Originally posted June 2, 2009
It's all the rage with your kid and it kind of freaks you
out. You have a hunch that it's completely normal, but it
makes you squirm. It never occurred to you that you'd be
confronted with the notion of your innocent baby as a sexual being
quite so early, and, honestly, you'd rather avoid thinking about it
altogether. Am I right?
Please take comfort, dear moms and dads. You're in the
company of many surprised parents and your instincts are right
on. Masturbation is perfectly normal at any age, and even
babies in utero have been known to touch their genitalia and have
erections (though boys do not produce semen until puberty).
It's natural for children to want to explore and touch their own
bodies, especially those fabulous parts with lots of nerve-endings
that feel kind of nice when they're touched, so
congratulations! Your child has made a marvelous
discovery. He knows how to take pleasure in his own body and
that self-stimulation can aid in self-soothing. There is so
little in life over which your child has control, but his body can
be one of them.
What made us uptight about masturbation in the first
place? Maybe we're embarrassed by the freedom our children
exhibit, perhaps because it contrasts with our own lingering
inhibitions about sexuality. Some parents worry that
accepting masturbation as a normal childhood experience somehow
means they're condoning other sexual behaviors. For others,
their own sexual histories are too painful for them to easily
appreciate their child's budding sexuality. Young children
are fortunate, however. They haven't yet acquired the
emotional baggage inspired by cultural and religious mores that
promote the idea that autoerotic behavior is shameful. They
just know it feels good. So why can't we just leave
You might find it easier to do this once you've explored the
messages about masturbation you received when you were a
child. What social and religious values shaped your thoughts
and feelings about sexuality? After careful consideration you
may conclude that these rationales for why we should abstain from
self-pleasure no longer fit for you, and then choose to endow your
own offspring with new messages. What we say and how we react
to our children's experiences of their own bodies has tremendous
impact on their developing self-esteem and sexual health.
What's a parent to do?
Masturbation becomes quite popular once diaper days are over and
children have free access to their genitals. Many parents
find that they can respectfully ignore their child's need to
masturbate, but for others, whose children are enthusiastic
masturbators unfazed about doing it in public, brief,
non-judgmental discussions about privacy, politeness and
self-protection are needed. Aim for a neutral tone in your
voice and facial expressions and keep in mind that children who are
often discouraged from masturbating by anxious parents can actually
become more preoccupied with doing it. Masturbation can
actually be harmful to a child if shame or guilt feelings are
attached to the experience.
During adolescence, your child will even discover that
masturbation can help her to relieve the sexual tensions that her
own raging hormones unleash. This might actually be
reassuring to some parents, particularly parents of girls, who tend
to be more surprised by their daughters' inclination to masturbate
than they are of their sons'. Consider that a benefit of
masturbation is a keener awareness of your body's responses, which
can make one less susceptible to confusing the overwhelming rush of
orgasm with love, which can happen if orgasm occurs only during an
encounter with a sexual partner. In this way, masturbation
may actually help your child choose to postpone engaging in sexual
behavior with others, which can also keep her safer: by avoiding
STD's, unwanted pregnancy and emotional grief.
Note for parents:
- Moments when you need to gently redirect your child to
masturbate in a private space are also fabulous opportunities to
discuss 'good touch and bad touch,' and to clearly communicate to
your child that she has the authority to set limits on who touches
- Excessive or obsessive masturbation (interferes with daily
activities or causes injury) can be a symptom of stress or even
abuse. Concerned parents should consult a doctor before
panicking, however, to rule out a simple yeast infection that could
be driving the urge.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
Let us plan your weekend with the best family events and activities in Chicagoland.
Start the week right with deals, prizes, parent life hacks and more delivered straight to your inbox.
Need last-minute ideas for a weekend of family fun? No worries. We've got you.
Get the inside scoop on the people, places and things we are loving right now.
Resources, tips, inspiration and more for parents of children with special needs.
Score exclusive offers from our fabulous advertisers.