By Sarah Rincon and Julia Dworsky
Children are curious. This means it’s common and healthy for them to be curious about their own bodies, using masturbation as a means of self-discovery. Expressing sexuality is a normal stage of childhood development. Masturbation is a topic that might make parents feel uncomfortable, ashamed, or guilty, however, we should avoid transmitting these same feelings towards our kids. When children use masturbation to explore their body, they aren’t doing anything wrong, and we should learn strategies to approach these conversations that foster safe positive and healthy sexual behaviors. To start, let’s watch this video that highlights the importance of normalizing masturbation:
It’s common that you may find yourself confused about different aspects in regards to talking to your child about masturbation but we are here to help! We compiled a variety of questions that parents find themselves having on this topic. Although yes, talking with your child about this topic may be awkward or uncomfortable at first on either end, this is also where you have the opportunity to foster open, positive, and healthy conversations in regards to sex, sexuality and sexual health with your child.
Q: Is it normal for my child to masturbate?
A: Yes it is! Children are very curious, and bodily exploration is a normal part of childhood development. When we attach our own feelings of shame and guilt to our child’s actions, we fail to realize that our children are engaging in normal behaviors that are important to creating a healthy sexuality. When kids masturbate, they are most often exploring their body, and realizing it feels good.
Q: At what age is masturbation normal?
A: Starting at ages 0-4 your child might begin to enjoy touching their own genitals, and exploring their body this way. Every child is different, but it is very common and very normal for children to be curious about their bodies from an early age.
Q: When is masturbation abnormal?
A: Every child is different, and if you have concerns about your child’s masturbation habits it’s best to seek professionals advice first. In general, it may be cause for concern if masturbating is affecting a child’s daily interactions, where they are overly preoccupied with masturbating to the point of isolating from others. It’s important to note that there are many reasons why a child might be compulsively masturbating. For example, if a child is going through a stressful time it could be a self-soothing strategy. In this case, helping your child find other ways to reduce stress will allow them to engage with others again.
Q: How can I talk about it with my child?
A: The first time you talk about masturbation with your child may feel awkward, but the more you talk about it, the easier and more open it will be! Sexual development is an ongoing process, and having ongoing conversations about masturbation and sex is important for kids. Try to frame your conversations from a healthy and positive perspective. Trying to scare your child out of masturbating will only cause fear and shame down the road, and might make them less likely to come to you with any questions or concerns about sex in the future.
Q: I found my child masturbating! What do I do?
A: If they’re doing this in private at home it’s important to apologize for disrupting their privacy, leave and give them space before having a conversation on the topic. Your reaction to this is incredibly impactful. Reacting calmly in this situation is important because acting startled, surprised, upset, or angry can create a negative relationship between your child and their body. If they are participating in public masturbation it’s important to remind and calmly talk to them about understanding that this is an activity that should only be done in private. Children who engage in public masturbation haven’t learned that this may not be acceptable.
Q: What about pornography ?
A: In the age of internet accessibility, it is nearly impossible for your child to avoid seeing porn online at some point. The truth is, it will probably happen at an earlier age than expected. That is why parents and guardians should start conversations about sex and porn with their children at a young age before they are exposed. This open communication will prevent kids from consulting the internet with questions about sex, where they may find harmful or false information. When your kids ask you questions about sex, allow them to do so without judgement and be honest if you don’t know the answer. It’s okay to let your child know that their question may be one you can both research together. Be open to speaking to sex educators and therapists to provide you with the resources and tools to use when talking about this subject. Talking about porn is important because it can bring up other topics ofconsent, varying body types and body parts, and unrealistic expectations of sex and pleasure. You might also have strong opinions on mainstream porn yourself, and these conversations allow you to share those.
Q: What if my religion teaches that masturbation is bad?
A: If you have made a decision to not masturbate based on religious practices, it does not have to mean that your child will follow the same rules. Adolescence is a time where kids are beginning to form their belief systems-including their beliefs surrounding religion and sex. If their views are clashing with yours, avoid creating shame and guilt for your child while they are in this stage of development. Your child will be able to learn how to respect their bodies from a religious standpoint as they grow older, but instilling shame, fear, and guilt surrounding sex have lasting psychological impacts. All in all- be understanding of how your children decide to engage with their body.