I feel abandoned by my mother, because I know she doesn’t want to believe my dad could be capable of sexually abusing me. She sends emails that start with what I see as a courtesy disclaimer, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but…” and then tells me all the reasons why she thinks I could be mistaken. It tears my heart out, but I try to be understanding. She has been going through a lot since I broke the silence and told her about the memories I’ve begun to recover, and admittedly she’s in the most difficult position of all.
The little child part of me wants nothing more than for my mother to believe that what I’m telling her is true and choose me over my perpetrator. It doesn’t look likely though, so I tell myself that’s just a childish dream that she could ever choose one family member over another, that she’s built a life with this person, that it’s selfish of me to put expectations on her. But it’s like a knife to the heart. I actually find it hard to value my own life if she doesn’t believe me, and thinking about it too much is the one thing that can send me back into that dark suicidal place I was a few months back. In that place I feel half dead, have rotted, half decomposed, and yet I haven’t taken my life. I am still walking around trying to find a way out that doesn’t depend on her or what she does. Just to feel alive again.
I know on an intellectual level that I can choose whatever experience of this that I want. But that little girl is convinced, “If my own mother won’t believe me, won’t choose me, who would?” She takes it to mean she is worthless, that others’ words to the contrary are meaningless gestures of etiquette, rather than heartfelt truths. The whole world becomes cold and fake to her. This is no way to live.
Accepting that my mother has the right to deal with this situation however she wants has been the most difficult emotional challenge I’ve ever had. The truth is her words and actions have no meaning except the meaning I choose to give to them, so the impact on my self worth comes from my beliefs rather than from her. The clincher is that I know this intellectually, but it still feels like abandonment. It still feels like I have been ousted from the tribe, left to fend for myself, like death is after me, already eating through my flesh.
My only choice is to wholeheartedly accept that only I can give my life whatever meaning I choose, and that yes, expectations and wishes for my mother to do this or that are in fact, just childish dreams, based on the false belief that my self worth comes from her. In truth it never has, and it never will. How much longer am I willing to spend trying to barter for these childish dreams? That I don’t know, but I hope it’s not long. There’s a big beautiful world out there waiting for me.
~ “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
I’ve been on a personal quest lately to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning behind sexual fantasies, and have been reading a book by Michael J. Bader, called Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, in order to gain some insight on myself. The giant breast fantasy isn’t exactly my thing, but it certainly is a common thing, and I found Bader’s explanation of it pretty interesting, so I thought I’d share.
We already know that hetero men love breasts. Some guys refer to themselves as “breast men” after all, so no surprise there. But have you ever wondered why there’s a sexual fascination with women’s mammary glands whose biological purpose is to feed milk to young infants? If you made the obvious connection and guessed it has to do with motherly nurturing, you’d be right, but according to Bader there’s a lot more to it than that. Actually, this might get weird because it has nothing to do with mothers, and everything to do with mothers.
As I covered in my first post on sexual fantasies, we once again see the primary purpose of a fantasy is to relieve feelings of guilt and worry, which are brought on by pathogenic and negative beliefs about the self and others. Orgasm can only be reached once these harmful beliefs are somehow negated, and the fantasy works to do just that. So what sort of negative beliefs does the breast man have?
According to Bader, he likely has a pathogenic belief that he is undeserving of caretaking, and that his needs are burdensome and greedy, that a woman would experience giving to him as depleting. Therefore he feels he has to prove himself worthy of any caretaking from women. He actually feels guilty needing nurturing from a woman, and feels like it is coercive because, after all, he believes women have nothing to give. That’s pretty harsh. Why would he believe these things? Childhood neglect is a big part of it.
He likely had a relationship with his mother that was very one-sided, one that was all about her: her needs, her moods, her wants. He sees his mother as weak and fragile, as someone who he has to worry about all the time. Bader notes that the result of this relationship is a belief that women don’t “have the capacity or inclination to devote themselves to a man’s pleasure or to their own,” and so to want such a thing leads to extreme guilt.
So with all that unsexy guilt for wanting nurturing in the way, he fantasizes that a woman is turned on by “mothering him,” a.k.a giving him the breast, so that he can get sexually excited. For some men this means fantasizing about actual breastfeeding during sex, but it’s not that he is making any direct sexual connection to his own mother. It’s all about removing the guilt and worry he was trained to have for women. He needs to receive pleasure without having any responsibility for his partner’s needs. He needs her to happily give to him and expect nothing in return.
In the breastfeeding/breast sucking scenario, where the woman wants to give to him and is gratified by giving to him, he is free to let go of the guilt. Not only does she not need him to be her caretaker, she wants him to take from her and isn’t depleted when she gives him maternal nurturing. His desire to take is met with her desire to give. His negative unconscious belief that women are too preoccupied, burdened, depressed, or busy to take pleasure in nurturing him is thus negated. And the bigger the breast, the more nurturing she has to give him.
So there you have it! Even in “extreme” cases where a man is turned on by fantasies of breastfeeding from a woman, it has nothing to do with any creepy latent desire to be sexual with his mother. It’s just that his mother was a selfish narcissist! Or maybe just dysfunctional and depressed. Either way, it’s not about his mother, ladies, it’s all about your enthusiasm and happiness to give to him… and your super luscious breasts.
I often use the metaphor that my life used to be like a building that was beautiful on the outside, but dark and decrepit and languishing on the inside. Nothing gets spared when you experience sexual abuse as a child or experience being raped. It makes a complete mess of everything and you don’t even know it until you know it.
I was afraid to live because I thought I was a bad person. I was a bad person because of all the things I’d do to cope with feeling bad. I was even bad for wanting love, because bad girls don’t deserve love. People only want them for sex. And women who are good for sex are whores. And whores are bad too. But I was only good at being bad.
I wasn’t brave. I was busy running away from the problems and pain but one day all my demons caught up to me, and it was going to be them or me. I was so sick and tired of being unhappy in this beautiful but languishing building that I finally wanted to see what was hidden inside, so I lit a match to see the horrors for myself. And there they were hiding in the shadows, all of my demons. Everything in my life finally began to make sense, and I could see I wasn’t bad after all, it was the demons, and the demons had to go.
But how does one kill a demon? I tried to chase them out many times before but it was ayahuasca that taught me the only way to kill a demon is with fire. They must be charred into ash and returned to source, and this is how I accidently burned the whole building to the ground.
I watched piece by piece as my life burned up, every piece of what I thought of as “me,” drenched in flame and reduced to ash, crumbled and disappeared, and I saw that the demons I tried to set fire to were just shadows cast by my own structure. I saw that the only thing to fear was myself, and the fire’s transformative alchemy spared me no dust-covered illusions from my attic. It left me naked and nameless and powerful.
Every relationship I had changed, because I had changed, and there was nothing I could do as I watched the old relationships burn, for they were just reflections of me. I was laid off from a job where I was unhappy, I left my showroom perfect apartment, and I began to operate on an unapologetic level where I could just exist and not have to answer to anyone but myself. When I was all that was left, there was no more fear; there was nothing to lose anymore, and that is what set me free. That is what showed me who I am really am and what I’m really made of.
~ “Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” – Jim Morrison
The more I learn about the psychology behind sexual fantasies, the more impressed I am by the kinky yet intelligent conversation going on between our unconscious beliefs and our sexual expression. Here’s what Dr. Michael J. Bader has to say about bondage and beating fantasies from his book Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies.
Once again, we see that the fantasy is a means of removing guilt, anxiety, and worry in order to find a safe place to “let go.” Negative unconscious beliefs are what make us feel these negative and unsexy things in the first place and by creating a very specific fantasy role for ourselves and our partner(s), we find a way to disprove our negative beliefs about ourselves and others.
Turns out a belief that others are fragile and will be hurt by one’s own exuberance, energy, and self-assertion can lead to super hot bondage fantasies that work to remove the guilt a person feels for pretty much existing at all. Neat.
Ironically, when being tied up, the person is released from guilt and freed of responsibility for anyone’s pleasure but their own. While being tied up and/or blissfully beaten, they know that they are not hurting their partner. They are 100% being done to rather than doing to someone else, and so there is also no question of the partner’s complete interest and pleasure of involvement. They know their partner is having a good time, so now they are free to have a good time too.
I’ve often wondered why bondage has historically been so popular in Japanese culture, where they have basically turned it into a beautiful art form called Kinbaku or Shibari. Perhaps there is some collective cultural guilt among Japanese women that they are too strong and men are fragile and must be protected from their strength. Similarly, there may be a belief among sexually dominating Japanese men that they are responsible for the feelings of women and capable of unintentionally hurting them. I covered the topic of Master-slave fantasies in a previous post.
So, isn’t that interesting how a sexual preference for bondage and beatings isn’t so much kinky as it is purely considerate? The person who longs for whips and handcuffs is really just saying, “See? I’m all tied up and helpless over here so if you’re into playing along, I can’t do anything to hurt you even if I lose control!” So the BDSM community has been stigmatized called deviants for nothing? Turns out a lot of them are just super considerate because they falsely believe that they’re the sexual-emotional equivalent of a bull in a china shop. That’s deep.
~ “I don’t mind working, holding my ground intellectually, artistically; but as a woman, oh, God, as a woman I want to be dominated. I don’t mind being told to stand on my own feet, not to cling, be all that I am capable of doing, but I am going to be pursued, fucked, possessed by the will of a male at his time, his bidding.” – Anaïs Nin
I was seriously considering moonlighting as a dominatrix a few years ago, seeing it as a healthier outlet for my anger towards men than disrespecting them in general. The idea came up when I’d met a practicing dominatrix in a Shanghai nightclub. She was a blonde German woman, which would have made her quite popular among the locals, and I remember her grinning ear to ear as she told me how much money men pay her to “stomp on their balls with my stilettos.” I never actually did the dominatrix thing, but I’ve always wondering about why it appeals to me so much, although it’s not a general appeal. I’d never feel the urge to dominate a man I feel safe around already, just the ones I don’t feel safe around. Dr. Michael J. Bader’s book, Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, offers this explanation.
Many “tops” have experienced feeling like a helpless victim as a child, and in identifying with the abuser rather than as a victim, they overcome the belief that they are in fact helpless and capable of being overpowered. Instead, they claim the “power” their abuser had over them. It can relieve the self-blame and self-hatred a person has for themselves for “allowing” the abuse to happen to them by putting them in control.
“Tops” also often experience being labeled as a “bad person” in day to day life. This might look like being told that they are responsible for the feelings of others, when in fact they are not responsible for how others choose to feel. “Tops” can feel tremendous guilt and worry about the person or people they’ve been told they are responsible for. For instance, a son who is always told he is responsible for this mother’s negative emotions will tend to relate to women in the same way, feeling responsible for their hurt feelings when no negative intent is actually there. He might believe that he’s a “bad guy” if his girlfriend gets upset and blames him for her feelings.
In a consensual Master-slave relationship, the arousal of the slave is essential to the Master’s arousal. The slave’s pleasure at being dominated, hurt, and abused proves that the Master isn’t really a bad person or an abuser after all. It helps the Master get past their negative beliefs that they are guilty for hurting others, guilty for not being able to help or save others, that they are somehow responsible for others’ suffering. It also relieves the guilt of wanting to be in control of another.
Master-slave sex takes all of the “bad” about the Master, and turns it into “good.” It proves to the Master that they are not a helpless victim, but a powerful and appreciated dominator. I was always told by both of my parents that I was “bad,” and deep down, I always believed it. So for me, having always felt like I was a “bad person,” the urge to dominate and inflict pain on men might be more about wanting to feel like a “good person” than a revenge fantasy.
It’s usually men who take the role of dominator during sex, so this is insightful as well to explain how society socializes men to feel responsible for everyone else. I wonder how many men out there feel like they’re a “bad guy,” and that they’re responsible for womens’ feelings? And, since being a dominator is also the socially acceptable role for a man to play in his sex life, I also wonder how many men out there are playing “top” when they really want to play “bottom”? I’d bet it’s more than we think.
~ “It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.” – Marquis de Sade
This has been a difficult post for me to write. I intended to have it written a couple days ago, but I find myself in repeated resistance. Every time I write a few lines, I invariably find a distraction. This is a subject of immense interest to me in my quest to understand why I was sexually abused by my father, but for the same reason I find it a bit hard to stomach. I hope this is helpful for others on the same quest or for those who are simply trying to understand the question of “Why?”
This post is meant to clarify the reasons why men sexually abuse children. It is a continuation of Part I which discusses drug-assisted rape. The title, “Why Men Rape,” is appropriate when discussing child sexual abuse because rape was part of my experience of being sexually abused as a child, and also because I find it hard to call the involvement of a child in adult sexual activity anything but nonconsensual. The short answer to “why” is… because offenders made the choice to offend, albeit with a compelling feeling to do so. I wish to explore the common pattern for how men come to make that choice.
My main source of information has been a book by Douglas W. Pryor, titled Unspeakable Acts: Why Men Sexually Abuse Children. Pryor conducted a pioneering study of thirty convicted sex offenders, and gathered data on the thoughts, experiences, and behaviours of these men. It is the first in-depth, qualitative, and narrative-based study of its kind.
As was already established in my post on rape culture, the characteristics of the average child molester are virtually indistinguishable from those of the average man. The way they walk, the way they talk, they way they seduce, the way they objectify and sexualize others. However, one factor appears to influence which men choose to sexually abuse children – and that is experiencing sexual abuse in their own childhood but not understanding it as such.
This can mean having fond memories of being sexually abused, and framing that abuse as affectionate and/or erotic rather than traumatic. Offenders who did experience the sexual abuse of their childhood as “unsettling and confusing,” were typically blamed by parents or other nonoffending adults and made to feel responsible for the abuse, or they were simply ignored and given the impression that it wasn’t that big a deal. In any case, the perpetrator was not understood to be an abuser per se, and the victim was given no feedback to suggest that there was anything wrong with what the perpetrator was doing to them, and that is was their fault it was happening.
The larger cultural context of silence and secrecy around taboo subjects like incest and sexual abuse also do nothing to curb the young victim’s blurred sense of acceptable boundaries, sexual respect, and personal physical space with others.
So with their own abuse framed as not having been abuse, these men went forth into the world, and often when they were around children who were the same age as they were when they were abused, they experienced some unexpected sexual feelings arising in them. This was generally precipitated by a cluster of negative life experiences, which occurred in mostly random combinations, although there were only six general themes that those interviewed experienced: feeling trapped, sexual problems and boredom, loss of male authority, engulfment in masturbation and porn, major emotional shocks, and feelings of sexual inadequacy.
The men chose to cope with these challenges by feeling unhappy and disconnecting emotionally, and yet they still strongly desired an outer change in their circumstances. It is my observation that these men feel powerless in their lives and have no sense of being able to change their circumstances, or failing that, to change their own state of being in order to experience their circumstances differently. Many appeared to feel as if they had no choice in the matter of offending and felt that their urges were simply “uncontrollable,” and thus found ways to justify their actions so that they could live with themselves.
The moment of shifting in adulthood from being a nonoffender to an offender was clearly demarcated in the memory of nearly all thirty of the convicted sex offenders. They could pinpoint the specific moment and circumstances in which they made their “shift.” The fact that this is remembered so clearly indeed shows that the men were aware that they were making a choice which would take them across a moral boundary, but they could not deny the strong sexual feelings that arose in them, often for a specific child victim.
And this is the critical point of no return: the transition into offending is completed precisely because these men are able to reframe their sexual feelings for a child as acceptable in order to justify their actions, no doubt a remnant from their warped understanding of their own sexual abuse history. As Pryor notes, “without this interpretive bridge, the crimes reported by the men here would not have occurred.”
After making the shift and choosing to offend, multiple methods of approaching and engaging their victim were tested and locked into if compliance resulted. During their career as an offender, the men often felt guilty about their behaviour, but numbed it with busyness, alcohol, TV, etc., and some even projected their guilt onto the victim, lecturing them about their immorality. In every case they found a way to justify their behaviour, often putting the responsibility on the victim to stop the abuse.
It’s like their whole childhood repeating itself! And situations that bring up their pain will persist until these men heal from the abuse inflicted on them in their own childhood. I view their poignant moment of crossing the moral boundary into being an offender as their psyche trying to show them they have a wound to heal. The issues they have from their own childhood abuse are still with them and are literally reflected perfectly in their own reactions to life’s circumstances. Some men even chose child victims who had specific features that reminded them of their own abusers, such as hair colour. It’s really all just a convoluted effort to heal something.
These men put responsibility on the victim to stop the abuse since they were made to feel responsible for their own abuse. Their feelings of powerlessness, perhaps from not being able to control the abuse in their childhoods, led them to feel unable to change their circumstances, to feel like a passive victim of circumstances. This is really important to get. We all have the power to change our state of being if we don’t like the circumstances we’re in, and thus change the way we feel about the circumstances. Sometimes we can simply just change the circumstances, but not always. Still we’re all ultimately capable and powerful. The only thing standing in the way is negative beliefs. These child molesters had no life experiences to illustrate that they had this power, nothing to show them that they could choose to change their belief that they are a passive victim.
Silence and secrecy are what keeps this twisted little circus rolling, and branding offenders as monsters doesn’t help. The depths of my own anger surrounding this issue make it difficult to say what I’m about to say, but it is indeed the true that these men deserve some compassion from society. It is not to excuse, but simply to understand. In fact, it is in the best interest of child victims that we feel some compassion since the ugly stigmatization with which child molesters are branded can leave an offender feeling even more trapped and unable to reach out for help, which only exacerbates the issue and leads to more offences. This Louis C.K. stand up bit has been called a tasteless joke, but he is indeed on to something with his idea that we take it down a notch when it comes to “kid having sex people” because at least then “you get the kid back.”
~ “Every situation properly perceived, becomes an opportunity to heal.” – A Course In Miracles