Sexual harassment may trigger men to purge

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Men who report being sexually harassed are significantly more likely than women to engage in “purging compensatory behaviors,” new research suggests.

The study is one of the first to examine the effects of sexual harassment on body image and eating behaviors in both women and men.

As expected, women reported more sexual harassment and greater overall weight and shape concerns and disordered eating behavior (such as binge eating) in response to that harassment, but at high levels of sexual harassment, men report they induce vomiting and take laxatives and diuretics in an attempt to control their weight.

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“Traditionally, there has been a misperception that men are not sexually harassed,” says NiCole Buchanan, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State.

“And while women do experience much higher rates of sexual harassment, when men experience these kinds of behaviors and find them distressing, then you see the same types of responses you see in women—and in the case of compensatory behaviors, even more so.”

For the study published online in the journal Body Image, researchers surveyed 2,446 college-aged participants—including 731 men—on their experiences with sexual harassment, body image, and eating behaviors.

Sexual harassment comes in many different forms, including peer-on-peer harassment, and can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression, concerns about body image, and dysfunctional eating.

There may be certain features of sexual harassment that are particularly powerful in triggering purging behaviors in men, Buchanan says. Further research is needed to examine that possibility.

Eating disorders are increasing among men in the United States, particularly younger men, yet the vast majority of prevention programs are designed for girls and women.

“Although boys and men have lower rates of weight/shape concerns and eating disturbances, these issues are still significant and warrant intervention,” Buchanan says.

Source: Michigan State