Masturbation is extremely common in childhood. Virtually all children masturbate at some stage and it should be regarded as a developmentally normal behaviour. In younger children it is part of the exploration of their bodies, and in older children it is part of the exploration of their sexuality. It is obviously a pleasurable activity in children of all ages, and is a normal part of their physical and psychological growth.

Self-stimulation begins in infancy with nappy changing and bathing. Babies very early on discover the pleasure of touch. Accidentally at first, and then with increasing purpose, they are able to recreate this pleasurable experience, and soon discover the relationship between self-stimulation and pleasure, along with such behaviours as thumb- and finger-sucking, rocking and head-banging.

Some parents attempt to stop or prevent this activity, often out of their own embarrassment. Some sections of the community and some cultures are moralistic about masturbation, implying that it is unnatural and if not prevented may lead to subsequent problems. In fact, this is not true — the repression of masturbation may lead to later problems by making the child guilty and confused about his body and emerging sexuality.

Parents should simply accept that masturbation is universal and a perfectly normal behaviour in children. It is best ignored. Sometimes parents are embarrassed because their child masturbates in public. It is better to distract the child than telling him to stop it. Paying attention to it, and in particular, trying to prevent a child from doing it, confer on the behaviour a seriousness that is unwarranted.

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