1. Toddlers
  2. Development
  3. Sexual development

Childhood sexual behaviour: toddlers

0-3 years

Your toddler might be very curious about bodies. She might start to explore her own body and the bodies of others by looking or touching. That’s all normal. If you know what childhood sexual behaviour is normal, it can help you decide how to respond.

Toddler sexual behaviour: what’s normal?

Sexual behaviour in your toddler might be a bit confronting, especially the first time you see it. It might help to know that touching, looking and talking about bodies is mostly a normal and healthy part of your child’s development at this age.

Open and honest talk about sex and bodies from early on will help you guide your child’s behaviour now – and lay the groundwork for future talks about sexual development, respectful relationships and sexuality.

Normal toddler sexual behaviour: what it looks like

Your toddler might:

  • touch or rub his genitals
  • show his genitals to someone else
  • look at or touch the genitals of familiar children or adults in a fun way during play, at bath time or in the toilet
  • repeat words, expressions and slang for toileting and sexual activities, or talk about ‘sexing’
  • enjoy being nude
  • show interest in body parts and how they work.

What this behaviour means
This is normal and typical behaviour for toddlers.

Your child might do these things because:

  • it feels good
  • she’s learning about touch and social rules
  • she’s curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies
  • she’s working out how bodies work
  • she’s trying to understand families and relationships. 

How to respond to normal sexual behaviour in toddlers

How you react is important.

Sometimes you might need your toddler to stop the sexual behaviour – for example, if it’s making other people uncomfortable. Calmly distracting your child or finding another activity will usually change your child’s behaviour and shift his attention to something else.

You can also use these moments as an opportunity to help your toddler learn. Talk with your toddler and answer her questions openly and honestly, but also at a level she can understand.

For example, you could talk about public and private body parts, how girls and boys are different, or ways of talking about bodies. You could say ‘That is your penis. You use your penis when you do a wee. Your penis is a private part of your body’ or ‘Your body belongs to you. You can wash your own bottom and vulva now you’re big enough. It’s good to look after your body’.

When talking with your child, it’s a good idea to use the proper words for body parts – vagina, vulva, breasts, penis, testicles and so on. This helps your child learn about his body and tell you clearly about any questions or concerns he has.

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Last updated or reviewed
28-01-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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