The Mormon Therapist on Parental Concerns re Toddler Masturbation

John DehlinMormon, sexuality 50 Comments

Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist.  She blogs at

I am LDS, married, and a stay at home mom of a 2 year old son. He’ll be 3 in October. My concern is about his increasing interest in masturbation. I’m frustrated by the lack of guidance I’ve found on parenting websites, where pediatricians do not deem early masturbation a problem and simply encourage parents to not let their children do it in public. I know that my son doesn’t connect this behavior with sexuality. To him, it just feels good. So far, I’ve just tried to redirect his behavior, which is mostly successful; but yesterday when I tried to pry him off of a ball, he took the ball, ran into a bedroom, closed the door and started masturbating on the bed with the ball. I took the ball from him and put it away and engaged him with a different toy. Today was even more difficult because he also needed a diaper change at the same time he was having an erection.

He giggled a little as I was trying to wipe off his penis and then asked me for a baby wipe, which I gave him and which he used to rub his testicles; it actually seemed to help decrease the blood flow to his penis, but I must admit I wasn’t sure what was happening physically. After he was finished (this lasted about 30 seconds) he handed me the wipe and I put a diaper back on and spent some time holding him and reassuring him that everything was okay and then he bounded off to play. My husband and I have what I consider to be very healthy attitudes toward sexuality and use correct terminology with our son and want him to grow up to love sex as much as we do, within the bonds of a loving marital relationship. How can we help foster a healthy attitude toward sex at this early age and what is an appropriate way to handle toddler masturbation? My fear is that he will have negative associations with sex when I prevent him from masturbating at this stage, but I don’t feel that he should be allowed to masturbate either.

Incidentally, I have a friend (also LDS) who has a daughter that is a year older than my son and they are having the same problem, so I imagine that others are facing this also. My friend constantly reminds her daughter to “not play with her privates.” Is there a reason, other than the fact that it feels good, that she has seemingly already developed an unbreakable habit? How can this behavior be stopped before it becomes damaging? At what age is it linked to sexuality in the child’s mind?

So many parents struggle with knowing what is “normal” versus “alarming” behavior when it comes to their children’s sexuality. ALL children are born with sexual organs, sexual drives and sexual curiosity. That means that ALL parents are dealing with these issues. For whatever reasons, we just don’t talk about it. Making sure we don’t look at our children through the lens of adult sexuality is pivotal in dealing with our sexual parenting styles and ideas. Here is some direction:

  • The first item of business is how exactly are you defining masturbation? The definition I like to refer to from Merriam-Webster is: erotic stimulation especially of one’s own genital organs commonly resulting in orgasm and achieved by manual or other bodily contact exclusive of sexual intercourse, by instrumental manipulations, occasionally by sexual fantasies, or by various combinations of these agencies. The fact that this definition includes the word “erotic” pretty much disqualifies our toddlers from falling under the category of being able to masturbate.  I would encourage you to change your own perception of this behavior and not call his natural exploration masturbation.
  • One of my favorite gospel principles is the doctrine regarding the natural and God-given innocence of children. There is no capacity for sexual sin or transgression for our children. The age of accountability in our church begins at age 8, which coincides with what the psychological world also deems as an age (7-10) when children begin to better understand their behavior and the consequences that go along with it. However, at the ages of 5-10, even 11, our children do not have the sexual maturity or capacity to enter the realm of “erotic.” This is part of why we naturally struggle to educate our children about sexuality to begin with. Teachings regarding abstaining from masturbation need to wait until the ages of 11, 12, 13 (when our children are ready to enter the next stage of young men’s and young women’s). I have a great testimony in how our youth and primary programs are organized. The ages in which they move along to new classes, deeper doctrine and new programs are inspired and in adherance with correct developmental order.
  • You may be surprised, with as strict as the church seems about the teachings regarding masturbation, that the church actually agrees with me on this point. “A Parent’s Guide” has accurate and developmentally appropriate guidance for parents as to when and how it is appropriate to broach the many subjects related to sex education. It specifically states: “One of the first things (the child) begins to discover is his body. Male and female children will naturally discover and explore their genitals just as they do the rest of their bodies. The male infant’s genitals are very sensitive to touch. His penis responds to his diaper and to his parents’ touch as they bathe or clothe him. He will often touch and rub his own genitals. A little girl may also explore and handle her genitals. Your reaction to these natural explorations will influence the way a child later feels about his procreative powers. Do not either worry about or encourage the child’s explorations. Remain neutral, and the child will accept that these parts of his body are good, just as all the other parts are.” The fact your son found a wipe soothing makes perfect sense. There is a lot of blood flow in the genital area and I’m sure it felt cool and comfortable. Erections for boys start at birth (even in the womb), are not controllable and obviously draw their attention to their penis. Both boys and girls, but girls in particular, use rubbing against objects as another way to stimulate their genitals to satisfy what maybe started as a natural itch and also just because it feels good. None of this is damaging. It is perfectly appropriate for you to ignore this behavior, not draw attention to it and not worry about it. The only guidance I would offer a child at this age is to redirect when in public.
  • The best way to foster healthy attitudes towards sex at an early age is the positive and reinforced focus on his gender roles as a boy. Celebrate his “boyness” and all of the strengths that go along with this (“You are such a smart boy!”, “Look at you go! What a fast boy!”). Make reference often to the same gender parent (i.e. “Look how strong you are, just like Daddy” or “Your dancing is so graceful. Mommy loves to dance too”). The words “boy” and “girl” are interchangeable here depending on the gender of your child.
  • Another powerful way of fostering healthy sexual attitudes is to be cognizant of the type of affection and marital role model you are providing for your child. Being comfortable kissing and being loving with your spouse is extremely important for your children to see. Showering your child with verbal love and physical affection is also paramount.
  • I notice that you are a first time Mom and with that comes a lot of natural anxiety and worry. As a Mom of several I can tell you I have come across all types of sexual exploration in both my male and female children: from rubbing up against objects and innocently calling out “I’m tickling myself!”, to having toddler boys with one of their hands constantly down their pants, to boys proudly showing off their erections, to calling out in any public place they can embarrass us in “I want to have a big penis like Daddy!” We try to respond in easy-going and relaxed ways: “That’s great honey” “Ok” “Yup, that’s your penis” “That happens to all boys or girls” “No worries.” I can report that all of these stages pass and are grown out of. You will be able to tell when they are ready for a more mature discussion regarding sexual matters.
  • Parents who have children with different developmental disorders such as autism, mental retardation, Downs Syndrome, etc. can expect these sexual explorations to continue at older ages. That is because their children do not grow out of their “innocence” at the times we deem age-appropriate. This becomes awkward especially when these children do not understand they should not act out sexually in public settings. These situations require compassion and understanding by all who come in contact with these special spirits.
  • There are times when sexual acting out by children can be a red flag pointing towards the possibility the child has been sexually abused. This has less to do with natural exploration and more to do with acting out what would be deemed adult themes of sexuality (i.e. humping other children, mimicking sex with dolls or toys, touching other children’s genitals, etc.). Not just because a child has done these things does it mean that they have been sexually abused (some of this can fall under normal sexual play and curiosity or even mimicking something they’ve seen on TV). However, if enough of these red flags keep occurring, it may be worth looking into and getting a more extensive assessment. Always follow your gut in these situations. It’s better to err on the safe side than to do nothing at all.

It can be difficult and extremely anxiety-producing to see our children act in what we deem sexual ways. That is because our adult brains have a hard time wiring the word “innocent” and “sex” in the same thought wave. So don’t worry – you are perfectly normal. And it sounds like you are on your way to raising a wonderful son who will have loving parents willing to teach him correct and positive principles regarding his sexuality. What a gift you will give him, his future wife, and his posterity in general!
Good luck on your wonderful yet challenging journey of parenthood!

MM readers:

What kind of issues have you run into when parenting your children in regards to masturbation and the guidance the church has put forth regarding abstaining from such practice?  How have you handled similar situations to the one mentioned by the poster?

Comments 50

  1. Great post Natasha! Although I am not qualified to judge your advice from any professional vantage point, your advice meshes perfectly with what I think is important, and what I personally choose to do with my kids.

    I think this is the saddest point

    That is because our adult brains have a hard time wiring the word “innocent” and “sex” in the same thought wave.

    Hopefully someday our society will move past that.

  2. Natasha: Appreciated the post. Especially the part about self-exploration in young children and the age of accountability. But winced a bit when I read this: “The best way to foster healthy attitudes towards sex at an early age is the positive and reinforced focus on his gender roles as a boy. Celebrate his “boyness” and all of the strengths that go along with this (“You are such a smart boy!”, “Look at you go! What a fast boy!”). Make reference often to the same gender parent (i.e. “Look how strong you are, just like Daddy” or “Your dancing is so graceful. Mommy loves to dance too”). The words “boy” and “girl” are interchangeable here depending on the gender of your child.”

    Is fostering socially-constructed (and often very limiting) gender roles the best way to respect the individuality of and encourage the formation of a whole, confident child? Especially when I neither fit or aspire to those gender roles myself?

  3. JB:
    I wholeheartedly agree with your point. I realize I used gender stereotyped language in the examples I used and why I put in the statement “The words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are interchangeable.” In other words, it’s equally important to point out that a girl is strong like her Mommy or a graceful dancer like his Dad. We need not pigeonhole our children into sexist stereotypes – in fact, it’s unhealthy to do so. The main point I was trying to make is that toddler aged children are becoming aware of their gender, are usually proud of their gender, do not want to be mistaken for the opposite gender, etc. – and these are all things we can support as parents. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Re JB-
    I think this is an important point and one on which I also am torn. I recognize it is not quite the purpose of this post, but I have a hard time knowing when and how much masculinity (as I define it obviously) to encourage in my son. Does the exploration of one’s “private parts” play a role in our perceived gender roles? From Natasha’s post I would conclude yes, but I don’t know.

    I do know that I wince a bit every time I see my son putting a princess crown on his head, playing with Barbies, and doing the other things his older sisters do. I know I am typifying the male chauvinist attitude but I can’t help it. Is there something wrong if I would love it if my son played baseball, football, rode bikes, liked tools, and all the other stereotypical male stuff that I know and love? And what role does a child’s exploration play in all this?

    Obviously this is not to say I won’t love my son regardless of what he is or becomes.

  5. Thanks Natasha, and hi jmb:

    JMB, I would never say there is something *wrong* with your feelings and sense of identification with traditional masculinity. Gender roles, assumptions and politics suffuse the very air we breathe from when we are little–it’s impossible to live or parent without being in that gender soup. My own way of dealing has been to be as self-aware as possible of my assumptions, reactions, and feelings about gender, helping my kids develop their own sense of awareness about dominant gender narratives and roles, and then creating as much space as possible for my children to feel supported and rewarded for becoming their best most authentic selves, as much as possible.

    Being the Mormon feminist that I am, this usually means trying *not* to freak out when my girls love to play with those body-dysmorphing heavily-accesorized plastic creatures we call Barbies. 😉

  6. Re JB-
    Well, yes, I should have indicated that I also wince when my girls play with the Barbies 😉 ! But there is no helping my middle daughter in this, she was born to be a princess. She’s as girly as they come.

    I think your advice is a good way of dealing with the issue. Ultimately I do want them to simply become their best selves.

  7. Natasha, thanks for your careful and thoughtful OP. Wonderfully answered, and mirrors my experience with my kids during those stages (that is, it accurately describes their stages of growth, not that I necessarily provided textbook perfect parenting, which I sure have not).

  8. But winced a bit when I read this: “The best way to foster healthy attitudes towards sex at an early age is the positive and reinforced focus on his gender roles as a boy. Celebrate his “boyness” and all of the strengths that go along with this (“You are such a smart boy!”, “Look at you go! What a fast boy!”). Make reference often to the same gender parent (i.e. “Look how strong you are, just like Daddy” or “Your dancing is so graceful. Mommy loves to dance too”). The words “boy” and “girl” are interchangeable here depending on the gender of your child.”

    As much as I’ve told myself I’m not going to engage anymore, this aspect of the above post disturbed me as well. The author’s subsequent explanation addresses stereotypes, but avoids the actual context of her remarks. We should ask why the author felt the need to insert a discussion of reinforcing “traditional” gender roles in the midst of a discussion of masturbation.

    Many LDS therapists have become associated with the “National Association for Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality,” known commonly as NARTH. Evergreen, a specifically LDS-oriented program, follows many of the theories promoted by NARTH, and in fact, several LDS therapists belong to both (even serving as president of NARTH). NARTH and Evergreen each promote similar theories regarding what they consider the “cause” of homosexuality, and their favorite theory seems to be a failure on the part of parents to teach their children “traditional” gender role behavior. This is reflected in the habit of certain religious leaders, in ignorantly calling homosexuality “gender confusion.” In other words, if your son is gay, it’s because you, as a parent, failed to teach them how to be “male.” NARTH and Evergreen are each so committed to this theory, that they attempt to “cure” gay men by teaching them how to be more “masculine” in their habits, interests, and behavior. They teach men how to play sports, build carpentry projects, etc. They teach lesbians to be more “feminine” by giving them makeup and fashion hints. Once a man becomes more “masculine,” or a woman becomes more “feminine,” they allegedly will miraculously become heterosexual–or at least commit to a lifetime of self-punishing celibacy.

    With that background information, look again at our author’s post. What’s the real message behind her gender-based tangent? That’s right—if your baby boy likes to touch his penis, you’d better make sure you raise him butch, or he might like to touch someone else’s penis when he grows up! If your baby girl likes to touch her labia, you’d better make sure you raise her girly, or she might like to touch someone else’s labia when she grows up! This, in our author’s words, is the “best way to foster healthy attitudes toward sex,” or to phrase her meaning more bluntly, the best way to make sure you don’t raise a homosexual.

    Now if only NARTH and Evergreen could explain all those masturbating straight men and women, let alone the many gay male friends I have who look like they belong to biker gangs…

  9. Nick — so you’re suggesting parents should stay silent on matters of gender? Should I also not compliment my child’s other talents? Nor point out other similarities between my child and his parents? Or better yet, should i just leave my child in a sterile environment until he’s (pick an age) and let him fend for himself?

  10. Elder Packer, in the pamphlet “to Young Men Only” compared the male reproduction system to a factory and stated a factory needs to release its steam occasionally; and, the Lord’s way to release this steam for Young Men would be in a dream. He then went on to say the problem with Masturbation is that it prematurely starts this factory and increases the frequency to release steam. In short, the more body releases steam, the more it needs to release stem; thus, resulting in a habit – a habit that will lead to deviant behavior.

    Too me, when I found out some of the Young Men in our ward as young as 10 were masturbating it was shocking. To find out a 2 year old is engaged in this behavior is absolutely mind boggling.

  11. Not in the slightest, Paul, though your hyperbole has given me a good chuckle for the afternoon. If you actually read my comment, you’ll note that I’m referring to the reason why this author would discuss reinforcement of “traditional” gender roles in the context of a discussion of what was mistakenly termed “masturbation.” Frankly, Paul, telling parents to make traditional-gender-reinforcing comments as part of their response to a toddler touching their own genitals is a complete nonsequiter, absent that subtext of NARTH-based theories of homosexuality.

  12. Ken, notwithstanding problems with the “little factory” analogy, you’ll note that Packer didn’t title his pamphlet “To Young Men, Babies and Toddlers.” I think even he would say you’re stretching his advice far beyond its intended focus.

  13. “to calling out in any public place they can embarrass us in “I want to have a big penis like Daddy!”


    Re: Elder Packer and small-scale industrial production, frankly, the less said about that grotesquely factually incorrect (re: both physiology, and factories) analogy, the better.

  14. Nick/Cathrine:

    I am only expressing the concern I would have as a parent. It would be a terrible habit to develop at such a young age. Clearly, he is alive in Christ and not responsibile for his actions as such a young age. Hopefully, he grows out of it and moves on to other activities and doesn’t engage in the activity as a teen.

    Just curious what the problems are with Elder Packer’s factory analogy. It had a profound impact on me as a teen and kept me clear from such activities.

  15. Thanks Nick for the great comment.

    It is stunning that people would suggest a parent is responsible for their child’s sexual orientation and some how direct their child’s life by ‘Celebrate[ing] his “boyness”.’ It is hard to write when I am laughing so uncontrollably. All the rough and tough SOB’s that I have met who are gay just did not get enough encouragement to be manly. What a hoot.

  16. Ken, one thing the author very wisely points out is that the behavior described is not masturbation. I guarantee (absent serious abnormality) that you did the same thing as a toddler.

  17. #9-Nick-“As much as I’ve told myself I’m not going to engage anymore, this aspect of the above post disturbed me as well.”

    Thanks for getting back in the saddle. Even if it is only for a short ride around the block.

  18. Nick,

    I don’t know how many different way I can say the same thing. I totally agree that his actions are not sexual in nature and that he is innocent of any wrong doing. My concern is the same as the parents; and, that is she doesn’t want it to become problematic when he is a pre-teen or teen. We are creatures of habit, either good or bad.

    As for your allegation, I don’t remember being a toddler; my Mother is dead and my Father never changed a diaper in his life, so I have no comment. I had typical erections as a pre-teen and teen; however, it never, with the exception of some dreams, resulted in a release. I never masturbated. Likewise, I never remember, nor does my Wife, anytime where either of my boys needed to be cleaned off with this type of release. Sure they played with their unit in the tub; had pee-boners; or had their hands down their pants, but never to the point of release.

  19. in reference to #3 I was kind of wondering how one would say “you are such a smart boy” in a gender non-specific way… would one say “you are such a smart person of non-specific gender”? sounds like a good way to raise messed up kids.

    but my real question…. I was just wondering…. is a 2 year old capable of getting an erection? Sure seems like I didn’t start pitching a tent until I was about 12…. maybe I was too busy drawing stick figure reenactments of the revolutionary war or making gender non-specific cyborgs out of my sisters barbie and ken dolls and various household items.

  20. Ken, where did you get the idea that the 2 year old in question was experiencing, as you put it, a “release?” The mother described the normal process of changing her son’s diaper, which involves cleaning the diaper-covered areas. As Natasha noted, toddlers do not experience orgasms. Male toddlers do not produce semen. Babies produce urine, feces, and perspiration, all of which must be removed during the diaper changing process, in order to avoid rashes, infections, and other unhealthy effects.

    I’m honestly amazed at the level of physiological understanding reflected so far in this discussion. We have:

    (1) a young mother who thinks any touching of one’s genital area is masturbation, and fears that her toddler is a budding pervert because the erectile tissue in his penis swells in response to sensation.

    (2) a presumably-licensed therapist who implies that homosexuality is the result of teenage masturbation and early parental failure to reinforce society’s current traditions of gender-conforming behavior.

    (3) a religious leader who teaches that masturbation results in increased sperm production, that “normal” young men will “never notice” that their “little factory” is working at all, and that masturbation causes homosexuality.

    (4) a father who finds it “mind boggling” that a toddler would touch his or her genitals, and thinks that the only reason for a mother to wipe off her son’s penis during a diaper change is if he managed to ejaculate.

    (5) an anonymous male of apparently adult age, who shares the young mother’s misconception that a penile erection, even for a toddler, must be a response to sexual arousal.

    To borrow Ken’s phrase, I find this level of ignorance and superstition “mind boggling.”

  21. Ken, by all means, please point out where I’m “just pushing buttons.” In particular, please show me where anything I said was incorrect. If it’s “just pushing buttons” to point out that you’re entirely mistaken in thinking a two year old was ejaculating, then I’m all for it.

  22. I cannot believe I’m reading this exchange, much less commenting on it…but…

    #22 Nick Literski: As Natasha noted, toddlers do not experience orgasms.

    If Natasha said such a thing, she is wrong, as are you. Toddlers most definitely do experience orgasms. They feel very much the same as adult orgasms, though much drier for little boys than for young men. Anyone who remembers masturbating as a small child can vouch for this.

    I don’t know why some people have this weird idea that children are completely asexual. Children are sexual beings from their infancy. They may not be fertile, but that doesn’t mean the normal physiological mechanisms don’t work, or that the normal psychological associations don’t come into play. They do and they do. Seriously, everyone should know this, and certainly anyone who considers himself or herself an authority on sexuality.

  23. I think there is some confusion as to why I included gender issues when the main question was in regards to masturbation. However, if you’ll notice – the mother asked a dual question:
    “How can we help foster a healthy attitude toward sex at this early age and what is an appropriate way to handle toddler masturbation? ”

    Most of my post was dedicated to normalizing toddler self-exploration and making sure she did not deem this behavior as “masturbation.” The gender part was only meant to address the first part of her question. At this age, it is important to foster pride in one’s gender. This is part of fostering healthy self-esteem and in turn, sexuality. And this can be done in both traditional and non-traditional venues.
    #9: Therefore, my reference to gender had nothing to do with the topic of homosexuality (one I will write about in the future). I felt much assuming was happening about my theoretical background regarding homosexuality just because I am an LDS therapist. I do not proscribe to any of the treatment methods that you mention. I do not see any connection between masturbation and homosexuality (the rate of homosexuality would have to increase by about 93% to be able to make this deduction). I also consider issues of gender confusion and those of homosexuality to be of two completely camps. There are both homosexual and heterosexual individuals who can be classified all along the continuum of stereotyped gender roles. Even though I take issue with how you chose to interpret my writings, I am impressed that you were able to use correct female anatomical verbiage.
    Which brings me to my last point of how to foster healthy sexual attitudes with toddler aged children – use proper anatomical terminology.

  24. #11:
    The type of self stimulation a 2 year old male is participating in is vastly different from a 10 year old. A two year old male is unable to stimulate to the point of ejaculation or “orgasm.” Ejaculation does not occur until after the onset of puberty. This is typically when “wet dreams” begin. And the first ejaculations an adolescent boy will lack sperm. It is clearer than in a more mature male. This is why I wouldn’t even consider the self-exploration a toddler is doing to be masturbation.
    Most boys hit puberty around the age of 13 give or take a few years.

  25. 16:
    Many teens are masturbating at some level. My experience in the clinical work I do, is that teens are also lying about it (within our LDS culture) – wherein start the shame patterns that for some can become extremely paralyzing in their adult sexuality.

    There is no mention of a “release” by the mother. Only that the boy found it soothing and that she saw a decrease in bloodflow – I’m assuming the erection went away.


  26. #28: I do want to clarify that young girls have the capacity to climax much younger than boys (as young as 4 or 5).

    Boys can climax at that age or younger. Orgasm != ejaculation, especially for children.

  27. #22:
    Although I agree with many of your positions, it is difficult to have an open discourse with you when I feel disrespected, taken out of context, and misrepresented by your comments. But I would love to continue a more respectful conversation if you would be willing.

  28. 30:
    I’ve heard of boys having “dry” orgasm but you’re saying that boys can ejaculate before puberty? This is probably something I need to do more research on.
    For girls “ejaculation” is secreted in the vaginal cavity, so not as noticeable.

  29. Worms:
    Yes, toddler boys experience erections. Infants do and now they are finding this is the case even while still in the womb. The penis is a bodily part that when increased blood flow takes place, it becomes erect. This is normal and healthy and completely out of the control of the individual.
    This also takes place in the female anatomy- it’s just not as noticeable.

  30. Thank you very much, Natasha, for your clarifications. Please know that the inference I took from your original statement was not based on your membership in the LDS church, however. I am well asware that there are both LDS and non-LDS therapists who espouse the theories I described, just as there are both LDS and non-LDS therapists who hold your own more scientifically sound understanding.

  31. #25, #27, #28, #30:
    Thank you both–I stand corrected. Vort, I did not intend to imply that children are asexual, so if I came across that way, I appreciate you pointing it out.

    Even though I take issue with how you chose to interpret my writings, I am impressed that you were able to use correct female anatomical verbiage.
    Which brings me to my last point of how to foster healthy sexual attitudes with toddler aged children – use proper anatomical terminology.

    Thank you, Natasha. I don’t pretend to be an expert (nor an afficianado, for that matter!), but having raised five daughters, I think it would be inexcuseable if I didn’t have a grasp on the basics. 🙂 I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the importance of using proper terminology, and I always did this as my daughters were growing up. Genitalia may be special body parts in many ways, but they’re still just body parts. We don’t need to invent clever, cutesy euphamisms for toes, elbows, or armpits, and we shouldn’t do it for other body parts either. Doing so creates confusion and shame, which ultimately heightens the likelihood that our children will use those body parts in unhealthy/unwise ways.

    Although I agree with many of your positions, it is difficult to have an open discourse with you when I feel disrespected, taken out of context, and misrepresented by your comments. But I would love to continue a more respectful conversation if you would be willing.

    Natasha, I apologize for leading you to feel disrespected, taken out of context, and misrepresented. I was genuinely concerned that your original post seemed to reflect the NARTH/Evergreen ideology that I described. It’s now clear that you reject those long-debunked, scientifically-unsound theories, notwithstanding their ongoing promotion by Joseph Nicolosi, A. Dean Byrd, and others. I should have expressed my concern in a cautionary tone, rather than being accusatory. I know better, and will be more careful about this in the future.

  32. Nick,

    Sorry, I was on the treadmill last night and just responded via my iphone. We are in full agreement, let me explain.

    This is the oldest journalist trick in the book – use a headline or teaser to attract viewers, listeners or readers. It is shock-jock journalism and the likes of Howard Stern made millions doing this. To associate masturbation with toddlers is shock jock at its worst. I can’t think of a more disturbing relation. To confront these tactics directly is largely ineffective; and, it is not fun (this is where the pushing buttons term comes in). Both sides dig in their heals; and, at the end you may get some lame hedging – maybe we just need to agree to disagree. The better approach in my opinion is to demonstrate how disturbing their comments really are. Let it play out so they can see the stupidity of their statements.

    In the past I have been compared to a Nazi for standing up to certain elements of the Constitution. So, you put it right back in their face before they have a chance to use this ridiculous statement and accuse someone they support, or their cause, to a Nazi. You don’t win that battle, but it let’s them see how ridiculous it is to make such comparisons. In my experience, they never use this comparison again and stick to the issues. It is tantamount to asking the pan handler for money before he has a chance to ask you. Eventually, they give up asking you for a handout.

  33. Nick:
    Thank you for your comments. I VERY much appreciate them!!
    I believe what I was most in agreement with you about and what I find most concerning for our LDS culture as a whole is the lack of basic sexual education and understanding of how our bodies work. The knowledge of what falls under “normal” behavior vs concerning behavior. And along with this, the probability that normal behavior will be treated with anger, shame, shock, etc.

    I’ve never been compared to Howard Stern before – so that’s a first.
    Do you have any suggestions as to how this could have been titled differently? It was actually a point of discussion amongst us as a panel. We decided to keep the terminology that the original question had. Is this topic really that shocking? Or is it just that we are uncomfortable with the topic? I don’t know, just some questions to consider.

  34. #32 Natasha:

    It is helpful to distinguish between “orgasm” and “ejaculation”.

    Orgasm is a pleasurable rhythmic series of contractions in the erectile tissue and associated structures. Any normal human with fully formed (even immature) sexual organs is capable of orgasm. Given the protruding nature of the male sexual anatomy and the natural position of the hands, many boys (and btw quite a few girls) discover masturbation and orgasm about the time they start walking, when their hands naturally fall into that region.

    In contrast, ejaculation is the emission of semen (itself a composite of several fluids associated with the reproductive tract) that generally, but not always, occurs in conjunction with orgasm. Since the seminal fluids are not produced until puberty, it follows that ejaculation occurs only in the adult, even though orgasm can occur practically from birth. (Some adult men have had the interesting and highly unpleasant experience of taking prescription drugs that separate the two, such that ejaculation occurs a few seconds after orgasm has taken place, rendering the whole process spectacularly unfulfilling.)

    The point being, little boys (and girls) do indeed experience orgasm. To say they don’t ignores rhe reality to which many men (and women)can attest by experience. And IMO “masturbation” is a perfectly good term to use in this respect. The child may not have exactly the same images and ideas as an adult, but in all likelihood s/he has some associations that are indeed sexual in nature. To say this isn’t “masturbation” because the child isn’t thinking of coitus (of which he has no idea) or picturing the opposite sex’s genitals (which he likely has never seen) is to say that an adult’s self-pleasuring isn’t “masturbation” so long as he is thinking about furry animals or robotic devices.

  35. Natahsa,

    It is not masturbation, or anything like unto it, so why use the term. It is a normal development of a young boy. Ejaculation can’t take place until after puberty, or at least there abouts. Why not title it what it is “My son is showing an unusual interest in his penis, should I be concerned?

  36. Actually, Ken, in order to be accurate, your proposed title would have to be “My son is showing a completely typical, normal interest in his penis, should I be concerned?”

  37. well this sure was informative! I had no idea I was capable of an erection at only the age of 2. Looks like I missed out on ten years of masturbation… bummer.

  38. 40:
    Vort, thanks for all the useful information.

    After thinking about this further – this is how the question was posed and this is how I addressed it. I guess you’ll having to take my word for it that I’m not after shock value. My purpose is that of education and of providing a resource. And since so many do consider any stimulation to be masturbation, I’m not going to shy away from taboo words. That would actually go against my goal of educator. But thank you for sharing your concerns.

  39. I think a lot of this has to do with whether someone actually considers masturbation wrong. I would assume upwards of 90%+ of the LDS YM do it. The majority of people in a recent poll on here don’t think it’s a “sin”. A while back, we were going to form an informal “duty roster” for blessing sacrament in our ward, as there were 20+ priests and the same ones ended up volunteering each week. I asked the bishop if I should exclude anyone from this so as to not put them on the spot, and he said no. I would be astounded if NONE of the priests masturbated, which implies that they could still pass the sacrament, etc.

    So, the approach to the “problem” depends very much on the definition. If masturbation is a “sin” to be shunned at all costs, the approach a parent would take is very different from someone who would instead use it to teach our kids about boundaries and appropriate exploration of sexuality.

  40. Sex education at the right time and age and guidance by parents can go a long way. As kids, our curiosity takes the best of us, and we believe weird things even if they are untrue. Half information is always dangerous and complete guidance on the parent’s part can help develop healthy sexual ides.

  41. As an LDS member, a Marriage and
    Family Therapist, and a professional who has worked investigating and treating
    cases of child sexual abuse for many years, I agree with the advice given
    above. I am proud to see good information on the subject given to LDS parents.

    Nearly all children learn to
    stimulate their own genitals and experience pleasure or calming while doing it.
    It has been documented on ultrasound in prenatal exams, so for some the
    experience even begins before birth. Young children frequently stimulate their
    genitals to help calm themselves, to get to sleep, when anxious, or bored. As
    parents we should think of it as self-soothing behavior that is normal,
    appropriate, and developmentally beneficial coping mechanism to regulate
    anxiety. When a child reaches the age of 5 or 6 they develop the ability to
    understand society’s expectations regarding some of their behavior. Girls use
    the girl’s bathroom at school, boys use the boy’s bathroom at school; clothes
    should be worn outside the house and in school. At this age a child who is
    masturbating in public should be redirected or, if necessary, told that
    behavior is ok in private in their bedroom but not at school or in the living
    room. It is common in preschools and kindergarten during nap time for a boy or
    girl to touch themself. We direct preschool workers to ignore the behavior
    unless it is disruptive to other children and if so children should be
    redirected not punished or made the subject of attention. The same applies at
    home. We should not shame children for this normal behavior. At ages 1-4 children are not able to
    distinguish public vs. private behavior. That’s why they talk in church, don’t
    care if their clothes are on or off, or ask embarrassing questions. If a 7 year
    old is touching herself while watching TV with the rest of the family, if she
    is not the object of attention, it should be ignored. If it becomes the object
    of attention, she should be redirected. At this age, if touching herself in
    public becomes a behavior problem, I suggest, parents privately ask her to do
    that in her bedroom not in the family room and treat it like any behavior
    problem with praise and rewards for following family rules and appropriate consequences
    for not following family rules. I recommend saying something like “Kelly, I need
    to talk to you in the kitchen; Kelly you’re a wonderful girl and I love you.
    Remember what we said that it is ok to touch your privates in your bedroom or
    in the bathroom when you are by yourself but not in the living room or when
    other people are around? It is time to
    go to your bedroom, ok?”

    When we discipline children for
    self-stimulation / masturbation we are usually acting to resolve our own adult
    anxieties rather than attempting to understand and guide our child’s
    development and behavior. We can easily send the wrong message based on fear
    and misunderstanding of child development. Some parents tell a little one that
    “touching your privates is dirty” or that “God doesn’t like it
    when you do that” these statements may cause the child to associate parts
    of their body with being “dirty” or “bad” or
    “evil.” Rather parents should affirm that all parts of a child’s body
    are good and to promote a child’s sense that their body is theirs to care for
    and understand.

    As stated in the information above,
    children are sexual beings and sexual, physical, and spiritual development are
    part of the normal process of maturing. Most children who stimulate themselves
    sexually do not associate the behavior with what we think of as adult
    sexuality. Most attempts by adults to stop their children from masturbating are
    largely unsuccessful, unproductive, and are sometimes when poorly handled are
    harmful to healthy child development.

    Parents and leaders should
    understand that a child’s use of masturbation once experienced to calm
    themselves, cope with stress, relax, deal with boredom, and to feel good will
    usually wax and wane through childhood, but rarely ceases altogether regardless
    what they are taught.

    Understanding how one’s body
    works, including how it works sexually, is an important developmental milestone
    that can help prepare a child for adolescence and ultimately adult choices,
    experiences, and responsibilities involving relationships, intimacy, and
    sexuality. As 85% of children engage in some form of sexual activity before the
    age of 13, their parent’s reaction to and understanding of normal child
    sexuality is an important part of effective parenting. Although most parents don’t want to know
    about their children’s sexual experiences, a child’s learning what their body
    needs to experience pleasure an orgasm by themself at age 4, or 7 or 13 may be
    helpful in reducing their need for exploring sexual experiences with a partner in
    adolescence or early adulthood before they are ready to make a commitment to a
    partner or eternal partner. Many therapists
    and others working in this field believe that experience with masturbation in
    childhood or adolescence may make their transition into satisfying intimate
    life with a spouse easier.

    Masturbation in children and
    adolescents is a problem when the child masturbates so much that they hurt
    themselves, when they continually avoid other activities they enjoy and are isolating
    in order to masturbate, when they repeatedly masturbate in inappropriate places
    after reaching an age they can understand public vs private behavior (8-10
    years) and when they have been instructed otherwise, when over time the child
    feels intense guilt that is debilitating to them and they are unable to resolve
    their internal moral crisis using means they believe should help, when
    masturbation is a chronic sexually reactive behavior used by a child known to
    have been sexually abused to reenact to or process their abuse, or when other
    children, schools, or organizations complain about their masturbatory behavior.
    Masturbation to pornography in childhood or adolescence can also be problematic
    as the images and themes of adult pornography are not consistent with healthy
    relationship-based intimacy and are developmentally inappropriate and harmful
    to children and adolescents and risk the development of an addiction to such
    materials. In these circumstances, help
    from a mental health professional familiar with working on sexual behaviors with
    children should be sought.

    For many LDS youth, a crisis is
    reached when they realize that the pleasant past-time of stimulating themselves
    they learned to rely on as a child is actually called masturbation and is
    looked on as a sin by many adults and leaders. As what is estimated about 95%
    of boys and 50% of girls have masturbated to orgasm by age 15 or 16, most LDS
    youth deal with the issue of reconciling their personal experiences with their
    perception of LDS expectations. Given
    the Church’s emphasis on chastity especially in sexual relationships with
    others, our youth face important spiritual, sexual, and moral development
    issues regarding sexuality during adolescence. Having a non-shaming, healthy
    view of their bodies and a sense of self-mastery and self-determination regarding
    their sexuality and an understanding of how sexual activity with other people
    will have deep emotional, spiritual, and physical effects can help them to make
    good choices during this difficult time.

    That said, as a professional who
    has dealt with child abuse for many years, I must address issues related to abuse. One in three girls and one in eight boys are
    sexually abused before the age of 18. With the exception of divorce, child
    sexual abuse is the most common potentially life changing experience children
    face. Church leaders and parents need to
    understand that language used equating chastity with our most sacred possession
    is often a dagger to the spiritual soul of millions of children, adolescents
    and adults who were molested, raped, or by life’s circumstances and influences have
    engaged in sexual activity without full consent or viable options. My belief is that virtue, purity, and self-worth are based on aspects of character founded in current choices made
    with full understanding and without coercion. It has nothing to do with sexual
    experiences before accountability, without consent, when manipulated, under
    difficult circumstances, when desperately seeking needed human
    compassion/connection, or when betrayed by others who should have cared for
    them. The trauma in the soul societyproduces in condemnation of sexual activity under such circumstances is often as hurtful to the victim/participant as the selfish act of the responsible
    party. We need to affirm virtue and understand it has has nothing to do with
    virginity or absence of sexual experience. Even for those who chose to engage
    in premarital sexual activity without coercion, with repentance, are forgiven
    and can be now virtuous. Virtue and chastity are current states whereas
    virginity and lack of sexual experience once gone don’t come back.

    Parents should be aware that many
    children are subjected to sexual abuse. Talk to your child and affirm that
    their body is theirs and they have the right to say who can and cannot touch
    them and in what manner. If they don’t like how Aunt Milly kisses them they
    should be able to say no and be affirmed in their choice by their parents
    enforcing their boundary with Aunt Milly. They should understand once they have
    reached the age they can toilet and bathe themselves that other people
    including parents need to ask the child’s permission to touch or look at their
    private parts. That it is ok for others to look at and touch their private
    parts such as a doctor or caretaker if needed, but only with the child’s
    permission and when it is not a secret. They should be told that they can and
    should tell anyone they want about what happened. They should be told to tell
    at least three adults about any touching or request to look at or touch them in
    their private parts or in ways they did not like or may make them
    uncomfortable. Note, a child’s body is theirs, so they are the only one that
    can touch themselves in their private areas without permission. Affirming a
    child’s control over her or his own body empowers them to be responsible and
    helps us to insure they can have a say in protecting themselves against abuse.

    Now parents, it is yourresponsibility, not your child’s to review the conduct of adults and older
    children around your child and to ensure that they are not being sexually
    abused. Child abusers are really good with kids and are likable. They seek time
    alone with children unsupervised. Believe a child if they tell you someone is being
    mean to them or has touched them inappropriately. If you see an older child or
    adult behaving in ways that make you uncomfortable toward a child, speak to
    them and tell them you want to make sure children are safe and tell them your
    concern about their behavior and engage in an ongoing dialogue with them about
    the behavior over time and watch their actions. If necessary impose boundaries
    and inform others about the boundaries you have set with that person. If you
    see or suspect abuse, report it to the authorities.

    Sorry for my long and rambling response.

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