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The frequently asked questions and answers about child sexuality
Childhood sexuality is a holistic experience and can be compared to sensuality rather than actual sexuality. It is not focused on the genital organs, but these are also included. Babies did not yet differentiate between tenderness, cuddling and genital sexuality. From the age of two, toddlers also touch their own genitals specifically to stimulate them.
It is natural for your child to want to explore their own body through play. In this way they get to know and appreciate their own body. Doctor games take place from around the age of three and are quite normal in the development of children's sexuality. Children explore the gender differences and similarities between themselves and other children. Explain to your child that they shouldn't hurt other children while playing and shouldn't touch anything if the other child doesn't want to.
Do not punish or make a taboo on child sexuality, as this will impair the sexual development of your child and thus part of the personality development. Even if you find certain sexual activities inappropriate or disturbing, you should not ban them altogether so that your child does not think their sexuality is bad. It is better if you explain to your child that others do not want to see the penis or vagina rubbing around, but that it is okay if your child touches these areas in their bed at home without being observed.
Uncertainty due to the lack of a matter of course
What is part of the sexual development of children? When are borders violated? When is there a sexual assault among children, when is it sexual abuse? Hardly any mother or father can answer these questions clearly.
This uncertainty is due, on the one hand, to the fact that in many families, but also elsewhere, it is not yet a matter of course to talk about child sexuality. It is true that sexuality is a topic that has received much attention in society and, above all, in the media. But that only applies to adult sexuality. On the other hand, there is a lot of uncertainty about what is actually meant by child sexuality and whether and what kind of sexuality is good for children at all.
Only a knowledge of the sexual development of children and the associated actions make it possible to judge where the line between sexual activities and sexual assault among children is. It is also a prerequisite for successful sex education.
Childhood Sexuality - Is It Normal?
Childhood sexuality has nothing to do with adult sexuality, which is primarily focused on genital stimuli. Babies and toddlers experience childhood sexuality with all their senses and with the instinctive and spontaneous desire for physical well-being. You cannot yet distinguish between tenderness, petting and genital sexuality. They are still a long way from social sexual norms and initially have no sense of shame.
Childlike sexuality means beautiful feelings
Childlike sexuality means for the child to experience beautiful feelings, but not to express affection for another person. It is therefore self-centered in its sexual behavior.
Childlike sexuality is in itself nothing reprehensible, offensive or even problematic, but rather a normal part of a person's sexual development.
Can a baby actually have sexual feelings?
Babies enjoy physical contact with their parents
Even infants have sexual experiences. However, they run unconsciously and instinctively and are not geared towards a pleasurable climax, as is the case with adults. Even after birth, the newborn feels a sense of well-being through physical contact with the mother and the touch of the people who care for it. Only through this affection and the caressing of its skin as the largest sensory organ does a baby feel accepted and loved by its parents. It learns from the start that its body is something lovable.
Next to the skin, the infant's mouth is one of the first erogenous zones. When breastfeeding or bottle-sucking, sucking and sucking on a finger, a baby makes its first physical pleasure experiences. Physical excitement can be observed in children as early as the first few months of life. Boys can get an erection and girls can get a wet vagina. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about. These are simply signs that a child is very comfortable in the current situation.
When the child learns to feel and grasp, it begins to explore not only its environment, but also its own body. If, for example, while taking care of the body, it has found that it is a pleasant feeling to be touched on the genitals, it now notices that it is also nice to touch yourself there. This, too, is a completely unproblematic part of a child's sexual development.
How is sexuality expressed in toddlers?
Toddlers want to explore their own body
From the age of two, the child's sexuality changes. With the acquisition of language and the establishment of connections, sexuality is no longer driven by the unconscious, but by the same urge to discover as it is for everything else in a child's life. It wants to explore, find out and, in this case, learn more about its own body.
It consciously recognizes its own gender and also perceives the gender differences between a boy and a girl, a man and a woman. It wants to know what the genitals are called.
The child's interest in how it was born is also slowly growing. It starts asking questions about where the babies are coming from. This is the ideal time to start educating a child.
How do I react if my child is playing around with their genitals?
At this stage, the child begins to examine their sexual organs and finds out that they can stimulate them. A child can definitely experience something like an orgasm. Even at this age one speaks of masturbation, although it is an early form of masturbation that does not aim at achieving sexual ecstasy. Rather, the child manipulates its genitals until it becomes comfortable and satisfied (satisfied).
An early form of masturbation is perfectly natural
If you watch your child doing this, it is important that they do not get the message that their sexuality is something bad. Rather, such actions are perfectly normal. For many children, masturbation is a part of their growing up. There are no medical objections to this. Masturbation can neither positively nor negatively affect a child's development.
It would be completely wrong if you forbade your children from doing this - possibly under threat of punishment. They only create senseless feelings of guilt in the children, who then continue their actions in secret. Such negative childhood experiences can have an influence on the child's later attitudes towards sexuality.
However, if your child is playing around with their genitals in the supermarket or sitting at the table at the barbecue evening, explain to your child (preferably in private) that this is not the place for it. Tell him that what he does is not strictly forbidden, but that certain things just won't be done when other people are around. You may just relate it to good behavior, such as not picking your nose. It's fun, but others don't want to see it.
If you let your child understand that they can do these things quietly without being observed, you convey to them limits of shame, which on the one hand take into account their social environment and at the same time preserve their intimacy. The child protects himself from unwanted observations.
How normal are "doctor games"?
Children satisfy their childish curiosity with doctor games
Between the ages of three and six, children are more and more interested in the opposite sex of their playmates. They secure themselves in their gender position by comparing themselves to same-sex people and exploring the opposite sex.
Children can best understand this by playing doctor games with their peers: They strip naked and examine each other from head to toe and in the genital and anal areas. Children certainly know that what they are doing is not intended for the public and usually retreat to where they are undisturbed and unobserved by parents and guardians. The door to the children's room is locked, in the kindergarten you meet in the toilet.
Doctor games have nothing to do with the sexual desire of an adolescent or adult, but exclusively with childish curiosity. The children explore the opposite sex and also ensure that they are just like other children of their own sex. The fact that beautiful feelings can arise in the process strengthens your trust in your sensual perception and in your body feeling.
As an adult, one often bursts into such a doctor's game unconsciously. The children feel caught out, the parents often feel insecure. From the age of three, however, such games are part of a completely normal child's development. Therefore, you should respect the desire for intimacy, which children as well as adults deserve. As long as the children feel comfortable with their play, you should offer them a retreat for their curiosity about the body and let them have their own way.
Doctor games usually take place by mutual agreement, among children who like each other. The more relaxed you deal with it, the better. If you catch your children playing doctor games, do not scold them, as this could make sexuality appear negative to children. As with other games, ask interestedly: What are you doing? Once the fundamental differences between boys and girls are clear, the doctor games become uninteresting again. However, if you make the games taboo, the secrets become all the more interesting for your offspring.
Sometimes children also mimic sexual intercourse. Often times they have seen a love scene on television that they cannot do much with yet. Then it can happen that two children lie on top of each other, move and moan in the process. They do not know the sexual desire of adults during the act of love, but simply imitate the behavior of adults. Therefore, such a situation should not be overestimated. Only when a child initiates such a game frequently or a child has to participate in such a game against his will should one investigate the cause.
You can also read our specialist articles on sex education for children and adolescents.
However, you should educate your children that pointed objects are dangerous when “examining” them. In addition, children should be aware that this game is only allowed if everyone involved agrees. You should only intervene yourself if you have the feeling that your children are not doing well, that the game is no longer taking place by mutual agreement, when an older child is taking advantage of a younger one, or even if a child's genitals are injured. Sexual assaults among children can then occur.
To prevent abuse of any kind, you should keep reassuring your child that they can say no at any time because their own body belongs only to them.
How do I deal with my child's feelings of shame?
The feeling of shame develops in kindergarten age
All of a sudden, children of kindergarten age develop a previously unknown feeling of shame. Days before, your child would undress naked in front of others, suddenly they no longer even want to show themselves in their underwear.
Developing a sense of shame is a completely normal step in your child's personality development. Do not downplay this feeling with comments like “nobody is looking away from you”, but take your child seriously and respect their desire for intimacy without making a big fuss about it. Your child needs this innate sense of shame in order to be physically different from others and thus not only secure their privacy, but also arm themselves against sexual assault. He learns that his body is only his.
How do children in kindergarten and elementary school still live out their sexuality?
Between the ages of three and six, children rehearse their future gender roles. Boys often act wild and compete in physical strength, girls practice being a princess, love family role-playing games with their peers and nurture their dolls. Often girls love their father, boys often propose to their mother.
The child's search for pleasure in this phase of life is still egocentric. When a child cuddles with another, it does so because he or she likes it, but not as an expression of affection.
At elementary school age, children become more reluctant in their sexual activities again, as shame gains the upper hand. They are now separating themselves more and more from their parents and are becoming more independent. Children increasingly reject physical closeness and tenderness from their parents. Girls feel less comfortable in the company of female friends, whereas boys often prefer larger cliques. Now it gets exciting for boys and girls to tease and provoke each other. Although they call their counterpart from the opposite sex "stupid", they actually find it attractive and interesting. Puberty is imminent.
How can I support my child in their sexual development from an early age?
Always remember that sexuality belongs to people and will be with them throughout their lives. Successful sex education starts from birth.
- Give your child a positive body feeling on their way through life and let them experience tenderness in their daily dealings and care. If you show your child how much they love them and their bodies, they will feed on it for their entire life.
- Do not brake your child when they want to explore their body. Only when the child is allowed to take possession of their body can they develop a healthy body feeling and self-confidence. It helps him later to separate himself and his intimate sphere from others and also to be able to say no if there should be sexual assault among children or even sexual abuse. Give your child a place to retreat when they want to explore and experience their body in the company of their peers.
- Education begins with daily personal hygiene. Include the genitals equally in the first body part naming games. Give them their real names as soon as possible.
- Being naked shouldn't be taboo within the family. So don't lock yourself in the bathroom when you shower or change. The sooner your child sees you naked, the more unselfconsciously it will be able to deal with the sexual and external differences between men and women and boys and girls.
- Answer your child's questions about sexuality openly and as impartially as possible, but age-appropriate. But stay authentic and show yourself openly if you are currently overwhelmed with a topic. It can be helpful for a child to feel that it is not always easy for adults to talk about intimate things.
- As in all areas of life, the child learns from role models. It also looks from the parents how they treat each other, where there is tenderness in everyday life. Show your child that you enjoy physical closeness. Only in this way will he learn that his own innate sexual needs are something perfectly normal and beautiful. A loving interaction between the parents has a positive effect on the sexual development and also on the later partnership of the child.
- Parents are always concerned with the question of whether their own children are allowed to notice their parents' sexuality. One cannot and must not deny one's own sexuality, every family member has a right to love and sexuality.
- The sexual encounter between two people is a very intimate matter that affects two partners and in which the others have no function. Under no circumstances should children be eyewitnesses to intercourse or other sexual practices, just as they should not be present when a porno film is on. That would overwhelm a child. Your child should always feel that parental sexuality does not mean turning away from him, but rather growing affection and tenderness in the family. After all, children suffer from nothing more than emotional poverty.
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