How to Ask for Help When You are Troubled by Your Thoughts about Children

Asking for help breaks the isolation

The reasons why some adults think of behaving sexually with a child are complex. In fact, most adults who have sexual fantasies about children may find these thoughts worrisome – and they don’t want to harm a child. There is a lot of shame, stigma, and fear associated with these thoughts, but they do not have to become actions. You can get help to control and manage sexual feelings towards children.

Not everyone who is worried about sexual thoughts towards children is primarily or exclusively attracted to youth. Many have shared with us that they are surprised by their thoughts or desire to relate sexually to a child. Though there is no single reason why this happens, there is help available. You don’t have to go through this alone.

One important way to break down isolation is to talk to someone else – such as a professional, a friend or a faith leader. It is important to confide in a person you trust and to think about seeking professional help as soon as possible because hoping that it will fade or go away on its own is denial. This denial only provides temporary relief from something that, if ignored, may only get worse and be more difficult to resolve later on. Many people have found that reaching out to others is the first step towards the healthy and safe life they are hoping to live.

Who to ask for help

These are tough issues that require professional assistance and ongoing support to manage safely. Not all therapists have specialized training or experience working with adults who struggle with these issues. Be sure you consult with someone who has expertise in working with adults who have similar concerns. These therapists are sometimes called “sex specific therapists.” Sex specific therapists work with adults who may have already sexually harmed a child and with those who have not crossed that boundary but feel worried that they could. This could also be someone who works with adults with sexual behavior concerns.

These therapists are professionals who specialize in this specific area of sexual behavior in adults, and understand that only a small percentage of those who sexually abuse children are actually diagnosed as pedophiles (a clinical diagnosis indicating a person's primary or exclusive attraction to pre-pubescent children). 

What to say

To a therapist

Find words that you feel comfortable saying. To call for an initial appointment with a therapist, (sometimes called an “intake”), you do not need to describe anything about your thoughts or behaviors. To make an appointment you may only need to let the office know that you are calling about sexual behavior concerns. If you want to be sure you are calling someone who specializes in adults who are experiencing risky sexual thoughts or behaviors towards children, you can consult our resource guide for Adults Concerned About Their Own Thoughts and Behaviors

You may also want to make sure that you know about any potential counselor’s reporting policy so you can feel as informed and comfortable as possible when entering into this therapeutic relationship. You may want to ask them specifically “What situations would cause you to file a report?” and if there was a specific scenario you had a concern about you can say “If someone told you {situation without identifying information}, then what would you do?” You can also consider saying that you’re asking for a friend to feel less in the spotlight.

During your first meeting (in-person, on the phone, or over video chat) with a therapist, you may want to ask them some questions to see if they would be a good fit for you and your unique needs, like:

  • How many clients with sexual thoughts/feelings to children/teens do you work with a year?
  • What kind of treatment modalities do you use? 
  • Do you have any internal biases that may prevent you from working with someone who is having sexual thoughts/fantasies towards children/teens? You may want to look at their non-verbal cues when they answer this question, including body language, tone, and facial/hand gestures.
  • Will you keep what I say confidential? Can you give me a few examples of exceptions to therapist-client confidentiality? 
  • Can you tell me about your reporting policy? When would you feel mandated to make a report? 
  • What information will you share with my insurance company?
  • If you are presenting with other needs (like alcohol/substance abuse, anxiety, depression or other concerns that have been affecting your mental health, a developmental delay or intellectual disability, Autism, etc.) you will also want to ask about their experience and qualifications to work with individuals of that population as well.

Questions adapted from b4uact’s page called Seeking Therapy.

To a friend

Planning to confide in someone who cares about you can be an important step towards managing your behaviors and staying safe. When speaking with this person, stay as honest as possible and start slowly. Maybe you can let them know you have a personal issue that is troubling you and you need some support in getting help. It might be important to let an adult know “It’s not a good idea for me to be around this particular child right now.” Perhaps you can share part of the problem, and assure them that you will explain more when you are ready. You don’t need to tell them everything if this doesn’t feel right to you. Sometimes just having someone to talk to can be the first step in getting support – even if you’re not able to reveal the details of what has been on your mind.

We have heard from many people who were able to talk to someone else in their lives and thus get support from a friend, a spouse or a relative – but we also know that not all conversations go well, so it’s important to weigh your choices and anticipate your loved one’s reaction. Take the time to reflect how they’ve reacted to other situations in the past and whether you feel like they could be a supportive person for you now. Think about whether they are open-minded and empathetic, or judgmental and quick to anger. There is no one-size-fits-all template for how this talk will go, so use your best judgement. It may even help to start by testing the water – share an article, like Luke Malone’s You're 16, You're a Pedophile, You Don't Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now? and use their reaction to help decide whether you would feel safe talking to this person about your own thoughts.

Many people think that having sexual thoughts about children means that you have or will abuse a child sexually, so it may help to have information ready for your loved one to read so they can digest what this may mean for your life, for theirs, and for the children they know or who are in the family. Share pages off of our website, from Virtuous Pedophiles or encourage them to give us a call. 

Never have this conversation if it feels unsafe, and feel free to end any conversation that gets “heated.” Sometimes it takes a little while for someone to digest what they've just learned, so allow your loved one to ask questions, give them resources, share our helpline number, and then check back in. Sometimes to get support, you need to give support too. And, don’t hesitate to reach out to our helpline for talking tips, or to share how a conversation went.