Questions and Answers About Sex: When Do Kids Become Curious About Their Bodies?
If there is a topic more taboo in our society, I would love to know what it is. Regardless of how comfortable we are with our bodies or the subject of sex, it always becomes more difficult when your doe-eyed toddler starts asking questions about boys and girls – and everything that goes along with it. It doesn’t take long for children to become curious, so the most important thing parents can do is prepare. You may ask, “Just when do kids start to become curious about their bodies? What is Normal?”
This is a frequently asked question among parents, but the answer depends upon what you mean by “curious.” Around one to two years of age, kids start to become curious about their bodies and the differences between themselves and others. These curiosities are innocent and nonsexual in nature. This curiosity grows and changes with age. Over time, they will show more curiosity about their own bodies, becoming more aware and curious about those differences between themselves and others. It’s important to note that just because something is developmentally normal does not mean that it is socially or morally acceptable. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests that normal development and curiosity about the body for younger children includes:
- Touching private parts (Again, this is innocent curiosity and not for sexual arousal)
- Showing private parts to others (Normal developmental behavior may include undressing in front of other children, showing each other their private parts, and/or brief touching out of curiosity. More sexually explicit behaviors may indicate that the child has been exposed to inappropriate sexual acts within their environment, or has been sexually abused.)
- Wanting to be naked
- Wanting to see others naked
- Asking about their own body, as well as others’ bodies, and how they function (This may include bathroom talk, frequent talk about “poop” or “pee,” the differences in how boys and girls potty, and/or questions about where babies come from.)
- Mimicking “dating” behavior (Kids at these ages may kiss, hug, and hold hands. Again, more explicit sexual behavior may indicate inappropriate exposure to sexual behavior or sexual abuse.)
As children gain some ability to walk, talk, and act for themselves, they seek more individuality and personal control. Part of that experience is learning about their bodies, what they can and cannot do, and how they function. This curiosity and growing body awareness is, in part, what allows a child to learn to use the potty or make distinctions between boys and girls, men and women. Curiosity about bodies is something that happens inside a child’s head and helps to lead them to understand roles and how they interact with the world in a healthy way. Children as young as five months old may touch their private parts – and this action may continue throughout childhood – but is not sexual in nature; rather, it is an act of curiosity. It is almost like a reflex for young children, especially for boys. Children’s curiosity provides opportunities for parents to teach social norms, values, and expectations for privacy and behavior.
As kids grow up, it is important to know what “normal” development is, so that we can prepare ourselves for teaching principles, or privacy, body control, and morality, in appropriate context. It helps to take away the “freak out” factor, which can greatly inhibit teaching and learning. It allows the child’s development to become a vehicle for education, rather than a reason for defiance or parent / child conflict. It takes the deviance out of the curiosity. Lastly, but certainly not the least, it allows parents to know what is “normal,” so that they can protect against the real threats of abuse, or other reasons for concern.