Sexually Maladaptive Behavior Signs & Symptoms

Not everyone experiences sexually maladaptive behaviors the same way. Understanding the signs, symptoms and effects of sexually maladaptive behaviors is an important step toward recovery for your child.

Understanding Sexually Maladaptive Behaviors

Learning about Sexually Maladaptive Behaviors

It is completely normal for children to engage in sexual exploration at an early age, however there are some sexual behaviors that may indicate the presence of more than just innocent curiosity. In some instances these inappropriate behaviors, termed sexually maladaptive behaviors, present a risk for the safety and well being of the child or others around him or her. These sexual behavior problems are beyond the child’s current developmental stage, involve threats or aggression, and involve the inappropriate or harmful use of sexual body parts. Furthermore, children and adolescents who display sexual behavioral problems often tend to continue to engage in these behaviors despite being told to stop. While sexually maladaptive behaviors can cause a great deal of turmoil in a child or adolescents life there are multiple treatment options available that can help these young people can learn how to demonstrate healthier behaviors.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for Sexually Maladaptive Behaviors

There are a number of different reasons for why children and adolescents may begin to display sexually behaviors that are inappropriate for their age. Experts believe that is has little to do with sexual pleasure and more to do with a variety of environmental factors that one experiences on a daily basis. Consider the following explanation:

Environmental: There are a number of different environmental factors that can possibly cause a child or adolescent to begin engaging in sexually maladaptive behaviors. For example, being exposed to traumatic experiences, exposure to violence in the home, inadequate rules about privacy in the home, or lack of parental supervision. It is also important to note that many times children and adolescents who display this type of inappropriate behavior have often been the victims of sexual abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Being the victim of physical abuse and/or neglect
  • Poor impulse control
  • Anxiety
  • Unstable home environment
  • Multiple placements within foster care
  • Having learned to masturbate as a way of self-soothing
  • Witnessing others being sexually victimized

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Sexually Maladaptive Behavior

There are a number of different signs and symptoms that a child or adolescent may display that indicates that may be engaging in sexually maladaptive behaviors. If these signs or symptoms are present in your child or adolescent it is important that you seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional as soon as possible. Some of the signs that you should pay special attention to include:

  • Lack of age-appropriate social skills
  • Ignoring rules or direction from authority figures
  • Mutilating one’s genitals
  • Rubbing one’s body against others or things
  • Inappropriate toileting behaviors
  • Touching the genitals of animals
  • Tendency to act before they think
  • Problems making friends
  • Attempts to insert one’s tongue into the mouth of another when kissing
  • Touching other children or adults in an inappropriate manner
  • Displaying overzealous curiosity about the bodies of others
  • Inserting objects into one’s own genitals or anus
  • Exposing one’s own genitals in public
  • Hiding pornography
  • Unwarranted outbursts of aggression
  • Making inappropriate gestures that are sexual in nature
  • Instigating sexual acts with other children or adults

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to conceal wounds
  • Declined participation in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Truancy from school
  • Purposely inflicting pain onto oneself
  • Pulling out one’s hair
  • Possessing/hiding instruments used to cause self-harm
  • Engaging in risky behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Bruises
  • Scars
  • Broken bones
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Patches of missing hair
  • Scratches
  • Cuts
  • Scrapes
  • Burns on one’s skin

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Dissociation
  • Derealization (feeling detached from one’s surroundings)
  • Depersonalization (feeling out of body)

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Unstable mood
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Feelings of shame
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Guilty feelings
  • Increased anxiety
  • Low self-esteem


Effects of Sexually Maladaptive Behavior

The presence of sexually maladaptive behaviors can cause the development of a number of negative, long-term effects in a child or adolescents life if they are not properly corrected. The following are a number of potential consequences that may occur:

  • Problems with academic performance and possible academic failure
  • Low self-esteem
  • Diminished self-worth
  • Inability to form or maintain relationships with others
  • Substance use problems
  • Inability to secure or maintain employment
  • Interaction with law enforcement, including incarceration
  • Registration as a sex offender
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Sexually Maladaptive Behavior and co-occurring disorders

Children and adolescents who engage in sexually maladaptive behaviors are often struggling with the presence of and additional mental illness. Some disorders that these children and adolescents often suffer from include:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Learning disorders
  • Communication disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

I give Southwood a big thanks — they were the help that I have been looking for. The staff was wonderful!

– Former client