The A-B-C-D of context
We cannot, as a rule, categorize specific sexual behaviors as healthy, problematic or abusive. For instance, masturbation, when done occasionally in private, is an expected behavior. However, when a child is constantly masturbating in front of others, or compulsively masturbating to the point where it hurts, we become concerned. When we are trying to make sense of a child’s sexual behaviors it is important to pay attention to the A-B-C-D of the context in which the behavior occurs.
- Is this spontaneous, lighthearted play/activity?
- Does the child respond with strong feelings of guilt, aggression, fear, anxiety, etc.?
- Does the child appear numb or dissociate in relation to the sexual activity?
- Has this behavior occurred before? In the same or different way? How often and in what contexts?
- What other patterns of behavior (sexual or non-sexual) have you noticed?
- Is the interaction a mutually understood and wanted activity among peers?
- Is there an imbalance of power between the children?
- Does everyone involved understand what is happening, want to be there and feel free to leave or say no? Is any form of pressure, manipulation, coercion or force being used?
- Does the behavior match the child’s age and developmental level?
- Do we expect most children in this culture/community to act this way?
- Is the child’s sexual development in balance with the rest of his/her development?