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JUVENILE SEXUALIZED BEHAVIOR: Normal Behaviors versus Abuse

Healthy, Age-Appropriate Expressions of Sexuality
line spacer Children are born as healthy sexual beings. Therefore, it is important to understand a child's healthy sexual development and what behaviors are normal and age-appropriate:
  • Preschool (0-5 Years)
    Young children frequently use limited sexual language that centers around body parts and the differences children see in genders. They sometimes explore body parts of other children, usually in the form of play, such as playing doctor or house. Children may also touch their own body parts and may even rub up against something to get the same sensation. Children at this age usually can be redirected easily and do not show signs of distress when told to stop the behavior.

  • School Age (6-11 Years)
    The use of sexual words and sexual conversation is more common and frequent during these years. Experimenting with other children is also common and may take the form of "games" with same-age peers. This may include kissing, fondling, and "you show me, I'll show you" types of behavior. Self-stimulation is also common at home or in private places but rarely happens in public. There are usually a great number of questions from children at this age about menstruation, pregnancy, and sexual behavior.

  • Adolescence (>11 Years to Adult)
    Questions during these years focus on concerns about decision-making, social relationships, and sexual customs. Experimentation between same-age peers is also common and includes kissing, fondling, mutual masturbation, and sometimes intercourse. Self-stimulation or masturbation usually only occurs in private and is commonly kept out of peer conversations.

Forms of Child Sexual Abuse
line line When considering whether the behavior between adolescents and children is sexual abuse, take into account differences in age, size, strength, and power. Sexual abuse can take the form of "hands-on" offenses or non-touching offenses. Examples of these offenses are listed below:
  • Touching Offenses
    • Fondling "private parts"
    • Touching a child's genitals or asking a child to touch someone else's genitals
    • Playing sexual games with a child
    • Coercing a child to be sexual with animals
    • Genital, oral, or anal intercourse
    • Forcing a child into prostitution

  • Non-Touching Offenses
    • Showing pornography to a child
    • Exposing oneself
    • Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
    • Voyeurism or "peeping"
    • Verbal or emotional abuse of a sexual nature (e.g., making fun of a child's body parts, calling a child a sexual name)
    • Obscene phone calls

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Juvenile Sexualized Behavior: Overview  Juvenile Sexualized Behavior: Normal Behaviors versus Abuse  Juvenile Sexualized Behavior: Abnormal Behaviors  Juvenile Sexualized Behavior: Responding to Behaviors  Juvenile Sexualized Behavior: Additional Resources 

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On this page:
Healthy, Age-Appropriate Expressions of Sexuality
Forms of Child Sexual Abuse