FAQs on Your Own Thoughts and Feelings
These FAQs are for people with questions and concerns about their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors - and represent a sample of the real questions we hear on our Helpline from adults asking for help and resources for themselves.
- Why do I watch child pornography?
- Am I messed up if I’m only attracted to people who are way too young?
- Is there therapy and help for pedophilia (or pedophiles)?
- Can someone like me live a normal life?
1. Why do I watch child pornography?
There are a number of reasons why people view what experts now refer to as "child sexual abuse material" (CSAM). Not everyone who views CSAM has a primary sexual attraction to children. Many describe their pathway to viewing CSAM as one that started first with consensual, legal pornography viewing that became more problematic as they continued to seek out images that were more “tantalizing.” Some people describe addictive like features of their illegal viewing. Many tell us that they “stumbled” upon videos of a child being sexually abused, were disgusted but couldn’t stop thinking about what they had seen – and started looking for more. And sometimes people who were sexually abused as children may even find themselves searching for content that mimics their own abuse.
By questioning your behavior, you’re taking the first step to changing your actions. Understanding more about why you view CSAM can help you identify what you can do to address and stop this behavior – but it’s not enough. Working with a counselor, preferably a specialist in sexual behaviors, can begin to help you take control of your illegal viewing behavior, and be accountable, responsible and safe.
Viewing CSAM is illegal, children and teenagers are being sexually abused in order to produce the images you are viewing. Excuses such as “they’re smiling so they must be ok” ignore that these children and youth are following adult’s instructions, may be being threatened and are not legally able to consent. They are being traumatized, and manipulated and used.
If you have questions about what you’re viewing – if you feel like you’re crossing more and more lines, support is available to help you stay safe, legal and responsible. You can reach out to our helpline through our Get Immediate Help and below are additional resources to support you.
2. Am I messed up if I’m only attracted to people who are way too young?
A sentiment we’ve heard repeatedly on our Helpline is one of self-loathing. What we know is that no one ever said they wanted these thoughts and feelings. They do not mean that you are “messed up,” a bad person, or a monster. Actions are what speak to our character. And the fact that you’re here, being self-reflective and seeking information and support, is not something “bad people” do.
There are people who have self-identified as being minor attracted, and who do not feel at-risk to abuse, and who do not sexually abuse a child. Through understanding their attraction, often working with a trusted professional and having personal support, they maintain a commitment to a harm-free life, and one that is healthy and fulfilling. Staying safe is dependent upon feeling supported and secure. This is no easy feat, but it is possible! And it can be accomplished by taking steps to reach out for help.
- Resources for People Concerned About Their Own Thoughts and Behaviors
- Warning Signs that You May Need Help with Troubling Online Activity
- Get Help (Stop it Now! UK)
3. Is there therapy and help for pedophilia (or pedophiles)?
Yes, there is help for people who are wondering whether they can get help for their sexual feelings, thoughts and behaviors specific to children. Many adults have reached out for help to address concerns about how they are feeling and thinking, and also to get help if they have abused a child so that no one else has to be abused.
Pedophilia is a clinical diagnosis, which can only be given by a licensed and qualified professional; no family member, friend, or other individual online or in person can tell someone that they are a pedophile. Not everyone who has uncomfortable or unwanted sexual thoughts about minors meets the criteria for pedophilia; there could be other considerations.
Likewise, a person who does meet the criteria for pedophilia does not necessarily become a child sex offender – a person who sexually abuses a child. It is important to work with a qualified professional counselor who can help someone better understand both their feelings and behaviors, and there are sexual behavior-specific therapists who work primarily with people who do have pedophilia, and/or who are also dealing with illegal and/or harmful sexual behaviors even if pedophilia is not the diagnosis.
Therapists who work with people struggling with harmful and unwanted sexual thoughts and behaviors can use a variety of clinical strategies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, group treatment, insight and empathy development and relapse prevention. Treatment can help both manage behaviors, and address thoughts and fantasies. Once people understand more about their feelings and behaviors, they are often able to develop both insights and safety plans to support their commitment to safe and healthy behaviors.
- Tip Sheet: Fifteen Questions About Your Own Thoughts and Behaviors
- How to Ask for Help When You are Troubled by Your Thoughs about Children
- Worried About Your Own Thoughts and Behaviors
- FAQ: Treatment for People Who Have Sexually Abused a Child
4. Can someone like me live a normal life?
Yes. People who are dealing with unwanted sexual thoughts about minors are not should not be automatically assumed to be a molester, sex abuser, or predator – destined to a life of loneliness and despair. There are many aspects that contribute to a healthy and happy life – and one that is safe. People with sexual attractions towards children and teens, are able to create lives that they love, with the commitment to remain harm-free.
We often hear from people who tell us that they have sexual thoughts about children, are committed to never acting on them but want to know what kind of life is possible for them. You are not alone in your question, and as a person with a minor attraction, you can still have healthy friendships and can decide on what kind of personal adult relationships you want to cultivate. You can build a career you care about. You can nurture hobbies and interests which bring deeper meaning to your life. You can make worthwhile contributions to your community and society. You matter.
Like any long-term goal, building a life which feels “normal” requires patience. And, a stable healthy life can be created with the help of support and resources, such as specialized counseling with a therapist who can help you achieve your life goals and if applicable, help you with safety planning.