Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Normal Sexual Behavior in Children

Child psychosexual development begins at a young age and occurs within the context of a child’s environment. Families have an important influence on the sexual behavior of their children. Parents’ own sexual adjustment, level of comfort with children’s sexual development and feelings related to their own sexual selves re-emerging with a child’s sexual maturation, play a role in the appearance and exhibition of child sexual behavior. Families more open to or tolerant of certain age-appropriate behavior, such as nudity or co-bathing, may be more encouraging of child sexual exploration, while maintaining boundaries, and more likely to recognize the behavior as such. Children may also pick up on social cues, imitate adults in their homes or in popular culture, or learn to conceal certain behaviors they recognize are not socially appropriate. Typically, a child’s interest is a matter of curiosity. 
The sexual exploratory behaviors children exhibit occur at a continuum and vary somewhat by age, peaking between three to five years old. Genital play is common during this time and the prevalence of sexual behaviors among elementary aged children is not unusual. Notable behaviors, grouped into broad categories, include the following: 

  • Playing Doctor: A frequently reported sexual game, primarily aimed at the exploration of children’s genitals. This game utilizes pretend play where one of the children is a nurse or doctor and the other plays the patient. Undressing and sexual exploration games are noted among 4-year-old boys and girls. 
  • Exposure (genital exhibitionism): Another common form of sexual exploration among children. Both exhibitionism and voyeurism has been noted among nursery school children as well as boys and girls ages 4-6.  
  • Experiments in Stimulation: Games involving physical contact among children, which result in feelings of sexual excitement. When children are still learning appropriate boundaries, they may casually touch a parent’s genitals or rub against themselves or other people. Rubbing of the thighs has been observed in preschool girls.
  • Kissing Games: Games where kissing is the primary focus. Kissing, among both family and non-family children, has been observed in both boys and girls in the 2 to 6 year old age ranges.
  • Fantasy Sexual Play: Game in which children pretend to play different roles, whether real-life, such as a parent, or characters from books or television.
 A child is attuned to the family environment and sexual behavior is one reflection. A child should feel protected when exploring their sexual selves. Families can help their children develop by handling sexual matters in a gentle and encouraging way and maintaining boundaries. 

Post by Asya Brodsky, LSW      

Normative Sexual Behavior in Children

“Normal” Childhood Sexual Play and Games: Differentiating Play from Abuse