Deviant sexual thoughts: Mental control and the treatment of sexual offenders

Lucy Johnston, Tony Ward, Stephen M. Hudson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


The clinical literature has long illustrated the paradoxical findings that deliberate attempts to suppress particular thoughts actually increase their occurrence. These unwanted, often intrusive, thoughts that are a major feature of obsessive disorders, depression, sleep disorders, and a range of other disturbances are of particular clinical concern. The exploration of psychological factors associated with cognitive control is, then, clinically relevant. In the current article we consider the role of mental control, especially thought suppression, in explaining the occurrence of unwanted thoughts, specifically in relation to deviant sexual thoughts. Many features of sexual offending, such as the effects of stress or strong affective states on offending, and the rapid escalation in severity and frequency of sexual offending, reported by both therapists and researchers, can be explained by the mental control literature. In addition, the role of suppression in therapy for sexual offenders and its implications for relapse are considered. We argue that the use of suppression techniques by therapists is not sufficient to prevent the occurrence of sexually deviant thoughts and the recurrence of sexual offenses. Therapists also must teach offenders to manage stress effectively and to develop appropriate beliefs about what is controllable. Making suppression techniques automatic and avoiding high-risk situations for offending are also important skills for the offender to learn in therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-130
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


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