When it comes to sexual behaviors in children it can be difficult to know what is appropriate for their age. As your child explores and learns more about their own body, you might be confused or worried by some of their behaviors.
It’s important to note that only 12% of victims of child sexual abuse will tell someone because of fear, confusion or embarrassment. Some research suggests that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys nationwide have been victims of some form of sexual abuse.
If you are concerned your child has been sexually abused, report it to local law enforcement and seek help from Lotus Children’s Advocacy Center. We have services to help both you and your child get through this difficult time.
Below you’ll learn more about appropriate sexual behaviors for each age group, plus the physical and behavioral indicators that could be signs of child sexual abuse.
What is Common Sexual Behavior in Children?
Information provided by CACs of KY
0 - 2 Years
Children will openly explore their bodies, including sexual organs. There is curiosity about their bodies, bodies of others and everyone’s “potty” behavior. Erections can occur as physical reactions not related to sexuality. Children in this age group may soothe themselves by touching their genitals and will exhibit a lack of “modesty” about their bodies.
3 - 5 Years
During this time, children recognize adults as caregivers and depend on them to keep the child safe. These children may soothe themselves by rubbing their own genitals and may have a growing interest in bodily functions. At this age, an understanding of privacy should be established by caregivers.
6 - 8 Years
During this time, children may become interested in looking at pictures of naked people. There is an awareness of gender differences & an interest in different parts. Boys & girls may play doctor with peers. Children may begin to ask more questions of adults and can distingush between sexual and nonsexual touches by age 7.
9 - 11 Years
There is usually a disinterest in the opposite sex & children in this age group may view sex as “nasty” or “gross”. May talk about sex with friends & engage in “bathroom talk” &/or sexual jokes. Generally ask fewer questions of adults & gain information from friends.
12 - 17 Years
Boys seek information from books & magazines, girls from friends & media. Masturbation is common in boys & girls may begin to sexualize their dress/mannerisms. By age 15, boys & girls are exploring sex appeal.
So, what are the signs of sexual abuse? It is important to understand that the presence of some symptoms does not always mean abuse has occurred but does warrant attention.
- Social withdraw
- Sleeping and eating issues
- Poor peer relationships
- Reluctance to participate in recreational activities
- Acting out
- Preoccupation with sex organs of self, parents or other children
- Sexual sophistication beyond their years (knowledge and language)
- Sexualized behavior (touching others inappropriately)
- Attempts to run away
- Drug/alcohol use
- Difficulty walking and sitting
- Torn clothing
- Stained or bloody underwear
- Pain or itching in the genital area
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Early pregnancy
- Urinary tract infections
- Bleeding, cracks or tears around orifices
- Psychosomatic complaints (frequent stomach aches, headaches, etc)
- Gagging, vomiting
- Bed wetting or soiling once toilet training is completed
If you are noticing odd behaviors but aren’t sure what’s causing it, it may be time to call a professional who is trained to talk with children to help them feel safe and heard. Contacting your child’s doctor or Lotus could be a good start if they haven’t opened up to you about abuse.
A child who does confide in you about sexual abuse needs to know they are being heard and believed. Thank them for telling you and praise the child’s courage. Then, seek help from professionals. You can contact us with our 24-Hour Helpline at any time: 1.800.928.7273.