Sexual bullying

We all know what bullying is, and we all know that it’s wrong. So why should sexual bullying be any different? Nowadays, people get teased and picked on for not conforming to stereotypical gender roles, among other things. Well, The Mix is here to put an end to that - starting with this article.

A young man is giving a presentation. He is thinking about sexual bullying. This is a wide-angle image.

What is sexual bullying?

Sexual bullying is bullying related to sex, sexual orientation, your body, how you dress or your gender identity.

Even though it happens a lot, we don’t always think of it as a form of bullying and harassment. Sadly, sexual bullying has not been widely spoken about, even though it’s extremely relevant to young people.

What counts as sexual bullying?

There are lots of different kinds of sexual bullying. It can happen face-to-face or online. Sexual bullying includes:

  • Making comments about how you behave, what you’re wearing or who you fancy.
  • Shouting things about the way you look.
  • Taking photos, sharing those photos or putting pressure on you to take pictures or videos of yourself.
  • Undoing your underwear or pulling at your clothes.
  • Spreading rumours about who you fancy, whether you’re sexually active or what you look like, including via text messages or social media. 
  • Saying you can’t do things because of your gender.
  • Touching or groping you without asking (if someone touches you when you don’t want them to this could be sexual abuse or assault).

Sexual bullying isn’t just a laugh

Even if someone doesn’t seem upset, they’re probably uncomfortable, embarrassed and scared on the inside. They just might not feel safe showing it right now.

The Mix user, Gemma, was experienced bullying in a sexual manner. She said “I started feeling sick at the thought of going to school, hated myself and my body, lost my appetite. I would just stay in my room all day and cry myself to sleep.”

What to do if you’re enduring bullying of a sexual nature

“It’s normal to feel ashamed, guilty or anxious,” says Paul Williams from BullyingUK. “But please remember that you’re not alone. There are steps you can take to make things better.”

  • We know you hear this a lot but try to ignore the bullies. They want you to respond because it makes them feel powerful.
  • Keep a record of what happens and when. Put a note in your phone or – if it happens online – take screenshots. 
  • Talk to a trusted adult about what’s happening. If you need some guidance on how to do this, read these tips on asking an adult for help.
  • Talk to close friends about how you feel. They might have had similar experiences. Maybe you can be each other’s support? Just make sure to also get an adult involved.
  • Talk to us about it. We can help you work out what to do.
  • Report anything that happens online.
  • If the person you talk to doesn’t help, don’t give up. They’re in the wrong, not you.

How to stop sexual bullying

It takes a lot of courage to stand up to any kind of bully. But you can help other people feel less alone.

  • Go and talk to them. Check they are ok.
  • Record what happens (write it down, take photos or screenshots or – if it’s safe – film it).
  • Offer to go with them to tell someone.

If you see someone suffering, don’t just walk away. Offer a kind word or a shoulder to cry on. It can make all the difference in the world.

Don’t join in with sexual bullying, it’s not banter

Sexual bullying happens so much it can feel normal. In fact, a lot of people get away with it under the guise of ‘banter’. Learn more about the difference between banter and bullying here.

Paul says that it’s important to trust your instincts. “Remember that if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Think about the impact your behaviour could have on the person on the receiving end. How would you feel if you were in their shoes?

It’s worth keeping it in mind that sexual bullying is not just disrespectful and unkind – it can get you into trouble as well:

You can choose not to get involved. It’s a scary choice but it’s a strong one. Honestly, most people will respect you more for that decision. You could even start an anti-bullying campaign to fight against what you’re seeing. If you need someone to talk to:

  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • BullyingUK offers advice and support to victims of bullying. Call on 0808 800 2222.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

Next Steps

  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • BullyingUK offers advice and support to victims of bullying. Call on 0808 800 2222.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Clare Foster

Updated on 09-Jan-2022