Why people deny their sexual thoughts and behaviour


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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Sometimes people will find it hard to admit or talk about their sexual thoughts or behaviour to a child. It is likely that they will have been keeping the behaviour a secret because they realise that what they were doing was wrong and are scared of the consequences and how others will react.

Being truthful could also make them face the impact of what they did, something they might want to avoid. It is rare someone wants to think that they have hurt another person, especially a child.

They are likely to have justified their thoughts or behaviour to themselves to help them feel less ashamed of what they are doing. These justifications try to minimise the behaviour or the impact.

There are different levels of denial.

  • Of the fact: for example, “I didn’t do it”.
  • Of awareness: for example, “I was drunk and I didn’t know what I was doing”.
  • Of responsibility: for example, “I had no part in harming a child”.
  • Of impact: for example, “She was smiling; she seemed to be enjoying it”.
  • Of the need for treatment: for example, “I’ve learnt my lesson and I won’t do it again”.

Some of the reasons people we have worked with have said they initially denied their thoughts/behaviour are:

  • Loss of relationships: for example, “You/my wife/my parents will reject me if I admit”
  • Fear of Punishment: for example, “I’ll go to Jail/get beaten up/ have to do a group if I admit”
  • Fear of Stigma: for example, “I’ll be in the newspaper, I’ll be seen as a ‘pervert’ if I admit”
  • Loss of esteem: for example, “If I admit, it means I did it”
  • Shame: for example, “It is too painful to think about the harm I caused”
  • Wants to continue offending: for example, “If I admit, I have to change my behaviour”
  • Wants to stop but doesn’t know how: for example, “I know this is wrong but I don’t know what to do to stop it”

Some research suggests that the level of denial does not equal the risk someone poses of sexually offending. The important thing is whether or not someone is willing to make changes to manage their thoughts and behaviour.

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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