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What Is Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior?

Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime that occurs more often than most people realize. It is an extremely traumatic experience that can have lifelong mental health consequences.

Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime that occurs more often than most people realize. It is an extremely traumatic experience that can have lifelong mental health consequences. One of the telltale signs of child sexual abuse is age-inappropriate sexual actions or behaviors. A child may exhibit knowledge of sexual subjects beyond what is appropriate for his or her years.

As a parent, relative or member of the community, learn the difference between age-appropriate and inappropriate sexual behaviors in a child. If you suspect child sexual abuse, report your suspicions to the police and/or your county’s Child Protective Services right away. Then, consider speaking with an experienced California child sexual abuse attorney.

Ages 2 to 5

Pediatricians say it is normal and common for young children ages two to five or six to want to explore their bodies by touching their genitals. This may include poking, pulling or rubbing their genitals and other body parts. It is also normal for children in this age group to want to look at each other’s genitals, look at a peer or sibling’s genitals, try to see adults naked, and show genitals to others. Parents can gently guide their children to appropriate sexual behaviors by telling them to restrict it to only when they are in private. They should also teach children it is not acceptable to touch another child’s private parts, or for someone else to touch his or her genitals.

Normal sexual behaviors can vary significantly among children ages two to five. Around age five, most children start to make sexual behaviors more covert and less frequent. They may only look at or touch their genitals in private, for example, and become less curious about their body parts. Parents may notice less frequent sexual behaviors in children five and older because they conduct these behaviors covertly. Age five is typically when children become more aware of social norms and realize what to do and what not to do in public.

Ages 6 to 9

The age group from six to nine may still touch their genitals at home or in private. Males in this age group may also touch themselves in public. Kids ages six to nine may also still try to see adults or their peers nude. It is also common for this age group to sit or stand too close to others. Girls and boys in this group may touch their breasts or others’ breasts. They may know more about sex at this age as well.

Ages 10 to 12

From ages 10 to 12, boys and girls may become very interested in the opposite sex. They may want to know more about sex and/or watch nudity on television. They may still stand or sit too close to others. Kids ages 10 to 12 may know more about sex than they did at earlier ages, and they may ask their parents related questions. Both males and females may touch their genitals at home or in private at this age.

What Is Age-Inappropriate Sexual Behavior?

Every child and family situation is different. Parents should interpret a child’s sexual behaviors through the lens of their culture, how the parents view sexuality, how often the parents are nude around the house, the child’s education on sexual subjects and daycare arrangements. A child’s sexual knowledge, actions and/or behaviors may be age-inappropriate and cause for concern if they are uncommon or do not fit the child’s home life or upbringing.

Age-inappropriate sexual behaviors can include a child kissing with tongue, masturbating with the hand at a young age, rubbing his or her genitals against others, mimicking adult sexual acts, disrupting others with sexual behaviors, inserting objects into genitals, touching an animal’s genitals, consistent sexual behaviors, aggressive sexual behaviors with others, and engaging in sexual behaviors with a child who is four or more years younger or older. If you suspect child sexual abuse, contact Child Protective Services immediately.

Manly, Stewart & Finaldi is regarded as America's leading law firm for sexual abuse cases. As a firm that exclusively handles sexual abuse cases, our California law firm offers experienced representation to obtain justice for sexual abuse survivors, harassment, and discrimination.

Learn more about Manly, Stewart & Finaldi.