The following was developed by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Remember, children develop at their own pace so some overlap may occur in the behaviors listed. That’s common and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.

Sexual behavior in children is normal and it doesn’t necessarily mean your child has been sexually abused or re-abused. If you are in doubt, look for other cognitive, emotional, behavioral and physical indicators of abuse that are not in the realm of healthy development, as shown later in this section.

Select an age group below for a list of common childhood sexual behaviors.

Preschool Children

(infants to 3 years of age)

  • Exploring and touching private parts, in public and in private
  • Showing private parts to others
  • Rubbing private parts (with hand or against objects)
  • Trying to touch mother’s or other women’s breasts
  • Attempting to see other people when they are naked or undressing (such as in the bathroom)
  • Asking questions about their own—and others’—bodies and bodily functions
  • Removing clothes and wanting to be naked
  • Talking to children their own age about bodily functions such as “poop” and “pee”

Young Children

(approximately 4-6 years of age)

  • Attempting to see other people when they are naked or undressing
  • Purposefully touching private parts (masturbation), occasionally in the presence of others
  • Mimicking dating behavior (such as kissing or holding hands)
  • Talking about private parts and using “naughty” words, even when they don’t understand the meaning
  • Exploring private parts with children their own age (such as “playing doctor” or “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” etc.)

Older Children

(approximately 7-12 years of age)

  • Purposefully touching private parts (masturbation), usually in private
  • Looking at pictures of naked or partially naked people
  • Playing games with children their own age that involve sexual behavior (such as “truth or dare”, “playing family” or “boyfriend/girlfriend”)
  • Attempting to see other people naked or undressing
  • Viewing/listening to sexual content in media (television, movies, games, the Internet, music, etc.)
  • Wanting more privacy (for example, not wanting to undress in front of other people) and being reluctant to talk to adults about sexual issues
  • Beginnings of sexual attraction to/interest in peers