Problem Sexualised Behaviour

What is sexualised behaviour?

Sexual development is progressive throughout the lifetime and is integral to overall development of individual identity. This development is influenced by people’s experiences and social, emotional, physical, cultural, economic and political factors. It is natural for people to express their sexuality through their behaviour and this expression can take many forms. It may be expressed in the language they use, the touch they engage in, such as exploring their own body or someone else’s body, through sexual activity or in games and other interactions.

Adults have a responsibility to provide support and protection for children and adolescents if they display sexual behaviours that increase their own vulnerability and/or cause harm to another person.

Children or adolescents who have been abused, who have a disability, or have experienced other disruptions to their development or socialisation may be at an increased risk of exposure to, or the development of, inappropriate sexual behaviours.


Sexual Play

–          Is exploratory and spontaneous

–          Occurs intermittently and by mutual consent

–          Occurs with children of similar age, size, or developmental level

–          Is not associated with high levels of fear, anger or anxiety

–          Decreases when told by caregivers to stop, and

–          Can be controlled by increased supervision

The normal and natural feelings that children experience regarding sexual play are that it is about curiosity; it is light hearted and spontaneous and there may be some embarrassment.

Problem sexualised behaviour

Children with problem sexual behaviours are children 12-years and under who demonstrate developmentally inappropriate behaviour or aggressive sexual behaviours, such as:

–          Frequent, repeated behaviour, such as compulsive masturbation;

–          Behaviour which often occurs between children who do not know each other well;

–          Behaviour which occurs with high frequency and interferes with normal childhood activities;

–          Behaviour which occurs between children of different ages, sizes and developmental levels;

–          Aggressive behaviour, often using force or coercion;

–          The behaviour does not decrease after the child is told to stop the behaviour, and

–          The behaviour causes harm to the child or others

The feelings children experience in regard to engaging in problem sexualised behaviour and/or experiencing another child’s problem sexualised behaviour can range from being of concern to requiring professional help for the children involved. These include but are not limited to:

–          Anxiety

–          Withdrawal

–          Fear

–          Shame

–          Guilt

–          Anger

–          Rage

–          Self-blame

–          Disgust

Dr Wendy O’Brien describes sexualised behaviour in the 2010 report entitled “Australia’s Response to Sexualised or Sexually Abusive Behaviours in Children and Young Children.” For children with concerning sexualised behaviours, the terms used are ‘problem sexual behaviours’ and/or ‘inappropriate sexual behaviours.’ Behaviours in this spectrum vary from excessive self-stimulation, sexual approaches to adults, obsessive interests in pornography, and sexual overtures to other children that are excessive to developmental bounds.

For some children, these problem sexual behaviours are highly coercive and involve aggression or force; acts that would be described as ‘abusive’ were it not for the child’s age.

She goes on to say that, “For ‘young people’ aged 10-18, the term ‘sexually abusive behaviours’ is more readily applied. This terminology also labels the behaviours rather than the young person, and is less stigmatising than the imposition of a label such as “sexual abuser” or “sexual offender”.


Suggestions for responding to a child or young person’s sexualised behaviour

As a parent or carer, it is important to stay calm when dealing with a child’s challenging behaviour and to seek accurate information, help and support.

Help your child to feel safe that he or she can tell you about what occurred. Let your child know that you want to hear when he or she is having sexual thoughts so you can help your child control the problem behaviours.

If you observe your child starting to engage in sexually abusive behaviour, calmly interrupt it, state why it is not okay, and help your child figure out how he or she can stop it or control it. Supervise your child to provide control.

If your child repeats a behaviour, let him/her know it is not okay and that you still want to work together to stop it from happening again. When this happens you may remind them of the ‘rules’ around privacy, such as, it is okay to touch yourself as long as this occurs on your own in the privacy of your bedroom or bathroom but it is not okay to do this with other people or to other people and not okay to do so in public.

Remember that your child may slip into the old behaviour and that it is hard behaviour to interrupt because it “feels good” for the child.

Where to get more information and help

Laurel House counsellors can help with discussing your concerns and working with you and your child.

Laurel House also has a range of useful books, articles and other materials to copy from or borrow to use at home.

Your GP, Child Health Nurse or local Parenting Centre are also sources of support and information as well as being able to refer you to a range of other relevant services.

Some of these services include:

–          Newpin – Early intervention program for families with children under 5-years – phone 6339 2972

–          Walker House – Provides education and support for families experiencing post natal depression or parenting difficulties – phone 6326 6188 or 1300 808 178

–          PYPS (Pregnant & Young Parent Support) – Provides information and support for young pregnant women and young parents – phone 6334 4249

–          Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service – Phone 6336 2867

–          Child and Family Services – Phone 6336 2376

Behaviours related to sex and sexuality in preschool children (0-4 years olds)




Touches/rubs own genitals when nappies   are being changed; when going to sleep, when tense, excited or afraid.

Continues to touch/rub genitals in   public after being told many times not to do this.

Touches/rubs self in public or in   private to the exclusion of normal childhood activities.

Asks about genitals, breasts,   intercourse, and babies.

Keeps asking people even after parent   has answered questions at age appropriate level.

Asks strangers after parent has   answered. Sexual knowledge too great for age.

Likes to be nude. May show others   his/her genitals.

Wants to be nude in public after the   parent says “No”

Refuses to put on clothes. Secretly   shows self in public after many scoldings.

Interested in own faeces.

Smears faeces on walls or floor more   than one time.

Repeatedly smears or plays with faeces   after scolding.

Plays doctor inspecting others’ bodies.

Frequently plays doctor after being   told “No”

Forces child to play doctor, to take   off clothes.

Puts something in the genitals or   rectum of self and other for curiosity or exploration.

Puts something in genitals or rectum of   self or other after being told “No”

Any coercion, force, pain in putting   something in genitals or rectum of self or other child.

Plays house, acts out roles of mummy   and daddy.

Humping other children with clothes on.

Simulated or real intercourse with   clothes, oral sex.



Behaviours related to sex and sexuality in
kindergarten through fourth grade children




Asks about the genitals, breasts,   intercourse, and babies.

Shows fear or anxiety about sexual   topics.

Endless questions about sex. Sexual   knowledge far too great for age.

Interested in watching/peeking at   people doing bathroom functions.

Keeps getting caught watching/peeking   at others doing bathroom functions.

Refuses to leave people alone in the   bathroom.

Interest in urination and defecation.

Plays with faeces. Purposefully   urinates outside of toilet bowl.

Repeatedly plays with or smears faeces.   Purposefully urinated on furniture.

Touches/rubs own genitals when going to   sleep, when tense, excited or afraid.

Continues to touch/rub genitals in   public place after being told “No”. Masturbation on furniture or with   objects.

Touches/rubs self in private to the   exclusion of normal childhood activities. Masturbates on people.

Kisses familiar adults and children.   Allows kisses by familiar adults and children.

French kissing. Talks in sexualised   manner with others. Fearful of hugs/kisses by adults. Gets upset with public   displays of affection.

Overly familiar with strangers.   Talks/acts in a sexualised manner with unknown adults. Physical contact with   adult causes extreme agitation to child or adult.

Talks about sex with friends. Talks   about have a girl/boyfriend

Sex talk gets child in trouble.   Romanticises all relationships.

Talks about sex and sexual acts   habitually. Repeatedly in trouble with regard to sexual behaviour.

Plays games with same-aged children   related to sex and sexuality.

Wants to play games with much   younger/older children related to sex and sexuality.

Forces others to play sexual games, or   a group forces a child/children to play.


For further support or information, please contact Laurel House on 6334 2740, Laurel House North West on 6431 9711, or email