Photo: Tim Green
Brook's Richard Essery tackles an issue that, though almost universal, is still taboo:
I walked in on my child masturbating; I feel disgusted and embarrassed. What should I do?
This is a difficult situation for you both, and they are probably feeling just as embarrassed as you are – maybe even more so. To reassure you though, as embarrassing a situation as it might be, it’s definitely not unusual – so the most important thing is to carry on communicating as normal, so you can both put this experience behind you.
It’s totally natural to worry about whether this is normal developmental behaviour or not, but it’s also important to remember that it’s not harmful, and it’s not necessarily a sign of being sexually active either.
Plenty of young people start masturbating just because it feels nice, and they are getting to know their own bodies. Adults often associate masturbation with sex and sexual pleasure, but for children it can be completely unrelated to anything sexual - it just happens to feel good.
Sexual development (puberty) can begin any time between 10 and the late teens, and it involves many changes. Some boys and girls start to masturbate before they start sexual development.
Lots of young people, but especially young men, grow up with feelings of guilt or fear about masturbation. This can lead to them worrying unnecessarily (often long past their teenage years) about non-existent side-effects, so it’s important not to make too much of it. Masturbation does not cause any mental or physical harm, and for most people it’s just a natural part of being human.
If you feel you can broach the subject, you can reassure them that it's nothing to feel dirty or guilty about and is just a normal part of growing up. You might also want to let them know that, while it’s OK, people usually only do it when they are somewhere private. If you can establish clear boundaries it will mean you don’t walk in on them again.