Many people who sexually abuse children had sexual thoughts or fantasies about children before they ever acted.. And, many people who have sexual thoughts or fantasies about children never act on those thoughts or feelings. Sexual thoughts or fantasies about children are not illegal, but can be a warning sign to pay attention to, particularly if the thoughts are persistent. If you are aware that someone is thinking about being sexual with children or underage teens, help them to find specialized help immediately before there is an opportunity for them to act on those thoughts.
If an adult or adolescent is struggling with sexual thoughts or fantasies about children, you may want to help them find a professional who specializes in working with people with sexual behavior concerns. Too often, people don’t know that there is help available for this issue. For someone who is disturbed by these kinds of intrusive thoughts, it can be scary or embarrassing to talk about this. Let them know that there are caring people who can help them understand why they have these thoughts and teach them strategies to help assure that they never act on those feelings with a child or underage teen.
Some people who sexually abuse children started their abusive behaviors around or shortly after reaching puberty, a time when they may be flooded with sexual feelings and don’t have the self control or perspective to keep from acting on sexual urges. It is important that we talk to teens about how some people do have sexual thoughts and fantasies or feel sexually attracted to children and that it is never okay to act on those feelings.
Some people who have pedophilia (a mental health diagnosis for someone who has a persistent and exclusive sexual attraction to children) never cross the line from being sexually attracted to children and acting on those feelings. They can create a lifestyle that supports them in staying away from situations they may find tempting. They often will confide their attraction to someone (perhaps a professional) who can help them to stay safe.
The Internet and the availability of sexualized images of children and underage teens may “normalize” seeing children or underage teens as potential sexual partners. People can get the impression that “everyone is doing it” or that children are willing partners or that it is okay to be sexual with children. But, it is never okay to be sexual with children and sexual abuse is a crime with serious consequences.