What Sex Ed Never Taught Us: The Stigma of Male Rape

Sex, Self

Sex education failed to teach us that victims of rape aren't limited by gender.

When most of us took the sex education segment of high school health class as teenagers, we were inundated with shocking rape statistics. What sex education taught us was this: rape is much more common than people think. I believe the statistic introduced in my class was that one in four women will be raped. But, what sex education didn't teach us was that rape victims aren't always female; men can be victims too.

Rape of women is a problem in the US, but in other parts of the world it's a full-on epidemic. In some places in Africa, for instance, a woman is in the minority if she isn't raped. And, sadly, being raped once is rarely the case.

It is likely because of this that the rape of women is so heavily focused on not only in sex education classes, but in congress, on college campuses and on episodes of Law and Order: SVU.

Focusing on the rape of women is good — people need to know what is going on so that change can be instigated — but focusing on only the female victims is not. In fact, it leads to a greater stigma in regards to male rape, a stigma that doesn't appear to be wavering.

If sex education taught us — as absorbing, impressionable seventeen year olds — that males could be victims of rape as easily as females, it's possible the stigma never would have formed. Instead, we would have grown up understanding that male rape was something that happened.

Now, it's possible that present day classes do teach that rape goes both ways, with each gender being capable of being the victim or the perpetrator. I haven't been a seventeen year old for, well, I won't say the actually number of years, so I don't know what the classes are actually teaching. Yet, I do know that it's not something my class focused on, and this lack of education has helped form the stigma that exists today.

Of course, rape is stigmatized regardless of the victim: women who are raped are often labeled with derogatory names or accused of "asking for it" because they wore a short skirt. But, the stigma of male rape appears to be larger merely because our society isn't as accepting that men can unwillingly be made to have sex.

Not all the blame lies on sex education; there are several reasons male rape is so stigmatized, 3 of which are:

  • People still believe that rape is about sex; No matter how many times you tell people that rape is about control, not sex, many refuse to believe it. People still think that people rape for sexual gratification. This way of thinking causes a person (even a person who is the victim) to unfairly assume two things. One: if a man is raped by another man, he must be gay. Two: a man, because most are always willing to have sex, can't actually be raped by a woman. Only when people accept that rape isn't about sex will they understand that men can be victims too.
  • Men are expected to fight off an attacker; Women, in general, are the physically weaker sex. It's difficult, and usually impossible, for a woman to successfully fight off a man who is attacking her. Men, on the other hand, aren't physically inferior; thus, some people assume a man who is raped "wanted it" in some way. But, this type of thinking leaves people overlooking several things. First of all, if the perpetrator is male, a man can easily be overpowered; some men are physically inferior to other men. Secondly, many men are raped when they are incapacitated somehow; they may be tied up, drugged, or put in so much physical pain that it's impossible for them to fight back. And, finally, because rape is such a crime of control, it is sometimes those in control who take advantage of it — for instance, an authority figure (such as a teacher) who has sex with someone taught to respect authority (such as an underage student). This kind of emotional exploitation and psychological manipulation opens up the possibility for the perpetrator and the victim to be either gender.
  • Men are less likely to report it; Whether female or male, being a victim of rape is often a burden that is carried in secret. According to RAIIN, 60 percent of sexual assaults aren't reported to police (unfortunately resulting in the vast majority of rapists never seeing the inside of a jail cell). Yet, women are still more likely to report it than men. In fact, a National Crime Victimization Survey found that 38 percent of sexual assault incidents were against men. This statistic is much higher than I, and I'm betting most others, realized. One of the reasons for our surprise is that male rape isn't made public so the victims suffer in silence. And the fear that male rape victims are alone is often enough to stigmatize just about anything.

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