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How Young Is Too Young to Masturbate?

Is masturbation normal at a young age? Most parents don’t expect to find their toddler son with an erection, or their kindergartner girl rubbing her genitals. So when does a kid normally start to masturbate? And when is masturbation safe?

Masturbation in childhood

Rest assured that masturbation is a healthy part of growing up. The practice can start in infancy and continue right through adulthood. Some baby boys are born with an erection, and some baby girls are born lubricating. Like with adults, children touch themselves “down there” because doing so feels good, even though they can’t yet derive the full pleasure of masturbation by having an orgasm.

Most parents stop their children when they catch them playing with themselves. That reaction’s okay, but how the parents put the kibosh on this behavior can be very important to their children’s sexual development.

Teaching children that our society frowns on enjoying any form of sexual pleasure in public is fine. Try to pass along this information without giving children the idea that masturbation (or sex) is bad, per se. If you yell at your children when they play with themselves or slap their hands, they’re going to get the wrong message: that sexual pleasure, in and of itself, is bad. As a result, when these children become adults, they may not allow themselves to fully enjoy sex.

You can teach children not to pick their noses in front of others without giving them a complex, so you should be able to do the same thing about touching their “private parts” by saying, “We touch our private parts in private places.” Probably the reason that many parents have difficulties in this particular area is that they were made to feel ashamed when they were little, and they still haven’t overcome those feelings themselves. So parents end up passing on these feelings of shame to their children. But if you can make yourself aware of what you’re doing, then, hopefully, you can tone down the way you admonish your child in order not to give him or her the same sense of shame that you may have.

Masturbation in adolescence

Although young children are very aware of their sexual organs, as children grow up, they go through what psychiatrist Sigmund Freud termed the latency stage, when they pretty much put sex out of their minds. The latency stage is the period of time when boys think that all girls are yucky, and girls think that all boys are even worse.

At some point — and that point is different for every child (it can start as early as the preteens or not begin until the late teens) — the sex hormones kick in and puberty begins. The child starts to develop what are called the secondary sex characteristics, which include things such as growing pubic hair and developing breasts. At that point, an interest in sex also starts, and that’s when masturbation likely begins.

Surveys have shown again and again that boys masturbate more than girls do. That doesn’t mean that it’s okay for boys and wrong for girls, however. No matter what gender, masturbation is a normal, healthy sexual activity.

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