Does Child Sexual Abuse Cause Homosexuality…?

Wilson, H., & Widom, C. (2009). Does Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, or Neglect in Childhood Increase the Likelihood of Same-sex Sexual Relationships and Cohabitation? A Prospective 30-year Follow-up Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (1), 63-74 DOI: 10.1007/s10508-008-9449-3

In this comprehensive study, Wilson and Widom (2009) explored the links between child abuse and later same-sex relationships, and cohabitation. They noted, at p.67, that ‘[m]en who have sex with men report rates of childhood sexual abuse that are approximately three times higher than that of the general male population’. Referring to several authors, they propose a number of possible reasons as to why this might be so, including:

1. That childhood sexual abuse can lead to same-sex sexual orientation;

2. That childhood sexual abuse ‘may result in uncertainty regarding sexual orientation and greater experimentation with both same- and opposite-sex relationships’ (p.67);

3. That a ‘child’s sexual orientation or attractions precede[s] the abuse’ (p.67); and

4. That children ‘who later identify a same-sex sexual orientation are disproportionately targeted as victims of abuse’ (p.67).

In the present study, Wilson and Widom (2009) found ‘tentative support for a relationship between childhood sexual abuse and same-sex sexual relationships, but this relationship appeared only for men’ (p.71). That is, for men who were sexually abused as children. They conclude that their ‘findings do not imply that sexual abuse ‘‘causes’’ boys to grow up with a homosexual preference’ (p.72). However, I would suggest that any research that looks at this highly politicised issue, invariably leads to the plausible conclusion that adverse life circumstances create gay men. We have all heard the stereotype of the absent father and overbearing mother. It is possible that straight men are much less likely to report having been abused, especially sexually abused, as children than gay men are, thereby calling into question the 3:1 ratio mentioned at the outset of this post.

  1. Lee
    March 21, 2010 at 8:49 am | #1

    Is it just me, or does #3 seem to put the blame on the child? #4 seems like a much better explanation to me.

    • March 21, 2010 at 9:26 am | #2

      Yes, #3 is wholly unpleasant. The authors give the example here of young people ‘who are exploring their sexual identity’ (2010, p.67), putting ‘themselves in situations where they are at risk for being sexually abused’ (2010, p.67). No child ever puts her or himself in a position to be abused by an adult. I would agree that #4 has merit, insofar as homophobia starts when children are young, and that families can be a dangerous place indeed for young GLBTI people. You only need to look at the extraordinary number of young GLBTI people in the US who are abused and kicked out of home by their parents.

      • barney jones
        August 13, 2013 at 3:51 am | #3

        “No child ever puts her or himself in a position to be abused by an adult”

        I disagree with you there. many children are taught at school and at home (incest and abuse by older family members) to become sexualized from a young age. Especially now in the aftermath of the sexual revolution more pre-pubescent children are having sexual experiences. Have you seen how some of these 7 and 8yo girls can “twerk” all over youtube? It’s disgusting how parents are turning their children into prostitutes.

        “that families can be a dangerous place indeed for young GLBTI people”

        If not in families who would you have raise these young people? The state? Education is the answer NOT demonizing the most important building block of society-The family.

  2. Dutchy
    May 8, 2010 at 8:39 pm | #4

    Regarding #3, the definition of abuse is very wide. A 17 year old who has sex because he wants to can be labeled as an abuse victim in modern ”sex-phobic” society. This makes me wonder if there isn’t a bias. I have been sexually active with others since I was 12 and I was always more interested in the same sex. So I searched for it where ever i could. It was completely voluntarily and fun and I was never in an unpleasant position, manipulated or forced. Though, nowadays I would have been labeled an abuse victim for the few occasions where I met older people, while that’s BS frankly. I am not a victim of any kind. Anyway, as an adult I am bisexual but I still prefer people of the same sex. So maybe I am one of the people this research is about.

    This article is about scientific research and doesn’t have anything to do with blaming anyone. In my youth, Netherlands, it wasn’t a big issue to have sex, as long as you were careful, knew what you were doing including hygiene and wouldn’t do things you didn’t want to do. You could talk to adults if something was bothering you. Sex and nudity wasn’t a taboo or something like that, it was openly discussed. That attitude was fine. For the US I can imagine that with decades of imprisonment waiting people are at greater risk meeting the wrong people since it must be absolutely hush-hush. Things can even turn really ugly when people become terrified and/or think they’ve got nothing to lose anymore.

    I recognize that there is abuse, mistreatment and rape and I hate that from the bottom of my heart, but I strongly disagree with the attitude that sexuality is almost equal to murder or something like that. It isn’t. Sexuality is completely natural and an important part of being human.

    • May 8, 2010 at 9:41 pm | #5

      There are critical differences between ‘normal’ sexual behaviours and abuse and, of course, cultural interpretations of such behaviours vary across space and time. We see this with how men having lots of sex are perceived as compared to women having lots of sex, for example, or the relatively new phenomenon of ‘sex addiction’. My concern with the type of research contained in this article is the value-laden push to pathologise homosexuality. Sickness is in need of a cure and hence, homosexuality becomes a sickness to be cured. That is ethically reprehensible.

  3. August 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm | #6

    In my rounds on the net, while looking for online support as a gay male survivor of sexual abuse in my childhood, I’ve found it quite disappointing to see how being gay and a survivor has indeed become ‘pathologised’. This is particularly so on American based sites in which religion and 12-step programs rule.This is not a conducive environment for healing as a gay survivor.

    The question as to whether the abuse caused me to be gay is irrelevant, because I am happily gay, just not happy about the impacts of the sexual abuse on my ability to function in my day to day life.

    My goal is to thrive as a gay man and all that this entails. The issue for me is not my sexuality but the resulting impact of trauma in my childhood.

    • October 6, 2011 at 12:45 am | #7

      As a child abuse survivor myself, I would agree with you re the problematic caused when others seek to pathologise on the basis of that trauma, being gay, or both. It was not until the end of 2003, in fact, when I caught wind of the child abuse scandal that had emerged at my old high school, St Pius X College in Adamstown, NSW, Australia, that it finally dawned on me how much shite I had unwittingly taken on because I was a fag, and for so much of my life, a pitifully repressed fag. At that hell hole of a Catholic institution, the intense grooming to which I was subjected by the notorious paedophile, Fr John Denham, came at the same time I was struggling with the secret realisation that I was gay. Having that sadistic priest ‘out’ me to my peers in that intensely homophobic, intensely violent, all-boys school was like tying a piece of steak around my neck and letting the wolves savage me to death. Beaten, whipped, spat upon and ostracised, the ultimate price I paid for being gay was, at age 16, to completely and utterly emotionally disintegrate from the wave of bullying that had come to completely define my every waking moment. It would take me more than a decade before I could muster enough strength to put my head outside the door once more, and restart my life. It would take me a further decade or so before I could, at last, accept with love and compassion that I was gay.

    • March 27, 2014 at 1:27 pm | #8

      As you admit abuse was the cause of your homosexuality and this abuse suffered by you was irrelevant since you are happy being gay nowdays.
      How about others who are not happy with their homosexuality caused by abuse?
      Furthermore: According to you: Since abuse is irrelevant, should it be legislated a non-crime as well?
      As far as the law is concern to abuse children is a serious crime. Should society make this crime irrelevant and legalize abuse because ultimately abuse brings happiness as it brought it for you? Hardly! Perhaps you are in need of serious reparative treatment yourself.

  4. July 16, 2012 at 1:48 pm | #9

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    • July 17, 2012 at 10:36 am | #10

      Thanks for your kind words. My health has been quite low because of the bullying to which I am being subjected at work, but I will endeavour to start writing again, soon.

  5. Arleny
    December 7, 2012 at 10:01 am | #11

    Interestig….I’m a straight girl and have a few gay male friends. I always wanted to understand homosexuality because i’ve been in love with a gay who seemed to be confused about his attractions. I just think, that we, as human beings are evolving as a race and we don’t have the wisdom to deal with differences. I would suggest to my friends (only if they asked me) to have a therapy if they’ve been sexually abused. HEALING IS FOR EVERY ONE OF US not just gays. The choice after that, is what makes your heart sincerely happy. it could be gay, bisexual, straight, aliens…….if is done in love and respect. This is what this planet is going to be……….soon!

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