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Masturbation is a common human behavior and it is believed to occur in as high as 95 percent of male patients and 60 percent of female patients. This is something that is normal in older children and adults but in children and infants, this is a behavior that can be perceived as something that is alarming. Some studies indicate that fetuses are even capable of self-pleasuring and imaging has confirmed this on ultrasound studies but they can hardly be blamed in utero because they do not know any better. Infantile masturbation is something that can be seen in the first 2 months of life and will progressively peak at the age of 4 years old.  Masturbation frequencies usually drop off after the age of 4, but will peak again during adolescent and puberty years which is more anticipated. Is this something that is natural or something that you should worry about if you see this type of behavior in your children? 

To get passed the suspense quickly, this behavior is perfectly normal in young infants as children being to explore their anatomy. It is something this is very common in pediatric cases as they begin to become more aware of their surroundings and realize that there is a difference between genders. [1]

A little self-exploration is something that you should not worry about but if the child does not grow out of this stage, it is something that could become more dangerous in the population. This is a medical condition referred to as gratification disorder. It is a condition where children repeatedly make masturbating-like moments and patients need to be taken to their pediatricians to make sure it is not due to something more sinister. This disease is more likely to be seen in young girls and is benign. It is something that should disappear by age 2 but children that suffer from this disorder tend to be more likely to develop behavioral disorders in the future like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

When I alluded to patients suffering from gratification disorder as possibly having  something more sinister, I was referring to epilepsy that can mimic the same type of presentation as pediatric gratification disorder. Young patients suffering from seizures will have rigid movements, grunting, posturing and can present with generalized flushing. These are similar to what can be seen in kids who are masturbating. 

An unfortunate truth is it is almost impossible to determine what a pediatric patient may be suffering from because the presentation of both of these conditions is nearly identical. In one study, it was determined that when looking at 19 patients suffering from gratification disorder, 74 percent of the patients were misdiagnosed as having a seizure disorder before it was determined that they were suffering from something much less dangerous. [2]

Should you have a child you suspect is suffering from gratification disorder, make sure you take him to your local pediatrician to make sure that this is the case. As you can see, it is quite easy to incorrectly diagnose the child with a seizure disorder so make sure you ask to also meet with a pediatric neurologist to make sure that your child is not given medications that he does not need. 

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