About sexual development and behaviour at 12-14 years
Sexual development starts from 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 teenagers’ development, social relationships, cultural background, and personal and family experiences. But it’s common for teenagers to become more curious about sex and sexuality as they develop.
For teenagers aged 12-14 years, sexual curiosity and experimentation might include:
- masturbating in private for sexual pleasure
- having intimate relationships with same-age peers
- showing physical affection towards same-age peers, including kissing, hugging and fondling
- consensually taking and sharing photos of themselves in ‘sexy’ poses while clothed with same-age peers.
Your child might behave in these ways because it feels good. They might also do it because they’re:
- feeling curious about sexual affection
- working out social and sexual relationships
- experiencing puberty
- 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 teenagers aged 12-14 years
If your child seems interested in intimate relationships or experimenting with sexual behaviour, this can be an opportunity to support your child’s healthy sexual development. The key is listening, talking and answering questions openly, honestly and non-judgmentally.
At this age, you could talk with your child about puberty, sexuality, romantic relationships and sexual affection, sexual or gender identity, consent, respectful relationships, sexting and pornography.
It’s also good to talk with your child about appropriate behaviour for different situations and relationships. For example, you could talk about how ‘yes’ to one sexual activity doesn’t mean an automatic ‘yes’ to another and your child needs to keep checking when they’re being intimate with someone.
If you want your child to stop sexual behaviour, calmly 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 teenagers aged 12-14 years
Sometimes sexual behaviour in teenagers aged 12-14 years isn’t what’s expected for their developmental stage or isn’t socially or culturally appropriate.
And sometimes sexual behaviour in teenagers 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 12-14 years might include masturbating:
- compulsively and so much that it interferes with other activities
- in ways that injure their genitals
- in public.
It might also include:
- having vaginal or anal sex
- having sex or engaging in other sexual behaviour to be popular or in exchange for money or alcohol
- having an intimate relationship with someone who’s more than 2 years older or younger
- forcing other children to take part in sexual behaviour like oral sex or penetration with objects
- using sexually explicit language to intimidate other people
- watching pornography so much that it interferes with other activities or watching violent or degrading pornography
- taking and sharing photos or videos of sexual acts involving themselves or others without consent.
Children aged 12-14 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.
At this age, if your child is engaging in harmful sexual behaviour with a younger child, it could be considered a criminal offence.
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. The GP 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.