How To Understand Child Sexuality

Child sexuality can be an edgy issue that people often find uncomfortable.  Differing religious or moral views or dogmas can complicate the issue.  My research and wisdom are based upon the information we have on child development, my experience at home and in classrooms, and my own common sense.

There are several guidelines to keep in mind when considering child sexuality.  It is essential to understand child sexuality within a framework of age-appropriate behavior.  As children develop, so does their understanding of things.  If a child is on a fairly typical developmental pattern (no major illness or developmental disability), then sexual development follows a pattern also.  So we must know the age of the child before understanding the developmental level.  Here are several important points that will help you to understand child sexuality:

  1. Children are curious and love to explore.  This will naturally mean that they are curious about their bodies (and others' bodies, too, in time).  They love to see what they can do and discover.
  2. Children investigate with all their senses.  They get more information from touch, taste and smell  than they do from seeing and hearing when they are young.  This will include touching body parts.  Just as an infant puts objects in her mouth to explore them, so she will touch body parts to explore.
  3. Children develop ways to soothe themselves. They stroke soft objects, suck their thumb and sometimes they touch their genitals.  Children do not 'play with themselves,' well, not in the negative sense in which that phrase is generally meant.  It just feels good.  They do not reach climax or orgasm until puberty.
  4. Children are excellent imitators.  They see how you react and how you feel about your body or sex.  They will imitate what they see people they trust do. If he sees it, he'll  do it (or at least try it).  If a child is raised with healthy images of affection, he'll usually develop into a healthy sexual adult.  If he sees images of inappropriate sex, violence etc., that will stick with him.
  5. As children grow, they become curious about the bodies of other people.  They can ask a lot of embarrassing questions.  The best way to answer:
    • Stay calm.  Sex is a normal, healthy part of life.  When we fear something, we exaggerate it. If you get angry or act embarrassed, your child will get the idea that bodies are bad or weird.
      Even if your child walks in on an intimate moment, don't worry or panic.  Just tell her you'll be out in a moment.
    • Show your child that you love yourself and your body and that you love him.  If you have body image issues, get help.  Your issues will affect your child.
    • Answer any questions she may have.  You don't have to go into great detail, just the basics.
    • Act natural and comfortable.  Make it a positive experience.
  6. If your pre-school child tries to practice what he has seen with another child, you should step in, but do it lovingly.  Don't be angry or shame him.  Treat it like any other behavior that is unacceptable.  Just tell him that this is something for when he is older but not now.  Help him to apologize.
  7. If a child touches private areas in public, address it in the same calm manner.  I tell my children that it is inappropriate to touch the areas covered by a bathing suit in front of others.  It is not dirty; it is private.  Also, if your child seems to touch the genital area frequently, you may want to check for a rash or infection.  Sometimes she is feeling itchy.
  8. Be aware that teenagers, almost universally, will masturbate.  They are usually pretty discreet, especially if they have been taught about privacy.
  9. IMPORTANT NOTE:  Past the preschool age,  sexual acts with another child are no longer exploration.  Touching, fondling or viewing another person's private areas is not appropriate.  No child should ever be allowed to exploit, intimidate or harass another child sexually. 

    When you address it, remain calm and be sure of your facts.  But take it seriously and treat it like any other act of bullying or abuse.  Let the perpetrator know that it will not be tolerated. Both children should separately receive help from a licensed psychologist.  The victim should be kept safe from the perpetrator.

  10. Always make sure that your child is not getting inappropriate images of sex (music, movies or TV shows, computer, etc.)  A filter really does nothing to get rid of pornography; it's only a click away.
  11. Monitor older siblings, babysitters, relatives,  friends' homes, day care, school, and even church groups, which can all be possible sources of inappropriate information.  It may not be pornography, but it could still have a negative impact.  Listen to your child.     

This is a general overview of child sexuality.


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