Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Sex Crimes Are Not About Sex

Criminals are not the sexually charged dynamos that they are often thought to be

In popular depiction, criminals are often portrayed as hypersexual. They are seen as having extremely strong sex drives and therefore as relentlessly pursuing anyone whom they regard as a prospective partner. Said one offender, "I don't care if she's deaf, dumb, and blind. All I want is her body." He explained that It was not the sex that was so important; it was the conquest.

The reality is that sex is only one of many arenas in which the criminal seeks to establish his power and dominance. The mental processes in pursuing a sex partner are similar to those involved in the commission of other crimes. The thinking in a bank robbery and a rape are virtually identical although the “target” is different. The offender fantasizes, schemes, and develops a modus operandi. There is excitement in every phase – before, during, and after the act. In a bank robbery, he selects his target. He makes a series of choices as to how he will carry out the crime. There is excitement enroute to the scene, in committing the crime, in the getaway, and in the self-buildup after the offense. Gaining publicity and eluding the police enhance the excitement. Even if he is apprehended, there is the challenge of dealing with the police, his attorney, and others who hold him accountable. If the perpetrator ends up in jail or prison, the excitement may not end even there. For many criminals, prison is simply the streets brought indoors with more opportunities for intrigues, con games, and conquests.

So it is with the rapist. He spots his target, fantasizes about the person, then stalks his prey and plans his attack. He takes what he wants sexually and, in doing so, there is the excitement of reducing a person to a quivering pleading speck of humanity. The sexual act, if completed, is a very small part of it. In the aftermath of the crime, he experiences the excitement of making a getaway, the buildup, and other challenges similar to those faced by the bank robber.

For the pedophile, similar thought processes are at work. The offender is able to control a minor for his own purposes. He insinuates himself into the life of a child who is vulnerable because he is having social or other problems and who responds favorably to a seemingly understanding and caring adult. That he exercises power over the child is obvious as he warns the youngster not to tell anyone about their activities together.

My experience has been that once a criminal becomes a responsible person, sex is far less important to him. Having a sexual life in the context of a committed, caring relationship is brand new. Sex without the accompanying quest for power and control is infrequent and a comparatively minor part of his life.

More from Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today