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Get the FACTS about Child Sexual Abuse:

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Who are the Victims?

Abusers and Grooming Tactics

Signs & Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse

Stages of Healthy Sexual Development

Preventing Abuse Starts in the Home

Reporting Child Sexual Abuse

Stages of Healthy Sexual Development*

Parents and professionals who work with children are aware that most children, at various ages and stages of their development, are involved in behaviors that explore their bodies and their sexuality. Some sexual behaviors between and among children, however, are inappropriate, coercive, abusive, or illegal and should be stopped. A sexual behavior is considered problematic and may be abusive if there is a difference in power or authority in the relationship between the participants. Knowing the developmentally expected behaviors of children for different age ranges helps to identify whether any behaviors may be abusive.

Infancy (ages 0-2):
  • Explore whole body, including genitals
  • Self-stimulation is normal and pleasurable
  • Physical response to stimulation
  • Enjoy being naked

  • Early Childhood (ages 3-5):
  • Touch genitals to self-soothe (masturbation)
  • Play games like doctor to explore physical differences between boys and girls
  • Ask questions about where babies come from and how they are born

  • Middle Childhood (ages 6-8):
  • Engage in sexual exploration with peers
  • Begin looking to peers and media for information about sex and gender expectations
  • Develop more complex understanding of sex and sexuality
  • Masturbate
  • Socialize mainly with own gender and maintain rigid expectations for behavior based on gender

  • Late Childhood (ages 9-12):
  • Preoccupation with sexuality
  • Develop crushes and may begin dating
  • Have concerns about being 'normal'
  • Masturbate
  • Reluctant and/or embarrassed to ask questions of caregivers
  • Value privacy
  • While these behaviors are developmentally expected, we are not trying to make value judgments about these behaviors but to provide some guidelines to help you understand what you could expect to see. As a parent, you can talk to your children about your expectations for their behavior and set limits based on your own values.


    Birth to 8 Years
  • Accurate names and functions of all body parts (start as early as age 3)
  • Sexual parts of our bodies are special and we keep them covered in public
  • Difference between public and private
  • Similarities and differences between boys and girls
  • People have the right to refuse touch from anyone at any time (we don't touch people who don't want to be touched)
  • Where babies come from (accurate, simple, age-appropriate)
  • Bodies are all different and good, just the way they are

  • Ages 9-13
  • Body changes - body hair, menstruation, breast development, vaginal lubrication, penis/testicle growth, erections, wet dreams, hygiene, skin changes
  • Masturbation - what it is, and it's done only in private
  • Reproduction and pregnancy - what intercourse is
  • Puberty happens at different ages and rates for everyone
  • Hormones and their effects on boys and girls
  • Right to refuse touch from anyone at anytime, and need to respect that others have same right
  • Gender roles and stereotypes (address and debunk myths)

  • Ages 14-18
  • Reproduction, pregnancy, birth - in greater detail
  • Sexually transmitted infections and how to protect themselves
  • Birth control and condom use
  • How to say "NO" to unwanted sexual contact
  • Respecting boundaries and personal space of self and others
  • Body image and changes, gender roles, stereotypes
  • Differences between healthy vs. unhealthy romantic relationships

  • *Information gathered from Program Materials.
    **"Gulp! Talking with Your Kids About Sexuality" a publication of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Volume 2, Number 1. August 2000.

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