From a reader: Your column on “The Sexual Disaster Industry,” reminded me of something that happened to me that supports what you wrote. When I was thirteen I started having sex in a cruisey park. When I was fourteen I met an “older man” (26) there who was hot as hell. I chased him, but he avoided me at first because he was afraid about me being underage. But I kept coming on to him, and one night he took me home. He was my first boyfriend and the first guy I ever loved. We were together all through my high school years, and managed to keep it a secret from my family and friends. After I went to college, we drifted apart, but still have occasional contact by email. I remember him with affection and gratitude. I’m telling you this because I saw a therapist last year because I was depressed after a nasty breakup with another boyfriend. I told her about my first relationship, and I could see that it made her really uncomfortable. Later, she began bringing up my “sexual abuse issues” as a possible cause for my depression, which I thought was total bullshit. I’m 34 years old now, and have never felt in any way abused by the guy. It didn’t faze her at all when I pointed out that I initiated the whole thing and loved every minute of it. Eventually I flat out told her to stop harping on something that isn’t a problem for me. She backed down, but only after making it clear that she thought I was in “denial” about the “abuse.” A few sessions later I stopped seeing her, partly because I was over being depressed, but partly because of how she reacted to what I told her.
Thank you for telling me your story. Here’s some information which you might find interesting. In 1998 three researchers published, in the Psychological Bulletin, a meta-analysis of 59 studies of CSA [Child Sexual Abuse]. They found: “CSA was related to poorer adjustment, but the magnitude of the relation was small, not large. Family environment (e.g., physical abuse, emotional neglect) explained poorer adjustment ten times better…For males especially, CSA, far from being 100 percent negative, was reported as being mostly positive or neutral.”
This study ought to have been greeted as good news, because it suggests, among other things, that the human spirit is far more resilient than many believe. Instead, it received an unexpected distinction: it was unanimously condemned by Congress. The researchers reported: “Conservative radio host ‘Dr. Laura” attacked us for months on her syndicated show. The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group, mobilized conservative congressmen to pressure the American Psychological Association (APA) to repudiate our study…The APA, which initially defended our publication as a ‘good study,’ eventually submitted to pressure and made concessions to the conservative congressmen and psychotherapists who were so angry. Raymond Fowler, the APA’s chief executive officer, indicated to us that he had no alternative, because he was ‘in hand-to-hand combat with congressmen, talk show hosts, the Christian Right and the American Psychiatric Association.’ And so the APA issued a statement condemning child sexual abuse (as if we had endorsed it!), disavowing the article, and promising that it would be re-reviewed by another scientific organization.
“And, indeed, our study was re-reviewed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), America’s largest science organization. The panel found no fault with our methods or analyses, but reported that they did have ‘grave concerns’ with how our article was politicized and misrepresented by our critics, whom they rebuked for violating public trust by disseminating inaccurate information.”
Dan Savage supported the study in his “Savage Love” column on July 29, 1999. He wrote: “Why is this controversial? Speaking as a survivor of CSA at fourteen with a twenty-two-year-old woman; sex at fifteen with a thirty-year-old man–I can back the researchers up; I was not traumatized by these technically illegal sexual encounters; indeed, I initiated them and cherish their memory. It’s absurd to think that what I did at fifteen would be considered ‘child sexual abuse,’ or lumped together by lazy researchers with the incestuous rape of a five-year-old girl.”
Refusing to participate in the current hysteria over CSA doesn’t mean being “soft” on child abuse. I do understand why sex between minors and adults is an intensely emotional issue, because I’ve seen in my own practice how sexual violence against prepubescent children can cause a lifetime of emotional suffering. But society’s obligation to protect children does not have to involve making the absurd claim that every sexual experience between a sexually active teenager and an adult is psychologically damaging. So I congratulate you for not surrendering authority over your own experience to your therapist. In general, I think it’s always important, when dealing with any “expert,” to remember that, in the final analysis, you are the world’s greatest (and, in fact, only) authority on the meaning of your own experience.