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Section 9
Tool for Treating Sexually Evasive,
Vacuum, and Overtly Sexual Environments

Question 9 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the ways in which social pressures affect a sexually abused boy's development in the areas of gender role identity, double standard, and age-disparate heterosexual abuse.

As you know, an ideal environment for sexual information for a child would be one in which accurate and an efficient amount of information is given at an appropriate age. The boy is given the opportunity to learn about and experience their growing sexuality within a supportive, nurturing and informative environment. However, as you are well aware, this is most commonly not the case.

In this section, we will examine the way that four types of environments can affect sexually abused boys: the evasive environment; the environmental vacuum; the seductive environment; and the overtly sexual environment.

♦ #1 The Sexually Evasive Environment
The first type of environment, the evasive environment, is a restrictive one. When boys are raised in this type of atmosphere, there is little or no accurate information pertaining to sexual matters. This results in a misinformed child and can lead to even greater confusion when sexual abuse enters into the equation.

Robbie, a twelve year old sexual abuse client of one of my colleagues Frank, had been brought up in an evasive environment. Robbie related to Frank, "One time, one of the girls sat down next to me at lunch and eventually began to talk about sexual stuff. I never believed girls talked like that. I didn't know what to say because I don't know anything about sex-that's for people who are married and are going to have babies. When she asked me something about 'home base' I thought she was talking about softball."

Frank then asked Robbie what and how his parents had taught him about sex. Robbie stated, "My dad used to get so nervous when I asked where my baby brother came from, I quit asking. He would usually say something about being able to understand someday when I was older. My mom was no help either. When I asked her questions, she would tell me to ask my dad. She still uses words like 'pee-pee' or 'tinkle' when talking about going to the bathroom." As you can see, Robbie had no understanding about his own sexuality.

♦ #2 The Environmental Vacuum
The next environment, the environmental vacuum, is even more restrictive than the evasive environment. When a child is raised in an environmental vacuum, there is usually never any information about sexuality provided. Curiosity about sex is met with little helpful information or evasive responses. Essentially, due to religious or moral reasons, the parents shelter their children from any contact or exposure to sexual matters, whether healthy or no.

While some parents regard this as the best approach, this kind of environment can lead to inappropriate behaviors. Pete, a sixteen year old sexual abuse client of mine, was raised in an environmental vacuum. Pete related, "I never saw my parents hug each other, but they did kiss goodbye occasionally. The kisses were more pecks than kisses though. I somehow knew not to ask about sex even though I had lots of questions to ask."

When he was abused by his baseball coach at age 11, Pete was not quite sure what had happened or how to react. He stated, "I didn't know if I should go to my parents or not. I thought that they would be just as confused as I was. They never spoke about that stuff so I didn't know that they would know. I just kept quiet and tried to stay as normal as possible. I just knew that I was different and I didn't want to be different."

As you can see from Pete's account, had his parents been more informative about sex and what sex is appropriate and what is a violation of boundaries, he might have revealed the abuse much earlier than he did.

♦ #3 The Negative Environment
In addition to the evasive environment and the environmental vacuum, the third form of environment is known as the negative environment. Here, sex is proclaimed as dirty or immoral. Many times, curious children exploring their bodies are punished severely. From an early age, the child learns to associate any sexual experience with shame and disgust for their own bodies.

Joseph, a seventeen year old sexual abuse client of mine who was raised in this negative environment, was abused by his 32 year old neighbor, Laura, at the age of 13. Ashamed and horrified that some of the things he experienced were pleasurable, Joseph punished himself by becoming anorexic. Terrified of telling his parents, Joseph did not report his abuse until his high school counselor asked him to go to therapy for his anorexia. There, he revealed the abuse.

♦ #4 The Seductive and the Overtly Sexual Environments
The seductive and the overtly sexual environments share characteristics, but are different in many aspects. In a seductive environment, a parent or other relative makes suggestive advances towards a child. Also, mixed messages are constantly confusing the child, for instance, hinting at the desirability of sexual contact between the seductive adult and the child but continuing to condemn such behavior superficially.

The overtly sexual environment, however, involves actual intercourse between an adult and a child. In these cases, it does not necessarily mean a parent is abusing the client, but an influential adult in the child's life. Craig, age 18, was referred to a colleague of mine because he was having problems getting along with his classmates and teachers. He was anxious around female teachers especially and became explosively angry when asked by a female teacher about his grades. Craig couldn't seem to understand or control his anxiety around women.

In one session, Craig asked his therapist, "I don't think this has anything to do with anything, but I wonder if having sex before you are supposed to can help or hurt your sex life?" When asked to go further, Craig revealed that his housekeeper of his childhood repeatedly committed sexual acts with him since the age of nine until he was 13. As you can see, Craig had grown up in the most common environment for sexual abuse clients.

♦ Technique: Assertive vs. Aggressive
To address explosive behavior like Craig's, you might consider using the "Assertive vs. Aggressive" technique.
Step # 1 - First, define for your client a clear definition of assertiveness:
-- a . Asking for what you want or need.
-- b. Standing up for yourself and your rights without being harmful to others.
-- c . Expressing your feelings and thoughts.

Step # 2 - Next, clearly define aggressive behavior:
-- a . Doing or saying something that hurts or threatens someone else.
-- b . Getting what you want at the expense of another person.

Step # 3 - Next, give examples of situations that are either assertive or aggressive. For instance, "One teenager sees a second teenager bothering his girlfriend and approaches him about it" would be an example of an assertive behavior. On the other hand, the scenario "Your dad tells you he does not like your friend John and restricts you from seeing him" would be an example of aggressive behavior.

Step # 4 - Then, ask the client whether he thought the example was one of aggression or assertion.

Step # 5 - Next, brainstorm with the client about ways in which to make an aggressive situation and assertive ones. By completing this exercise, Craig could better control his behavior around women.

In this section, we discussed the way that four types of environments can negatively affect sexually abused boys: the evasive environment; the environmental vacuum; the seductive environment; and the overtly sexual environment.

In the next section, we will examine additional ways to address sexually abused boys who are experiencing anger problems.

What are the four types of environments that can negatively affect sexually abused boys?
To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 10
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