Learning LIST-Learning

Ideas about being a man

Every man has their own experiences and beliefs about what it means to be a man. Gender is a significant part of personal identity, along with a range of other things that ‘make up’ our sense of who we are: cultural background, physical ability/disability, sexual preferences, religion, family, where we live…the list goes on.

While every man is unique, men face some common social pressures about how they should behave, feel and think. These pressures can influence how men respond to different situations at different times. Men can feel under pressure to:

  • Deal with problems alone.
  • Always be in control.
  • Express only a limited range of emotions.
  • Never admit any vulnerability.

There are times when these qualities can be helpful. In a crisis or emergency, and some kinds of work, the ability to ‘keep a level head’ or ‘hold it together’ are highly valued and sought after (such as ambulance officers, in the armed services, or business executives).

However, a difficulty with these expectations ‘to be a man’ is that they can become quite restrictive. They can lead to men isolating themselves, becoming reluctant to talk about what is going on for them. These expectations can lead to men becoming overly self critical. These judgments might come from people around them, too.

Unfortunately, these pressures can have men evaluating and judging themselves in unhelpful ways. They can lead to men being down on themselves for ‘being tricked’, for ‘not fighting hard enough’, for ‘not being able to cope’, for ‘not measuring up’, when they would benefit most from understanding and encouragement.

Unrealistic expectations to ‘man up’, to ‘push through’ and ‘just get on with it’ can lead to men feeling they have to work through problems alone. It can have men believing it is a sign of weakness to ask for help with personal problems, difficult thoughts or feelings. Yet in other areas of their life, men will routinely gather all the information and support they can. If you have a problem with your car you can’t fix, you take it to a mechanic or friend who knows about cars.

A challenge we face as men is to be aware of these expectations, whilst making sure they don’t restrict our choices and willingness to access support that helps build happier, healthier lives and relationships.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do you sometimes find yourself wondering about these expectations men live with and whether they are working for you or those around you?
  • Have there been times when you’ve done what’s best, even though it has gone against ideas about how a man ‘should’ act?
  • Consider how, as a man, you can expand options for yourself and those around you by speaking up about unhelpful expectations.
Learning LIST-Learning

What is helpful?

We are beginning to learn about what are productive and what are unproductive coping strategies for men who have been sexually abused in childhood to get on in their lives. We know also that every man will have their own life journey and priorities and that what works will depend on his particular experiences, circumstances, interests and the resources available to him.

Productive coping

In relation to long term well-being, the following coping strategies have been identified as productive:

  • Accessing supportive, relevant, targeted information that speaks directly to you and assists in reducing the sense of isolation and self-blame.
  • Practical assistance. Working to develop concrete life skills that address the impact of sexual abuse, in particular learning to self calm and tolerate emotional distress.
  • Talking with someone who is supportive, a worker, health care practitioner, partner or friend.
  • Talking with someone who has encountered a similar traumatic event.
  • Actively, joining with, supporting and helping others.
  • Developing a sense of hope, positive re-interpretation and growth. Practicing optimism and self understanding, viewing your survival and life accomplishments in a positive way.

Unproductive coping

In relation to long term well-being, the following coping strategies have been identified as unproductive:

  • Suppression: stuffing it down and trying not to think about it;
  • Withdrawal: withdrawing and distancing yourself from the world and those around you;
  • Denial; denying it even happened;
  • Internalisation; keeping it all inside, not expressing yourself or letting people know how you are feeling
  • Anger: constantly stewing and holding on to anger, being locked into anger as the only emotion;
  • Acceptance that this is my lot in life’. This a tricky one in that it is different from ‘accepting that it happened’. It is not helpful to accept that you ‘deserved’ it or that there is chance of change.

These strategies can sometimes work in the short term, but if locked in as the only way of operating, they do not produce positive outcomesl.

Questions to consider

  • What has been useful and helped to sustain you during tough times?
  • Have there been particular people who you have appreciated being around or been supportive?
  • What words of encouragement and support would you like to share with others who have been through abuse and tough times and how might you pass these on?
  • What random act of kindness or generosity migh you participate in today or tomorrow?
Learning LIST-Learning


There is no prescribed way of how people are impacted on by sexual abuse or sexual assault, every one is different. However, we do know sexual abuse or sexual assault can have profound effects on people’s lives and relationships, including:

  • Guilt, shame, humiliation
  • Self blame
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Overwhelming emotions/anger
  • Flashbacks/nightmares
  • Decreased appetite & weight loss
  • Suicidality/self harm
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Mental health problems
  • Abuse of drink and drugs
  • Long term physical health difficulties

Factors known to influence the impact are:

  • the age at which the abuse began;
  • the duration and frequency of the abuse;
  • the type of activities which constituted the abuse;
  • the nature of the relationship between the offender and the victim;
  • the number and sex of offenders involved in the abuse;
  • the manner in which disclosure of the abuse occurred and was handled;

Whilst evidence suggests the earlier the abuse began, how long it went on for, if it involved penetration, if it involved a close relative or friend of the child and more than one offender and any attempted disclosure was discounted or not handled well is more likely to produce negative long term health outcomes, some people still manage to get through and live engaged, active lives.

For some people, a single events can be profoundly debilitating and leave them struggling to cope. For some people the experience of childhood sexual abuse is shaping of their lives in different ways, in that they possess a sensitivity to injustice and become strong advocates for addressing abuse and creating safer, more supportive communities.

What is important that anyone who has been sexually abused receives the appropriate information and support that meets their current needs and assists them to develop fulfilling, active, engaged, lives and relationships.

Learning LIST-Learning

What is childhood sexual abuse

A variety of definitions exist for what constitutes childhood sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult, or a more powerful adolescent or child, uses his or her power and influence to involve a child in sexual activity. The child may not comprehend or understand the implication of the sexual act. Their compliance may be brought about by misinformation, fear and manipulation, and a power imbalance related to age, intellectual ability, experience, status, or authority.

The involvement in sexualised behaviour can be direct or indirect. Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional, and can include:

  • Kissing or holding a child in a sexual manner.
  • ‘Flashing’ or exposing a sexual body part to a child.
  • Speaking to children about sexual matters.
  • Making obscene phone calls or remarks to a child or young person.
  • Sending obscene emails or text messages to a child or young person.
  • Fondling a child or young person’s body in a sexual manner.
  • Persistent intrusion of a child’s privacy.
  • Penetration of the vagina or anus of a child or young person.
  • Oral sexual behaviour.
  • Rape.
  • Incest.
  • Showing pornographic films, magazines or photographs to a child.
  • Having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner.
  • Forcing a child to watch a sexual act.
  • Child prostitution.

Secrecy, misuse of power, and the distortion of adult-child relationships are key factors in the sexual abuse of children. This means that regardless of the child or young person’s behaviour, prior to, during, or after the abuse: It is not their fault.

Learning LIST-Learning

Learning Introduction

This section provides some basic information about childhood sexual abuse; and the common impacts, difficulties and challenges that men who have been sexually abused in childhood or sexually assaulted as adults can face.

We have also included some discussion of different ways of coping, as well as questions and suggestions to help you think through and deal with these challenges. We encourage you to make notes for yourself as you read, and to keep a record of what works best for you.

Not everyone will be confronted by the same difficulties and challenges. It is a question of picking up and making use of information that is most useful for you in the present and leaving to one side anything that is not relevant.