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Puberty in Girls: Discussing Masturbation


Discussing masturbation is an anxiety-provoking moment for any parent. It is important to address the topic with your daughter in a manner that is consistent with your family's belief system and to set rules that are both age appropriate and comfortable for you to follow through with. This includes acknowledging that it is normal for your daughter to have sexual urges and interest.

A good way to open the conversation is through books that discuss puberty and sexual topics in a frank and straightforward manner. Find out what your daughter already knows. Make sure she knows the different parts of her body and their functions.

  • Consider using picture books or a body puzzle to make a simple game such as "find the body part" to see if your daughter understands what the body parts are and their functions; give her a healthy reward or praise to show her that she has done well.
  • Read books together about puberty/adolescence, OR if your daughter doesn't want to read with you, make them available to her by placing them in places where she plays.

When it comes to discussing masturbation, you will need to be explicit. Because many individuals on the autism spectrum tend to self-stimulate in various ways, boundaries must be set around masturbation. Teach rules for appropriate time and place, and tell your daughter that sometimes masturbation is not an option. Provide her with private time where she will be undisturbed. Establish an open dialogue with your daughter about sexuality, which includes being safe and socially appropriate.

Consider addressing the following with your daughter:

  • Where can masturbation occur? Instruct your daughter that masturbation is a private matter. It is not to be done in public or in an area where anyone else might be or might enter. Be explicit with where an appropriate location might be, such as in your daughter's room with the door closed.
  • How do you feel about the use of visual aids that are readily available (for example, everyday catalogs and magazines, not necessarily more graphic ones)?

Children are most likely to have a healthy, positive view of sexuality if the parents set guidelines and fully explain sexual changes before they begin to happen, so that parents (or the child's teachers) are not in a position where they have to confront the child for inappropriate sexual behavior. If problem behavior related to masturbation occurs, interrupt the behavior, but don't overreact. Remind your child of the rules you have established, and redirect your child to another activity or to a private location, as appropriate.

Suggested Books

What's Happening to Me? A Guide to Puberty by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins; Kensington Publishing Ltd, 1975. This straight-forward book on puberty details changes to the bodies of males and females. The use of cartoons and humor sets a light mood for both the parent and child.

What's Happening to My Body: A Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras, Area Madaras, Simon Sullivan; Newmarket Press, 2007. This straightforward book discusses physical body changes, the menstrual cycle, diet and exercise, sexual feelings, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Hygiene and Related Behaviors for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders by Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L ; Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2009. Presented in a lesson plan format, the book is designed to help children on the autism spectrum make the connection between hygiene behaviors and how those behaviors are perceived by others. There is a CD with worksheets that can be downloaded and printed for use.

Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People with Asperger's Syndrome by Sarah Attwood; Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd., 2008. This book is ideal for those who need clear, detailed explanations and direct answers to the many questions raised by puberty and sexual maturity. The book describes developments in both the male and female body, and explains how to maintain hygiene and personal care and how to promote general good health. The book examines emotional changes, including moods and sexual feelings, and provides comprehensive information on sex, sexual health, and reproduction as well as the nature of friendship and how it may change over time.

Personal Hygiene? What's that Got to Do with Me? by Pat Crissey; Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd., 2005. This book was developed for individuals on the autism spectrum and other learning and developmental disabilities to help them understand how others perceive their appearance and the social implications of neglecting personal hygiene. There are quizzes and hands-on activities to demonstrate why and how to perform various hygiene tasks.

Taking Care of Myself, A Hygiene, Puberty, and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism by Mary Wrobel; Future Horizons, 2003. Written by a teacher/speech-language pathologist, the book uses simple stories to demonstrate what to say and not to say when talking to your child about hygiene and puberty. The book addresses hygiene, modesty, body growth and development, menstruation, touching, personal safety, and more.

The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality by Michael J. Basso; Fairview Press, 2003 (2d Ed). Written by a sex educator, this book is for teenagers. It provides accurate and objective information about sexuality to help teens understand their changing bodies and make informed decisions about sexual activity.

My First Human Body Book by Patricia J. Wynne and Donald M. Silver; Dover Publications, 2009. This is a coloring book that teaches all parts of the body and body functions.

Human Body Puzzle by Melissa & Doug. This is a 100-piece, double-sided, cardboard floor puzzle. One side displays the musculoskeletal system and the other show the internal organs and the circulatory system

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.