Sex Positive Parenting: Development of Child & Adolescent Sexuality
This abbreviated list was compiled by the Ethical Treatment for All Youth. I appreciate this list, as it was compiled without making judgments whether the behaviors listed are socially appropriate. It is extraordinarily difficult to conduct studies on the sexuality of minors, due to research ethics, so the studies are outdated, and this information may differ among psychologists or researchers, but I like to refer to this specific collection.
Early childhood: Ages 0 - 5
- Sexual curiosity, arousal, and behavior are spontaneously expressed unless the child is taught to inhibit them.
- Children in the first two years of life engage in simple pleasurable handling of their genitals.
- A few begin masturbating before age 2, but many begin at age 2 or 3 as they have developed sufficient muscle coordination.
- At age 4, curiosity about their own genitals and those of peers increases. They may fondle their own genitalia and show them to others
- 4- or 5- year olds like to talk about objects and activities that they sense adults consider dirty or taboo, including those that refer to body parts and sexual functions. They may use them to shock or challenge adults or to tease peers.
- Doctor/nurse/patient games and similar forms of play become common. They may involve examining, touching, and manipulating others’ genitals. Sex play is spontaneous, light-hearted, and exploratory rather than goal oriented.
- Even play as intimate as kissing of others’ genitals is reported by nursery school staff.
- Occasionally, 5-year olds may attempt intercourse if they have learned about it from parents or other children.
Middle childhood: Ages 6 - 9
- Children may like to talk to their mother privately about sex, marriage, pregnancy, and birth, but may be disturbed about thoughts of intercourse and/or delivery. Their questions may persist over a long period of time.
- They may be sensitive about an opposite sex sibling or playmate seeing them without clothing.
- On the other hand, they continue to be curious about anatomical differences; playing “show” and “doctor” help satisfy that curiosity.
- Sexual fantasies among 8- or 9-year olds might take any form known to adults. One study showed they were aided by nude photos or pornographic magazines, or involved people the children knew.
- Greater peer group activity can lead to group masturbation and sexual experimentation. If children are left unsupervised, sex play is predictable.
- How sexual the activity becomes depends on how much sexual activity the children have observed and how permissive the society is. Children in cultures where they are able to observe adult sexual relations will engage in copulatory behaviors as early as 6 or 7 years of age.
- A 1943 study of primarily white, middle and upper-middle class Midwestern urban boys found that 16% had had intercourse by age 8.
- Older siblings, extended family members, and caretakers may exploit children’s interest and curiosity about sex.
Pre-pubescence: Age 10 to Puberty
- If there is any boy-girl pairing, it is usually done because the culture expects it. The relationships are predominantly social rather than sexual.
- There are kissing games and more serious goal-directed kissing, frequently marked by excitement, erotic overtones, embarrassment, or guilt. Some is experienced very positively, some very negatively. Many American children acquire experience with deep kissing.
- While sexual intercourse is not common at this age in the U.S., it is established practice in some societies. Annual surveys by the U.S. Center for Disease Control find that about 4% of girls and 11% of boys have had intercourse before age 13.
- Studies have found that one-third to one-half of children have engaged in same-gender activity (such as masturbation, touching of the genitals, or exhibitionism) by age 14. (This appears to be unrelated to adult sexual orientation.)
Early adolescence: Pubescence to Age 14 or 15
- The age of pubescence varies: usually between 11 and 13, and generally occurs earlier for girls.
- As the hormones come into play, there are rapid growth spurts and increasingly intense physical sensations. Sexual behaviors respond to a stronger biological mandate and the genital focus intensifies. Sexual experience may be the paramount goal.
- Some heterosexuals are still engaging in sexual activity and exploration with same-sex peers.
- Masturbation increases in frequency, and may be experienced alone or in groups.
- Boys often acquire pornographic materials.
- Some early adolescents fall in love and openly express their affectionate feelings.
- Acquisition of partners gains importance. Couples are fluid and change often, with little intimacy or commitment.
- Kissing is a favorite activity.
- Many heterosexual girls report experiencing a physical response in their involvement with boys.
- Many heterosexual boys are interested in having sex with girls at 13, but are too awkward in their approach. A few actively seek sex with girls.
- A professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester says about 20% of U.S. 14 to 15 year olds report having sexual intercourse, and even more engage in other sexual behavior.
- Gay youth may or may not be involved in sexual activity with peers even though there is more opportunity for them than there is for many heterosexual youths. Many have gradual awareness of not being attracted to the opposite sex, but do not identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual.
Mid to Late Adolescence
- By age 15, most boys have established a regular pattern of sexual activity; masturbation increases, and some regularly engage in sexual activity with a partner ranging from petting to intercourse.
- Homosexual teens may fall in love and identify themselves as homosexual.
- Annual surveys since 2000 by the U.S. Center for Disease Control find that half of all high school students have had intercourse.
- Sexual gratification is often eventually integrated into the context of a relationship with sexual reciprocity and mutual sharing.
- Many girls and some boys at this age feel they are not ready for intercourse, and couples may instead engage in mutual masturbation or oral sex.
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