For Parents

Childhood sex games

At pre-school age or in the early school years, games involving undressing in front of another child and looking at each other’s genitals (e.g. playing doctor) are common, age-specific experiences. More than half of adults remembers experiencing such games. They take place in different variations – girls with boys, girls with girls, boys with boys, between siblings or between peers – and say nothing about the adult’s future sexual orientation or sexual health.

When observing such behaviours in their children, parents should be guided by the following principles:

Curiosity is normal

Children are curious about their own or other people’s bodies. They practice certain roles and behaviours, imitating adults in games such as ‘playing mum and dad’ or ‘playing doctor’. This combination of curiosity and role-playing sometimes leads to the initiation of sexual games. Children get to touch each other and find that it makes them feel good. Generally, such games are harmless and expected.

Approach the situation with understanding and tact

So what can we do when we find our child engaging in such behaviour with another boy or girl?

First we should take a deep breath and try not to look at the situation through adult eyes – the child is not having sex with his 4-year-old girlfriend. Rather he is curious about the differences between their bodies.

Secondly, follow your instincts and react calmly and appropriately. Some parents simply decide to ignore this kind of play and simply close the door, knowing it’s fleeting. Others feel uncomfortable knowing that their child is engaged in such games. In this case, they may calmly ask the child to stop, get dressed and invite them to play in the living room or a common area of the house.

Learning opportunity

After such an incident has passed, when you are alone with your child, you can use what you have discovered as a learning opportunity. You could say, “I know you’re curious about the body. There are other ways to learn about it besides looking at other children. I have a book we could look at together. “. If you don’t have such a book handy go to the bookstore together and buy one.


You can also use this as a context for sharing values with your child. For example: “Your body belongs only to you. The same goes for your girlfriend. That’s why I think it’s better for children to play with their clothes on”.

Parental overreactions (e.g. screaming) to such situations can make children feel ashamed or guilty about their own sexual curiosity. So try to be calm and remember that this is normal behaviour.

Alarm signals

There is a big difference between this type of innocent sex play and games that are abusive. Children do not naturally engage in painful sexual behaviours such as oral or genital contact, penetration (including with fingers or other objects). Not even if there is more than a few years difference between the two children. Usually these types of activities are caused by exposure to inappropriate adult activities or may signal that the child has been sexually abused. If your child engages in these behaviors, it is best to consult your doctor or a mental health professional.