Children and Masturbation : Facts

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      Masturbation and child developmen

       Masturbation in children       is considered to be normal behaviour as long as it is not carried out excessively or in public. Masturbation in young children begins with awareness and subsequent exploration of the genitals; it then becomes more about comfort and pleasure-seeking. Childhood masturbation normally ceases by the age of five or six as children develop friendships and a sense of self. Masturbation may occur at times of loneliness or stress as a means of comfort. It is usually gentle but small children may become hot and flushed through more vigorous masturbation. This is quite normal. It is also quite common for children to have short spells where they masturbate more persistently. This is similar to temper tantrums or food refusal, and should pass. Most parents are unaware because most masturbation takes place in private or is hidden in other ways. It is easier to spot masturbation in boys than in girls as the movements used by girls to achieve self-stimulation are less obvious indicators. 

   In girls, masturbatory posturing or rocking movements are more likely than manual stimulation. Causes of compulsive, persistent masturbation Compulsive, persistent masturbation in young children may, on occasion, be a sign of sexual harm or insecure attachment; in very rare cases it can be symptomatic of acute mental health issues like psychosis. However, it may also be an indicator of a common medical condition such as thrush. It is difficult to distinguish between masturbation resulting from sexual abuse and masturbation as a means of coping with more ordinary anxieties. The whole of the child’s development must be taken into consideration in order to ascertain the seriousness of the behaviour.

    Behaviour which should be of concern includes: 

• expecting adults to participate in sexual activity
 • persistent use of sexual words • making sexual sounds (sighing, moaning)
 • putting objects inside own rectum or genitals (or those of others) 
• french kissing persistent fascination with nude pictures or with others genitalia (especially older or young children)
 • touching the genitals of animals. Other problematic sexual behaviour in children Other problematic sexual behaviour in children includes:
 • sexual bullying - play that is not mutual, involves coercion, power or trickery
 • boundary violations, e.g. sexual play that someone else is forced to watch
 • persistent, compulsive or obsessive sexual behaviour that occurs in public places and/or that the child seems unable to control – sexual acting out
 • harmful behaviour – causes physical harm; is socially harmful as it interferes with other activities; is psychologically harmful because of preoccupation with guilt and shame
 • behaviour is adult-like or unusual, e.g. French kissing, involving animals. Addressing persistent masturbatory behaviour Adults naturally feel uncomfortable at the sight of children masturbating but it is important that children are not made to feel ashamed or guilty 

   . It is important that the child is reassured by parents and carers that masturbation is not wrong but that it should be done in private. Specific behaviours can be addressed through play or story-telling, e.g. encouraging the child to stroke a toy instead of their genitals. Keeping safe work can be used to raise awareness of inappropriate behaviour as well as to help children protect themselves from others. It may be helpful to set targets for stopping behaviour - agreeing appropriate rewards for desired behaviour with parents, carers, teachers etc. It is also important to offer guidance to parents, carers and anyone working with the child especially around boundaries. Where behaviour is causing concern to the extent that it is suspected that the child may have been abused then the child will need to be referred in line with the local child protection procedures. [endtext]
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