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What should I do if my young child engages in sex play?

When we see young children exploring in "sex play" of any kind, we tend to interpret their actions as if they were adults. More often than not, young children are innocently exploring out of curiosity without any sexual connotation. This can include "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" and playing doctor. Children may engage in this type of play with same-sex or other-sex friends -- which is common and natural.

When a parent is caught off-guard by same-sex play, the first thought may be that the child is gay or lesbian. Usually, however, it's a product of the gender that a child interacts with the most. If you find your child playing with another child in this way, your verbal and nonverbal reaction both can send powerful messages. Handling the situation calmly, asking the kids to get dressed or to stop playing in that way, and letting them know why by saying something like, "Areas of the body that are covered with underwear are private, and not to be touched by anyone but Mommy, Daddy, the doctor and you."
Charles I. Schwartz, MD
Pediatrics

There is a difference between children self-exploring their body parts and sexual play. In many cases, children who engage in sexual play have been exposed to these behaviors through media or sexual abuse. Parents should discuss these suspicious behaviors with their pediatrician.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.