Toddler masturbation: Why it's normal for kids to touch their genitals
Toddler masturbation is not a medical condition. It is simply an act by your child to understand his or her body.
Kids do gross things in public, like picking their nose. As mums, we often just ignore behaviour like this. But watching your child reach into his pants and play with his penis, well, that might provoke an entirely different reaction. But don’t be alarmed, toddler masturbation is completely normal.
Let’s find out why toddler masturbation is natural and why you shouldn’t panic if you catch your tot “in the act.”
Toddler masturbation: everything you should know about it
During the toddler years, your child is learning to read, write, talk and even potty train. Basically, they are very busy little people, curious about everything around them.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he may be just as curious about his body as well. And if your kid just switched over from nappies to underpants, it’s the perfect time to explore.
The good thing is that toddler masturbation is neither unnatural nor abnormal.
Most children often play with their genitals. This starts from age two and goes on till the age of six.
But this changes when children enter their preteen years. That’s because we judge masturbation with our adult perspective. So the idea of sexual awakening in our kids often makes us squirmy and uncomfortable.
Is toddler masturbation common?
Yes, it is common.
In fact, a study by The University of Michigan, US, states, “Most children — both boys and girls — play with their genitals (external sex organs or “private parts”) fairly regularly by the age of 5-6 years. By age 15, almost 100 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls have masturbated to the point of orgasm.”
Another study published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that “Masturbation in children seems to be associated with reduced estradiol levels, but not with other sex hormones.”
So masturbation is simply an attempt to understand one’s body, and moreover, is not limited to one gender.
At this age, kids are trying to figure out more about sensations. And if by touching their genitals they derive pleasure, they might reach for their private parts more often than expected.
To a child, fondling his or her genitals is pleasurable. It is not “dirty” or “sinful,” or even associated with sexual feelings. It simply feels good. Kids will only worry when they pick up anxious vibes from adults around them.
How does toddler masturbation differ in boys and girls?
Well, it really doesn’t.
That’s because nobody really teaches kids about masturbation. Nor do they pick it up from anywhere. They stumble upon it while discovering their own bodies, as explained in our previous article.
1. Toddler masturbation in boys
Boys often discover their penises when they are as young as six or seven months old. It happens most often when you change their diapers. In the case of boys, toddler masturbation involves genital stimulation.
2. Toddler masturbation in girls
Girls, on the other hand do not discover their vulva or female external genitalia until about 10 or 11 months. Masturbation is also less obvious in baby girls because it involves little to no genital stimulation.
As such, it is even be misdiagnosed as something else. For instance, a past study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Centre found that infant masturbation in girls is often mistaken as a symptom of movement disorders.
Either way, once genital play comes into picture, it is mostly by rubbing it with their hand or against objects. And this is common in both genders.
During the act, such kids often have a blank look on their faces. Alternatively, they may have an irregular breathing pattern. All you need to remember that kids do not necessarily associate masturbation with sexual play as adults do. This happens much later, in their teenage years.
How should you approach the issue with your toddler?
Since the children are not doing anything wrong, there is no need for you to scold, humiliate or punish them. Do not tell them that their genitals are “bad” body parts. If you do this, it may create sexual issues later.
They may even associate sexual feelings with guilt and shame when they grow up. Instead, remain calm in order to handle the issue.
You cannot tell your toddler to stop touching his or her genitals or go to their room. Because at this age, they don’t understand the concept of privacy.
However, sometimes touching genitals could be an indication of something else.
- Sexual abuse. Some parents fear sexual abuse is associated with toddler masturbation. While this is very rarely the case, it makes sense to keep a close watch on your child.
- Infection. If you notice your toddler scratching his/her genitals, it could be a sign of an infection. Kids this age cannot verbalise pain or discomfort so they end up scratching themselves.
If you do not find either of the two as the reason behind your toddler constantly reaching for his genitals, then he or she is most certainly going through a phase of toddler masturbation. If so, there are ways to handle the situation.
What can parents do about it?
As mentioned in our previous article, toddler masturbation is a way for kids to explore their bodies. It is not necessarily an act of sexual awakening. So don’t worry. If you catch your toddler engaging in the act, here’s what you should do.
1. Do not panic
The idea of your three-year-old masturbating might freak you out. But remind yourself that masturbation is completely normal. It will not cause any physical harm, pose any health risks, or turn your child into a sex fiend.
2. Don’t shame them
The worst thing you could do is to make your kids feel self-conscious about their sexual exploration. Accept the fact that touching their genitals is pleasurable to them (like it is to you!). At the same time, and if they are old enough to understand, you could explain that there is a time and a place for everything.
3. Know when to draw the line
While it is alright to allow kids to explore their bodies, you also have to set limits. This means that you have to be respectful of their choices.
You’ll have to be careful about how you deliver your message. A difference in your tone or your body language might confuse the child.
4. Know the difference between normal and abnormal
If your child starts to like genital stimulation a bit too much, their behaviour could lead to medical complications.
With girls, too much friction can lead to damage of the urinary tract and cause infections. While in boys, aggressive stimulation can inflict pain. Either way, parental intervention may be required.
5. Keep them distracted
If your child masturbates in public, try not to scold him. Instead, distract him with an activity that requires the use of his hands. Also, bored kids often turn to masturbation to pass time, but end up making it a habit.
When you notice your kids’ hands reaching for inside his pants, distract him.
6. Be consistent in your approach
Discuss how you are handling this with your spouse and all his caretakers. If you catch your kid in the act, be wise and thoughtful.
Do not mock your kid, or make her feel guilty. Most importantly, remember that consistency is key to success.
7. Consult a specialist
If you feel something is amiss, don’t hesitate to call your doctor, especially if you suspect that your child has been sexually abused, taught masturbation by someone else or masturbates frequently in public.
Toddler masturbation is not a disease!
As mentioned earlier, toddler masturbation is not a medical condition. It is simply an act by your child to understand his or her body. This will not not stunt your child’s growth, impact his or her health or turn them into a sex fiend.
Neither will it blind them, cause deafness or drive them crazy!
All of these are myths. Therefore, you must approach this issue with utmost maturity and reassure your child, while making them understand what they are doing.
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