Developed October 2023.

One Minute Guide to Understanding Sexual Behaviours

What are the types of Sexual Behaviours?

There are various types of Sexual Behaviour which include:

  • Healthy Sexual Behaviour
  • Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour
  • Harmful Sexual Behaviour
  • Technology Assisted Harmful Sexual Behaviour

It’s important that everyone who works or volunteers with children and young people has a good understanding of how children develop sexually. This can help you recognise which sexual behaviours are developmentally typical and identify if a child is displaying behaviour that is inappropriate or harmful.

  • Healthy Sexual Behaviour
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    It’s important to understand what healthy sexual development looks like in children as they grow. Children’s sexual development is shaped by their environment, experiences and what they see. Children now are more likely to see or come across sexual images and videos at a younger age than their parents would have done. This can be through films, music videos or online, including pornography.

    Every child is different and may become interested in relationships, sex and sexuality at slightly different ages. But as children get older, the way they express their sexual feelings changes. It’s natural for teenagers to show interest in sex and relationships for example, or for children to be curious about the changes that happen during puberty.

    Many sexual behaviours children and teenagers show as they grow up are normal and healthy, so long as they’re not causing harm to others or to the children themselves.

  • Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour
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    Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour, also known as Problematic Sexual Behaviour (PSB) is a term used to describe behaviour that is starting to cross the border into behaviour that is unsafe and problematic for a child’s age.

    An example of inappropriate sexual behaviour could be when a child displays behaviour that is expected of an older age, or something that could potential harm or upset someone else.

  • Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB)
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    Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) is developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour displayed by children and young people which is harmful or abusive.

    Child-on-child sexual abuse is a form of HSB where sexual abuse takes place between children of a similar age or stage of development. Child-on-child sexual abuse is a form of HSB that takes place between children of any age or stage of development.

  • Technology Assisted Harmful Sexual Behaviour (TA-HSB)
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    Technology-assisted harmful sexual behaviour (TA-HSB) is when children and young people use the internet or other technology to engage in sexual activity that may be harmful to themselves and others.

    TA-HSB covers a range of behaviour including the developmentally inappropriate use of pornography, online sexual abuse, grooming, sexting.

    To learn more about the different types of behaviours and Hackett’s Continuum, click here. To access the Brook Traffic Light tool, click here.

What to do if you are worried about a child displaying HSB?

It’s important that incidents of harmful sexual behaviour are not ignored and that they are responded to in a timely and consistent manner. Early intervention in cases of harmful sexual behaviour can enable children and young people to adopt healthy development pathways and proceed to make healthy relationships.

If concerns around HSB are identified by a professional or a disclosure of potential harmful sexual behaviour is made to a professional, then in the first instance Hackett’s Sexual Continuum should be used to identify whether the behaviour lies on the Continuum.

Generally, normal and inappropriate behaviour can be responded to through direct interaction with the child, by giving information, advice and an explanation of boundaries with guidance, including issues of privacy and consent.

There may be instances in which if there is an absence of direct/indirect victims, therefore inappropriate behaviours can also result in a single agency response through targeted intervention, advice or guidance. However, if the agency or individual who becomes aware of the issue is unsure as to how to respond, where the behaviour sits on the Continuum and unable to provide the child with this information then contact to the Integrated Front Door (IFD) on 0345 8503 503 should be made for advice and signposting to other professionals, including the voluntary sector to provide information and resources to use with the child.

If behaviour is considered to be problematic, abusive or violent and there is concern that a child, young person or an adult might have been harmed by the behaviour of the child then the behaviour should be reported to the Police and the Integrated Front Door if it has not already been done so. Allegations of child-on-child abuse should be taken seriously. Behaviour falling into this range should also result in a referral to the Front Door for each child. If the child is already open to Children’s Social Care (CSC), the allocated worker and line manager will be notified. The Harmful Sexual Behaviour Panel will assist in the identification, assessment and management of children who display harmful sexual behaviour.

The NSPCC suggest ensuring policies and procedures are in place, children feel safe within the environment in which they are in and that staff have a clear understanding of UK legislation and guidance relating to PSB and HSB including peer-on-peer and child-on-child sexual abuse.

Support for Practitioners

Support for Practitioners

Focus CAMHS (also known as FCAMHS) is the commissioned Harmful Sexual Behaviour service for children in the Wakefield district. Focus CAMHS are commissioned as part of the wider CAMHS offer for Wakefield.

Focus CAMHS is a multi-disciplinary team, made up of Psychiatry, Psychology, Nursing, Social Work and Speech and Language Therapy. The service is a 0-18 service and operates Monday – Friday (excluding bank holidays) 9am – 5pm. They provide consultation, assessment and intervention to young people whose sexual behaviour may be problematic, harmful or raising concerns to professionals / their family.

Some young people are formally involved with the criminal justice system, but this is not a requirement for the service to offer support.

They work closely with multi-agency partners across the district, to support risk management and to contribute to holistic,
multi- agency planning for young people and their families. Focus CAMHS also provide training to professionals, to support them working with young people who display harmful sexual behaviour.

For more information about Focus CAMHS, how to contact them and the support available, please click here.

Additional Links

Download this one minute guide on Understanding Sexual Behaviours click here to download

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