Sexual Development in Children

Children are sexual beings, and all phases of development can include age-appropriate expressions of sexuality and sexual interest.

0-3 Years

  • Curious and may explore their bodies and other bodies
  • Male babies may get erections
  • May touch their genitals
  • May be interested in talking about bodies and wanting to know the names of body parts
  • May not understand that body parts are theirs (girls may want a penis, boys may think they could lose their penis)

3-5 years

  • May lack modesty
  • May like being naked
  • May be very interested in their bodies
  • May engage in games that involve looking at and touching peers' bodies
  • May be interested in parents' bodies
  • May be interested in where babies come from
  • May begin to have awareness of specific gender roles
  • May self-stimulate as a self-soothing activity
  • Around 4 years of age, may use a lot of toilet humor

School age

  • More modesty
  • May self-stimulate in private
  • May use sex words
  • May understand that intercourse can lead to a baby
  • May engage in same-gender exploration
  • May have a stronger self-image in regard to gender and body image

Identifying concerning behaviors

Examples of concerning behaviors include:

  • Acts that reveal knowledge beyond the child’s age
  • Unresponsiveness to redirection/teaching
  • Behavior accompanied by other changes in functioning/stress symptoms
  • Intrusiveness/abusiveness

If you have any concerns about your child's sexual development or behavior, you should contact your child's physician to discuss your concern.

Visit our SAFE Place Treatment and Support Program page for information about what to do and not do if your child discloses to you that she/he has experienced sexual abuse, and for a summary of common symptoms/problems after experiencing a traumatic event.

Next Steps