexual aggression as a result of being abused in childhood. The majority of studies examining this dynamic focus on CSA and childhood physical abuse as precursors for aggressive behavior, but few have looked at how alcohol abuse, a common issue that CSA survivors struggle with, influences these behaviors. In college and high school students, sexual abuse and aggression are often coupled with alcohol intoxication. Many of these assaults are committed without condom use, which increases the number of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Understanding how alcohol misuse and CSA affect a man’s sexual intentions could help clinicians and social outreach programs design prevention efforts aimed at decreasing sexually aggressive behaviors in these survivors.
Kelly Cue Davis of the School of Social Work at the University of Washington conducted an experiment involving 220 male college students who were provided a high- or low-dose alcohol condition or a placebo. After they consumed the alcohol, the men read a sexual storyline in which a female (Kim) refused to engage in sex without a condom. Davis discovered that although there was no direct link between CSA and aggression, the men who had survived CSA (18.4%) did believe they were entitled to have sex with Kim, regardless of her protests. These same men also had distorted perceptions of her arousal and willingness after they consumed alcohol. In fact, as the men’s perceptions of Kim’s arousal increased, their level of sexual aggression and intention to have unprotected sex with her, despite her protests, also increased. Overall, this study highlights the need for transforming cognitive and behavioral patterns in men who have survived CSA. In addition, addressing alcohol consumption in these men as well as the distorted thinking could help reduce their sexually aggressive behaviors. Davis added, “Improving our understanding of the pathways through which a history of CSA, as well as alcohol intoxication, may contribute to men’s engagement in nonconsensual, unprotected sexual behavior could greatly enhance sexual health education and intervention efforts for both men and women.”
Davis, K. C., Schraufnagel, T. J., Jacques-Tiura, A. J., Norris, J., George, W. H., & Kiekel, P. A. (2012). Childhood Sexual Abuse and Acute Alcohol Effects on Men’s Sexual Aggression Intentions. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027185
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