Child Sexual Behaviors

It is important for mothers to understand the normal sexual development of children to be able to differentiate age-appropriate behaviors from Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse. Hanks (1997) describes the normal development of children at different ages, their sexual knowledge base, and behaviors.

Normal development, behavior, and knowledge in children birth to 2 years old:
  • Physical: Potential for sexual arousal with male penile erection and female vaginal lubrication.
  • Social: Pleasure when touching genitals or looking at and touching genitals of others.
  • Sexual knowledge: Limited.

Normal development, behavior, and knowledge in children 2-6 years old: 

  • Physical: Testicles descend. Potential for sexual arousal with male penile erection and female vaginal lubrication.
  • Social: Play "doctor" games and explores body parts with other children, masturbates, watches others using bathroom, practices kissing
  • Sexual knowledge: Little understanding. Learns names for body parts and some sexual behaviors.

Normal development, behavior, and knowledge in children 6-12 years old:

  • Physical: Onset of puberty including menstruation, wet dreams.
  • Social: Masturbation, simulates some sexual behaviors, may have intercourse.
  • Sexual knowledge: Has increased knowledge of sexual behaviors and sexual language. Knowledge of slang terminology. Unclear about sexual intercourse and pregnancy. 

Sexual behaviors that are considered to be normal in juveniles:

  • Alone: Masturbation, wet dreams.
  • With peers: Kissing, petting, masturbation, simulated intercourse, intercourse.  

Johnson (1994) described "red flag" sexual behaviors including:

  • Children are different ages and at different developmental stages.
  • Children have too much sexual knowledge.
  • Behaviors continue even though requested repeatedly to stop.
  • Child unable to stop behaviors.
  • Behaviors occur in public places
  • Behavior is targeted at adults.
  • Progressive frequency and intrusiveness.
  • Persistent adult-like sexual behaviors.
  • Sexual behavior with animals.
  • Sexualizing objects, relationships, or communication.
  • Causing physical pain.
  • Using sex to hurt someone else.
  • Anger is involved with sexual behavior.
  • Use of force, bribery or threats.


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