Sexual Abuse in Childhood Raises Risk of HIV and Other Sexual Infections

August 2012

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What the Results Mean for You

Adults who are bisexual, lesbian or gay, or heterosexual with some same-sex partners, were more likely to be sexually abused as children than heterosexuals with no same-sex partners. But this does not mean childhood sexual abuse caused these people to become bisexual, lesbian, or gay.
Because of the large size of this study of childhood sexual abuse, the results probably apply to everyone in the United States. One big advantage of this study is that is compares (1) bisexuals, lesbians, gays, and heterosexuals with samesex partners or attractions with (2) heterosexuals who don't have same-sex partners or feel same-sex attractions. The groups with same-sex partners had much higher rates of childhood sexual abuse than heterosexuals without same-same partners.

This overall finding does not mean that childhood sexual abuse causes people to become lesbian, gay, or bisexual. A more likely explanation for this link is that children who showed lesbian, gay, or bisexual behaviors early in life are more vulnerable and more likely to become targets of sexual abuse. In previous studies, lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults remember feeling sexually different as children and -- as a result -- being sexually or physically abused by adults or other youngsters.

Children and teenagers who feel attracted to youngsters of the same sex do not have to put up with this kind of abuse -- from other youngsters or from any family members or other adults. Youngsters who are sexually or physically abused should tell an adult they trust right away, starting with a parent or a school counselor or teacher you trust.

Lesbian and gay support groups for youngsters are available in many areas. If you need a support group and can't find one on your own, talk to a school counselor, a teacher you trust, your healthcare provider, or another adult you trust. To find these groups online, see the box "Finding Gay and Lesbian Support Groups for Youngsters and Adults."

Finding Gay and Lesbian Support Groups for Youngsters and Adults
  • The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
  • Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) promotes the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, their families and friends.
  • Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is the largest civil rights organization in the United States working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality.
  • The It Gets Better Project features online videos and an MTV special showing young people talking about growing up gay.
  • The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) empowers people to share their stories, holds the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helps grassroots organizations communicate effectively.
  • MTV's A Thin Line Campaign empowers young people nationwide to draw their own line between digital use and digital abuse -- including cyberbullying, sexting, and all types of digital harassment.
  • The Trevor Project focuses on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. If you or someone you know needs help, call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) to speak with a trained counselor. It's toll-free and available 24/7.

This study found that adults who were sexually abused as children were much more likely to become infected with HIV or another sexually transmitted infection (STI). The reasons for this link are complicated. Sexual abuse during childhood often has a lifelong impact. Because abused children sometimes feel that they caused the abuse, they may feel sad and guilty, and they may be more likely to do other risky things (like drink alcohol, use drugs, or have sex without a condom).

It's difficult even for adults to talk about childhood sexual abuse. But talking about such abuse with a healthcare professional can help you understand what happened. And that understanding can be a first step to overcoming behavior problems that may have begun with childhood sexual abuse. Your primary healthcare provider can recommend a counselor or therapist who will make it easier for you to talk about childhood sexual abuse and the impact it has on your life.

Many studies, including this one, find that men report childhood sexual abuse less often than women. Girls may be victims of sexual abuse more than boys. But it also seems clear that men are more uncomfortable talking about childhood sexual abuse than women. As this study shows, men who were sexually abused as boys continue to suffer consequences of that abuse as adults. Men should not feel ashamed of being abused during childhood. They should make an effort to talk about it with a healthcare professional.


  1. Sweet T, Welles SL. Associations of sexual identity or same-sex behaviors with history of childhood sexual abuse and HIV/STI risk in the United States. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2012;59:400-408.
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This article was provided by The Center for AIDS Information & Advocacy. It is a part of the publication HIV Treatment ALERTS!. Visit CFA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.

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