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Sexual Behaviors in Young Children

What is normal sexual behavior in a child?

Many parents have questions about what sexual behaviors are normal for children. Normal sexual behavior depends on a child’s age and level of development.

For preschool children, normal sexual behavior may include:

  • Touching or rubbing genitals (masturbation) in private and in public
  • Showing genitals (private parts)
  • Touching a friend’s genitals and “playing doctor”
  • Trying to see siblings, friends, or parents naked
  • Making jokes about private parts

For school-age children, normal sexual behavior may include:

  • Masturbation, usually in private
  • Trying to see other people naked or looking at pictures of naked people
  • Watching or listening to sexual content on TV, the internet, or in music
  • Kissing and holding hands
  • Asking questions about sex
  • Wanting more privacy when bathing and dressing

What if my child’s sexual behavior is not OK?

If you feel that your child's behavior is not OK, such as touching genitals in public, set some limits. Set limits in a way that will not cause your child to be ashamed or to have hang-ups about sex. Your child needs to learn rules about touching and sexual behaviors. Use a calm and gentle tone. Never yell at your child if their sexual behavior is not OK.

Here are 4 simple rules you can teach your child to help him understand the limits.

  • It’s OK for your child to touch their own genitals when they are alone, but it should be done in a private place, like their bedroom or a bathroom.
  • It’s not OK for your child to show their genitals to other children or adults.
  • It’s not OK for your child to touch other people's genitals. Tell your child that genitals are people's private places and that it’s not OK to touch them.
  • It’s not OK to allow other children or adults to touch their genitals.

If your child is unable to follow these rules, even after being reminded of them, talk with your child's healthcare provider.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-09-12
Last reviewed: 2019-08-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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