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Healthy Sexual Development:

There is often misunderstanding and confusion around child sexual behaviours. When it comes to child development, healthy sexual development may be neglected as it may be assumed that children have no sexual behaviours until puberty and their teenage years. This is not true. As with all other aspects of healthy child development, there are recognised ages and stages, which are outlined below. Parents often worry that their child is behaving oddly because we simply do not always talk about healthy sexual development. 

Any sexual behaviors displayed by children should be age-appropriate for the child’s developmental stage. These behaviours can be exploratory, with no intent to cause harm. They should be fun, enjoyable and carefree, with no power difference between participants.



Healthy Sexual Development & Behaviours of Children aged 0-5 Years:

Even at this stage, sexual behaviour is beginning to emerge through actions like:

  • Exploratory behaviours, touch, taste, looking, lots of hugs and kisses
  • showing interest in body parts & how they work
  • talking about private body parts and using words like poo, willy and bum
  • playing games such as “house/mummies and daddies” or “doctors and nurses” with other children
  • curiosity about the difference between girls and boys
  • Enjoying nakedness
  • touching, rubbing or showing off their genitals or masturbating as a comforting habit.
  • Touching of genitals can give a pleasant sensation – including physical sexual responses.
  • Little girls are socialised out of this behaviour early, while there is more tolerance shown to boys
  • Self stimulation among children from around 3 months is common, involving friction, rhythmic rocking, pressing thighs together or rubbing genitals against objects. This can be self soothing and may be accompanied by facial flushing, grunting and moaning

Healthy Sexual Development & Behaviours of Children aged 5-9 Years:

As children get a little older they become more aware of the need for privacy while also:

  • More exploratory behaviours with peers kissing and hugging
  • curiosity about other children’s genitals
  • curiosity about sex, relationships, differences between boys and girls, where babies come from, how sex happens and same sex relationships.
  • showing curiosity about private body parts but respecting privacy, no longer wanting to bath with younger siblings.
  • talking about private body parts and sometimes showing them off
  • more questions and comparing of bodies to try to answer questions
  • using swear and sex words they’ve heard other people say (even if children do not understand the meaning of the words) they know it provokes a reaction from adults. trying to shock by using words like poo, willy and bum
  • playing “house” or “doctors and nurses” type games with other children
  • touching, rubbing or showing others their private parts. Masturbation 
is less random, but more likely among boys than girls.

Healthy Sexual Development & behaviours of Children aged 9-13:

Children are getting more curious about sex and sexual behaviour through:

  • The informed questioning stage
  • Kissing, hugging, holding hands and ‘dating’ other children
  • Changes that happen in puberty, hormones – sexual responses start to become ‘conscious’
  • Cognitively more able to understand and process information
  • Curiosity and asking about relationships and sexual behaviours
  • Actively looking for information about sex, this might lead to finding online porn. Interest in popular culture: fashion, music, online games & social media.
  • Masturbating in private,
  • Need for privacy
  • Relationship behaviours beginning talking of ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’ but this may be name only.
  • Aware of their development and sense of themselves, are they attractive, do they have the right look?

Healthy Sexual Development & behaviours of Children aged 13-17:

Children are getting more curious about sex and sexual behaviour through:

  • The beginning of the grown up stage
  • As puberty kicks in, sexual behaviour becomes more private
  • Kissing, hugging, dating and forming longer-lasting relationships
  • Using sexual language and talking about sex with friends explicitly.
  • Looking for sexual pictures or online porn/ erotica
  • Masturbating in private and experimenting sexually with the same age group.
  • Now have knowledge and bodily desires – beginnings of adult bodies.
  • Consenting manual, oral, or penetrative sex, (including sexting) with others of similar age/maturity. (choosing not to become sexually active)
  • Advanced relationship behaviours in that they will have attachments slightly longer and one at a time.
  • Emotional and romantic connections becoming important intensified by sexual desire and pleasure.