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What to do if…

You’ve had sexual thoughts or feelings about younger children

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During adolescence, people go through a lot of change and development, in their bodies and minds. It’s normal to have sexual thoughts and feelings during this time. 

If you have sexual thoughts or feelings about someone who’s a similar age to you, then that’s nothing to worry about. And as you get older, the age of the people you have sexual thoughts and feelings about will probably increase too. 

Some young people find they have sexual thoughts or feelings about children younger than themselves. 

There are lots of reasons why this might happen. It depends on the person and their circumstances. It could be a one-off situation, where you unexpectedly feel aroused by something about a younger child. This might even happen with a younger sibling

Or someone might have noticed it in more than one situation with a few different younger children.

It can feel scary or lonely to have these kinds of sexual thoughts or responses. You might be worried that people will judge you or think you’re a bad person if you talk to them about it.

But it’s important to remember that thoughts and feelings are not actions. Having these thoughts does not make you a bad person. 

You can get support to deal with your sexual thoughts and feelings and live a happy life. 

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Common questions

Thoughts vs actions – what do I need to know?

If you have a sexual thought about a child younger than yourself, that does not make you a bad person.

And if you’ve had a one-time sexual thought about a child, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sexually attracted to children. Remember, during adolescence, you’re changing fast and developing your sexual identity, and it’s normal for different sexual thoughts to pop into your head from time to time. 

But if you carry on having sexual thoughts about children younger than yourself, it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust and get support. 

The most important thing to remember is that there’s a difference between thoughts and actions. 

Even when your sexual thoughts are about people your own age, it’s important to know the law on sexual actions. For example, it’s illegal to act on any sexual thoughts you have about children under 16. 

But the point of the law is not to punish young people for exploring sexual activities in a healthy and safe way. So the police will be more concerned about some cases than others. For example, if someone older is having sex with someone under 16, or if a person under 16 is being pressured into sex then the police will be more concerned.

See our page on sex and the law to learn more about what sexual behaviour is legal and what’s illegal. 

Sex and the law

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

Read more

What about labels – are they helpful?

Lots of different terms are used to describe people’s sexuality or their sexual attractions. These can help us explain our sexuality and what we like to other people. 

But labels can sometimes be unhelpful. 

A person’s sexuality doesn’t always fit neatly into one box or another. Also, people’s sexuality can change over time. This is especially true for adolescents, who are still developing. 

You may have come across some of the labels used to describe people who have sexual thoughts about children. 

Here at Shore, we don’t believe that using labels, especially for people under 18, is helpful. 

Try to remember that you’re a complex being who is still growing and developing. You’re still figuring out what you like and what you don’t like, and who you want to be. Your sexual thoughts and feelings, just like you, probably don’t fit neatly under a label – and that’s okay.

How can I cope with having sexual thoughts about a child younger than me?

Having sexual thoughts about a child younger than yourself can be very worrying or upsetting. Here are some things you can do to manage and cope with your sexual thoughts.

Talk to someone you trust

People often feel like they can’t talk to anyone about their sexual thoughts. They feel embarrassed or worried about how others will react. 

But lots of people experience difficult sexual thoughts, and getting help is an important step towards learning how to cope with them. 

Who do you have in your life that you could speak to. Maybe a parent or carer? A teacher, or another adult you trust? 

Remember, people who care about you will want to help. 

Sometimes, though, they may not know how to react at first. They might even need some advice themselves. Here are a couple of places they can get advice:

Parents Protect

We help parents and carers protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation

Stop It Now!

A safe space for people to talk about their concerns and get help to prevent child sexual abuse

Talk to an expert

Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through can be really helpful and may make you feel less alone. 

This is even more important if you’re worried that you might act on your sexual thoughts towards a child. 

Think carefully about who you talk to online, as it can be dangerous to speak about your sexual thoughts and feelings to someone you don’t know. 

Maybe try speaking to an advisor on our email service for support and advice? You don’t have to say who you are. Or see our list of other helpful organisations to find other professional support. 

Recognise your triggers

Are there certain times of the day or week when you’re more likely to have a sexual thought about a child? What sort of things trigger these thoughts? 

For example, does it happen at bedtime, or after watching particular TV programmes?

Becoming aware of your triggers and taking steps to avoid them can be a helpful, practical way to manage your thoughts. 

Remind yourself what could happen if you act on your sexual thoughts

Remember that any sexual behaviour with a child is illegal and abusive. 

It can get you into serious trouble. 

And all child sexual abuse causes very serious harm to the children who experience it.

Find appropriate ways to respond to your sexual urges

It’s completely natural to have sexual urges. And it’s important that you react to any sexual urges you have in a way that’s safe and healthy.

If you’re wondering what might help with that, why not ask an advisor on our email service for support and advice? You don’t have to say who you are.

Try out different ways of relaxing

It’s really easy to worry a lot about our sexual thoughts. It can be a struggle to let them go.

It can make a big difference to try some simple breathing exercises, or exercises to make us feel more:

  • Grounded
  • Mindful

There’s a list of exercises you can try, with instructions, on our managing difficult emotions page.

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

Are you struggling?

Our advisors can give you support and advice, and you don’t have to say who you are.

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