This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Adult males with childhood sexual experiences: The role of attachment and coping in psychological adjustment




Lyle, Patricia

Type of Degree





In the past three decades, the existing literature pertaining to the sexual abuse of boys has expanded. Much of the current male sexual abuse research is directed toward understanding how abused boys later become offenders. While this focus is essential in developing models of abuse – offender outcomes, these models do less to explain the non-offender outcomes that certainly must exist. By examining the literature pertaining to sexual abuse, sexual offending, and coping with trauma, models were developed to represent how abused boys might successfully process trauma. At the core of such models is the hypothesis that it is not the presence of sexualized coping, but the absence of adaptive coping that distinguishes offenders from non-offenders. One hundred sixty-one college men completed anonymous surveys detailing their sexual histories; attachment relationships with mother, father, and friends; their use of sexual and non-sexual coping strategies to relieve distress; and their current psychological adjustment. Measures included the Childhood Sexual Experiences Checklist, the Experiences in Close Relationships Inventory, the Inventory of Parent and Peer Relationships, the Coping Using Sex Inventory, the Brief-COPE, and the Personality Assessment Screener. Nearly 20% of the men experienced exploitive or abusive sex acts, although only 4% defined themselves as abused. Sixty percent admitted compulsive masturbation at some earlier time, with a sample average masturbation rate of 12 times in the preceding month. Coping behaviors were modeled as orthogonal constructs, with sexual and avoidant coping diverging from problem-focused and emotion-focused coping. Hypotheses linking child sex abuse (CSA), coping, and attachment were supported. Poor paternal attachment predicted exposure to sexual abuse and the use of sexual force; poor maternal attachment predicted poor adaptive coping, reduced interest in consensual sex, and increased use of masturbation. Coping fully mediated the direct effect of abuse on attachment. Hypotheses linking CSA, coping, and adjustment were also supported. Abuse was not directly related to psychological adjustment, but operated through coping (maladaptive or adaptive) to produce divergent effects on adjustment. Men who had been abused were more likely than non-abused men to use sex as a coping strategy, less likely to produce adaptive coping, and more likely to provide poorer adjustment scores at the total score and subscale levels. Composite models of all latent variables indicated attachment quality regulates the available coping responses and affects adjustment.