In consensual sexual encounters, arousal and orgasms are desired and welcome outcomes! But during abuse, they aren’t. They are quite the opposite, shame provoking.
Getting an erection is a normal bodily response to penile stimulation, therefore being involuntarily “aroused” during an assault is not indicative of willingness or enjoyment. Involuntary arousal or arousal non-concordance is common. During an assault, it is common for both men and women to show genital manifestations of arousal despite the fact that they are not enjoying themselves.
Many boys and men experience a lack of control over spontaneous erections, even ejaculation, in response to anxiety-provoking stimuli. Comedic movies, for instance, often depict male teens with erections during math or gym class. Despite this awareness, abused males forget when recalling experiences of abuse that not all erections are associated with sexual fantasy.
Instead, they recall only what they have been taught about men being able to have control over when, where, and with whom they have erections. They rationalize that, although the abuse began as nonconsensual, they must have begun to enjoy it and changed their minds. They believe their perpetrator must not have forced but rather seduced them into a state of arousal, making the act consensual. Alternatively, they believe there is something seriously wrong with them for having “enjoyed” the abuse. This is not the case.
Many are confused not only by their physical response but also by the loving words and kind gestures of friendship offered by the perpetrator before or during the abuse. They recall feeling special, cared for, even loved. Boys who are not brutally or violently raped also are often confused because they enjoyed how it felt to ejaculate. Many feel guilty because they return to their abusers and engage in other sexual encounters. Some believe because they ejaculated, they might be attracted to their offender or that gender. This is not the case.
Although involuntary arousal is troubling for both genders, there are crucial distinctions in the way genital arousal can affect a male’s ability to process it while it’s happening. While some women have orgasms that are so intense they overpower and render them momentarily unconscious, others have diﬃculty recognizing their orgasms. Since women’s orgasms can be harder to detect, women can more easily ignore, deny, or minimize their physical responsiveness to trauma-induced arousal.
In contrast, because male arousal is visible to all parties, boys and men can’t deny, ignore, or minimize it, even if it wasn’t consensual. In addition, their offenders often use this against them as “evidence” of their pleasure and willingness to participate. This particularly confuses young boys. Ultimately, perpetrators often try to make their victims believe they liked and even invited the assault. And the victims often feel as if their bodies have betrayed them.