An investigation into male gender identity and the experience of childhood sexual abuse

Briers, Stephen J. (2000). An investigation into male gender identity and the experience of childhood sexual abuse. PhD thesis The Open University.



Background and Aims

In view of limitations in existing models, a study was devised to examine the impact of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) on masculine gender identity in relation to other background factors.

Design and Participants

A mixed design incorporated qualitative and quantitative components. A theoretical sample of ten abused men was interviewed, five of whom identified as heterosexual and five as homosexual.


Interview transcripts were subjected to Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith 1996) and a thematic coding frame developed. Modified Repertory Grids (Kelly 1955) were administered to examine participants' conceptualisation of gender categories and to elucidate patterns of identification between participants, abusers, and other key figures. A further selection of transcript data was micro-coded in order to map gender associations of specific participant responses.


Findings indicated that, while CSA did compromise identifications with 'masculine' values of power, agency and control, participants also reported conflicts over their reduced capacity for identification with positive 'feminine' characteristics. These included emotional expression and other interpersonal competencies. Contrary to the Masculinity Model of Adjustment (Antill and Cunningham 1980), many participants expressed ambivalence towards conventional gender roles, and had experienced attempts to conform to them as ego-dystonic. The results provided some evidence consistent with theories of Gender Shame (Mendel 1992), and supported the view that an adequate conceptualisation of the effects of CSA upon gender should incorporate interactions between abuse and other aspects of the individual's developmental and social context.

Clinical Implications

The study supported the view that the framework of conventional gender and sexual categories may be of limited relevance in work with sexually abused men. It endorsed the need for clinicians to set aside some existing assumptions in the literature, and develop more sophisticated models of gender more congruent with survivors' perceptions regarding the impact of CSA upon gender and sexuality.

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