From a reader: “When I was thirteen I started having sex in a cruisey park. When I was fourteen I met an ‘older man’ (26) there who was hot as hell. I chased him, but he avoided me at first because he was afraid about me being underage. But I kept coming on to him, and one night he took me home. He was my first boyfriend and the first guy I ever loved. We were together all through my high school years, and somehow managed to keep it all a secret. After I went to college, we drifted apart, but still have occasional contact by email. I remember him with affection and gratitude. The reason I’m telling you this is that I saw a therapist last year because I was depressed after a nasty breakup with another boyfriend. I told her about my first relationship, and I could see that it made her really uncomfortable. Later, she began bringing up my ‘sexual abuse issues’ as a possible cause for my depression. I pointed out that I started the whole thing and loved every minute of it. Eventually I flat out told her to stop focusing on something that isn’t a problem for me. She backed down, but only after making it clear that she thought I was in ‘denial’ about the ‘abuse.’ A few sessions later I stopped seeing her, partly because I was over being depressed, but partly because of how she reacted to what I told her.”
Thank you for telling me your story. Here’s some information which you might find interesting. In 1998 three researchers published a meta-analysis of 59 studies of CSA [Child Sexual Abuse]. They found: “CSA was related to poorer adjustment, but the magnitude of the relation was small, not large. Family environment (e.g., physical abuse, emotional neglect) explained poorer adjustment ten times better … . For males especially, CSA, far from being 100 percent negative, was reported as being mostly positive or neutral.”
This study received an unexpected distinction: it was unanimously condemned by Congress. The researchers reported, “Conservative radio host ‘Dr. Laura’ attacked us for months on her syndicated show. The Family Research Council … mobilized conservative congressmen to pressure the American Psychological Association (APA) to repudiate our study … . The APA, which initially defended our publication as a ‘good study,’ eventually submitted to pressure and made concessions to the conservative congressmen and psychotherapists who were so angry. Raymond Fowler, the APA’s chief executive officer, indicated to us that he had no alternative, because he was ‘in hand-to-hand combat with congressmen, talk show hosts, the Christian Right and the American Psychiatric Association.’ And so the APA issued a statement condemning child sexual abuse (as if we had endorsed it!), disavowing the article, and promising that it would be re-reviewed by another scientific organization.”
They continued, “And, indeed, our study was re-reviewed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), America’s largest science organization. The panel found no fault with our methods or analyses, but reported that they did have ‘grave concerns’ with how our article was politicized and misrepresented by our critics, whom they rebuked for violating public trust by disseminating inaccurate information.”
Dan Savage, in his column, wrote, “Why is this controversial? Speaking as a survivor of CSA at fourteen with a twenty-two-year-old woman; sex at fifteen with a thirty-year-old man—I can back the researchers up; I was not traumatized by these technically illegal sexual encounters; indeed, I initiated them and cherish their memory. It’s absurd to think that what I did at fifteen would be considered ‘child sexual abuse,’ or lumped together by lazy researchers with the incestuous rape of a five-year-old girl.”
I understand why sex between minors and adults is an intensely emotional issue, because I’ve seen up close how sexual violence against children can cause a lifetime of emotional suffering. But our obligation to protect children doesn’t have to involve making the knee-jerk assumption that every sexual experience between a sexually active teenager and an adult must be psychologically damaging, even when the “victim,” with the perspective of many years of reflection, does not see what happened as victimizing. I congratulate you for not allowing your therapist to define your experience for you, because in the final analysis, you are the world’s greatest (and, in fact, only) authority on the meaning of your own experience.
Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website http://tommoon.net/