Today, researchers Ron Stall and Ron Valdiserri released a statement regarding use of their book, Unequal Opportunities: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States by Focus on the Family writer Jeff Johnston.
The report they question was released recently by Focus and is titled: “Childhood Sexual Abuse and Male Homosexuality: Is there a link?” In that report, Johnston cites statistics from the book, along with quotes from other studies and an interview with Narth past-president Dean Byrd. Here are the relevant portions of the book edited by Stall, Valdiserri and colleague Richard Wolitski (all footnotes in this section are to the Unequal Opportunities book).
Many pro-gay researchers, activists and theorists deny that there could be a connection between child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality. Some possible reasons for denying this link are the stigma that surrounds sexual abuse; the fear of associating homosexuality with “recruitment” or pedophilia; and because so many gays continue to believe that homosexuality is inborn and immutable. In 2008, however, a group of researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a book that documented the high rates of sexual abuse among “men who have sex with men (MSM).”
In a chapter titled, “Childhood Sexual Abuse Experienced by Gay and Bisexual Men: Understanding the Disparities and Interventions to Help Eliminate Them,” from the book Unequal Opportunity, researchers analyze and report on data from 17 different studies from the past 15 years. They find the rates of childhood sexual abuse (which they abbreviate as CSA) for men who have sex with men range from 11.8% to 37.0%, and note that “the best-designed studies tend to converge on CSA prevalence of 15% to 25%.”
While most of those who perpetrate sexual abuse are men, abusers are not necessarily homosexual or gay-identified, and the authors note that “in studies focusing on MSM, the perpetrators are always at least 90% male.” The range of abuse varies in the different studies depending on the definition of abuse and the sample method.
The researchers report that the rates of child sexual abuse for gay- or bisexual-identified men are significantly higher than those found among heterosexually-identified men. They write that the rates for heterosexual men are usually “less than 10%,” and state that in five studies that compared the two groups, the men who have sex with men are “at least three times more likely to report CSA, however defined, than heterosexual men.” This finding is reiterated in their conclusion: “Rates for MSM are 15% to 25% in the best designed studies, which is at least triple the rates reported among heterosexual men.”
Consequences of Sexual abuse
Children are not equipped emotionally, physically, spiritually or psychologically to handle adult sexuality. Individual boys will handle sexual abuse in different ways: what leads to shame and guilt in one child might lead to self-questioning and gender confusion in another or to anger and acting out in a third. Each child is unique, grows up in a unique environment and will respond in an individual way to sexual abuse or early sexual encounters with the same sex.
There are, however, common themes and outcomes that consistently emerge in studies of men who were sexually abused as children. Two common outcomes of sexual abuse – out of the many possible – are that boys may question their identity and be confused about their sexuality.
The followin quotes may have generated the most concern by Stall and Valdiserri:
The authors in Unequal Opportunity are reluctant to say that childhood sexual abuse is one of the factors that leads to or contributes to the development of homosexuality, but they do speculate,
The fact that most childhood abusers of MSM were males suggests either an etiological link between CSA and adult sexual orientation, or the existence of childhood characteristics that are related to adult sexual orientation in men that increase vulnerability, or both.”
And later, they say that these early sexual experiences “can be considered a form of sexual learning, even if that learning is involuntary and the results dysfunctional.” They continue, “Sexual orientation and gender identity can be particularly confusing for men who experienced arousal during the abuse, and MSM who experienced abuse may continue to be aroused by circumstances that mirror the abusive situation.
Drs. Stall and Valdeserri’s statement is as follows:
We want to respond to a recent Focus on the Family characterization of scientific findings reported in our book, Unequal Opportunities: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States (Oxford University Press) that misrepresented findings in the book to suggest that childhood sexual abuse causes male homosexuality. The Focus on the Family description of the findings reported in Unequal Opportunities is inaccurate and, in our opinion, a distortion of the scientific literature.
Most basically, the Focus on the Family characterization of the literature on childhood sexual abuse among gay men represents a misunderstanding of scientific approaches to distinguishing between correlation and causation. The book chapter in question reports that gay men are more likely to report childhood sexual abuse by men than are heterosexual men. This correlation does not mean that the reported abuse caused the adult sexual orientation. If that were the case, then the fact that some heterosexual men report sexual abuse by women means that sexual abuse by women “causes” heterosexuality in men. It is also worth noting that the argument that childhood sexual abuse causes homosexuality in gay men is undermined by the fact that the vast majority of gay men are not sexually abused as children.
One potential partial explanation for this correlation, and one that makes the most sense when you consider people of all orientations, is that some youth, particularly post-pubertal youth (who still cannot legally consent to sexual activity) have sexual experiences with males or females, depending on their pre-existing orientation. Let’s be very clear that this does not mean that these experiences are appropriate or healthy. However, it also does not mean that these experiences
caused the sexual orientation of the youth. The development of a person’s sexual orientation is a complex and multifaceted process. The research into these processes has barely begun, and the development of sexuality is very difficult to study. Mischaracterizations of the scientific literature on the development of sexual orientation is not helpful to science.
Rather than mischaracterize these findings, we would like to point out the harm to health that can be caused by childhood sexual abuse among boys and girls of all sexual orientations. Childhood sexual abuse occurs to far too many young Americans and a large and growing literature supports that this abuse can cause lifelong damage to the physical and mental health and wellbeing of men and women of all sexual orientations. We suggest that Focus on the Family and
other concerned organizations focus on how to work to ensure that all of our children remain safe from unwanted sexual experiences– whether heterosexual or homosexual.
That said, we want to state clearly that the published research does not support the claim that the development of a homosexual orientation is caused by childhood sexual abuse. Furthermore, adult homosexual orientation is no longer considered a pathology or a maladjustment. We urge those who are interested in trying to better understand some of these complex issues from a scientific perspective to read the discussions in our book, as well as the scientific literature on childhood sexual abuse, and not rely on second-hand interpretations.