Playing doctor

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"Playing doctor" is a phrase used colloquially in the western world to refer to children examining each other's genitals. Such examination may only be visual, or may also involve touching and manipulating the sexual organs. The phrase originates from children using the pretend roles of doctor and patient as a pretext for such an examination. However, whether or not such role playing is involved, the phrase is used to refer to any similar examination.

Playing doctor is considered by most child psychologists to be a normal step in childhood development between the ages of approximately three and six years, so long as all parties are willing participants and relatively close in age. However, it can be a source of discomfort to some parents to discover their children are engaging in such an activity.

Illustration by Martin van Maële (1908).

Older children will sometimes play games that involve stripping as a penalty, or challenge another to dare to show their genitals.

Playing doctor is distinguished from child-on-child sexual abuse because the latter is an overt and deliberate action directed at sexual stimulation, including orgasm, as compared to anatomical curiosity.

Role-playing doctor[edit]

Real role-playing "doctor and patient" is different from the above, as the genital region may not necessarily be involved at all. It involves two or more players and a setting ("patient" pretends to be ill, "doctor" comes to look at the "case", begins the "examination" (usually involving asking the "patient" to undress — fully or partially — and performing various "checks"). The "doctor" will then usually make a "diagnosis" and may also immediately begin an "operation" or some sort of "therapeutic measure" on the "patient".

See also[edit]


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