Preschoolers' sexual behavior at daycare centers: an epidemiological study

Child Abuse Negl. 1995 May;19(5):569-77. doi: 10.1016/0145-2134(95)00016-2.


The frequency of sexual behaviors in a population of preschoolers (n = 251) attending Swedish daycare centers was studied using a questionnaire given to the staff. Some behaviors turned out to be frequently occurring, like searching for body contact and responding to such contact. However, several behaviors were very uncommon (1% or fewer): touching an adult's genitals; attempting to make the adult touch the child's genitals; using objects against own or other child's genitals/anus; to masturbate obsessively, without pleasure or in a way that caused pain. Other behaviors occurred more frequently but were still uncommon (less than 2% of the children displayed such a behavior "sometimes" or "often/daily"): exhibiting own genitals; playing sexually explorative games; initiating games with a similarity to adult sexual activity; using sexual words; attempting to touch a woman's breast. Only masturbation and clinging body contact were positively correlated with behavioral disturbance. The correlations between age and single behaviors may be summarized as manifestations of the process of socialization. The results offer an incipient frame of reference for statistically normal expected sexual behaviors in preschoolers at daycare centers. The rarity of certain behaviors implies that their occurrence in an individual case may necessitate special clinical attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Day Care Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Psychosexual Development*
  • Reference Values
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sweden / epidemiology