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Sexual Development and Sexual Behavior Problems in Children Ages 2-12

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2004
4 pages
This paper provides information on sexual development and problematic sexual behavior in children ages 2-12.
Research on this age group shows that sexual responses exist from birth, and a wide range of sexual behaviors of children this age are normal; however, increasing numbers of school-age children engage in inappropriate or aggressive sexual behavior. It is unclear whether this increase is due to more incidents or more identification and reporting. Several treatment interventions have succeeded in reducing problematic sexual behavior in this age range. This paper distinguishes typical sexual knowledge of children ages 2 to 6 and children ages 7 to 12. A table also shows common sexual behaviors for children in these two age groups, as well as infrequent sexual behaviors for children ages 2-12. Researchers have developed a continuum of sexual behaviors that range from common sexual play to problematic sexual behavior. Common sexual play is described as exploratory, spontaneous, intermittent, and by mutual agreement between participants. It occurs with children who are similar in age, size, and developmental level. It is not linked to high levels of fear, anger, or anxiety, and it decreases when caregivers exert restrictive supervision. Problematic sexual behavior for this group is frequent behavior such as compulsive masturbation, occurrence with children who do not know each other well and with a frequency that interferes with normal childhood activities, and is aggressive or coerced. Sexual behavior for this age group is also problematic when it occurs between children of different ages, size, and development. Parents and professionals are advised to refer the child for mental health services if the problematic behavior does not stop when the child is given clear rules, mildly restricted, well-supervised, and praised for appropriate behavior. 10 references

Date Published: January 1, 2004