Most children’s sexual behaviors not a cause for alarm, pediatrician says

SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 31, 2009) — Most sexual behaviors in children are normal, do not indicate an underlying problem and can be resolved in consultation with a pediatrician. However, some continuing behaviors should be evaluated in light of other factors such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, access to sexually explicit materials and psychiatric disorders, says a pediatrician from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio who authored a new white paper for professionals in the field.

“The Evaluation of Sexual Behaviors in Children,” published online Monday, Aug. 31, by the journal Pediatrics, is a summary paper guiding pediatricians on how to address the problem in practice. It helps pediatricians and parents to separate normal sexual behaviors in children from behaviors that are abnormal and need intervention. “It just provides guidance on how to treat or react to both of those situations,” said author Nancy Kellogg, M.D., professor of pediatrics and chief of the division of child abuse in the Health Science Center’s School of Medicine.

Pediatrics is a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Kellogg wrote the review paper as a member of the academy’s Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect.

“Most children will engage in sexual behaviors at some time during childhood,” Dr. Kellogg wrote. “These behaviors may be normal but can be confusing and concerning to parents or disruptive or intrusive to others.” If the behaviors are age-appropriate and transient, a pediatrician can reassure the parents and counsel them to maintain a watchful eye but not overdo it.

For children who display sexual behaviors that are ongoing and not age-appropriate, pediatricians must look deeper. “Many of these children have additional psychiatric or conduct disorders,” Dr. Kellogg said. “There is also the possibility of sexual abuse.”

Another factor may be the child’s access to sexually explicit online and TV content in the home. “This affects many families with children,” Dr. Kellogg said. “The sad thing is I am seeing more sexually abusive behavior among children because they have seen things on the Internet.

“Parents need to be the watchdogs. Children can wander into this material inadvertently and be fascinated by it. They may not understand what they are looking at or their reactions to it. I hope this article can provide some guidance to parents and help them react better in those situations.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 25,600 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

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