Problems of immediate gratification

This module aims to help you explore and gain understanding of:

  • Why immediate gratification is so powerful
  • how to manage the desire of immediate gratification

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Immediate Gratification

If you have been masturbating to fantasies about engaging in sexual acts with children, or if you have taken these thoughts further and engaged in sexual offending against children, then you might be wondering why you choose behaviours with such short-term gain when they have such long term negative consequences.

The following list offers some explanations for this:

  • Often the long term consequences are less certain (e.g. you might get arrested)
  • The consequences can be less intense (compared to instant sexual relief)
  • You can think that you care less about the long term impact (at the time and especially if feeling upset/low)
  • Moral disengagement – This can take many forms, such as passing responsibility to others (“I wouldn’t think about her if she didn’t dress like that”, “the media is full of sexualised images”), minimising the harm caused (“it’s only a fantasy”, “it’s only touching”), or collective action (“others are doing it”). This moral disengagement therefore allows you to have enjoyment from something while reducing the discomfort you would likely experience if you considered the harm of child sexual abuse.
  • The bikini effect which suggests that men are more impulsive after being exposed to ‘sexy’ stimulus, therefore more likely to make rash decisions. This can help explain why some individuals who view legal pornography online allow themselves to progress to viewing child images.

This still might not help you to understand why you started having sexual thoughts of children and certainly does not excuse abusive behaviour; however it can help you understand why you prioritised your immediate needs despite the consequences. It is important that you start to think about how you can reduce the power of instant gratification if this has been a particular problem for you.


One way to counter the power of instant gratification is to think about how you will feel if you do the behaviour, compared to how you feel if you don’t (e.g. you distract yourself from your sexual urges and instead find a book to read and go for a walk). How would you feel after an hour, a week and a month?

Another is to write a list of the costs (what you lose or may lose from doing the behaviour) and the gains (what you gain or may gain from doing the behaviour). These can also be split into short term and long term costs and gains. The table below shows some examples.

Costs Gains
Short Term Long Term Short Term Long Term
Shame Lose relationship Sexual relief
Guilt Lose job
Fear Depression


  • Fill out the table above noting your own short term and long term costs and gains.
  • Can you identify any long term gains?

Very few people can identify long term gains from their behaviour – this shows how powerful the urge for sexual relief can be in the moment. But it can also show why they want to stop their negative behaviour.

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