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