During the 2- to 5-year-old period, both genders show increased genital interest and genital play (Kuehnle & Connell, 2009; Rutter, 1971). A total of 85% of female college students remembered a childhood sexual game (Lamb & Coakley, 1993, p. 515). These games included “playing doctor,” exposure, experiments in stimulation (usually of the genitals), kissing, and fantasy sexual play (Lamb & Coakley, 1993, p. 519). Reviewing the accumulated findings, others have concluded: “Overall, these findings suggest that, in normative samples, children will engage in exploration of genitals (e.g., playing doctor) and certain sexually related acts (e.g., kissing) (Koocher et al., 1995).
Using a sample of non-abused children, there is a well-established relationship between sexual behavior in the home (e.g., family nudity, available pornography, opportunities to witness intercourse, etc.) and the child’s overall level of sexual behavior as measured by a sexual behavior rating scale completed by the parents. Another study interviewed parents of 576 children, aged 2 to 10 years, and found that a child’s touching a parent’s genitals was “not uncommon on an incidental basis.” The study concluded that such touching could merely reflect the normal curiosity of a child.
Ultimately, these programs are more recognition than prevention programs; and despite their good intentions, they can lead children into mislabeling benign events as sexual abuse. Consider, for instance, the documented example of child who chastised his father for patting him on the behind as he went to bed. The child did so having learned that the buttocks were a private part of the body. Krivacska reported how a school teacher described two of her first-grade students confiding in her that they had been “sexually abusing” each other. On one prior occasion, they engaged in peer sex play with each other; and now they were reporting the abuse as they learned to do in their prevention program.
Another parent reported that her 6-year-old daughter came to her in hysterics after being tickled by her 3-year-old brother. She had been taught in school that tickling could be “bad touch,” and she was to report all experiences of “bad touch.” Consequently, Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs can lead children into misunderstanding and/or misinterpreting what sexual abuse involves.