Childhood sexual experiences and the perception of abuse among Latino men who have sex with men

The Journal of Sex Research

Dolezal, Curtis, & Carballo-Dieguez Alex
Issue3, 2002
Type of WorkResearch report

Summarizing Quotes (by Ipce)

This paper is based on interviews with men who have had childhood sexual experiences with an older partner (CSEOP). At the time of the interview, some of these men felt that their experiences were childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and some did not.

The first goal was to determine what aspects of their experiences differentiate these two groups [...].
The second goal was to explore possible negative correlates (in adulthood) associated with CSEOP and the perception of having been the victim of childhood sexual abuse.

Surprisingly, the individual's own perception of whether her/his experiences constitute sexual abuse is typically not considered in the various definitions [...]
Researchers and theorists should take into consideration the perspective of those who have experienced the abuse or sexual events with which they are concerned.

The current study is based on a sample of Latino men who have sex with men (MSM) in New York City. [...] this is not in any way a clinical sample [...].

It is clear that early sexual contact is common among these men. Fifty-nine percent had had some sexual/genital contact prior to their 13th birthday.

A substantial number of the men were forced, threatened, and/or physically hurt during the experience, and slightly over half felt that they were emotionally hurt.
Positive, negative, and indifferent reactions were fairly equally common, especially at the time of the experience.
For 32 men their reaction at the time of the event(s) was different from their current view.

There is a substantial amount of sexual activity at a young age with older partners that is not perceived to be abusive by the men who experienced it. For this sample of men, a perception of abuse is associated with coercion and the age of the child.

The relevance of considering childhood family environment is seen in the fact that those who felt they were abused had the most problematic family environment scores in this sample. The association between this score and the perception of abuse was actually stronger than that found for any of the psychological/behavioral variables assessed.

Conclusion (from the article)

These data show that not all childhood sexual experiences with older partners are perceived as negative or are associated with damaging repercussions. This finding is, of course, not presented to condone these practices. 

In fact, the majority of the men who had such experiences were either forced or threatened or were physically or emotionally hurt (65% reported at least one of these). 

There were also indications that these experiences are associated with negative outcomes in adulthood, in particular with alcohol use and sexual behavior. 

Victims and clinicians are very familiar with the devastating effects that can be the result of the sexual abuse of children 

(Gonsiorek, Bera, & LeTourneau, 1994; Lew, 1990). 

However, our findings, consistent with the modest effect sizes for correlates of CSA reported by Rind et al. (1997, 1998), reflect that the negative consequences of early sexual experiences are not always pervasive or severe

(at least regarding the limited measures available in this study), 

especially if the experiences were perceived as consensual

Although this sample is unique, the findings suggest methodological approaches that deserve reiteration. 

First, the individual's perception of sexual abuse seems to be a useful thing to assess in such studies. We were able to identify certain factors that were associated with this perception, which should contribute to efforts at developing a definition of CSA. Also, distinguishing between those who did and did not feel they were abused was relevant in assessing the subsequent correlates of abuse. 

Second, the components of early sexual experiences 

(age, age/characteristics of partner, sexual behavior, responses to the event, coercion, etc.) 

should be assessed separately, rather than in a more global way. It may be easier to simply ask "Did you have genital contact before you were 13 with a person at least 4 years older than you that you did not want to have?", but there are limitations to such an approach. 

If the components are assessed separately, prevalence rates can be calculated using various criteria, making it easier to compare rates with other samples that use different definitions. This is illustrated in our ability to compare our sample with the UMHS. 

Third, rather than conceptualizing CSA as a dichotomous variable 

(i.e., contrasting those who do or do not meet some criteria for CSA), 

it seems useful to operationalize CSA as a continuum, with some indication of the severity of the experiences. 

In this report, distinguishing between those who believe they were abused and those who do not provided a basic indication of the severity of the experience that was relevant to the correlates of CSEOP.

  • Those who felt they were abused had the most negative scores, while
  • those who did not have CSEOP had the most positive, with
  • the non-abused falling in the middle.

Attempts to operationalize CSA as a continuum, reflecting the great variety of experiences, should prove useful in subsequent research. 

Read the article in Ipce's Library 3 at 

< >