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Sexual abuse in dating relationships is often kept a secret. Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via

Sexual abuse in dating relationships is often kept a secret.
Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via

If you want to read about emotional abuse or physical abuse, read these previous posts.


Sexual abuse is any form of sexual activity that is unwanted and/or exploits the victim.  This happens in teenage dating relationships from time to time.


The most common way I hear about teens being sexually abused in their dating relationships happens with teen couples who are already sexually active.  One partner does not feel like having sex and says so.  With a mixture of guilt, manipulation and a little bit of coercion, the couple ends up having sex.  The problem is, the reluctant partner didn’t really consent.  They don’t think of themselves as having been assaulted because it is their boyfriend or girlfriend, but unwanted sexual activity is never okay.


I have been counseling teenagers in private practice for 8 years.  In all that time I have never had a teen make an initial appointment because of the above scenario.  However, I have had many clients who end up spending a good portion of their therapy on the above situation once they recognize it’s a problem.  In the first place they just thought they were unhappy and couldn’t really pinpoint the reason.  Eventually they realize they are sexually active with someone and don’t want to be.  I need to clarify here that this is not necessarily rape.  In almost every case the teen gives consent to have sex, but secretly doesn’t want to be.  They don’t feel ready, but are afraid to lose their boyfriend or girlfriend if they ask to stop being sexually active.


Another way sexual abuse occurs is through your teenager’s cell phone.  Sadly it’s normal behavior for teenagers to ask each other to send nude pictures through text or an app.  It is normally the boys asking the girls, but it does go both directions.  Unwanted pressure to send nude selfies is truly awful.  Check in with your teen to see if they’ve been asked, and find out what they did about it.  If nobody has asked them, I guarantee they know someone who has been pressured.  The abuse comes in when the image is distributed.  If the recipient of the image shows a friend or two, or texts it to someone else, that’s a major violation of privacy.  If the teens are minors it’s actually distribution of child pornography.  There have been rumors of teens getting arrested for this behavior.


Dating is a normal part of the teenage experience.  It helps them mature, and they can have a lot of fun with it.  As a parent there is a lot to keep tabs on.  There is a lot to warn your child about.  There are a lot of conversations you need to have.  Help them if they are being abused in any way.  Help them feel safe to talk about it, and empower them to do something about it.  Please call if you need additional support in helping your teenager through this very heartbreaking situation.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT