The Untold Impact of Mother-Son Incest

Boy in white shirt looks out of a window.This topic likely comes as a surprise to many. Just the idea of abuse of this nature, between a mother and her son, is shocking to most. The idea of mother-son incest is so far out of the realm of what we as a culture understand about mothers and women that even its victims rarely seek help.

As a society, our views of mothers as nurturers who would never willingly hurt their children may be so ingrained in our psyche that even trained psychologists can be uncomfortable entertaining the idea that sexual abuse can happen between a mother and her son (Osborne, 2015).

Why the Silence?

Incest (sexual relationships between family members) is taboo and can bring a strong sense of guilt and shame to its victims (Kluft, 2011). While the idea that fathers sexually abuse their children is disturbing, it is accepted as something that can (and does) happen. It is well documented and studied.

Although the idea that some fathers can be sexual predators towards their own family is accepted, the parallel idea, that mothers can be sexual predators towards their own children, has not been widely accepted. We live in a culture that tends to idolize motherhood. Mothers sacrifice so much to give us everything we need. In our society, speaking against a mother is almost sacrilegious. Unfortunately, the perception of a male monopoly on perpetrating incest has led to the creation of damaging myths that silence the male victim.

Reporting incest and seeking professional help may be both shameful and difficult in any situation, but it can be even more difficult in the case of a mother. Often, the reaction will be complete rejection or disbelief. Unfortunately, the perception of a male monopoly on perpetrating incest has led to the creation of damaging myths that silence the male victim.

Males and Sexual Abuse: The Myths

Researcher Lucetta Thomas has identified persistent and damaging myths in regard to male sexual victimization. These myths not only exist in the minds of boys and men who themselves are victims—they are also prevalent in the attitudes and perception of social workers, law enforcement, and even psychologists or counselors (Friedersdorf, 2016). Myths around males and sexual abuse include the following:

  • Boys and men can’t be sexually victimized; they must have consented.
  • Mothers do not do this; she must have been overly affectionate.
  • If the boy experiences sexual arousal or pleasure during the abuse, he enjoyed it, and it was not abuse, because he participated.
  • Boys are less traumatized by sexual abuse than girls, and this is because boys are more sex-focused in general.
  • The mother or son must have mental health issues.

Prevalence and Long-Term Outcomes of Mother-Son Abuse

Due to the refusal of boys and men to seek help or press charges against mothers who abuse them, it is nearly impossible to determine the prevalence of sexual abuse committed by mothers. However, a few studies offer surprising results and indicate the problem is more widespread than most people would assume.

For example, one study that conducted in-depth interviews of seven men and seven women who reported sexual abuse by a female perpetrator, most of whom experienced severe sexual abuse by their mothers, found a range of long-term damaging effects. Victims reported and/or experienced depression, difficulties with substance abuse, self-injury, increased suicide rate, rage, strained relationships with women, identity issues, and discomfort with sex (Denov, 2004).

Another study conducted in 2002 found that 17 of 67 men who endured sexual abuse during childhood reported mother-son incest. The study found in comparison to the other men in the study, the men who were abused by their mothers experienced more symptoms of trauma. Further, about half of the men abused by their mothers had mixed feelings regarding the abuse, and those with mixed feelings had more adjustment problems compared to men who had purely negative feelings toward the abuse (Kelly, Wood, Gonzalez, MacDonald, & Waterman, 2002).

Lucetta Thomas reported that after her story of mother-son sexual abuse aired on ABC 80, males accessed the online survey over the next two days to report maternal abuse and requested to be interviewed. It must be understood that this type of abuse is possible, does happen, and can do extraordinary damage to its victims.

When we examine outcomes of victims of any type of incest, we find this type of abuse is related to issues around relational trauma and betrayal trauma. Abuse by a trusted family member leads to a significant loss of trust and changes in beliefs around the self and safety in relationships (Kluft, 2011). Understandably, when the perpetrator is a mother, the trauma is likely to carry a particularly high level of damage, especially in light of the cultural perceptions of mothers as nurturers. Furthermore, the implications of reporting abuse of this nature can be catastrophic for the victim, the mother, and the entire family. In many cases, this leaves the victim feeling as if he has no choice but to deal with the trauma in silence.

What Professionals Need to Know

Professionals, particularly those working with sexual abuse cases, need to examine their own perceptions around women as potential abusers. It must be understood that this type of abuse is possible, does happen, and can do extraordinary damage to its victims. In general, many people have been under the impression that a woman cannot really harm another person sexually. This is not the case. As new research surfaces, we are finding that sexual abuse from mother to son can bring lasting trauma and long-term mental health effects (Denov, 2004).

Further, men and boys are much less likely to report sexual abuse (Holmes, Offen, & Waller, 1997). Researchers have put forth the possibility that attitudes and beliefs among mental health professionals in myths regarding the male as an unlikely victim do not create conditions that encourage men or boys to talk about sexual abuse. Professionals need to be aware of the reality of mother-son sexual abuse as well as the existence of the myths surrounding the male as unlikely to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and especially unlikely to be the victim of abuse by his own mother.

If you are a victim of any type of sexual abuse or assault, reach out to a therapist. There is no need to suffer in silence when help is available. If you are a victim of mother-son incest, clearly articulate your experiences to your therapist. The shame is not yours.

References:

  1. Denov, M. S. (2004, October 1). The long-term effects of child sexual abuse by female perpetrators: A qualitative study of male and female victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(10), 1,137-1,156. doi: 10.1177/0886260504269093
  2. Friedersdorf, C. (2016, November 28). The understudied female sexual predator. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/11/the-understudied-female-sexual-predator/503492
  3. Holmes, G. R., Offen, L., & Waller, G. (1997). See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: Why do relatively few male victims of childhood sexual abuse receive help for abuse-related issues in adulthood?. Clinical Psychology Review, 17(1), 69-88. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9125368
  4. Kelly, R. J., Wood, J. J., Gonzalez, L. S., MacDonald, V., & Waterman, J. (2002). Effects of mother-son incest and positive perceptions of sexual abuse experiences on the psychosocial adjustment of clinic-referred men. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26(4), 425-441. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12092807
  5. Kluft, R. P. (2011, January 12). Ramifications of incest. Psychiatric Times, 27(12). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/sexual-offenses/ramifications-incest
  6. Osborne, T. (2015, August 7). New research sheds light on sex abuse committed by mothers against their sons. ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-08/new-research-mothers-who-sexually-abuse-their-sons/6679102

© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Fabiana Franco, PhD, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Michael

    Michael

    October 19th, 2019 at 9:36 AM

    Thank you for writing this post. I am a victim of mother-son incest. I am 39 and have always had generalize anxiety and moderate depression. Also have addiction issues with alcohol, cannabis and pornography. Only 3 years ago did I remember the molest I experienced at the hands of my mother until age 8. Thank you for addressing this issue. I’m slowly but surely healing. I confronted my mother about the abuse but she just sobbed and wouldn’t discuss it. Admittance thru silence.

  • Baboon2

    Baboon2

    October 20th, 2019 at 5:00 PM

    Dear Michael,I am happy to learn that you are recovering and please accept my best wishes.
    Incestuous rape is never acceptable and consensual incest between two adults,odd as it does feel to us,should not be judged by others.That’s how I would put it.Though I will never indulge in it nor will I ever condone it,consensual adult incest is somebody else’s business.
    Your mother sobbed -which means she realized she did something wrong and I feel that you should forgive her.There must have been some issues with her that prompted her to do what she did.I will be happy if you both emerge stronger out of this phase and get over it fast.Forgiving oneself as well as the other is the best way to get over it.Best luck.

  • James

    James

    May 19th, 2020 at 10:35 AM

    Glad I stumbled upon this article… Very interesting and reassuring. “lasting trauma and long-term mental health effects” Yes, very much so. Four years in therapy as a teenager, another year and a half when I was 27, a history of under-achieving, low self esteem, generalised anxiety and five failed relationships bought about by some serious self conflict over gender issues and a lifetime of crossdressing.
    I have forgiven my mother, she had severe PND and ongoing mental health problems herself, so maybe a degree of diminished responsibility. I am in control now, after 45 years have passed… But some days… It’s STILL difficult to get out of bed and face the day.

    Thank you.

  • Gregory

    Gregory

    June 2nd, 2020 at 12:26 PM

    Hello
    Thank you for writing this very deficient topic of mother -son incessantly. I’m 62 years old and finally remembered the terrible pain I experienced from my mom molested me as a 3 oe 4 year old boy. I had been praying for weeks asking God why my heart was in som much pain, then He said to me ‘your mom molested you, when you were a little boy.’ As He said.these words to me i experienced ALL the pain she cause me all over again. It was awful Now I’ve been on these journey of forgiveness and healing in my life.

  • Claude

    Claude

    August 14th, 2020 at 2:26 PM

    Thank you for that article!
    It’s so accurate!
    I ‘m 62, survivor of maternal incestl, ive in Montréal. What I suffer the most is the lack of social acknowledging of that reality.
    The social or community resonance is so indispensable in the path of recovery!!!!
    Thank you so much!!!

  • Mark

    Mark

    August 30th, 2020 at 1:32 PM

    I’m 42 and just now dealing with the sexual abuse I endured from my mother. She did so much more than that, but the sexual abuse seemed to somehow file away in the recesses of my mind until the last several months. I have extreme anxiety and depression. It looks like I may have found a therapist now to help me sort out this hot mess. I dread my first appointment. To have to talk about it, out loud, to another person freaks me out and brings on the panic. But here goes I guess.

  • Jay

    Jay

    February 4th, 2021 at 6:12 AM

    I’m 27 years old, my mother is 49, we have been in a sexual relationship since u was 15, its loving intense and regardless of the taboo nature of it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The way she makes me feel, well, no one could ever know or understand….

  • James

    James

    February 5th, 2021 at 11:18 PM

    Jay, I have some words to share. Please [Jay and everybody} take them in the friendly concerned manner in which they are intended.
    While I, an outsider, don’t know and therefore can’t understand you maternal relationship, I feel that maybe in your apparently consensual relationship, the dynamics and emotions are different to those of us who were either coerced (tricked) or forced into sexual relationships with out mothers. You say that you have been in this relationship since you were 15 years old ? to my mind then (forgive me if I am wrong) you haven’t had any other long term intimate relationships OR… Those you have had will be held up for close scrutiny and comparison by yourself and possibly your mother. So are those non incest relationships flawed, and doomed to failure from the outset ? You say “The way she makes me feel, well, no one could ever know or understand” Well Jay, maybe just maybe, no one else has ever been given a fair chance to make you feel that way ?
    You tell us you’re 27, and have been in this relationship for 15 years, do you believe, deep down, that at 12 years old you were emotionally ready to be in this relationship ? and that an adult some 22 years your senor had any right to enter into a relationship with you either with or without consent ? My fear is you have been coerced, misled or in some other way hoodwinked into a relationship by someone who is very good at control games, or holds some negative power over you (uses shame or guilt to coerce you) and this is someone who was prepared to enter into a sexual relationship with her 12 year old son ?
    Finally Jay, I ask, do you think your mother was emotionally stable 15 years ago ? A grown woman forming an intimate relationship with a child is surely someone who has issues of her own ?

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.