Understanding child sexual behavior problems: A developmental psychopathology framework

Natasha Elkovitch, Robert D. Latzman, David J. Hansen, Mary Fran Flood

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Children exhibiting sexual behavior have increasingly gained the attention of child welfare and mental health systems, as well as the scientific community. While a heterogeneous group, children with sexual behavior problems consistently demonstrate a number of problems related to adjustment and overall development. In order to appropriately intervene with these children, a comprehensive understanding of etiology is imperative. The overarching goal of the present paper is to review the extant research on mechanisms associated with the development of problematic sexual behavior in childhood within a developmental psychopathology framework. What is known about normative and nonnormative sexual behavior in childhood is reviewed, highlighting definitional challenges and age-related developmental differences. Further, the relationship between child sexual abuse and child sexual behavior problems is discussed, drawing attention to factors impacting this relationship. Risk factors for child sexual behavior problems, beyond that of sexual abuse, are also reviewed utilizing a transactional-ecological framework. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of implications of a developmental psychopathology perspective on problematic child sexual behaviors to inform future research and intervention efforts. Such implications include the need for attention to normative childhood sexual behavior, developmental sensitivity, and examinations of ecological domain in concert.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)586-598
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Child sexual abuse
  • Child sexual behavior
  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Normative
  • Problematic
  • Risk factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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