A website with resources about healthy sexual development and how to deal with problematic and harmful sexual behaviour.


Harmful sexual behaviour

Harmful sexual behaviour is harmful both to the child it is inflicted on and the child displaying it, and requires immediate attention and reaction from adults.

Harmful sexual behaviour can often be characterised as being excessive, secretive, violating, forceful, regressive or threatening.


Hackett (2014) gives the following definition:

Sexual behaviours expressed by children and young people under the age of eighteen years old that are developmentally inappropriate, may be harmful towards self or others, or be abusive towards another child, young person or adult.



Characteristics of harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people

There may be several causes as to why children display harmful sexual behaviour.

It can be the result of unfortunate sexual experimentation, or maybe a reaction caused by emotional, physical or sexual assault or neglect. Some display this behaviour after having been shown or seen a lot of pornography, or after adults have had sexual intercourse in front of them. Others are more impulsive in their actions, with no apparent instigator or premeditative planning. The problematic or harmful sexual behaviour is often only one of several issues (behavioural issues, psychological or neurological problems) the adolescent is dealing with, and must be understood as such; in context, rather than as “its own thing”. There are, however, a significant percentage of adolescents who are not otherwise troubled, and whose cognitive and social functions fall within the normal part of the spectrum.

Most children will not repeat the harmful sexual behaviour if they are given clear boundaries and have the potential consequences of such behaviour explained to them; how it affects both the violated party and themselves. Some adolescents will need further counselling in how to manage and master social interaction, sexual emotions, rejection by peers, and guilt/shame about having committed a sexual violation. Nurses, teachers and other health care personnel can also assist the children in these matters.

A few of those who commit sexual violations will continue displaying the behaviour, and need more comprehensive help and assistance from BUP (Division of Mental Health Care, Department of Children and Youth).

Some characteristics:

  • An imbalance of power, maturity and age between the involved parties
  • Use of threats, coercion or force
  • Lack of consent
  • Typically acceptable behaviour, but is unacceptable in the current context
  • A not insignificant amount of secrecy and/or planning
  • Behaviour escalates despite attempts to stop it
  • The victim of a sexual violation displays negative emotions like fear and anger, potentially having an outburst or closing off
Technology-assisted/online harmful sexual behaviour

Children and young people live their lives both on and outside of social media

This means they could potentially display problematic sexualized behaviour on the internet.

Lewis (2018) says:

[Technology-assisted harmful sexual behaviour] is when a child or young person demonstrates sexual behavior online or through the use of technology that may be harmful to themselves or others, have a significant detrimental impact on their daily functioning, or leave them vulnerable for criminal prosecution.



Hollis and Belton (2017) give the following definition:

“One or more children engaging in sexual discussions or acts – using the internet and/or any image-creating/sharing or communication device – which is considered inappropriate and/or harmful given their age or stage of development.”

Hollis og Bolton


As a main rule we must treat sexualized behaviour the same both on and off the internet. In addition there are internet-specific sexual behaviours for which consequences will have to be determined, for example photo- and video-sharing or threats written over chat.

  • Sexuality – a source of joy and pleasure
  • Values and attitudes
  • Body structure: anatomy and physiology
  • Emotions
  • Puberty
  • Hygiene
  • Identity, including sexual identity
  • Sexual actions
  • Healthy and unhealthy sexuality
  • What is, and is not, okay
  • Age of consent
  • Boundaries and private areas
  • How to be a good romantic and sexual partner
  • It’s okay to wait and say no! (Consent and mentalization)
  • Image sharing and social media
  • Consequences of sexual assault
    • For both victim and assailant
  • Pornography (fiction and reality)
On taking, storing and sharing nude photos
Encourage children and young people to seek an adult

Encourage children and young people to share their experiences. They should not deal with these things alone. Calling the police to discuss a case is also possible, by either calling 02800 or go to the nearest police station or sheriff’s office. Statens barnehus (Children’s Advocacy Center) also provides counsel.

See also Shareable for more extensive information.

Managing harmful sexual behaviour?

Harmful sexual behaviour is harmful both to the child it is inflicted on and the child displaying it, and indicates a need for an immediate reaction from adults. This is mentioned under RED BEHAVIOUR in The Traffic Light. How do you respond to such behaviour?