Recognising the problem

In order to develop an understanding of what sexual thoughts about children are, it is helpful to explore what general thoughts and sexual thoughts involve:

General thoughts

  • These include all mental activities, i.e. ideas, opinions, beliefs, values, judgements and impressions
  • Can influence what we feel and what we do but they do not determine them
  • We may not always be conscious of our thoughts but they are always there
  • Can be automatic, fleeting or prolonged
  • Thinking provides us with the capacity to reason, use logic, common sense and put ideas together
  • Our mind is seldom empty of thoughts; even when we are asleep our mind is active

Sexual thoughts

  • Are thoughts that lead to sexual feelings and sexual arousal
  • Can be triggered by external stimulus e.g. seeing someone you find attractive or by a non-sexual thought or memory.
  • Can be brief, short lived and pass through the mind quickly and do not always lead to sexual arousal

Sexual fantasies

  • Are usually preceded by sexual thoughts and involve imagining situations or scenarios that lead to sexual arousal
  • Can be prolonged and multi-sensory which means they can include colour, sounds, sights, smell, sometimes even taste which can be powerful and stimulating
  • Can be based on someone or something real or imagined
  • Individuals can picture themselves in sexual situations as a participant or voyeur, watching what is happening
  • The nature and content of sexual fantasies vary and can be influenced by past experiences or things that the person would like to happen linked to their sexual interests, situation and desires.
  • Most people will have experienced sexual thoughts and fantasies at some time in their lives. Such fantasies are common and as long as they are appropriate are unlikely to lead to inappropriate behaviour.

Sexual thoughts and fantasies about children

  • Can involve thinking about sexual situations with children that lead to sexual arousal
  • May be triggered by a sexual interest in a specific child or children generally
  • May be triggered by other non-sexual thoughts, feelings and situations e.g. feeling lonely and isolated and being in close proximity to a child.

Sexual preferences

Having sexual thoughts about children does not necessarily mean that the individual having these thoughts has an exclusive sexual interest in children. Many people who have a sexual attraction to children also have a sexual interest in others, including people their own age or older. Terms such as ‘paedophilia’ are generally used in the media and society to refer to any sexual interest in children, but this is not always correct. For further information about the different types of sexual attraction to children follow the link to ‘Understanding the terminology’ module in the anonymous user section.

The link between sexual thoughts and sexual behaviours

Having sexual thoughts or fantasies about children does not mean that an individual will act on those thoughts. Some people recognise they have a sexual interest in children which they live with and manage and that never leads to inappropriate behaviour towards a child or offending behaviour. However, sometimes sexual thoughts and fantasies about children do lead to inappropriate and or illegal activity which we refer to as child sexual abuse. This involves contact offences such as inappropriate touching and non-contact abuse which can include viewing indecent images of children.

Even those individuals who never act on their sexual thoughts about children can be troubled by them. They may experience times when the thoughts are more powerful and harder to manage. Nevertheless there are things they can do to control these thoughts so that they do not lead to inappropriate and/or offending behaviour. The anonymous user section of this site is designed to assist individuals to recognise that they can control their sexual thoughts and fantasies about children so that they do not lead to offending behaviour, even those who believe they have an exclusive sexual preference for children.

As a family member or friend of someone who has disclosed their sexual thoughts about children it is important to recognises these differences and that thoughts do not inevitably lead to behaviour. For those of you who are in contact with someone who has been arrested for or been convicted of sexual offences involving children it is similarly important to recognise that there are things they can do to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviour so that it does not happen again.

What is a sexual offence involving a child?

Child sexual abuse can take many forms and there is a continuum of abuse which can range from showing a child age inappropriate sexual material through to rape of a child. It is probably easier to consider child sexual abuse as involving contact offences such as sexual touching and non-contact offences which include online offending.

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