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The Symptoms of
Sexual Disturbance Among Children


Excerpted in part from Kids Online: Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace
by Donna Rice Hughes (Revell, September 1998)

Parents, teachers, and guardians may find it difficult to distinguish between normal and healthy childhood sexual experimentation and sexual deviance resulting from exposure to pornography. The following guidelines, established by mental health and law enforcement officials, are useful in assessing sexual disturbance among children.i These guidelines can also help to identify the symptoms of psychological damage resulting from exposure to sexual material on the Internet.

Sexual Preoccupation
Children who have been harmed by viewing pornography may be excessively curious about or overly preoccupied with sexuality. Some children expose their genitals to others or engage in a sudden, unusually high level of masturbation.

Age-Inappropriate Sexualized Behavior
Some children may display sexual knowledge and behavior beyond that which is appropriate for their age. According to the American Psychiatric Press, this is one of the few reliable and distinguishing characteristics that identify sexually abused children. Very young children may enact adult sexual scenarios and behaviors in their play with other children or with their dolls and stuffed animals.

Age-Inappropriate Partners
Having learned the message that sexual overtures are acceptable ways to get attention and rewards, children may enter into unhealthy relationships, particularly with older, age-inappropriate partners. Additionally, believing the myth generated by pornography that their bodies are for the use of others, young girls may become promiscuous. Children preoccupied with sex may attempt to engage younger children in sexual behavior because younger and smaller children are easier to manipulate and often more cooperative.

Aggressive attempts to undress, sexually touch, or attempt intercourse with others are not uncommon among sexually preoccupied children. When a tendency toward secretive play combines with intense sexual preoccupation, a child may be vulnerable to repeating his or her abuse with other children in ways that can create chaos and further victimization. Such a child requires extensive parental supervision and therapeutic help.ii

iStephen Kavanagh, Protecting Children in Cyberspace (Springfield, VA: Behavioral Psychotherapy Center, 1997), 63-65.

iiCynthia Monahon, Children and Trauma (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993), 45.


© 2001 by Donna Rice Hughes. Request permission if you wish to reprint or post.