Dr. Alan Greene on Sexual Curiosity

How do I respond to this behavior without making him feel dirty?


I have a question about my son's sexual curiosity. He's 2 1/2, and I've recently noticed that he's discovered himself. He's pulling at his penis and when I change him, I notice he has erections. He's also been humping around on pillows, and even on his baby sister! Sometimes he grabs my breasts or sticks his tongue in my ear. I'm not quite sure how to respond or to react without making him feel as though it's dirty.


That's a very common discovery at that age, much to the discomfort of many mothers. Nighttime erections are totally normal at that age. In fact, even though some kids don't have them, we are more concerned if they don't than if they do. Penis-pulling, touching, and humping are also pretty natural for toddlers. They discover that this feels nice and usually do it without feeling self-conscious.

The best approach is usually to mostly ignore it. Try distracting your son when you see him engaging in these behaviors and teach him that touching his privates is only done in private -- just like going to the bathroom.

As to his behavior toward you, this can also be normal to explore. Kids often have crushes on their moms at this age. The message he needs to hear is that these are private areas of your body that are not for other people to touch. But if it is more than playful exploring and a crush (i.e., his behavior seems overtly sexual), then the question to consider is whether he might be being exposed to sexual behavior that is inappropriate for his age.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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