Understanding why people experience sexual thoughts about children

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Wellbeing and self-care

For wives and partners, parents, adult family members and friends of people who they suspect or know may be engaging in inappropriate behaviour involving children.

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Who may experience these thoughts?

It’s often assumed that people who have sexual thoughts about children, or commit sexual offences, are somehow very different from the rest of society. Newspapers in particular may refer to them as ‘monsters’ or ‘perverts’ for example.

This language is hard to understand for anyone who is trying to come to terms with such behaviour in a partner, child, parent or someone close to them. In reality, people who experience sexual thoughts about children range in age from adolescents to pensioners and come from all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities. They include civil servants, politicians, entertainers and people in the media, those in the public sector, shop workers and tradesmen (to name a few).

The overwhelming majority of those who get convicted of sexual offences against children are male, however females also commit sexual offences against children, and can also be troubled by their sexual thoughts.

It’s important that we realise that people who experience sexual thoughts about children are, in most ways, no different from anyone else; that way, we are better able to talk about the issue and not assume it’s just something that ‘happens to someone else’.

Research has been done looking at what types of difficulties need to be addressed in order to reduce the chance of people who have offended before, doing it again.

There are four main areas that relate to committing a sexual offence. It is likely that working on these areas would also benefit people who have not offended but have sexual thoughts about children.

Not everyone who commits a sexual offence will have problems in all of these areas. Similarly, those who have sexual thoughts about children may have problems in some but not all of these areas.

When assessing risk, these factors are explored in the context of other wider issues such as the person’s own experiences, current situation, attitudes, and behaviour. It is also important to consider a person’s strengths, which will help them not offend again, alongside the things that might make them vulnerable to repeat offending.

For example, a person might have a sexual preference for young children, but believe that acting on this interest is wrong. Also, they may have told others about their thoughts and could be receiving support. They would therefore have strengths in their attitudes towards offending and their relationships, which would help them manage the potential problem of their sexual interest.

If you have any concerns, questions, or would just like to talk about what you are going through, our non-judgemental helpline advisors are here to support you. You can stay anonymous and don’t have to give your real name or any contact details. If you’re not ready to speak to anyone yet, you can also use our live chat or send a secure email.

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