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Sexual Behaviour: Problems in young children

It is normal for young children to engage in various types of sexual exploration and play. For example, preschoolers, toddlers and even infants commonly touch their own genitals for pleasure, and young children sometimes examine each other's bodies while "playing doctor" with a relative or a friend of the same age. As long as these sexual explorations are light-hearted and spontaneous, and do not involve coercion on the part of either child, such behaviours are typically harmless.

The following types of behaviour are not common in young children and may be signs that a child has been sexually abused:

  • They touch their genitals so often that they neglect other activities

  • They continue to touch their genitals in public after being told to stop many times

  • They make other children undress

  • They fondle other children's genitals

  • They continue to use "dirty" words after being told many times to stop, and after being given an explanation and taught proper terms

  • They know too much about sex for their age, for example, they know about oral sex or intercourse positions

  • They imitate intercourse or other adult sexual behaviours

If you have concerns about your child's sexual behaviour, consult your child's physician. If you suspect your child has been sexually abused, you must contact your local Children's Aid Society. If you are in Canada, and you wish to speak to a counsellor about this, contact Parent Help Line, 1-888-603-9100.

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