About sexual development and behaviour at 10-11 years
Sexual development starts at birth. It includes physical changes like puberty, the attitudes and beliefs children develop about sex and sexuality, and their sexual behaviour.
Sexual behaviour varies depending on children’s development, social relationships, cultural background, and personal and family experiences. But it’s common for pre-teens to become more curious about sex and sexuality as they develop.
For children aged 10-11 years, sexual curiosity and experimentation might include:
- touching their genitals or masturbating in private
- having relationships with same-age peers that include physical affection like kissing and hugging
- talking with peers about sex, gender, sexuality, pregnancy, puberty and other sexual concepts
- consensually taking and sharing photos of themselves in ‘sexy’ poses while clothed.
Your child might behave in these ways because it feels good. They might also do it because they:
- are curious about sexual affection
- are working out how to behave in peer and social relationships
- have started puberty
- are exploring their identity.
If you talk openly about sex and sexuality with your child, it sends the message that your child can come to you for honest and reliable information. These conversations can help your child make positive, safe and informed choices, now and in the future.
Responding to sexual behaviour in children aged 10-11 years
You can use sexual behaviour as an opportunity to help your child learn. The key is listening, talking and answering questions openly, honestly and in a way your child can understand.
At this age, you could ask your child whether they have any questions about sex, sexual affection, identity and relationships. Then you could talk with your child about appropriate behaviour for different situations and relationships. For example, you could say that behaving respectfully means making sure that other people consent to your child kissing or hugging them.
You and your child could also read books or watch videos together about relationships, puberty, consent and personal safety.
If you want your child to stop sexual behaviour, calmly suggest another activity and remind them about public and private behaviour. For example, you could remind your child that touching their genitals is a private behaviour, which they should do in their bedroom or the bathroom.
Harmful sexual behaviour in children aged 10-11 years
Sometimes sexual behaviour in children aged 10-11 years isn’t what’s expected for their developmental stage or isn’t socially or culturally appropriate.
And sometimes sexual behaviour in children at this age is harmful to themselves or others. Harmful sexual behaviour can range from concerning to serious and extreme.
Harmful sexual behaviour in children aged 10-11 years might include masturbating:
- persistently in public
- in ways that interfere with other activities
- in ways that injure their genitals.
It might also include:
- being persistently voyeuristic
- aggressively trying to touch other people’s genitals, bottoms or breasts
- having relationships that involve mutual masturbation or oral sex with same-age or older peers
- forcing other children to take part in sexual behaviour like oral sex and penetration with objects
- watching pornography frequently
- taking photos of themselves naked or with their genitals exposed and sharing these photos with others.
Children aged 10-11 years might behave in sexually harmful ways for many reasons. For example, it might happen because they:
- have been exposed to pornography or adult sexual activity and are re-enacting what they’ve seen
- are experiencing child sexual abuse or other forms of child abuse
- find it hard to manage their emotions.
Children who have learning difficulties and disorders or difficulties with impulse control, social skills or rules can also be more vulnerable to engaging in harmful sexual behaviour.
Getting help for harmful sexual behaviour
If you’ve noticed your child engaging in harmful sexual behaviour and they keep doing it even when you ask them to stop, it’s a good idea to seek support and professional help.
A GP is a good place to start. You could also speak with your child’s teacher or other school staff. They can refer you to an experienced health professional who can help you understand what’s happening and how you can help your child.
Harmful sexual behaviour in children can be distressing. You can get support by contacting helplines and specialist services.