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What to do if…

You’re worried you’ve harmed someone sexually

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If you think you’ve harmed someone through your sexual behaviour, whether it’s online or in real life, you may be feeling a lot of different emotions. 

It can sometimes be hard to tell if you really have harmed someone. Some signs of harm are not obvious, or the effects might not show up until later. 

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, confused or worried about how your behaviour is affecting you and other people. 

On this page, you’ll find information and advice about how to manage some of the difficult emotions you might be feeling. 

We’ll also cover steps you can take to make sure you and everyone else are safe. 

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Common questions

How can I understand my sexual behaviour? What does it mean for me?

It can be difficult to understand your sexual behaviour and why you’ve behaved in a way that might be harmful. The reasons you acted like this can be complicated, confusing and upsetting. 

One of the most important things you can do now is make sure you don’t harm that person again, or anyone else. You might feel sure that would never happen, because you feel so bad about what’s already happened. But the best way to make sure things don’t happen again is understanding why they happened in the first place. Lots of research has been done to help us understand why people harm others through their sexual behaviour. 

The Good Lives Model helps people find out how to get what they need out of life in a healthy way. We explain more about it on our page on building a good life. It could help you understand more about your own sexual behaviour, and about how to make positive changes. 

Building a good life

Find out about the Good Lives Model, to help you understand your behaviour and set goals for a good life.

Read more

If someone has behaved in a harmful way, they may worry that they’re a bad person. Try to remember that even if you’ve done something that hurt you or someone else, this doesn’t mean that who you are is bad. 

During your teenage years, you go through lots of changes. Your body and brain are changing rapidly and, at the same, you’re trying to work out who you are and who you want to be. This includes figuring out your sexual identity. Your sexual identity can develop and change throughout your teenage years and into your adulthood. So you may not always feel how you feel now. It can be helpful to remember this if you’re worried that the harmful sexual behaviour means something bad about your sexual identity.

For example, you may worry about whether you’ll carry on hurting people through your sexual behaviour in the future. But most young people who behave in a sexually harmful way don’t go on to do the same in their adult lives. 

You can go on to live a safe, harm-free and positive life. Knowing that you want to change your behaviour, and getting the right support to help you do it, is the first step. 

What to do if… You’ve had sexual thoughts or feelings about younger children

Our sexual thoughts can be confusing and may leave us feeling upset, anxious or overwhelmed. Find out how to understand and cope with your thoughts and get advice on when and how to seek help.

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How do I deal with difficult feelings like guilt or shame?

It can be hard to deal with the emotions you’re feeling about your harmful sexual behaviour. 

For example, you might be feeling guilty, ashamed, confused or embarrassed about what you’ve done.

To find out more about dealing with guilt or shame, see our page on dealing with regrets about harmful sexual behaviour.

Dealing with regrets about harmful sexual behaviour

If you’ve been involved in harmful sexual behaviour, you may be struggling with difficult emotions. Find out ways you can deal with regrets about any harmful sexual behaviour you’ve been involved in.

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All these difficult feelings about your harmful behaviours can make it harder to be honest about it with yourself and other people. You may also worry about what other people, like your family and friends, will think of you and how they’ll react. You may be scared about what could happen to you if you tell someone, including whether you’ll get into trouble with the law.

You might also find our page on managing difficult emotions useful.

Managing difficult emotions

If you’re worried about harmful sexual behaviour, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, you may be experiencing some confusing emotions. Find out how to manage difficult emotions and get support for your mental health.

Read more

In the short term, you may try to manage your worries by just denying what’s happened, or claiming it wasn’t all that bad. But in the end this can leave you feeling very alone. You may find you end up shutting yourself off emotionally from other people, or feeling annoyed or angry. 

Even if you feel really anxious about telling someone what happened, it’s usually the best way to get the right help. 

How do I talk about harmful sexual behaviour?

If you think you’re ready to talk to someone about your harmful sexual behaviour, it’s a good idea to take some time to prepare. 

What do you need to think about, when you’re deciding how to bring this up with someone?

Think carefully about who you want to talk to

It should be someone you trust, and someone who can support you to get help. Perhaps a parent, carer or teacher?

Think about when and where you want to talk to them

It’s important you don’t feel rushed, so pick a time when you’re free to talk. Try to have the conversation somewhere no one will interrupt you or overhear you.

Plan what to say

It can be hard to find the right words to start a conversation like this. So try writing down some ideas to help you. Be as honest as you can and stick to the facts. 

At first, the person you’re talking to may be surprised, upset or angry. This doesn’t mean that they won’t support you, but they may need time to take in what you’ve said. 

They may also have a lot of questions, and that could feel overwhelming. It’s okay to take your time to answer, and to come back to the conversation later if you need to. And you might just not know how to answer all their questions, and that’s okay too.

After speaking with someone about your behaviour, there are lots of different ways you might feel: 

  • relieved that it’s finally out in the open
  • worried about what will happen next 
  • upset and angry about how they reacted

Remember to look after yourself, give yourself time to sort through your emotions, and ask for help if you need it. 

You might also want to take a look at our safe places to learn about sex section.

Safe spaces to learn about sex

Find safe spaces where you can learn more about sex, love and relationships.

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What will happen next?

Once you’ve talked to someone about your sexual behaviour, they may need to let other people know what’s happened. 

This could include your parents or your carers, the police or social workers. 

This can feel scary at first, and you may have a lot of questions about what will happen next. 

To find out more about the legal side of things, see our page on sex and the law.

Sex and the law

Find out what the law says about sex and what this means for you.

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If the police or social care get involved, they may want to meet with you and talk to you about what’s happened. Try to stay calm and remember that they are there to keep you and other people safe. They want to help you get the right support and move forward with your life. 

If you don’t understand what’s happening or what might happen next, it’s okay to ask questions. 

For more information and advice about what happens if the police get involved, see our page on what to do if you’re in trouble with the police for your harmful sexual behaviour.

What to do if… You’re in trouble with the police because of your harmful sexual behaviour

Getting into trouble with the police can be scary and confusing. Find out what could happen next and how you can get the right support.

Read more

Are you struggling?

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