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Sexual behaviours in children: What is common and what is not?

January 5, 2021

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Just as language acquisition, and motor and cognitive development are a natural part of growth and learning in children, so too is sexual development. Children go through a number of different stages of sexual development, most of which are a natural and healthy part of growing up and learning about their bodies and their world.

Sometimes children may display behaviours which appear unusual or concerning. It is important to consider these behaviours within a developmental and social context. The following provides some useful guidance, but when in doubt, talk to your health professional or contact the Bravehearts Information and Support Line on 1800 272 831 (Mon to Fri, 8:30am – 4:30pm AEST).

 

HEALTHY SEXUAL BEHAVIOURS

Healthy sexual exploration by children is an information gathering process, where children explore the human body and gender roles. When this exploration is with children of a similar age, developmental status and participation is voluntary, this can be considered natural and healthy.

Things to consider:

  • Children do not feel shame, fear, anxiety or anger during healthy sexual exploration.
  • The child’s curiosity in sex and sexuality should be balanced with curiosity with other aspects of their life.
  • The child is able to stop the behaviour when instructed to.

 

Sexual behaviours common in all children

– – Trying to look at people who are nude.

– – Touches own private parts in private.

– – Interest in the opposite sex.

Uncommon sexual behaviours

– – Masturbation with an object.

– – Specific knowledge of sexual intercourse or attempting to have sexual intercourse.

– – Touching the private parts of animals.

– – Drawing pictures of private parts.

– – Asking others to perform sexual acts.

– – Placing objects in the anus or vagina.

 

RELATED: Responding to disclosures of child abuse

 

SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS

  • The children engaged in the behaviours don’t have an ongoing friendship.
  • The sexual behaviour is with younger or older children – generally the wider the age gap the larger the concern.
  • Sexual behaviours continue in spite of clear, consistent requests to stop.

 

Responding to sexual behaviour problems

– – Do not shame your child.

– – Do not call them names or make very negative comments.

– – Communicate calmly that you want them to stop what they are doing, and they are not in trouble.

– – Be consistent in your requests.

Reducing sexual behaviour problems

– – Address behaviour in a short, direct, calm way (e.g. “Hands out of your pants”)

– – Redirect behaviour (e.g. “Would you like to play with your doll here, or your blocks?”)

– – Praise for good behaviour -(remember to PRAISE your child when they are NOT displaying sexualised behaviours, so they also receive attention for good behaviour.)

 

If you have any concerns and wish to talk with one of our trained staff, contact the Bravehearts Information and Support Line on 1800 272 831 (Mon to Fri, 8:30am – 4:30pm AEST).

If a child is in immediate danger or risk, phone 000If you wish to report concerns that a child is being sexually harmed, including grooming of a child, please report to Policelink on 131 444. 


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