Sexual behaviors in children: Evaluation and management

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Sexual behaviors in children are common, occurring in 42 to 73 percent of children by the time they reach 13 years of age. Developmentally appropriate behavior that is common and frequently observed in children includes trying to view another person's genitals or breasts, standing too close to other persons, and touching their own genitals. Sexual behaviors become less common, less frequent, or more covert after five years of age. Sexual behavior problems are defined as developmentally inappropriate or intrusive sexual acts that typically involve coercion or distress. Such behaviors should be evaluated within the context of other emotional and behavior disorders, socialization difficulties, and family dysfunction, including violence, abuse, and neglect. Although many children with sexual behavior problems have a history of sexual abuse, most children who have been sexually abused do not develop sexual behavior problems. Children who have been sexually abused at a younger age, who have been abused by a family member, or whose abuse involved penetration are at greater risk of developing sexual behavior problems. Although age-appropriate behaviors are managed primarily through reassurance and education of the parent about appropriate behavior redirection, sexual behavior problems often require further assessment and may necessitate a referral to child protective services for suspected abuse or neglect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1233-1238
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican family physician
Volume82
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 15 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice

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