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The Stages of Sexual Development

Children are sexual beings from birth and are curious about exploring the sexual parts of their bodies. All children do not do all of these behaviors at these exact ages; most children will do some. The child’s job is to explore and the parent’s job is to teach the boundaries that we place around that exploration.



Infants – stroke their genitals if they can find them. Boys can get erections.



Toddlers – enjoy being naked, may masturbate and want to be in control of touching, kissing and hugging.




Preschoolers (Ages 3-5) – are interested in gender differences, ask about sex and may have an increased interest in masturbation.* They may engage in sexual exploration with peers, experiment with “bad” words and show increased interest in the opposite-sex parent.




School-Age Children (Ages 6-9) – may compare “private parts” with same-sex peers, begin to assert the need for privacy* and have probably heard peers talk about sex and AIDS. They may be exposed to “homophobic” conversations or teasing.*




Pre-adolescents (Ages 10-12) – begin to develop sexually. Preteens can develop intense admiration for same-sex adults and be distressed if their physical development is more or less advanced than their peers.* They may begin having “crushes,” body image becomes increasingly important and peer opinion is valued.

Adolescents (Ages 13-18) – strive for autonomy, desire parental approval and act as if parents know nothing. Body image may become obsessive and eating

Return to our 2-part feature: Talking About Sex

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