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Sexual Contact in Childhood, Revictimization, and Lifetime Sexual and Psychological Outcomes

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Abstract

Using data from the 2010 to 2011 wave of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project—a nationally representative probability sample of older U.S. adults—this study queried distinctive linkages of mild and of severe childhood sexual contact with lifetime sexual and psychological outcomes among women and men aged 60–99 years (N = 3283). In addition, we examined stratification of these associations by sexual revictimization (forced sex and/or harassment). Among women, sequelae of childhood contact seemed consistently negative for the mild rather than severe variant—but only in the co-presence of revictimization—a pattern that may have remained obscured in previous analysis of event effects. Men’s results suggested lifelong eroticizing but not psychological effects of this early experience—with the co-presence of revictimization potentially enhancing rather than lowering their mental health. Overall, findings appeared to reflect gendered patterns of risk—with mild childhood contact potentially channeling women but not men into revictimization and finally to elevated sexuality and poor mental health in late life. Early sexual experiences should thus be conceptualized not as singular events, but as part of a lifelong career with regularities and rhythms that may influence their pathogenic potential.

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Das, A., Otis, N. Sexual Contact in Childhood, Revictimization, and Lifetime Sexual and Psychological Outcomes. Arch Sex Behav 45, 1117–1131 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0620-3

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