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Chapter 12

Chapter 12 – Sexuality During Childhood and Adolescence.docx

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PSYC 3450
Karl Hennig

Chapter 12 – Sexuality During Childhood and Adolescence Sexual Behaviour During Infancy and Childhood  Variety of behaviours and body functions, including sexual eroticism, develop during infancy and childhood  Sexuality is especially important during this period, because many experiences during these formative years have a great effect on the future expression of adult sexuality Infant Sexuality  For most people the capacity for sexual response is present from birth  In the first 2 years of life, a period generally referred to as infancy, many girls and boys discover the pleasures of genital stimulation  Pelvic thrusting and other signs of sexual arousal in infants, such as vaginal lubrication and penile erection, are often misinterpreted or unacknowledged  In some cases both male and female infants have been observed experiencing what appears to be an orgasm  An infant is unable to differentiate sexual pleasure from other forms of sensual enjoyment Childhood Sexuality  What constitutes normal and healthy sexual behaviour in children? o No definitive answer, data on childhood sexuality are scarce  People show considerable variation in their sexual development during childhood, and diverse influences are involved  A child can learn to express her or his affectionate and sensual feelings through activities such as kissing and hugging  The response the child receives to these expressions of intimacy can have a strong influence on the manner in which he or she expresses sexuality in later years  Inclinations we have as adults towards giving and receiving affection seem to be related to our early opportunities for warm, pleasurable contact with significant others, particularly parents  Number of researchers believe that children who are deprived of “contact comfort” (being touched and held) during the first months and years of life can have difficulty establishing intimate relationships later in their lives  Other research suggests that affection and physical violence are to some extent mutually exclusive  High levels of adult violence are manifested in those cultures in which children are deprived of physical affection Normative Sexual Behaviour in Children: A Contemporary Sample  Psychologist William Friedrich and his colleagues (1998) at the Mayo Clinic interviewed a large sample of mothers regarding sexual behaviours they had observed in their children  Mother informants were asked how often they had seen their children displayed 38 different sexual behaviours over the past 6 months  A wide range of sexual behaviours were observed at varying levels of frequency throughout the entire age range of children  Most frequently observed sexual behaviours were self-stimulation, exhibitionism, and behaviour related to personal boundaries, such as touching their mother‟s or other women‟s breasts  Sexually intrusive behaviour – such as child putting his or her hand on another child‟s genitals – were observed less frequently  Frequency of observed sexual behaviours was inversely related to age, with overall frequency peaking at age 5 for both sexes and declining over the next 7 years  Decline in sexual behaviours after age 5 does not necessarily suggest that children actually engage in fewer sexual behaviours as they grow older  Likely that children become more private about sexual expression as they mature  A positive association between maternal attitudes towards sexuality and frequency of observed sexual behaviours Childhood Masturbation  Masturbation is one of the most common and natural forms of sexual expression during the childhood years  Parental reactions to self-pleasuring can be an important influence on developing sexuality  Most parents and other primary caregivers in American society tend to discourage or prohibit such activities and may even describe them to other adults as unusual or problematic  Comments about masturbation that pass from parent to child are typically either nonexistent or often negative  How can adults convey their acceptance of this natural and normal form of self- exploration?  One way to begin is by not reacting negatively to the genital fondling that is typical of infants and young children  As we respond to children‟s questions about their bodies, it may be desirable to mention the potential for pleasure that exists in their genital anatomy  Respecting privacy is another way to foster comfort with this very personal activity  Another concern is that children will begin masturbating openly in front of others if they are aware that their parents accept such behaviour  Children are generally aware enough of social expectations to maintain a high degree of privacy in something as emotionally laden and personal as self- pleasuring  Most of them are much more capable of making important discriminations than parents sometimes acknowledge  In the event that children do masturbate in the presence of others, it would seem reasonable for parents to voice their concerns, taking care to label the choice of location and not the activity as inappropriate  Many children masturbate, telling them to stop this behaviour rarely eliminates it, even if such requests are backed with threats of punishment or claims that masturbation causes mental or physical deteriorations  These negative responses most likely succeed only in greatly magnifying the guilt and anxiety associated with this behaviour Childhood Sex Play  Prepubertal children often engage in play that can be viewed as sexual  Such play takes place with friends or siblings of the same or the other sex who are about the same age  More likely to take place between the ages of 4 and 7  Activities ranged from exhibition and inspection of genitals, often under the guise of playing doctor, to simulating intercourse by rubbing genital regions together  For many children the play aspects of the interaction are far more significant than any other sexual overtones  Curiosity about what is forbidden probably plays an important role in encouraging early sexual exploration  Curiosity about the sexual equipment of others, particularly the other sex, is quite normal  Many day-care centres and nursery schools now have bathrooms open to both sexes so that children can learn about sexual differences in a natural, everyday way  Many children in the 5-7 age range begin to act in ways that mirror the predominant heterosexual marriage script in our society  Apparent in the practice of playing house  By the time children reach the age of 8 or 9, there is a pronounced tendency for boys and girls to begin to play separately, although romantic interest in the other sex may exist at the same time  Despite an apparent decline in sex play with others, curiosity about sexual matters remains high  This is an age when many questions about reproduction and sexuality are asked  Most 10 and 11 year olds are keenly interested in body changes, particularly those involving the genitals and secondary sex characteristics, such as underarm hair and breast development  Many prepubescent children become extremely self-conscious about their bodies and may be reticent about exposing them to the view of others  Sex play with friends of the same sex is common during the childhood years  During this time, when the separation of the sexes is particularly strong, same-sex activity is probably more common than heterosexual encounters  In most instances these childhood same-sex encounters are transitory, soon replaced by the heterosexual courting of adolescence  For some of these children, sex play with friends of the same sex can reflect a homosexual or bisexual orientation that will develop more fully during adolescence and adulthood  Youthful same-sex experiences in and of themselves rarely play a determinant role in establishing a homosexual orientation  Self-discovery and peer interactions are important during childhood development of sexuality The Physical Changes of Adolescence  Important and often profound changes in behaviour and role expectations occur throughout this phase in life  In many cultures adult roles are assumed at a much earlier age  Puberty is a term frequently used to describe the period of rapid physical changes in early adolescence  Mechanisms that trigger the chain of developments are not fully understood  We do know that the brain coordinates the physical changes that occur during puberty and that the hypothalamus plays an especially important role in this process  When a child is between 8 and 14 years old, the hypothalamus increases secretions that cause the pituitary gland to release larger amounts of hormones known as gonadotropins into the bloodstream  Hormones stimulate activity in the gonads, and they are chemically identical in boys and girls  In males they cause the testes to increase testosterone production, whereas in females they act on the ovaries to produce elevated estrogen levels  From the age of 9 or 10 years, the levels of these gonadal steroid hormones begin to increase as the child approaches puberty  Girls typically enter puberty at age 10 or 11, whereas boys experience puberty a little later, at an average of 12 years  Overweight girls tend to enter puberty at an earlier age than the norm for girls  In response to higher levels of male and female hormones, external signs of characteristic male and female sexual maturation begin to appear  Secondary sex characteristics – breasts; deepened voice; and facial, body, and pubic hair  Growth of pubic hair in both sexes and breast budding in girls are usually the earliest signs of puberty  A growth spurt also follows, stimulated by an increase in sex hormones, growth hormone, and a third substance called insulin-like growth factor 1  Deficiency in growth hormone levels is associated with short stature in youth, a condition that can be remedied by the administration of growth hormone during puberty  Growth spurt eventually terminates, again under the influence of sex hormones, which send signals to close the ends of the long bones  External genitals also undergo enlargement; the penis and testes increase in size in the male, and the labia become enlarged in the female  Only event of puberty that is clearly different in boys and girls is growth  Estrogen is a much better facilitator of growth hormone secretion by the pituitary gland than is testosterone, as soon as a girl start to show pubertal development, she starts to grow more quickly  Even though the magnitude of the pubertal growth spurt is roughly equal in both sexes, it begins about 2 years earlier in girls  Under the influence of hormone stimulation, the internal organs of both sexes undergo further development during puberty  In girls the vaginal walls become thicker, and the uterus becomes larger and more muscular  Vaginal pH changes from alkaline to acidic as vaginal and cervical secretions increase in response to the changing hormone status  First menstrual period is called menarche  Median age at menarche for all girls in the US and other developed nations, 12.43 years, has remained stable for the last 50 years Sexuality and Diversity  African American girls start to menstruate earlier than white Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans  Typically the first ejaculation occurs a year after the growth spurt has begun, usually around age 13, but as with menstruation, the timing is highly variable  Initial appearance of sperm in the ejaculate typically occurs at about age 14  Appears to be a period of early adolescent infertility in many girls and boys following initial menstruation or ejaculation  Voice changes caused by the growth of the voice box (larynx) occur in both sexes, but they are more dramatic in boys, who often experience an awkward time when their voice alternates between low and high pitches  Facial hair in boys and axillary (underarm) hair in both sexes usually appears approximately 2 years after pubic hair does  Many of these physical developments are sources of concern or pride to the adolescent and his or her family and friends  Feeling self-conscious is a common reaction, and individuals who mature early or late often feel particularly self-conscious  Social changes also take place  Boy-girl friendships often change, and adolescents are likely to become – at least temporarily – more homosocial, relating socially primarily members of the same sex Sexual Behaviour During Adolescence The Sexual Double Standard  Although children have been learning gender-role stereotypes since infancy, the emphasis on gender-role differentiation often increases during adolescence  One way that the gender-role expectations for males and females are revealed is through the existence of a sexual double standard: different standards of sexual permissiveness for women and men, with more restrictive standards almost always applied to women  For males the focus of sexuality may be sexual conquest  Young men who are nonaggressive or sexually inexperienced are often labeled with highly negative terms such as “sissy”  Peers often provide social reinforcement for stereotypically masculine attitudes and behaviours; for example, approval is given to aggressive and independent behaviours  For some young men, telling their peers about their sexual encounters is more important than the sexual act itself  If a young woman refuses to have sex, she may worry that her boyfriends will lose interest and stop dating her  But if she engages in sex, she may fear that she has gained a reputation for being „easy” Masturbation  Masturbation frequency rates among females are notably lower than among males for all age groups, including adolescents  By the time they have reached the end of adolescence, almost all males and approximately ¾ females have masturbated  Masturbation can serve as an important avenue for sexual expression during adolescence  Self-stimulating is an excellent way to learn about one‟s body and its sexual potential Non-Coital Sexual Expression  Non-coital sexual expression provides an important way for many couples to relate to one another, often as an alternative to intercourse  Non-coital sex refers to erotic physical contact that can include kissing, holding, touching, manual stimulation, or oral genital stimulation, but no
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