Objective: To provide contemporary information on sexual behaviour and knowledge among normal Irish children, as perceived by their parents.
Method: The study was carried out in an Eastern Health Board urban Community Care Area. The parents of a random sample of all three year olds, and all seven and 12 year olds attending mainstream primary schools within the community care area formed the study population. A semi structured interview was used, covering demographic data, general play, sexual knowledge, sexual behaviour and family behaviour.
Results: A total of 233 parents participated, giving a 67% response rate. Approximately 40% of children in each age group were reported by their parents as showing interest in their own genitalia, this being significantly more common in boys. Approximately one half of three year olds were reported by parents as engaging in play with their own genitalia, this activity becoming increasingly uncommon in the older age groups. Sexual play with other children was reported by 12.5% of parents, and was significantly more likely among the three year olds and amongst boys. Explicit sexual behaviour involving older children, such as oral genital contact or attempted intercourse, were not reported for any child. Interest in genitalia of family members was very common in three year olds, while touching genitalia of family members was unusual. Approximately one third of parents had had some discussion with their older girls about pubertal bodily changes, but male adolescent bodily changes were rarely discussed. Mothers were the usual source of information on sexual matters to children of both sexes.
Conclusions: Sexual interest and exploration are common is young children, while explicit sexual behaviours which come to adult attention are unusual. Little discussion takes place between parents and older children, particularly boys, about specific aspects of reproduction including pubertal bodily changes.