Skip to main content

Practical approach to childhood masturbation—a review

Abstract

The aim of this article is to review the literature for information that could guide the clinical practitioner in the assessment and management of childhood masturbation. The boundary between normal and abnormal or deviant masturbation in children remains unclear. Besides the link with sexual abuse, other environmental factors and individual factors, as well as psychiatric disorders, are mentioned in relation to masturbation and sexual behaviour in general in children. However, evidence-based information is missing and, therefore, a safety management approach is advised when a clinician is confronted with childhood masturbation. We conclude that normal psychosexual development, as well as environmental and individual factors, should be considered in the assessment and management of childhood masturbation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    The CBCL (Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist) is a widely used screening measure of children’s behaviour. The version for 2- to 3-year-olds has 99 items and the version for 4- to 18-year-olds has 113 items. A 3-point scale is used and the child is rated by his parents over the previous 6 months. The CBCL assesses internalising (depression, anxiety, somatic concerns and withdrawn behaviour) and externalising (aggression, delinquency and hyperactivity) behaviours [1].

Abbreviations

CM:

Childhood masturbation

CSBI:

Child Sexual Behaviour Inventory

DSM-IV:

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—4th edition

WHO:

World Health Organization

ICD-10:

International Statistical Classifications of Diseases and Related Health Problems (WHO 1992, 1993)

CBCL:

Child Behavior Checklist

References

  1. 1.

    Achenbach TM (1991) Manual for the Child Behavior Checklist/4–18 and 1991 Profile. University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry, Burlington, VT

  2. 2.

    American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn. American Psychiatric Association, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Bernet W (1997) Practice parameters for the forensic evaluation of children and adolescents who may have been physically or sexually abused. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 36:37S–56S

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Casteels K, Wouters C, Van Geet C, Devlieger H (2004) Video reveals self-stimulation in infancy. Acta Paediatr 93:844–846 doi:10.1080/08035250410027724

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Couper RT, Huynh H (2002) Female masturbation masquerading as abdominal pain. J Paediatr Child Health 38:199–200 doi:10.1046/j.1440-1754.2002.00769.x

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Deblinger E, McLeer SV, Atkins MS, Ralphe D, Foa E (1989) Post-traumatic stress in sexually abused, physically abused, and nonabused children. Child Abuse Negl 13:403–408 doi:10.1016/0145-2134(89)90080-X

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Fleisher DR, Morrison A (1990) Masturbation mimicking abdominal pain or seizures in young girls. J Pediatr 116:810–814 doi:10.1016/S0022-3476(05)82678-2

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Freud S (1895) On the grounds for detaching a particular syndrome from neurasthenia under the description “anxiety neurosis.” Standard Edition 3:90–115

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Friedrich WN, Grambsch P, Broughton D, Kuiper J, Beilke RL (1991) Normative sexual behavior in children. Pediatrics 88:456–464

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Friedrich WN, Fisher J, Broughton D, Houston M, Shafran CR (1998) Normative sexual behavior in children: a contemporary sample. Pediatrics 101:E9 doi:10.1542/peds.101.4.e9

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Gallo AM (1979) Early childhood masturbation: a developmental approach. Pediatr Nurs 5:47–49

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Gattel F (1898) Ueber die sexuellen ursachen der neurasthenie und angstneurose. Hirschwald, Berlin, pp 47–48

  13. 13.

    Heiman ML, Leiblum S, Cohen Esquilin S, Melendez Pallitto L (1998) A comparative survey of beliefs about “normal” childhood sexual behaviors. Child Abuse Negl 22:289–304 doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(97)00176-2

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Kendall-Tackett KA, Williams LM, Finkelhor D (1993) Impact of sexual abuse on children: a review and synthesis of recent empirical studies. Psychol Bull 113:164–180 doi:10.1037/0033-2909.113.1.164

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Lamb S, Coakley M (1993) “Normal” childhood sexual play and games: differentiating play from abuse. Child Abuse Negl 17:515–526 doi:10.1016/0145-2134(93)90026-2

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Långström N, Grann M, Lichtenstein P (2002) Genetic and environmental influences on problematic masturbatory behavior in children: a study of same-sex twins. Arch Sex Behav 31:343–350 doi:10.1023/A:1016224326301

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Larsson I, Svedin C-G (2001) Sexual behaviour in Swedish preschool children, as observed by their parents. Acta Paediatr 90:436–444 doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2001.tb00446.x

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Larsson I, Svedin C-G (2002) Sexual experiences in childhood: young adults’ recollections. Arch Sex Behav 31:263–273 doi:10.1023/A:1015252903931

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Leung AKC, Robson WLM (1993) Childhood masturbation. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 32:238–241 doi:10.1177/000992289303200410

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Lindblad F, Gustafsson A, Larsson I, Lundin B (1995) Preschoolers’ sexual behaviour at daycare centers: an epidemiological study. Child Abuse Negl 19:569–577 doi:10.1016/0145-2134(95)00016-2

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Makari GJ (1998) Between seduction and libido: Sigmund Freud’s masturbation hypotheses and the realignment of his etiologic thinking, 1897–1905. Bull Hist Med 72:638–662 doi:10.1353/bhm.1998.0216

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Meizner I (1987) Sonographic observation of in utero fetal “masturbation.” J Ultrasound Med 6:111

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Nechay A, Ross LM, Stephenson JBP, O’Regan M (2004) Gratification disorder (“infantile masturbation”): a review. Arch Dis Child 89:225–226 doi:10.1136/adc.2003.032102

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Ozmen M, Erdogan A, Duvenci S, Ozyurt E, Ozkara C (2004) Excessive masturbation after epilepsy surgery. Epilepsy Behav 5:133–136 doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2003.10.009

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Realmuto GM, Ruble LA (1999) Sexual behaviors in autism: problems of definition and management. J Autism Dev Disord 29:121–127 doi:10.1023/A:1023088526314

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Rutter M (1971) Normal psychosexual development. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 11:259–283 doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1970.tb01044.x

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Rutter M, Taylor EA (2002) Child and adolescent psychiatry, 4th edn. Blackwell, Oxford, Chapter 1: p 10

  28. 28.

    Satterfield S (1975) Common sexual problems of children and adolescents. Pediatr Clin North Am 22:643–652

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Schoentjes E, Deboutte D, Friedrich W (1999) Child sexual behavior inventory: a Dutch-speaking normative sample. Pediatrics 104:885–893 doi:10.1542/peds.104.4.885

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Simonds JF (1980) Sexual behaviors in retarded children and adolescents. J Dev Behav Pediatr 1:173–179

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Smallbone SW, McCabe B-A (2003) Childhood attachment, childhood sexual abuse, and onset of masturbation among adult sexual offenders. Sex Abuse 15:1–9

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Ünal F (2000) The clinical outcome of childhood masturbation. Turk J Pediatr 42:304–307

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Ünal F (2000) Predisposing factors in childhood masturbation in Turkey. Eur J Pediatr 159:338–342 doi:10.1007/s004310051283

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Wing L (1972) Autistic children: a guide for parentsand professionals. Brunner/Mazel, New York, pp 125–126

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    World Health Organization (1992) ICD-10: the ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders: clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Wulff C, Østergaard JR, Storm K (1992) Epileptic fits or infantile masturbation? Seizure 1:199–201 doi:10.1016/1059-1311(92)90026-W

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Yang ML, Fullwood E, Goldstein J, Mink JW (2005) Masturbation in infancy and early childhood presenting as a movement disorder: 12 cases and a review of the literature. Pediatrics 116:1427–1432 doi:10.1542/peds.2005-0532

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kristina Casteels.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mallants, C., Casteels, K. Practical approach to childhood masturbation—a review. Eur J Pediatr 167, 1111 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00431-008-0766-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Childhood masturbation
  • Normal sexual behaviour
  • Psychiatric problems
  • Epilepsy
  • Abdominal pain