Study finds gender differences in reported childhood sexual abuse

October 11, 2005

A new Queensland study has found a significant link between childhood sexual abuse and symptoms of sexual dysfunction in adult men and women.

The study, conducted by scientists from UQ, QUT and QIMR, is published in the current edition of international journal Archives of Sex Research (Oct 2005).

It found that the rate of sexual dysfunction for men who had experienced childhood sexual abuse was double that of those who had not experienced abuse.

For women, similar differences were apparent, with women who had experienced penetrative abuse substantially more likely to report three or more symptoms of sexual dysfunction.

Study lead author, Professor Jake Najman of UQ's School of Population Health, said the research looked at the rates of sexual dysfunction by specific type of sexual abuse experience.

"The research suggests that for males, non-penetrative childhood sexual abuse experiences do not lead of higher rates of sexual dysfunction. However, males who have experienced some forms of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to report that they have symptoms of sexual dysfunction in later life.

"Females reporting both non-penetrative and penetrative sexual abuse experiences are substantially more likely to report many symptoms of sexual dysfunction."

The National Health and Medical Research Council-funded study is one of the first to directly compare the impact of childhood sexual abuse on males with that of females in adulthood.

Professor Najman said men and women could react differently because they tended to experience different kinds of childhood sexual abuse.

Because women tended to be exposed to more abuse within the family, and tended to experience it at younger ages, they could find childhood sexual abuse to be more damaging than men.

Study respondents were randomly selected from the Australian electoral roll. They were interviewed about their health status and sexual experiences, including unwanted sexual experiences before the age of 16.

The study observed that women, but not men, who had experienced childhood sexual abuse reported more sexual partners over their lifetime, but neither males nor females who had experienced childhood sexual experience reported more partners in the last year.

"We found that childhood sexual abuse was not associated with the level of physical or emotional satisfaction respondents experienced with their sexual activity," Professor Najman said.

The study confirmed that childhood sexual abuse was common in Australia. More than one-third of women and one-sixth of men reported a history of childhood sexual abuse.

"Women were more likely than men to report both non-penetrative and penetrative childhood sexual abuse," study lead author, Professor Jake Najman said.

Professor Najman said the study examined self-reported rates of childhood sexual abuse in a sample of 1793 people aged 18-59.
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Study co-authors were Dr Michael Dunne of QUT, Dr David Purdie of QIMR, and Dr Fran Boyle and Peter Coxeter of UQ's School of Population Health.

Media: Further information, Professor Jake Najman, telephone +61 733 655 180

Research Australia

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