What Is Sexual Bullying and Why Do Kids Engage in it?

Learn more about sexual bullying

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Sexual bullying is a form of bullying that is common among tweens and teens. This behavior occurs when an individual or a group of individuals harass others through comments and actions that are sexual in nature. What’s more, sexual bullying can occur online or in person.

A tween or teen on the receiving end of sexual bullying is likely to be bullied, gossiped about, teased, insulted, cyberbullied, ignored, ostracized, shamed and intimidated.

Unlike physical bullying, sexual bullying can be difficult to spot because it does not usually leave a visible mark.  

Sexual bullying often happens when no adults are around. As a result, it is very important that parents talk regularly to their kids about sexual bullying and healthy sexual development. If you think your child might be a victim of sexual bullying, give your child ample opportunity to talk with you about the situation.

Examples of Sexual Bullying

Sexual images, jokes, language and comments are called inappropriate for a reason. As a result, if it is sexual in nature and it makes the target uncomfortable, upset, embarrassed or afraid, then it is sexual bullying or harassment. Sexual bullying can include the following actions and comments:

  • Making sexual jokes or comments about someone
  • Making sexual gestures to someone
  • Making comments about someone’s sexual preference or sexual activity
  • Calling someone sexually explicit and derogatory names
  • Touching, grabbing or pinching someone in a deliberately sexual way
  • Grabbing someone’s clothing or brushing up against them in a purposefully sexual way
  • Spreading sexual rumors or gossip in person, by text or online
  • Posting sexual comments, pictures or videos on social media sites like Facebook
  • Sending sexually explicit text messages and inappropriate pictures via text message, also known as sexting
  • Pressuring someone to participate in sexting to show commitment or love
  • Forwarding sexually explicit text messages and inappropriate pictures via text or e-mail
  • Writing sexual comments about someone in blogs, on bathroom stalls or in other public places
  • Sharing inappropriate sexual videos or pictures
  • Impersonating other people online and making sexual comments or offers on their behalf
  • Engaging in slut shaming or public shaming that is sexual in nature

Why Kids Bully Others Sexually

There are a number of reasons why kids participate in sexual bullying. But, the top reasons involve improving social status within the school, envy and jealousy, a need for attention and a fear of their own developing sexuality. Here is an overview of the motivating factors for sexual bullying.

To feel powerful. Sometimes kids will sexually bully others when they feel weak or powerless. And sometimes kids sexually bully others because they, too, have been sexually bullied or harassed.

To regain some control in their own lives, they target those who are weaker than them. This allows them to demonstrate control in their lives and feel powerful. Other times, kids have a bias toward a particular gender or lifestyle and will sexually bully others based on those beliefs.

To appear sexually mature. Once kids reach adolescence, they place a lot of importance on how they look and what their peers think of them. The goal is to appear mature and accepted. As a result, they often give in to peer pressure and demands from cliques. Many times, boys in particular will sexually bully girls to gain acceptance from their peers or to give the appearance that they are sexually experienced. Girls on the other hand, may focus on bullying other girls by calling them sexually explicit names in an effort to diminish a girl’s social status.

To generate excitement. Some sexual bullies thrive on telling a juicy story, spreading rumors or sharing negative details about another person. Mean girls in particular will sexually bully other girls by spreading rumors and gossip, sharing secrets or telling stories. They enjoy the attention they get from knowing something others don’t know. They also thrive on the misery of others.

To reduce insecurity. In many instances, sexual bullying is a cover-up for feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. For instance, a bully may feel insecure about his own developing body or sexuality and will attack others before they have a chance to attack him.

To remove the competition. Many times girls will sexually bully another girl simply because they are jealous of her. Perhaps they feel she is prettier, smarter or more popular with boys. Whatever the reason, girls will often target another girl to make her seem less desirable to others. This type of relational aggression includes things like sharing sexual secrets or spreading lies and rumors about the target’s sexual activity.

To mimic others. Sometimes kids will participate in sexual bullying because of what they see others doing. Influences can include everything from the adults in their lives to reality television, to movies and music. Whether it is a reality television program, an older sibling, a friend, a parent or even a group of neighbors, kids often model their behavior after what is in front of them.

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