Page 266-296, 30 pages Page 1 of 11
Chapter 10: Sexuality & The Life Cycle – Childhood & Adolescence
• Most individuals think that “having sex” is limited to, and synonymous with sexual intercourse. Many
think that genital fondling and oral sex are not really having sex.
• Human sexual development is a type of lifespan development, a process that occurs from birth to old
age. This process is influenced by biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors.
• Why study childhood sexuality? Help understand development of sexual preferences, understanding
typical childhood sexual behaviour and how it can be affected by factors including sexual abuse
• A lot of data about sexual behaviour during childhood and adolescence come from retrospective self-
report data from adults. This is subject to memory errors and self-report biases.
• On the other hand, interviewing or observing children is ethically problematic and would face opposition
from parents, religious leaders, and politicians. A “talking” computer can be used to interview children, to
preserve confidentiality. Children need to be able to understand the questions and respond verbally or
• One can also ask parents or caregivers, but parents may be reluctant and mislabel behaviour.
• Many studies of adolescent sexual behaviours and attitudes done through surveys
• Can asking kids about sexual behaviour be a form of child abuse?
o O’Sullivan et al. (2000): Mothers and sons interviewed separately about gender role behaviour,
social network, heterosocial behaviour (do you have a girlfriend? Did you kiss her?), sexual
knowledge (how are babies made? How do you tell if a baby is a boy or girl?), knowledge about
HIV/AIDS, and experience with the study (feelings about participation, whether they would repeat
o Boys and mothers had generally positive responses. However, some things were disliked and
boys felt embarrassed about lack of knowledge.
Friedrich et al. (1998)
• About 950 mothers recruited from clinic waiting rooms, asked about their children’s sexual behaviour
(age 2 to 12 years). Screened to make sure children were unlikely to have been sexually abused
• Parents completed the Childhood Sexual Behaviour Inventory (CSBI) and general Childhood Behaviour
Inventory (CBI). CSBI included items asking how often did certain behaviours occur, e.g. draws sex
parts, talks about sex parts, kisses other children, standing too close to others (appropriate boundaries
for contact), etc.
• Most common behaviours include masturbation and curiosity in other’s sexuality, such as touching their
mother’s or another woman’s breasts.
• Frequency of CSBI items decreases with age for both genders. Boys and girls had relatively similar
• Possible children are still engaging in sexual behaviour, but in private locations away from caregivers.
They learn these behaviour are inappropriate in public behaviours, and don’t wish others to know about
• More sexual behaviours reported in families with more open views to sexuality, with more education,
and with more family stress and violence. Childhood sexual behaviour as means of release in stressful
Larsson & Svedin (2002)
• Retrospective study of teenagers, median age 18 years and asked to recall behaviour before age 13. Page 266-296, 30 pages Page 2 of 11
• Advantages: Questions and statements were less ambiguous than CSBI, and asking the adolescents
• 88% reported some kind of sexual experience in childhood, and most reported that no one else
(besides any partners) knew about their sexual activities – caregiver reports likely not accurate
• Most activities happened at 11-12 years, not 6-10 years. Common activities included exploration of
one’s body, looking at pornographic pictures, and masturbation.
• Partnered sexual activities included kissing and hugging, talking about sex, and teasing with sexual
• Majority report positive feelings associated with childhood sexual activities – girls slightly more negative
Okami et al. (1997)
• Longitudinal study, questioning parents on child’s sexual play behaviour. 77% reported their child
engaged in some form of sex play, such as playing doctor or masturbation – more overt activities
• No significant difference in adolescence adjustment when the children were assessed at age 17-18
INFANCY (0 TO 2 YRS)
• Freud was first to suggest that children have sexual urges and engage in sexual behaviour. Others
thought sexual behaviour in children was a result of undergoing sexual abuse; children who have been
abused do tend to exhibit more and different kinds of sexual behaviours, e.g. aggression
• Capacity to show physical sexual response present from birth: male infants get erections (even
before birth as a fetus!) and female infants have vaginal lubrication
• First intimate relationship with mother, with many nurturing care activities being physical and sensuous
since they involve contact with sensitive organs like the mouth and genitals that can produce a
physiological response. This includes breastfeeding, toilet training, and bathing.
• Infants fondle their genitals in self-stimulation, although they may not be conscious of it.
• Rhythmic manipulation of genitals associated with adult masturbation appears at age 2.5 to 3 years,
progressing to systematic masturbation by ages 6-8
• Orgasm from self-stimulation is possible, although before puberty boys are not capable of ejaculation
• Self-stimulation is a normal, natural form of sexual expression in infancy.
Infant-Infant Sexual Encounters
• Infants are highly egocentric, often playing alongside another child and in a world of their own
• In late infancy there are some infant-infant counters which may be affectionate or sexual, such as
kissing, hugging, patting, and stroking behaviours.
Non-Genital Sensual Experiences
• Sensuous experiences are diffuse, such as mouthing from breastfeeding to sucking one’s own
• Infant’s experiences in early intimate encounters such as being cuddled can influence later reactions to
intimacy in adulthood. Some infants are cuddlers who enjoy physical contact, while non-cuddlers show
displeasure and restlessness when handled or held, and may later crawl or walk away from them.
• Cuddling and non-cuddling seem to be different personality patterns.
• Attachment: A psychological bond that forms between an infant and the mother, father, or other
caregiver. The quality of this first relationship and experience with love and emotional attachment is Page 266-296, 30 pages Page 3 of11
important for informing later sexual and emotional relationships. They vary from stable and secure to
insecure, frustrating, resistant, etc.
• Adult’s style of romantic attachment are similar to type of attachment with their parents in childhood.
Knowing About Boy-Girl Differences
• By age 2.5 to 3, children know their gender, the first step in developing a gender identity.
• This awareness motivates them to be like other members of their gender. They know they are like their
parent of the same gender, and different from children of the other gender.
• This difference is first based on clothes, hair, and other noticeable differences; by age 3 this awareness
focus on differences in the genital region.
• By age 4 to 6, ideas about gender are very rigid.
EARLY CHILDHOOD (3 TO 7 YRS)
• Marked increase in sexual interest and activity between ages 3 to 7
• Children increasingly gain experience with masturbation during childhood, often touching their genitals.
They also learn masturbation is a private activity
• By age 4 to 5, children are more social and engage in mixed-sex sex play.
• Boys and girls may hug each other or hold hands. They may play doctor, with exhibition of one’s own
genitals, looking at that of others, and engaging in a little fondling or touching.
• By age 5, children have formed a concept of marriage, or at least its social aspects. They know a
member of the other gender is the socially appropriate marriage partner, and practice marriage roles as
they “play house”
• Primal Scene Experience: Some children first learn about heterosexual behaviour by seeing or
hearing their parents engage in sexual intercourse. Freud believed this experience could inhibit the
child’s psychosexual development, but empirical data suggests this experience is not damaging.
• Reactions include curiosity, amusement and giggling, or embarrassment
• Sexual play with members of one’s own gender may be more common than with the opposite gender;
this is a normal part of sexual development. Typically involves no more than touching the other’s genitals
Sex Knowledge & Interests
• At age 3, children are very interested in the different postures for urinating. Girls may try to urinate
while standing. Children are very affectionate, hugging and kissing parents, and even proposing
• At age 4, children are interested in bathrooms and elimination. Games of show are common, tapering
off by age 5 as children become more modest – likely informed by cultural learning and parents teaching
them not to display their bodies in public or touch the bodies of others.
• Due to parental restriction, children turn to sex play and peers for information about sex. In cultures
that are less restrictive, children continue to demonstrate overt interest in sexual activities.
• At this age, sex play is motivated largely by curiosity as part of general learning experiences
PRE-ADOLESCENCE (8 TO 12 YRS) Page 266-296, 30 pages Page 4 of11
• Pre-adolescence is a period of transition between childhood and puberty of adolescence. Freud
referred to this as latency, with sexual urges going underground. However, evidence suggests that
children’s interests in and expression of sexuality remain lively in this period.
• First bodily changes of puberty begin around age 9 to 10, with breast buds in girls and growth of pubic
hair in response to adrenarche, the maturation of adrenal glands and secretion of androgens.
• First experiences of sexual attraction around age 10 for all sexual orientations, not at puberty as
previously thought. This is likely due to increases in testosterone and estradiol.
• Boys and girls attracted to individuals of the same gender may experience sexual questioning, a time
of assessment and interpretation of features of their experience that violate sexual norms. This can be
assessed with surveys about the certainty of events, e.g. how likely s/he would fall in love with a wo/man
• Questioning children have lower scores on global self-worth and see themselves as less socially
• More and more children gain experience with masturbation, around 40%
• Boys generally start masturbating earlier than girls do. Boys typically learn about it from male peers,
either being told about it or seeing their peers do it; girls usually learn through accidental self-
• No connection between early masturbation experiences and later sexual satisfaction or adjustment
• Little mixed-sex sexual behaviour in this period due to social division of the genders
• Children commonly hear about sexual intercourse for the first time during this period. Reactions include
an amusing combination of shock and disbelief, particularly that their parents would do such a thing.
• Consensual sexual experiences include talking about sex, kissing and hugging, and teasing other
children sexually; most commonly at ages 11 and 12. These occur both with the same and opposite
• The age at which youth have their first consensual sexual intercourse has been declining, with some
having it during the pre-adolescent period: 5% of males and 1% of females reported by age 12. Majority
still engage in intercourse between ages 16 to 19.
• Youth who engage in intercourse during pre-adolescence more likely to report poor relationship with
parents, pressure to engage in unwanted sex, drug use other than marijuana, and belief they must break
rules to be popular.
• In pre-adolescence, peak of gender-segregated social organization around ages 10 to 12, where
males play and associate with males and females play and associate with other females.
• At ages 12 to 13, children simultaneously most segregated by gender and most interested in members
of the opposite gender
• Thus, at this age sexual exploring more likely to be with partners of the same-gender, such as with
masturbation, exhibitionism, and genital fondling
• Girls are less likely to engage in group activities like male “circle jerks”, perhaps because the spectacle
of female masturbation is not so impressive, or due to knowledge of greater cultural restrictions on
Dating & Romantic Relationships
• Pre-adolescent activities are often homosocial; from age 10 to 11, children begin to spend more time in
mixed-gender groups in a variety of activities. This increases steadily from grades 5 through 8. Page 266-296, 30 pages Page 5 of11
• Dating: Spending time with or going out with a boy or girl whom the youth likes, loves, or has a crush
on. This typically emerges in grade 7. These relationships tend to be short-lived.
• Progression from mixed-gender activities to dyadic dating is paralleled by a progression in development
of physical intimacy
• Many LGBTQ youth do not date those they are attracted to out of fear of harassment from peers; many
date partners of the other gender to conform to societal expectations
Sexualization of Children
• Sexualization occurs when:
o A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behaviour
o A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness with being sexy
o A person is sexually objectified
o Sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person
• Sexualization of girls includes representations on television, in movies, music videos, etc. Sexualized
products like dolls and other toys are all cultural contributions
• For boys, this message involves one of physical power, fighting or violence, and sexual pleasure
involving aggression and domination of women.
• Interpersonal contribution occurs when children are treated as sexual objects by family, friends, and
others. For girls, this includes expressions of concern about a girl’s weight and appearance; this can lead
to a girl’s self-sexualization which may result in drastic behaviours such as undergoing cosmetic surgery.
• Sexualization may lead to reduced self-esteem if one does not meet the standard, impaired cognitive
function and physical performance, anxiety, body-image dissatisfaction, and reduced educational and
occupational aspirations. It may also lead people to engage in unwanted sexual activity and
relationships, and in risky sexual behaviour.
• Medial literacy training programs and broad-based sexuality education can help. Activism and
resistance, such as campaigning against companies that used sexualized images to target children and
teens, is also important.
ADOLESCENCE (13 TO 19 YRS)
• Surge of sexual interest around puberty and into adolescence. This is caused by bodily chances, rises
in levels of sex hormones, increased cultural emphasis on sex, and rehearsal for adult gender roles.
• Urdy: For boys, testosterone levels have strong correlation to sexual activity (masturbation, coitus).
Sexually permissive attitudes, and other social variables were also related, but to a much lower level.
• For girls, the relationship between testosterone levels and sexual activity was also significant, but much
lower than for boys. Testosterone, not estrogen or progesterone, is related to sexuality – particularly
for girls in father-absent families. Pubertal development also has an effect, probably by increasing a girl’s
attractiveness; social factors like permissive attitudes and church attendance also influenced plans about
• Social variables interact with biological effects, magnifying or suppressing them.
• Cognitive changes also mediate these effects. Cognitive readiness related to reports of greater sexual
feelings and competency, and greater incidence of initiating sexual intercourse.
Masturbation Page 266-296, 30 pages Page 6 of 11
• Sharp increase in incidence of masturbation for boys between ages 13 to 15. By age 15, 82% of boys
in Kinsey’s study had masturbated. Many girls also begin in adolescence, but with much flatter gradual
curve – many do not begin masturbating until later.
• Asian university students significantly less likely to report
having masturbated than non-Asian students: 85% vs. 74%
of males, and 59% vs. 39% of females.
• Being in a satisfying sexual relationship does not affect
report of masturbation activities
Attitudes toward Masturbation
• Attitudes toward masturbation underwent a dramatic
change in the 20 century. Adolescents today are exposed
to much different information today, which affects their
behaviour and attitudes toward masturbation.
• In the early 1900s, it was believed that masturbation and loss of semen weakened a man’s body and
was thus unhealthy. It was even believed to worsen memory and attention, to cause insanity.
• Today, most see masturbation as normal and sex therapists recommend it to increase awareness of
one’s own sexual response and as a step to overcoming sexual problems.
• About 10% of men and 6% of