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Healthy Sexual Behaviors in Children

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Understanding your child’s stages of sexual development can better prepare you for any questions they may ask about gender, sexuality and relationships as they grow. Prepare early by understanding the stages of healthy sexual growth.

Military OneSource is here to arm you with facts on healthy behaviors in children to help you power up your parenting. The more you know, the more you can be the best guardian of your military children’s safety and well-being.

Healthy sexual behaviors in children – takeaways for military parents

All children begin to develop sexually at an early age. Sometimes, it can be hard to know what child behaviors are normal and which ones might be concerning.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network information paper, Sexual Development and Behavior in Children, offers the following age guidelines for what constitutes common sexual behaviors in childhood:

  • Exploring and touching private parts, in public and in private
  • Rubbing private parts (with hand or against objects)
  • Showing private parts to others
  • Trying to touch a mother’s or other women’s breasts
  • Removing clothes and wanting to be naked
  • Attempting to see other people when they are naked or undressing (such as in the bathroom)
  • Asking questions about their own — and others’ — bodies and bodily functions
  • Talking to children their own age about bodily functions such as “poop” and “pee”
  • Purposefully touching private parts (masturbation), occasionally in the presence of others
  • Attempting to see other people when they are naked or undressing
  • Mimicking dating behavior (such as kissing or holding hands)
  • Talking about private parts and using “naughty” words, even when they don’t understand the meaning
  • Exploring private parts with children their own age (such as “playing doctor,” “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” etc.)
  • Purposefully touching private parts (masturbation), usually in private
  • Playing games with children their own age that involve sexual behavior (such as truth or dare, playing family or boyfriend/girlfriend)
  • Attempting to see other people naked or undressing
  • Looking at pictures of naked or partially naked people
  • Viewing/listening to sexual content in media (television, movies, games, the internet, music, etc.)
  • Wanting more privacy (for example, not wanting to undress in front of other people) and being reluctant to talk to adults about sexual issues
  • Beginnings of sexual attraction to/interest in peers

Additional parent-friendly resources to help you learn more about your child’s behavior — and how you can help them grow into happy, healthy adults — can be found at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth.

You can also learn more by visiting Understanding and Coping With Sexual Behavior Problems in Children.

Addressing concerning sexual behaviors in children

If a child’s sexual behavior occurs weekly or daily, involves playmates of vastly different ages or developmental stages, hurts anyone or otherwise forces unwanted sexual activities onto others, that child may be demonstrating concerning or problematic sexual behaviors that warrant an assessment by a professional to ensure the safety and well-being of all children.

Most children who show problematic sexual behaviors respond well to informed parent support, increased guidance and supervision and evidence-based treatment programs, with no future incidents of sexually inappropriate behavior.

The Defense Department is committed to helping the entire military community grow strong together. If you need additional assistance, contact Military OneSource directly by phone or set up a live chat today. OCONUS/international? View calling options.

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