Men and women may suffer nearly equally from the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse.

Although most research on the consequences of childhood sexual abuse has focused on female survivors, a new study suggests that men who were the victims of sexual abuse as children may suffer from similar issues.

Researchers found the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the risk later in life of health and social problems was similar for both men and women. These problems include drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and marital difficulties.

The results of the study appear in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Results of Survey on Childhood Sexual Abuse

In the study, researchers surveyed more than 17,000 adults who belonged to an HMO in California. The participants were asked about their history of childhood sexual abuse as well as current health and social problems.

In the survey, 25 percent of females and 16 percent of males reported experiencing childhood sexual abuse.

When asked about the gender of the perpetrators, women reported that men committed the abuse 94 percent of the time. But men reported that the abusers were nearly equally divided among men and women, with women accounting for 40 percent of the perpetrators.

The survey also asked the participants if the childhood sexual abuse involved intercourse or inappropriate touching only. Researchers found that the risk of lasting negative effects was slightly higher for both men and women if the abuse included attempted or completed intercourse.

Lasting Impact of Sexual Abuse

Previous studies in women have shown that childhood sexual abuse increases the risk of mental health problems as well as social problems, and this study confirmed that men share that risk.

The study showed that a history of attempted suicide was more than twice as likely among both male and female victims of childhood sexual abuse compared with others.

In addition, sexually abused adults of both genders had a 40% greater risk of marrying an alcoholic and they were 40-50 percent more likely to report current problems in their marriage.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

SOURCES: Dube, S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, June 2005; vol 28: pp 430-438. News release, Health Behavior News Service.