Growing up involves discovering and navigating various aspects of human sexuality. For parents, this journey can be overwhelming, perplexing, and sometimes frightening. However, it’s essential to understand that it’s a natural part of a child’s development. Kids explore and learn about the world through play, and this exploration extends to aspects of sexuality.

As parents, it’s crucial to offer support to our children throughout their developmental stages, from preschool to high school. Having a general idea of what to expect in terms of age-appropriate sexual curiosity can help us better understand where our children are in their journey. This post aims to provide guidance on common behaviors for kids within different age ranges, while also addressing potential concerns like sexting and grooming. Remember, being there for your child is key to fostering a healthy and open relationship during this phase of their life.

Exploring Young Children’s Sexual Behavior

Preschool Years (ages 0–5)

Everyday Behaviors

  • Displaying curiosity about bodies and bodily functions; may express interest in touching or seeing other people’s bodies
  • Asking numerous questions about body parts, hygiene, toileting, pregnancy, and birth
  • Exhibiting a natural inclination to show their genitals to others
  • Engaging in exploratory touch of their genitals, sometimes experiencing pleasure
  • Mimicking observed behaviors in their play, such as kissing or arguing

When to be concerned

  • Your child knows or talks about sexual things that are too advanced for their age
  • Your child acts out sexual behaviors with other children that are not appropriate for their age
  • Your child has sexual interactions with children who are much older or younger than them
  • Your child forces or pressures other children to do sexual things with them

Early school-age (5–9)

What’s normal

  • They are very curious and ask a lot of questions
  • They may touch, joke, or talk about sexual things with their friends, but they don’t fully understand what they mean
  • They may feel good when they touch themselves, but they don’t know why
  • They start to feel shy and want more privacy
  • They start to notice who they like and who they don’t

When to worry

  • They act out sexual behaviors that are too grown-up for their age
  • They know or talk about sexual things that are too advanced for their age
  • They show sexual behaviors in public or online
  • They have sexual interactions with children who are much older or younger than them
  • They force or pressure other children to do sexual things with them

Preadolescence (9–12)

Common Behaviors

  • Developing a curiosity about sexual materials, relationships, and behaviors.
  • Showing an increased interest in sex and may start experimenting with peers of the same age.
  • The onset of puberty, which can begin as early as age nine.
  • Engaging in behaviors such as comparing genital size and function, commonly referred to as “locker room behavior.”
  • Older children may participate in activities like petting, French kissing, touching or rubbing each other’s bodies, and dry humping.
  • Continuing to explore their own bodies, although they may feel embarrassed and may deny engaging in such activities.

Uncommon Behaviors

  • Engaging in sexual behaviors with children of significantly different ages or abilities.
  • Demonstrating an interest in much younger children (4 years or more).
  • Involving threats, force, or aggression in sexual interactions.
  • Displaying a strong aggressive or anxious emotional reaction towards sexual behaviors.
  • Behaving sexually in a public place.

Adolescence (13–16)

Common Behaviors

  • Seeking information on decision-making, social relationships, and sexual customs, often asking questions to understand these aspects better.
  • Continued exploration of their own bodies in private.
  • Onset of menstruation for girls and the production of sperm in boys.
  • Engaging in sexual experimentation with peers of the same age and gender.
  • Displaying voyeuristic behaviors, a common aspect of adolescent curiosity.
  • Approximately one third of teenagers will experience their first sexual intercourse during this period.

Uncommon Behaviors

  • Masturbation in public, which is not a typical or socially accepted behavior.
  • Demonstrating a sexual interest in much younger children.
  • Engaging in non-consensual sexual behaviors, which is a serious concern and should be addressed promptly.

Crucial Discussions on Potential Risks

Online Predators

The threat of sexual abuse by online predators is a distressing reality that no parent wishes to confront. To safeguard your child, it is essential to be informed about these dangers and educate your family on recognizing and addressing them. Establishing open communication with your child is key, ensuring they feel confident in turning to you for help, no matter the situation.

Sexting

In today’s digital age, sexting has become a prevalent behavior among young people, with 1 in 4 kids engaging in it. Acknowledging this reality and preparing for potential scenarios is crucial. Initiate conversations with your child about sexting, discussing not only the act itself but also the associated risks that may not be apparent to them. Our blog posts addressing topics such as sending explicit content and the potential legal implications can offer valuable insights and support to address your concerns. Remember, proactive discussion is a powerful tool in preparing your child to make informed and responsible decisions in the digital realm.

Initiating discussions about bodily consent with your children is a crucial aspect of their development. This conversation can evolve and deepen in complexity as they grow older. Even at a young age, kids can grasp the idea of personal boundaries, such as not wanting to be tickled or feeling uncomfortable with certain physical interactions, like obligatory hugs with Aunt Martha. As they mature, older kids can delve into more serious concepts related to sexual boundaries.

Addressing Sexual Assault

Recognizing and addressing the potential signs of sexual abuse in your child is a sensitive but vital aspect of parenting. While it may be challenging to determine if your child has experienced sexual assault, being vigilant for warning signs can be helpful. Look out for indicators such as a return to bedwetting, avoidance of getting undressed, experiencing extreme nightmares, or possessing new knowledge about sexual topics that seems unusual for their age. If you observe any of these signs, it may indicate a need for further conversation and support. Always prioritize creating a safe and open environment for your child to confide in you about any concerns they may have.

Guidance on Responding to Your Child’s Sexual Behavior

Discovering your child engaging in sexual behavior can be a challenging situation, but responding in a calm and supportive manner is crucial. Not all sexual behaviors, even uncommon ones, necessarily indicate abuse. A thoughtful parental response can have positive long-term effects on guiding your child’s sexual development and addressing any problematic behaviors. Here are some ways to manage such situations:

  • Redirecting the Activity: Gently guide the activity toward something more appropriate. This not only redirects the behavior but also allows you time to formulate a healthy response.

  • Open Communication: Find a quiet time to talk to your child, using open-ended questions such as “How did you get the idea?” or “How did you learn about this?” or “How did you feel doing it?” This approach encourages your child to share their thoughts and feelings.

  • Education: Provide age-appropriate education about sexual issues. Openly discussing these matters equips your child with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their behavior.

  • Consider Developmental Stage: Take into account the age and stage of development of your child. If the behavior appears beyond what is typical for their age, consulting a child therapist or physician may be helpful.

While discussing sex with your children may feel uncomfortable, a healthy parental response offers education and guidance. Establishing boundaries for your child’s sexual behavior involves using resources and information about the stages of sexual development. Utilizing online safety services like Pinardin can assist in starting conversations about healthy sexual behaviors. Providing positive, clear messages about boundaries, privacy, and consent is crucial for fostering open communication about your child’s sexual development and experiences.

Guidance on Responding to Your Child’s Sexual Behavior

Discovering your child engaging in sexual behavior can be a challenging situation, but responding in a calm and supportive manner is crucial. Not all sexual behaviors, even uncommon ones, necessarily indicate abuse. A thoughtful parental response can have positive long-term effects on guiding your child’s sexual development and addressing any problematic behaviors. Here are some ways to manage such situations:

  • Redirecting the Activity: Gently guide the activity toward something more appropriate. This not only redirects the behavior but also allows you time to formulate a healthy response.

  • Open Communication: Find a quiet time to talk to your child, using open-ended questions such as “How did you get the idea?” or “How did you learn about this?” or “How did you feel doing it?” This approach encourages your child to share their thoughts and feelings.

  • Education: Provide age-appropriate education about sexual issues. Openly discussing these matters equips your child with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their behavior.

  • Consider Developmental Stage: Take into account the age and stage of development of your child. If the behavior appears beyond what is typical for their age, consulting a child therapist or physician may be helpful.

Educational Resources on Age-Appropriate Sexual Curiosity