6 Year Old Obsessed with Sex, Potty Talk
Hi, Dr. Markham,
My 6 year old has a fascination with all things poo poo, pee pee, fart, butt, vagina, penis, etc. I know it is pretty normal, but I think his fascination is more exaggerated than what I see from his friends. His teacher has expressed some concern. This has been going on since he was about 3. I thought he would grow out of it by now, but hasn't.
I don't make a big deal out of it, or I don't think I do, but I
ask him to be respectful of his own private area and those of others and
to find other subjects to talk about, because this one is getting a old
now. He sings songs, makes jokes and somehow finds a way to use these
words. It doesn't help that my husband always laughs and finds it
A new development has occurred that has me VERY concerned. He has been asking his 2 year old brother to kiss his penis, asking his 2 year old brother if he wants to suck his "booby" (I'm still nursing). I walked into the bathroom twice and found the baby (2 years old) with his mouth on my 6 year old's penis (despite my horror I didn't scream but I did say in a loud and strong voice that that is NOT appropriate and immediately removed my 2 year old from the bathtub. They both knew I was not pleased with the situation.) They really enjoy playing in the bathtub together and have always bathed together, but obviously I realize they need constant supervision and haven't been getting it.
Other than constant supervision, which will not always be possible, what else can I do to prevent this type of behavior? And what other wisdom can you shed on this type of behavior and the curiosity about our bodies and sexual development, etc. Does this mean either of them might become gay? Is it normal for brothers to explore each others bodies like this? We have NO television in the house, he has never witnessed my husband and I having sex.
I'm so glad you wrote to me. I do not want to alarm you, but this is not
exactly normal behavior. Curiosity is normal. Preoccupation is normal.
But obsession over several years, to the point where the teacher is
concerned, is concerning.
And the bathtub incident you describe is extremely unusual. Certainly many kids in the bathtub are curious about each other's bodies. If mom isn't around, they may well play "I'll let you touch mine if you let me touch yours." But kids don't think about kissing genitals, the whole concept would be gross to them. That is an idea that would have to be planted from somewhere.
Children do obsess about things often, in an attempt to "master" them. Potty talk is popular with three year olds for obvious reasons. But they master each thing and move on. The fact that at six years old your son is still obsessing about not only potty talk but sex shows that he is stuck, especially because he has been doing this for three years (rather than just being a "late bloomer.") That means he is trying hard to master something that is upsetting him and can't master it.
I don't think your nursing your toddler has anything to do with it. Many, many women nurse their toddlers in front of their older kids. The older child is often jealous of the other child. The older child sometimes wishes he could have milk in his own breasts like mommy does, just like he wishes he could get pregnant. So offering to nurse his brother is actually fairly normal. But since this is a new thing and obviously you did not just start nursing, there is some cause for concern. Why offer to nurse his brother now?
Since your son doesn't watch TV and could not somehow have seen you having sex, where could he have gotten the idea he suggested to his brother? Could he have seen a magazine, a web site, a movie, a photo -- some image of someone kissing someone else's penis? That would be very stimulating to a little guy, and might cause him to obsess about it.
I hate to have to add this, but I would be remiss in my responsibility to you if I did not. Is there any possibility that your son was sexually abused? A babysitter? a relative? I know it is shocking to consider this and I wish I did not have to raise it. It would not have to have been a "big" thing. (In other words, he did not ask your two year old to "suck" his penis, but to "kiss" it.) But it would definitely have involved sexual content, probably very specifically involving a penis being kissed.
I don't want to alarm you. It is also entirely possible that some kid at school suggested your son kiss his penis, or described a scene to your son that included this image. But he definitely got the idea from somewhere and he has not been able to work it out. So you can assume that until he does, he will keep trying, with sexual obsession and play. So you do need to address it directly.
As far as sexual orientation goes, kids this age don't care about the gender of who touches their penis. It is not an expression of gay-ness, certainly. Sexual orientation, at least for men and probably largely for women, seems to be hard-wired before birth. It is true that repeated sexual encounters do get associated with the stimuli involved (i.e., lots of early sex with a woman in a red dress may make red an erotic and arousing color) but that is not really an issue here. The issues are protecting your two year old and helping your six year old work through whatever is causing this obsession.
So the question is, what should you do?
1. Supervise your children when they are together.
2. If you let them bathe together, don't leave the room. I actually think that it is too stimulating for your six year old to bathe with his brother, so I would not let them, even though they enjoy it.
3. Begin having daily special time with your son in which you tell him you have a new game you want to play with him. 20 minutes a day is sufficient. Your goal is to help him release tension and move through whatever this issue is for him. What kinds of games?
Patty Wipfler has a wonderful article with suggestions, here
Larry Cohen (Playful Parenting) has a game he calls "Who puts what where" in which one person begs the other to let him put his finger in his ear. You don't actually do it, but it induces giggles about this area of what's gross, what goes where, etc.
Act out stuffed animals with your son, talking potty talk. Let your son say as many potty words as he wants in that game, in his room, in private, but with you there listening. See where that game takes you.
Have the stuffed animals talk about penises. Start it by having your animal ask his animal if he knows the word penis. Ask who has penises. Basically, be dense and ask questions (as your stuffed animal) and let your son tell you everything he knows about penises, including who can touch someone else's penis (answer: no one, not even a parent, once you no longer need help in the bathroom.) Have your stuffed animal ask his stuffed animal directly "Has anyone ever touched your penis? Kissed your penis?"
Play "power games" -- lots of these in Lawrence Cohen's book, or check out his website, and there are also some on my website. These are not directly sexual but since any experience that involved his penis might have made him feel humiliated or small, they are helpful.
4. At the same time that you play these games, make it clear (not during the game, but afterwards) that this game is for special time with you, not for any other time. Then, when your son uses potty words at other times, move in close, get on his level, look him in the eye and say firmly, "That's only for our special time, sweetie. Not for now." If he insists, then either this is an issue too big to just let off tension (meaning he has some healing to do) or you have a power struggle issue in other ways. If it's the latter, then please read about discipline and power struggles on my web site. If that's not usually an issue, then he is signaling for your help.
At that point, your strategy
should be to set your limit about potty talk firmly, and if he resists,
then it is ok for him to have a meltdown. In fact, it's great. It
means he is getting to the big hurt or fear that is under his
obsession. Be prepared for raging and crying. That's fine. Here is an
example of how to handle such a tantrum in a way that helps your son
The combination of the games and the limits/releasing will release your son's tension and will ease his obsession. If you do not see a fairly quick improvement (one month) in your son's obsession, I think you should consider therapy.
I hope I haven't alarmed you. I think the most likely situation is that your son had an interaction with another child that included either actually kissing, or the discussion of kissing, of a penis. I also think these games will "heal" his hurts/fears and thus his obsession. If things come up in the games that you don't feel comfortable addressing, please write to me. And please let me know if you want support as you work with your son on this, and we can schedule a coaching session.
Stay calm. Breathe. Your boy needs your help, and is showing you that. But once he gets it, he will be fine.