Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse: Tantric Massage Therapy

A man kneeling on top of a mountain against at sunset.

Male rape and sexual abuse is more common than most people think. According to Survivors UK, a service specialising in supporting male, trans and non-binary people who have experienced rape or sexual abuse, an estimated 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year, and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted. This includes both childhood and adult abuse. It is also likely that much abuse is going under-reported due to the stigmas that it often carries in our culture. According to Safeline, a support helpline for male victims of sexual abuse, 1 in 6 men have been targets of rape or sexual abuse—that’s 5 million in the UK. 

Why Do Many Men Find It Difficult to Report or Talk about Their Abuse? 

The notions of ‘masculinity’ and what it means to ‘be a man’ are central to why so many men and people in male bodies choose not to get help with the abuse they have suffered. In our culture, ‘being a man’ often means exhibiting aggression, bravado, being good at sports, being a daredevil, and accomplishing sexual conquests. Being unable to defend yourself against an attack can be seen as a weakness, as can be showing any emotion or vulnerability. Thus, there is much shame and guilt that men can feel around having been abused. Many straight victims can worry if their experiences mean that they are gay, leading to much confusion over sexual orientation. 

However, sexual abuse has nothing to do with how masculine those men or boys are. ‘Real men’ are victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Being a victim also does not make heterosexual men gay. All victims suffer from abuse, and it can be perpetrated by both male and female abusers. In the case of the latter, survivors’ reports may be taken less seriously, due to cultural norms and expectations. 

What Effects Can Sexual Abuse Have on Men? 

Fear of being rejected by friends and loved ones, or losing their identity as a ‘real man’ can stop many from seeking the help and support that they need. This can lead to victims feeling trapped and isolated. This is true for all victims, regardless of whether they are straight, gay or trans people. 

Landon Wilcock, a rape survivor, sharing his experiences as part of the TED Talk lecture series, said that after the event he experienced “numbness” and the “horrifying memories” that “weren’t going away”. He stopped seeing friends and talking with loved ones, and became “deeply apathetic”. Seth Shelley, another survivor, shares his beliefs: “Real men are strong. Real men don’t get raped.” His early teen years became filled with “suppressed emotion and with anger”. 

A study published by David Lisak in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that some of the common traits of adult men who were abused as children were as follows: “sexual problems, dysfunctions or compulsions; confusion and struggles over gender and sexual identity; homophobia and confusion over sexual orientation; problems with intimacy; shame; guilt and self-blame; low self-esteem and negative self-images; anger; substance abuse; a tendency to deny and de-legitimise the traumatic experience; symptoms of PTSD; fear; depression.” 

How Tantric Massage Therapy Can Help 

There are numerous ways in which going for a therapy session can help survivors of abuse to recover. Below are some suggestions. 

Relaxing the Body Helps to Relax the Mind 

The mind and body are not two separate entities, but form part of one system. Therefore, the emotions we feel correspond to physical changes in the body, whether we are aware of it or not. When we experience uncomfortable emotions, we can develop muscular tensions as a defence against them. We literally ‘armour’ the body by tightening it to keep in certain emotions and keep them unexpressed. Therefore, massaging the whole body can help to release tension and the trapped emotions from the muscles and soft tissues, letting those emotions go. In tantric massage and other healing modalities that work with the body, this is called de-armouring. 

Conscious Awareness and Breath Help to Integrate Past Experiences 

In tantric massage sessions, clients are invited to bring more conscious awareness to their bodies and the sensations they feel therein, for example, noticing any tightness in the face, chest or abdomen. With practice, repressed material can come to the surface. It can sometimes be so strong as to cause the emotions to be acted out. Other times, they will simply be felt within the body, without a need for them to be expressed externally. 

Practicing moment-to-moment awareness of the body, combined with slow, deep abdominal breathing, can help to calm the nervous system. This can help clients to observe, tolerate and integrate their reactions. Often, when people repress emotions, they hold their breath. Therefore, slow and conscious breathing can bring our awareness to repressed material. 

Healing the Nervous System Heals Symptoms of Past Abuse 

“Trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event,” said Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger. In other words, symptoms of trauma are caused by the unresolved and undischarged residue of energy in the nervous system, rather than the event itself. The good news about this is that it is often not necessary to re-live old memories in order to heal from them. According to Levine, “the past doesn’t matter when we learn how to be present…We have only to heal our present symptoms.” And because of the connection between mind and body, these symptoms are both psychological and physiological. 

By working with the above tools of massage, breathing, and conscious observation of moment-to-moment experiences, clients are given the chance to notice, release, integrate and heal from the traumas which may be stored in their bodies and nervous systems. 

How Tantric Massage Therapy Differs from Talking-Only Therapies 

I often hear from my clients that the talking-only therapies have been useful for them in understanding and intellectualising their traumas. At the same time, they often still feel somehow stuck, going through the same cycles of being triggered and re-triggered as the body responds to certain stimuli. 

Tantric massage therapy works with both the mind and the body, allowing the body to also ‘talk’ and tell its story. Trauma is stored in the body, and not the mind, and it is therefore often difficult to access the trauma directly by working only with the mind. 

What Should Clients and Therapists Be Aware Of? 

Before booking a session, it is recommended that clients be aware that ‘tantric massage’ services can vary greatly. If you are looking to heal from past experiences of abuse, it is highly recommended to find a qualified practitioner that has the tools for holding space for you. Many practitioners offer only pleasure-based sessions, and may not have the tools for safely and effectively working with trauma. If you are new to this, you may find it useful to read my article on how to find a genuine tantric therapist. 

Therapists should be aware of the ‘window of tolerance’, also known as the psychobiological capacity, of their clients. This means working slowly, helping the client to process any of the material which comes up, to widen the window of tolerable emotions and experiences they can have gradually over time. If a client cannot tolerate what they are feeling, opening up the past can re-traumatise them further. 

It is therefore also important for therapists to create a space that looks and feels as safe as possible. Soft lighting, gentle background music, and a private space which will not be disturbed, all help to create an atmosphere that help clients to relax. The therapist’s level of experience, tone of voice, body language and attitude can also play a role in creating a safe space, for example, empathic listening without judgment or shame is an important element. Professional tantric therapists will also take the client through a consultation process before the bodywork begins to discuss and agree consent and boundaries for the session. This is a very important part of genuine tantric therapy practice to protect and empower clients in their healing process. 

Tantric massage therapists help their clients to relax and open up to more capacity for feeling pleasure in their bodies. When combined with practicing in a safe space, this can help clients to literally re-wire their brains, healing from the trauma and abuse they have experienced in the past. 

Book a Tantric Massage Session with a Qualified Practitioner 

If you’re looking for support with sexual trauma, or any other emotional or physical issues related to intimacy and sexuality, visit the tantric massage therapy section of the Tantralize Directory to find a qualified tantric massage practitioner near you. 

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