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2002 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 7, No. 2
May 2002

Children's Sexual Behavior from Normal to Disturbed

Sex Play

  • Exploratory in nature
  • Characterized by spontaneity and lightheartedness
  • Interest in sex is intermittent and balanced with curiosity about all things
  • Sexual behavior may leave the child feeling embarrassed but not fearful or anxious

Sexually Reactive

  • Sexual behaviors are often done in view of adults and may be frequent
  • Many of the behaviors are self-stimulating and may be directed toward adults
  • Coerces other children, though the other children may dislike or be bothered by the behavior; no threats; no attempt to hurt
  • Often represents a partial form of reenactment of sexual abuse the child has sustained; may be the child's way of trying to understand
  • Shame, guilt, anxiety, and fear may be related to the upsurge or aftermath of the sexual behaviors

Extensive Mutual Sexual Behaviors

  • Sexual behaviors are extensive and often habitual
  • Find willing partners who will engage with them and avoid detection by parents/caretakers
  • Often distrustful; chronically hurt and abandoned by adults; relate best to other children
  • May or may not experience sexual pleasure
  • Sexual behaviors are a way of coping with feelings of abandonment, loss, and fear

Children Who Molest

  • Sexual behaviors are frequent and pervasive
  • Intense sexual confusion is a hallmark of their thinking
  • Sexuality and aggression are closely linked
  • Use some kind of coercion to gain participation (bribery, trickery, etc.)
  • Impulsive, compulsive, aggressive quality to many of their behaviors, including sexual behaviors
  • Problems in all areas of their lives

Adapted from: Johnson, T. C. (1989). Human sexuality: Curriculum for parents and children in troubled families. Los Angeles, CA: Children's Institute International.