Should I worry if my son is stimulating himself?

Special to The Globe and Mail

The question: We think our 10-year-old son has started masturbating. Should we be worried?

The answer: It is normal for a boy at this age to stimulate himself. The majority of boys masturbate – in one study, 80 per cent of boys admitted to doing so, although some developmental pediatricians think the number may actually be higher

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At age 10, it is not a sign of early puberty. It also does not mean that he may grow up to be hypersexualized. This is simply part of growing up and discovering a physiological part of his body.

For a child this age, it has to do with him discovering pleasure associated with stimulation of a sensitive part of his body. It also may be a way of relieving tension or stress.

If he becomes obsessed with this behaviour, it is problematic and not normal any more. In that case, the help of a psychologist to identify the root of this behaviour will be helpful.

Because it is such a private, sensitive and controversial issue for some families, they avoid talking about what is a common sexual development. When families fail to talk about it or when doctors are too busy to go over normal sexual development with families, it opens the door for myths - such as causing blindness and so on - to develop.

From a medical point of view, there are no related complications. At times, there may be redness of the penis due to excessive irritation.

Some boys do not masturbate and they can experience the ejaculation of semen during the night when they are dreaming (this is known as a “wet dream” or nocturnal emission).

A website that may help both teens and parents on this sensitive topic is kidshealth.org.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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