SEXUAL BEHAVIOR: TYPICAL or PROBLEMATIC?
Professionals are often asked to determine if a youth's sexual behavior is considered a typical behavior, part of growing up, or if the behavior is problematic. This section of the website provides background information on normative sexual behaviors for preschool children, school-age children, and adolescents. It also provides guidelines for determining if a sexual behavior would be considered problematic or potentially illegal.
Some sexual behaviors are viewed as a normal part of growing up. Characteristics of typical or normative sexual behaviors include that the behavior is spontaneous or intermittent, light hearted and playful, occurs between children of similar age, size, and ability who may be the same and opposite genders, and typically decreases with caregiver guidance and supervision. Normative sexual behavior, does not cause discomfort, fear or shame and, is not coercive.
In contrast, problematic sexual behaviors by youth involve sexual body parts in a manner that are developmentally inappropriate and potentially harmful to themselves or others. Problematic sexual behaviors include repetitive sexual behaviors involving oneself or others that may be frequent or excessive or include, sexual touching without permission, coercive or aggressive sexual contact, sexual contact with animals, transmissing sexual images via cell phone, the Internet, and other electronic media, and persistent viewing or focusing on developmentally inappropriate sexual media or pornography involving young children or violence. Sibling sexual experiences also occur and are perhaps less likely to be reported to caregivers or professionals.
Professionals play an important role in determining what is normative and problematic. Professionals need to be familiar with state laws, characteristics of sex play, review sibling sexual behavior, support the parents and caregivers, and identifying appropriate interventions for the family.