School-age sexual behaviour: what’s typical?
Sexual behaviour in your child might be a bit confronting, especially the first time you see it. It might help to know that touching, looking at and talking about bodies is a mostly typical and healthy part of your child’s development.
Open and honest talk about sex, bodies and relationships will help you guide your child’s behaviour now. It also lays the groundwork for future talks about sexual development, respectful relationships and sexuality. It’s never too early to start talking.
Typical school-age sexual behaviour: what it looks like
Your school age child might:
- touch his genitals or masturbate
- be more private about his body and bodies in general – for example, he might not like you to see him naked anymore when he’s bathing or dressing
- compare genitals with other same-age children – for example, penis or vulva size or shape
- play doctors and games involving exploration but mixed with other play, like giving injections and medicines
- kiss and hold hands with other children
- copy behaviour he has seen – for example, pinching a bottom
- engage in sexual play or talk about sexual topics, but in a matter-of-fact or sometimes silly way
- have the sense that talking about sexuality or engaging in sexual play is private or not allowed.
What typical school-age sexual behaviour means
The behaviour described above is typical for school-age children. Your child might behave in these ways because:
- it feels good
- she’s curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies
- she’s working out how bodies work
- she’s trying to understand relationships
- she’s adjusting to the new environment and rules of primary school.
Some sexual behaviour and sex play isn’t typical and might even be a sign of something more serious. Read more about problematic sexual behaviour.
How to respond to typical sexual behaviour in school-age children
How you react to sexual behaviour is important, but your approach depends on your values. Some parents are happy with this type of behaviour, and others aren’t.
The most important thing is to stay calm, no matter how you plan to respond.
You can use sexual behaviour as an opportunity to help your child learn. You could ask your child if he has any questions about bodies and relationships and then talk with him about what behaviour is OK in different situations. For example, you could say that behaving respectfully means not touching other people’s genitals or using sexual language that makes them uncomfortable.
You could also read books about bodies, relationships, puberty and personal safety with your child.
If you want your child to stop the sexual behaviour, calmly suggest another activity. For example, if your child is playing ‘You show me yours, I’ll show you mine’, you could say, ‘Come to the kitchen both of you. You can have some fruit and a drink, and then we’ll play a different game’.
You could talk to your child later about what behaviour is OK in your home and what behaviour is OK in front of other children, parents or teachers. For example, you could explain that although you’re OK with your child playing without clothes on at home, it’s not OK when other people can see her.