Children start touching and playing with their genitals from a very young age. At this stage children might touch their genitals simply because it feels nice and is a source of comfort.


Children start touching and playing with their genitals from a very young age. At this stage children might touch their genitals simply because it feels nice and is a source of comfort. It is not connected to arousal or sexual pleasure. As children grow older, they might start touching their genitals for sexual pleasure and with the intent to orgasm.  

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Talking about masturbation can be embarrassing. Masturbation is a normal part of growing up, just like growing pubic hair or getting acne. Masturbation is a safe activity with practically no risks associated with it. There is no risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unplanned pregnancy from masturbating on your own. Masturbation can help a person to know what feels good for them and to become familiar with their private body parts.

It can be helpful to think about masturbation as something positive that helps your child to feel good and become comfortable with their bodies. If your child is familiar with how their private body parts look and feel, it can help them to notice if there are any changes that they might need to talk to a doctor about.

While masturbation is a normal part of growing up, there are some things that your child should learn to ensure that masturbation remains a safe and enjoyable practice for them and for other people around them.

It is important for your child to understand that masturbation is a private behaviour that can only happen in a private place. This means in their bedroom or bathroom with the door closed. For this reason, it is important to encourage your children from a young age that any behaviours involving private body parts can only be done in a private place.

If your child shares a bedroom with a sibling, it may be helpful to give them ‘private time’ where they have the room to themselves for an allocated period of time. Work out what you are most comfortable with in your family.

Talking about masturbation is also private as it involves talking about private body parts and private behaviours. It is important to have conversations with your child about masturbation in a place that is private and where the conversation cannot be overhead by siblings or other people in the house. It can also be helpful to identify a couple of trusted people for your child to talk to if they have questions about masturbation.

Learning about private behaviours can help keep your child safe and improve their participation in their community. For more information on teaching your child about public and private behaviours go to private and public behaviours)

Different people start masturbating at different ages. Some may start around age 8 or 9, others start in their teens or early adult life, and some may never masturbate. All are completely normal. It’s up to each person to decide when or whether they want to masturbate or not.

Even if your child is not yet masturbating, it is still important to teach them about public and private behaviours. This will give them the foundation skills and knowledge they need if they start masturbating in the future.

Some people masturbate daily, some only occasionally and others choose not to masturbate at all. Regular masturbation in a private place is OK. Masturbation is only considered “too much” if they start to irritate their skin, or it starts to interrupt their daily routine. For example, it might be “too much” if your child consistently chooses to masturbate instead of doing school work, spending time with friends and family, or other activities that they previously enjoyed.

If this is the case for your child, it can be helpful to look for underlying causes for your child’s increased masturbation. Is your child stressed or bored? Are there health issues that need to be addressed? For example, skin irritation. Addressing these underlying issues may help to decrease the amount your child is masturbating. It may also be helpful to add specific masturbation times into your child’s schedule. This can help to give your child more structure around when it is OK to masturbate.

While masturbation itself is not harmful, it is important to teach your child how to practice good hygiene after masturbating. This will help to keep their private body parts healthy. You can teach your child the following steps:

  1. Use a tissue to wipe your penis or vagina after masturbating
  2. Put clothes back on
  3. Put the tissues in the bin
  4. Wash hands with soap and water.

Learning these skills is particularly important so that when your child becomes an adult they are able to clean themselves up without the help of a support worker or family member. This can help protect your child by limiting the amount of contact other people have with their private body parts. It also removes the need for family members and support workers to carry out a task that they may find very uncomfortable.

While it is unlikely that your child will hurt themselves during masturbation, it can be helpful to provide them with lubricant to use when they masturbate. Using lubricant can help make masturbation more enjoyable and reduce skin irritation caused by rubbing. It can also be a good idea to be aware of long fingernails that may scratch your child’s private body parts.

Many people use pornography during masturbation. This is normal and can sometimes make masturbation more pleasurable. There are a few things that need to be considered when looking at pornography. This includes understanding that what is portrayed in pornography is not a realistic depiction of:

  • relationships
  • bodies
  • consent
  • places to have sex

While it is legal for people under the age of 18 to view pornography online, viewing porn that is violent or abusive, or viewing it too often can be unhealthy. If you are concerned about your child viewing pornography it can be helpful to review the security settings on their electronic devices and potentially put some parental locks in place.  To find out more about pornography and cyber safety go to Pornography and Cybersafety.

Strategies for you to try

Identifying a private place

Signs are a useful way to help your child identify when they want private time to do private behaviours. You can create a “PRIVATE PLACE” sign for:

  • the toilet
  • the bathroom
  • your child’s bedroom

Making a sign like this can empower your child to make decisions for themselves. It gives them the opportunity to practice giving and withdrawing consent as well as having their decisions listened to and respected. Your child can also have confidence that they will be able to enjoy private time safely without the fear of someone walking in.

Some top tips for giving your child private space are:

  • make sure to knock on the door before entering
  • always ask if you can enter the room
  • set a time limit for private time so it does not overtake things like homework or time with family

If you are uncomfortable with your child closing their bedroom door and want them to keep the door ajar, you can still follow the above steps to help maintain their privacy.

Social stories

Use social stories like “About Masturbation” or “Things Ellie/Tom likes” to talk to your child about masturbation. These stories can help reinforce that masturbation is a normal but private behaviour that can only happen in a private place. They can also be used to remind your child to practice good hygiene after they have masturbated.

Visual Schedules

Use images to create a visual schedule to help your child remember what they need to do before and after they masturbate. For example, a visual schedule can include pictures of a person:

  1. Closing their bedroom door
  2. Closing the blinds on the window
  3. Taking their clothes off
  4. Masturbating
  5. Wiping their private body parts with a tissue
  6. Putting their clothes on
  7. Putting the tissue in the bin
  8. Washing their hands

Put private time into your child’s daily schedule

Allocating private time in your child’s day can help them to practice privacy and know when it is OK to do private behaviours, including masturbation. Your child could also choose to use their private time to do other things that they enjoy. By allowing your child to have private time, you are therefore supporting them to become more independent about how they want to spend their time.

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