The Right to Privacy: What You Need to Know About Masturbation in Children 

MASTURBATING I STARTED A YEAR AT FOUR , fidgeting on the seats and armrests of the sofa, and soon discovered rope and orgasms. Still not knowing anything about sex, I decided that I was doing something embarrassing, which is better not to tell anyone. Later I found out that the feeling of the taboo and shame of what was happening occurred in many who masturbated since childhood. Unlike adults and adolescents, the masturbation of young children is still a taboo topic: people are ashamed of their past experiments, and parents do not know what to do when they find a child masturbating. For International Masturbation Day, May 28, adults talk about their childhood ways of getting pleasure, and experts explain where stigma comes from and how to talk to children about masturbation.

Why are we ashamed

“When I was three years old, I found that if you press on the perineum with the remote control from the TV, it becomes very pleasant,” recalls Maria. – I shared my joy with my mother, but she was indignant and said not to do this anymore. I well remembered this moment, my confusion and the wild feeling of shame that I experienced. ”

The development of sexuality is usually attributed to adolescence, however, according to research , most people begin to exhibit sexual behavior long before entering puberty. Kindergarten children can masturbate, rub their crotch against people and objects, play doctor, touch the genitals of others, play “sex” with dolls, publicly strip and peep – and this happens quite often . Recent studies record a peak in sexual activity in children four to five years old, after which the numbers decline. “Children learn to hide” – says the researcher situation sexuality and professor at Indiana University School of Medicine Debbie Herbenik, noting that new research data is collected according to parents and caregivers. When students are asked about the experience of children’s masturbation, it becomes noticeable that many were masturbating at the age of five or nine – just by this age, children had already learned to do it secretly from adults.

Recalling their childhood experiences of masturbation, some say that they deliberately chose to “keep a secret”: “Since the elders did not allow me to touch the genitals in public, even if it itched or wants to fix my pants, I immediately realized that masturbating in the presence of others is also not allowed.”

Others talk about the “inexplicable” feeling of “forbidden”: “At the age of five, in order to please myself, I began to hang on a hill with my legs tucked in, and I did it secretly,” says Natasha. “From somewhere I knew that it was better for me to keep quiet about what was happening, although we had a trusting relationship in the family.” Galina recalls similar feelings: “I was four, they began to take me to sports classes. I found it very pleasant to climb a tightrope – but it immediately clicked in my head that this discovery should be kept secret. ” Camilla shares her experience on how she dealt with an ethical dilemma: “When I started masturbating at the age of five or six, I thought it was a ‘sin’. But then she said to herself: “This is nice, and I feel good. And if adults do not want to know about it, then let them not know “”.

But even those who started masturbating early do not always understand how to talk to their own children: “Mom caught me masturbating at the age of five, during a quiet hour. It was hot, I was sweating and my hair got wet. Mom checked my temperature, and when I told her what I was doing, she shamed me. I felt uncomfortable and hid my secret further. But now I myself do not know what I would have done with my child. I would definitely not forbid, but I would try to explain that this is personal, – Katya reflects. “I am an adult, and I have no idea how to behave in such a situation.”


In 2001, Mattel released a Harry Potter-inspired toy, the Nimbus 2000 magic broomstick with vibration function. The Amazon news page exploded with reviews: at first, shoppers were surprised that a simple toy was popular even among older children, and then there were reports of reselling the toy through adult stores. Customers began to advise each other to remove the batteries before handing the toy to children, and Mattel was eventually attacked by accusations of “corrupting” children. Despite the fact that some parents still wrote about children’s right to privacy, the company removed the toy from production. Researchers on infant masturbation note that when evaluating a child’s behavior as “sexual,” it is important to remember that this designation is an adult’s interpretation of their adult world. “Everyone touches their genitals: babies, older children, adolescents and adults,” explains Leslie M. Cantor, professor at Rutgers University, “and this is absolutely normal! There are pictures showing how babies in the womb touch their crotch. Children touch their genitals simply because these bodily sensations give them pleasure – just as it is pleasant, for example, to splash water. But parents give their children’s actions a sexual connotation. ”

Toddler masturbation is often different from adult masturbation and technically: usually children rub against objects, press on the perineum, tickle themselves with toys, swing on the armrests, squeeze their hips and strain their muscles. Even female babies can have vaginal secretions, and male babies can develop erections in response to stimulation of the perineum. Older kids examine their bodies and when they find that certain actions give pleasant sensations, they simply reproduce them. For example, children under two years of age can use self-stimulation to calm down, cope with anxiety, and feel more comfortable. These motives are reinforced at the age of three to five, when children continue to study themselves. Some may try to insert fingers or objects into the vagina or anus, but most feel uncomfortable and lose interest in such practices. At the age of three to five years, a social component is usually added to the sexual behavior of children: children can show curiosity about the bodies of others, try to touch other people’s genitals, play “sex” games or draw pictures “related to sex.” By the age of six or nine, children, as a rule, have already learned the rules of behavior well, “can” and “not”, and their masturbation is more difficult to observe: children already know that “such” should be done on their own.

Interestingly, sometimes the consequences of masturbation are confused with the symptoms of diseases: the child can turn red, sweat, start breathing intensively and twitch. Such phenomena are mistaken for movement disorders , seizures and even epilepsy not only by parents, but also by doctors . Sex researcher Emily Nagoski writes that the consequences of such erroneous “diagnoses” can be unsafe and even traumatic for a child. How to distinguish masturbation from, for example, an attack? If the child is disturbed, he will stop – and will probably react with irritation. The main thing, if the diagnosis is excluded, is not to violate the child’s private space further and to let the baby stay with his own body, which belongs only to him.

Hands on the blanket

Herman recalls how in the kindergarten he was forced to sleep or just lie motionless, strictly forbidding to open his eyes: “Out of boredom, I discovered an orgasm and immediately felt that it was something shameful and I should never say anything to my parents. They themselves knew little then, judging by how they tried to force me to lie with my hands on top of the blanket, and I even remember some scarecrows in the spirit of “pussy will fall off.” Then I thought that since adults say that it will fall off, then some negative effects are really possible, and I tried to reduce the number of orgasms as much as possible: for example, to two a week. ”

Western experts write that in families with a liberal approach to sexuality, it is possible to build a trusting dialogue with children about masturbation, and also urge parents not to be afraid to tell their daughters that self-exploration is healthy, useful and will help in future sexual life. At the same time, Russian psychologists say that in their practice, parents still often react to child masturbation with condemnation, ignorance, and sometimes intimidation.

Psychologist Tatyana Gileva believes that in Russian culture, the confusion of a parent who finds a child masturbating is aggravated by the peculiarities of history: “There was no ‘sex’ in the USSR, and as a result, whole generations grew up without a culture of talking about sexuality and physicality. The most that the parents of many of us could have was to scare them with the myth of hairy arms. People who have already matured are still raking up the consequences of these misunderstandings. ”

“A mother can shame her child for masturbation in the same way she was once shamed herself,” adds child psychologist Natalya Pavlova. – She may really consider such a reaction to be correct, or it will simply be the first thing that comes to her mind in a stressful situation. Parents themselves may feel ashamed and guilty about their daughter’s or son’s masturbation, especially if a third party, such as a kindergarten teacher, reports the child’s self-satisfaction. In such cases, the parents can begin to ‘prevent’ the situation from recurring – effectively preventing the child from exploring his body. ”

What to do for parents

As a child, I was very afraid of being exposed and tried to retire with the rope when my parents and brother were not at home or they were busy with something in another room. Until now, I think with relief that I was lucky not to be caught: then it seemed that if this happened, the shame would be unbearable. For a long time I thought that I wanted to hide my childhood experience of masturbation all my life, and I was especially ashamed that I masturbated, as it seemed to me strange. Later, I began to share these memories with my partners and found out that I was not alone, and then I met statistics on various ways of masturbation and generally relaxed. True, for the fact that I rubbed my crotch not only on objects, but also on the knees of adults, I still feel ashamed.

The main thing that modern doctors advise parents is not to try to forbid a child to masturbate. Attempts to scold or punish a baby will only lead to shame for their natural desires, which can persist for many years. If, at a certain period of life, a child masturbates especially often, it is necessary to give him time to satisfy his interest: most likely, after a while, interest in a new bodily discovery will weaken and she or he will switch to something else. “If you find a child masturbating, it is better to wait out the moment of shock (for example, if the child was hiding and obviously did not wait for strangers), and then talk about how studying your body and having fun is natural and not a shame. In no case should you encroach on the boundaries of the child and his physicality, ”Natalia Pavlova recommends. Just explain that, as with other personal activities, such as going to the shower or the toilet, you should masturbate in private.

If a child masturbates in front of strangers, but is too young to have a heart-to-heart talk, psychologists advise simply to distract the baby: give him some task or offer a game. If the child began to masturbate while at home in seclusion, you just need to leave him alone and give him a personal bodily experience. With growing children, psychologists recommend not to postpone the conversation about sex – just start it in the form for which you are currently ready. Even talking about sexuality from time to time and little by little, you can keep in touch with your child. And remember that you can always return to the conversation you started.

To talk about sexuality with a child, parents need to build relationships with their own sexuality and physicality, says Emily Nagoski. “Try to accept the following theses:“ Pleasure is natural and useful. Joy and privacy are normal and healthy. You are safe inside your body, – the researcher writes. “My body belongs to me, and your body belongs to you. Each of us can only decide for himself who can touch his body, when and how. ” If parents treat their own sexuality in this way, it will be easier for them to teach this attitude to their children. And if every person in the world relies on these theses, just imagine what our world will be like ”.

When to worry

Some parents worry that childhood masturbation may be associated with psychological or sexual trauma. Studies show that children who live in safety also masturbate actively. But if the child’s behavior is of concern, consult a child psychologist. It is worth making an appointment if the child constantly prefers masturbation to other activities, forces other children to play sexually, despite the prohibitions, he regularly tries to masturbate in front of strangers, touch the genitals of children and adults.

“The conditions in which the child lives are important,” explains Tatiana Gileva. “The less opportunities he has for self-expression and the higher the stress , the more likely the child will soothe himself with masturbation.” Natalia Pavlova notes that in rare cases, intense masturbation can be associated with neurotic disorders, so parents may be offered to examine the child by a psychiatrist and neurologist. Do not be intimidated by this: the examination will provide more information about the development of the child. Sometimes the child’s desire to “scratch” the crotch is taken for masturbation. If the baby “itches” regularly , you can visit a pediatric gynecologist and urologist. “Sometimes parents of 3-4-month-old children who stimulate their genitals come to me,” says children’s gynecologist Ninel Kormilitsina. – In such cases, it is important to exclude gynecological problems , such as childhood vulvitis and vulvovaginitis, irritation and allergies in the genital area. Sometimes the reason for frequent touching of the genitals can be simply close swaddling or uncomfortable clothes. “

local_offerevent_note May 9, 2021

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