Sign In
NHS St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals

Normal sexual behaviour in children

As children get older, the way they express their sexual feelings changes. This is a normal part of childhood development.  There are four stages to normal sexual behaviour in childhood development. It important to understand that children develop at different rates and not all children will be in the correct stage for their age.  Some children mature sooner or later than others.

Stage 1: 0-4 years

  • Kissing and hugging
  • Playing 'house' or 'doctor/nurse' games with other children
  • Using words such as poo, willy and bum
  • Showing curiosity in genitals, this may include talking about genitals
  • Touching, rubbing or showing off their genitals
  • Masturbating as a comforting habit

Stage 2: 5-9 years

  • Kissing and hugging
  • Playing 'house' or 'doctors/nurse' games with other children
  • Using words such as poo, willy and bum
  • Showing curiosity in genitals, this may include talking about genitals
  • Touching, rubbing or showing off their genitals
  • Repeating swear and sex words they have overheard

Stage 3: 10-12 years

  • Kissing, hugging or 'dating' other children of similar age
  • Showing interest in other people's body parts
  • Interested in the changes that happen during puberty
  • Asking about relationships and sexual behaviour
  • Looking for information about sex – this could lead to finding online porn
  • Masturbating in private

Stage 4: 13-16 years

  • Hugging, kissing, and forming relationships
  • Showing interest in body parts, relationships and sexuality
  • Using sexual language and about sex with friends
  • Online pornography
  • Masturbating in private
  • Sexually experimenting with children of similar age

 

While these stages show healthy sexualised behaviour for particular age groups, some children may start to show behaviour that is not normal for their age. Some children may start to show signs of harmful sexualised behaviour

 

Harmful sexualised Behaviour in Children

Some children may start to develop outside of the normal sexualised behaviour stages. While some children can mature sooner than others, it is important to be aware that some children may be developing harmful sexualised behaviour. Children who develop harmful Sexualised behaviour may have experienced abuse or trauma including sexual abuse, domestic violence, or family breakdown.

According to brook traffic light system, harmful sexualised behaviour for each age group includes:

Stage 1: 0-5 years

  • persistently touching the genitals of other children
  • persistent attempts to touch the genitals of adults
  • simulation of sexual activity in play
  • sexual behaviour between young children involving penetration with objects
  • forcing other children to engage in sexual play

 

Stage 2: 5-9 years

  • frequent masturbation in front of others
  • sexual behaviour engaging significantly younger or less able children
  • forcing other children to take part in sexual activities
  • simulation of oral or penetrative sex
  • sourcing pornographic material online

 

Stage 3: 9-13 years

  • exposing genitals or masturbating in public
  • distributing naked or sexually provocative images of self or others
  • sexually explicit talk with younger children
  • sexual harassment
  • arranging to meet with an online acquaintance in secret
  • genital injury to self or others
  • forcing other children of same age, younger or less able to take part in sexual activities
  • sexual activity e.g. oral sex or intercourse
  • presence of sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • evidence of pregnancy

Stage 4: 13-17 years

  • exposing genitals or masturbating in public
  • preoccupation with sex, which interferes with daily function
  • sexual degradation/humiliation of self or others
  • attempting/forcing others to expose genitals
  • sexually aggressive/exploitative behaviour
  • sexually explicit talk with younger children
  • sexual harassment
  • non-consensual sexual activity
  • use of/acceptance of power and control in sexual relationships
  • genital injury to self or others
  • sexual contact with others where there is a big difference in age or ability
  • sexual activity with someone in authority and in a position of trust
  • sexual activity with family members
  • involvement in sexual exploitation and/or trafficking
  • sexual contact with animals
  • receipt of gifts or money in exchange for sex

 

If you are concern about a child's sexual behaviour, you can:

  • Visit your GP or local sexual health service??
  •  NSPCC or Call NSPCC helpline on 0800 800 5000
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) or call 0870 000 3344

 

Read more on harmful sexualised behaviour on NSPCC or Brook websites.

 Image Viewer

2017 © St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust | Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy | Back to Top Sign In