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Trauma Tuesday: Is Masturbation a Sign that a Young Child has been Sexually Abused?


faitha's picture

By faitha - Posted on 10 March 2009

Traumatized Adopted Child (c) Julie C

If you are parenting a young adopted child who masturbates, you might wonder whether the masturbation is a sign that the young child has been sexually abused. The short answer is possibly but not necessarily.

The genitals are a sensitive area in all human beings. Even before puberty, touching the genitals gives the young child a pleasurable feeling. For this reason, it is common for a young child to fondle him- or herself occasionally just because it feels good.

Personally, I handle this type of masturbation the same way as I do nose-picking. I have told my son that he is welcome to pick his nose or touch his private parts as often as he wishes, as long as he is in his bedroom or a bathroom. If he does either one in front of me, I ask him if he is in his bedroom or a bathroom. He will either stop or go to one of those rooms. This is all normal and age-appropriate behavior.

What is not normal and age-appropriate behavior is excessive masturbation. For example, I know a child who was sexually abused who would “dig” into herself multiple times a day. In contrast to my simple solution of my son removing himself for a few minutes, this child would masturbate publicly and intensely. When the parents tried to intervene, she only got more intense in her masturbating. That is not normal for a six-year-old child.

I found the following resource online, which is a good checklist of examples of excessive masturbation. If you see any of these signs in your young child, seek professional help to determine whether your child might have been sexually abused:

Masturbation is indicative of possible sexual abuse if:

  • Child masturbates to the point of injury.

  • Child masturbates numerous times a day.

  • Child cannot stop masturbating.

  • Child inserts objects into vagina or anus.

  • Child makes groaning or moaning sounds while masturbating.

  • Child engages in thrusting motions while masturbating.

~ From Indicators Of Child Sexual Abuse

Normal masturbation in young children involves gentle stimulation of the genitals. Excessive masturbation comes across as much more compulsive and intense. When in doubt, seek professional help to determine whether your young adopted child might have been sexually abused.

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Photo credit: JulieC

John's picture

Children in foster care may have little that gives them any pleasure. This is one thing that they do have. It can also be an escape from the depressing things that are their life. Firmly stepping in and "ending that fithly nonsense", or anything that seems like that to the child, may make you a bad person to the child. Sharing and trust are at stake.

The points you made about what is too much are excellent. Yes, there have to be limits, on how, how much and where, but anger and disgust can't be part of the correction. Patient and gentle are the key. Some religions have a huge issue here. I know may folks who say "The Pope stays out of the bedroom". Here, the religion needs to stay out of this part of the adoption. Great post Faith.

faitha's picture

Good points, John.

I have always treated normal masturbation like nose-picking -- do it all you want, just not in front of me. I am very matter-of-fact about my tone of voice with both, and I have linked them together so my son won't view one as "worse" than the other.

Take care,

- Faith

++++++++++

We must BE the change we wish to see in the world. - Ghandi

frankenbaby's picture

I am wondering something here....Masturbation leads to an orgasm right? Are these kids actually masturbating to orgasm? Shouldn't they be allowed to have an orgasm???? What do you think? What good is masturbating without an orgasm.......

faitha's picture

Many child abuse survivors, even into adulthood, do not experience orgasms with masturbation or with sex. For many children who have been sexually abused, the masturbation is about reenacting the abuse and trying to make sense of it. Particularly when you are talking about a young child (under age 10) "digging in" or inserting objects, it is about pain, not pleasure.

- Faith

++++++++++

We must BE the change we wish to see in the world. - Ghandi