The endless effect of mother-son incest

Boy in white shirt looks out of a window.This is probably a surprise to many. Exactly the idea of ​​abuse of this nature between mother and son is shocking to most. The idea of ​​mother-son incest is so far from the realm of what we understand as a culture of mothers and women that even their victims rarely seek help.

As a society, our views of mothers as parents who will never hurt their children with the intent of being so deep in our psyche that even trained psychologists can be uncomfortable entertaining the idea that sexual abuse can happen between the mother and her son (Osborne, 2015).

Why silence?

Abuse (sexual intercourse among family members) is a taboo and can bring a strong sense of guilt and shame to its victims (Kluft, 2011). While the idea that fathers are sexually abusing their children is annoying, it is accepted as something that can (and does) happen. It is well documented and well studied.

Although the idea that some fathers can be sexual predators to their own families, the parallel notion that mothers can be sexual predators to their own children was not widely accepted. We live in a culture that tends to idealize motherhood. Mothers sacrifice so much to give us what we need. In our society, speaking against a mother is almost sacrificial. Unfortunately, the perception of a male monopoly on incitement to incest has led to the creation of harmful myths that silence the male victim.

Reporting incest and seeking professional help can be so shameful and difficult in any case, but it can be even more difficult in the case of a mother. Often, the reaction will be complete rejection or distrust. Unfortunately, the perception of a male monopoly on incitement to incest has led to the creation of harmful myths that silence the male victim.

Men and Sexual Abuse: Myths

Researcher Lucetta Thomas has identified persistent and destructive myths about male sexual victimization. These myths do not just exist in the minds of boys and men who are themselves victims – they are also prevalent in the attitudes and perceptions of social workers, police or even psychologists or counselors (Friedersdorf, 2016). Myths about men and sexual abuse include:

  • Boys and men cannot be sexually sacrificed. must have consented.
  • Mothers don't. must have been overly affectionate.
  • If the boy experiences sexual arousal or pleasure during the abuse, he enjoyed it and was not abused because he participated.
  • Boys are less affected by sexual abuse than girls, and this is because boys are generally at the center of sex.
  • The mother or son must have mental health problems.

Prevalence and long-term effects of mother-on-child abuse

Due to the refusal of boys and men to seek help or pressure against abusive mothers, it is almost impossible to determine the prevalence of sexual abuse by mothers. However, some studies have produced surprising results and show that the problem is more widespread than most would expect.

For example, a study that conducted in-depth interviews of seven men and seven women who reported sexual abuse by a female offender, most of whom suffered severe sexual abuse from their mothers, found a series of long-term harmful effects. Victims reported and / or experienced depression, substance abuse difficulties, self-destruction, increased suicide, anger, intense relationships with women, identity problems, and discomfort with sex (Denov, 2004).

Another study conducted in 2002 found that 17 out of 67 men who had been sexually abused during childhood reported incest. The study found that compared to the other men in the study, men who had been abused by their mothers had more trauma symptoms. In addition, about half of men who were abused by their mothers had mixed feelings about abuse and those with mixed feelings had more adjustment problems compared to men who had clear negative feelings about abuse (Kelly, Wood, Gonzalez MacDonald, & Waterman, 2002).

Lucetta Thomas said that after the story of the mother-son sexual abuse aired on ABC 80, males arrived online for the next two days to report the mother's abuse and asked for an interview. It must be understood that this type of abuse is possible, occurs, and can cause immense damage to its victims.

When looking at the results of victims of any type of incest, we find that this type of abuse relates to issues surrounding relational trauma and betrayal. Abuse by a trusted family member results in significant loss of confidence and changes in beliefs about self and security in relationships (Kluft, 2011). Of course, when the perpetrator is a mother, trauma is likely to cause a particularly high level of harm, especially in the light of mothers' cultural perceptions as breeders. In addition, the consequences of this type of abuse can be devastating for the victim, the mother and the whole family. In many cases, this leaves the victim feeling as though he has no choice but to deal with the trauma of silence.

What professionals need to know

Professionals, especially those who work in cases of sexual abuse, should consider their perceptions of women as potential users. It must be understood that this type of abuse is possible, occurs, and can cause immense damage to its victims. In general, many people have the impression that a woman can't really hurt another man sexually. This is not the case. As new research areas, we find that mother-son sexual abuse can cause lasting trauma and long-term mental health effects (Denov, 2004).

In addition, men and boys are much less likely to report sexual abuse (Holmes, Offen, & Waller, 1997). Researchers have highlighted the possibility that attitudes and beliefs among mental health professionals about myths about the male victim as unlikely to create conditions that encourage men or boys to talk about sexual abuse. Professionals need to know the reality of mother-son sexual abuse as well as the myths surrounding the male as unlikely to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and especially unlikely to be a victim of his mother.

If you are a victim of any form of sexual abuse or assault, contact a therapist. There is no reason to suffer silently when there is help. If you are a victim of mother-son incest, make your experiences clear to your therapist. Shame is not yours.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Denov, M. S. (2004, October 1). Long-term effects of child sexual abuse by female perpetrators: A qualitative study of male and female victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(10), 1,137-1,156. doi: 10.1177 / 0886260504269093
  2. Friedersdorf, C. (2016, November 28). The underestimated female sexual predator. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  3. Holmes, G. R., Offen, L. & Waller, G. (1997). See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Don't Talk Evil: Why do relatively few male victims of childhood sexual abuse receive help with issues related to adulthood? Clinical Psychology, 17(1), 69-88. Retrieved from
  4. Kelly, R.J., Wood, J.J., Gonzalez, L.S., MacDonald, V., & Waterman, J. (2002). Effects of mother-son incest and positive perceptions on sexual abuse experiences on psychosocial adjustment of clinically reported men. Child abuse and neglect, 26(4), 425-441. Retrieved from
  5. Kluft, R.P. (2011, January 12). Rebellion of incest. Psychiatric Times, 27(12). Retrieved from
  6. Osborne, T. (2015, August 7). New research illuminates the sexual abuse of mothers against their sons. ABC News. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2019 All rights reserved. Publication permission was granted by Fabiana Franco, PhD, therapist in New York, NY

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