Child sexuality

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Development of sexuality is an integral part of the development and maturation of children. A range of sensational, emotional and consequent sexual activities that may occur before or during early puberty, but before full sexual maturity is established. The development of child sexuality and the perception of child sexuality by adults is influenced by social and cultural aspects. The concept of child sexuality also played an important role in the classical psychoanalysis.

Contents

History of research

Freud

Until Sigmund Freud published his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905, children were often regarded as asexual, having no sexuality until later development. Freud was one of the first researchers to seriously study child sexuality. While his ideas, such as psycho-sexual development and the Oedipus complex, have been rejected, acknowledging the existence of child sexuality was a significant change. [1] Children are naturally curious about their bodies and sexual functions – they wonder where babies come from, they notice anatomical differences between males and females, and many engage in genital play or masturbation. Child sex play includes exhibiting or inspecting the genitals. Many children take part in some sex play, typically with siblings or friends. [1] Sex play with others usually decreases as children go through their elementary school years, yet they still may possess romantic interest in their peers. Curiosity levels remain high during these years, escalating in puberty (roughly the teenage years) when the main surge in sexual interest occurs. [1]

Kinsey

Alfred Kinsey in the Kinsey Reports (1948 and 1953) included research on the physical sexual response of children, including pre-pubescent children (though the main focus of the reports was adults). While there were initially concerns that some of the data in his reports could not have been obtained without observation of or participation in child sexual abuse, [2] the data was revealed much later in the 1990s to have been gathered from the diary of a single pedophile who had been molesting children since 1917. [3] [4] This effectively rendered the data-set nearly worthless, not only because it relied entirely on a single source, but the data was hearsay reported by a highly unreliable observer. In 2000, Swedish researcher Ing-Beth Larsson noted, "It is quite common for references still to cite Alfred Kinsey", due to the scarcity of subsequent large-scale studies of child sexual behavior. [5]

Sexual development

Before puberty

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network issued a report in 2009 on child sexual development in the United States. The report asserted that children have a natural curiosity about their own bodies and the bodies of others that ought to be addressed in an age-appropriate manner. According to the report:

The report recommended that parents learn what is normal in regard to nudity and sexuality at each stage of a child's development and refrain from overreacting to their children's nudity-related behaviors unless there are signs of a problem (e.g. anxiety, aggression, or sexual interactions between children not of the same age or stage of development). [6]

Children can discover the pleasure of genital stimulation naturally at an early age. [7] Boys often lie on their stomachs and girls may sit and rock. Manual stimulation occurs about the time of adolescence and mutual masturbation or other sexual experimentation between adolescents of similar ages may also occur, though cultural or religious coercion may inhibit or occult such activity if there is negative peer pressure or if authority figures are likely to disapprove. [7]

From the ages of three to seven, the following behaviors are normal among children:

Early school age covers approximately ages five to seven, and masturbation is common at these ages. [8] [9] Children become more aware of gender differences, and tend to choose same-sex friends and playmates, even disparaging the opposite sex. [10] Children may drop their close attachment to their opposite-sex parent and become more attached to their same-sex parent. [8]

During this time, children, especially girls, show increased awareness of social norms regarding sex, nudity, and privacy. [11] Children may use sexual terms to test adult reaction. [8] "Bathroom humor" (jokes and conversation relating to excretory functions), present in earlier stages, continues. [9]

"Middle childhood" covers the ages from about six to eleven, depending on the methodology and the behavior being studied, individual development varies considerably.

As this stage progresses, the choices of children picking same-sex friends becomes more marked and extending to disparagement of the opposite sex. [12]

By the age of 8 or 9 children become aware that sexual arousal is a specific type of erotic sensation and will seek these pleasurable experiences through various sights, self-touches, and fantasy. [13]

Although there are variations between individual children, children are generally curious about their bodies and those of others, and explore their bodies through explorative sex play. [14] [15] "Playing doctor" is one example of such childhood exploration; such games are generally considered to be normal in young children. Child sexuality is considered fundamentally different from adult sexual behavior, which is more goal-driven. Among children, genital penetration and oral-genital contact are very uncommon, [16] and may be perceived as imitations of adult behaviors. [17] Such behaviors are more common among children who have been sexually abused. [5]

A 1997 study based on limited variables found no correlation between early childhood (age 6 and under) peer sexual play and later adjustment. The study notes that its results do not demonstrate conclusively that no such correlation exists. The study also does not address the question of consequences of intense sexual experiences or aggressive or unwanted experiences. [18]

Between puberty and adulthood

Contemporary issues

In the latter part of the 20th century, sexual liberation probably arose in the context of a massive cultural explosion in the United States of America following the upheaval of the Second World War, and the vast quantity of audiovisual media distributed worldwide by the new electronic and information technology. Children are apt to gain access and be influenced by material, despite censorship and content-control software. [19]

Sex education

The extent of sex education in public schools varies widely around the world, and within countries such as the United States where course content is determined by individual school districts.

A series of sex education videos from Norway, intended for 8–12 year olds, includes explicit information and images of reproduction, anatomy, and the changes that are normal with the approach of puberty. Rather than diagrams or photos, the videos are shot in a locker room with live nude people of all ages. The presenter, a physician, is relaxed about close examination and touching of relevant body parts, including genitals. While the videos note that the age of consent in Norway is 16, abstinence is not emphasized. As of 2015, however, 37 U.S. states required that sex education curricula include lessons on abstinence and 25 required that a "just say no" approach be stressed. Studies show that early and complete sex education does not increase the likelihood of becoming sexually active, but leads to better health outcomes overall. [20]

Sexualization of children

Some cultural critics in the Western world have postulated that over recent decades, children have been subject to a premature sexualization, as indicated by a level of sexual knowledge or sexual behavior inappropriate for their age group. [21] The causes of this premature sexualization that have been cited include portrayals in the media of sex and related issues, especially in media aimed at children; the marketing of products with sexual connotations to children, including clothing; the lack of parental oversight and discipline; access to adult culture via the internet; and the lack of comprehensive school sex education programs. [22] [23] For girls and young women in particular, studies have found that sexualization has a negative impact on their "self-image and healthy development". [24]

Sex abuse

Child sexual abuse is defined as an adult or older adolescent having a sexual relationship with a child. [25] [26] Effects of child sexual abuse include clinical depression, [27] post-traumatic stress disorder, [28] anxiety, [29] propensity to further victimization in adulthood, [30] and physical injury to the child, among other problems. [31]

Child sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest. [22] [32]

Children who have been the victim of child sexual abuse sometimes display overly sexualized behavior, [33] [34] which may be defined as expressed behavior that is non-normative for the culture. Typical symptomatic behaviors may include excessive or public masturbation and coercing, manipulating or tricking other children into non-consensual or unwanted sexual activities, also referred to as "child-on-child sexual abuse". Sexualized behavior is thought to constitute the best indication that a child has been sexually abused. [33]

Children who exhibit sexualized behavior may also have other behavioral problems. [34] Other symptoms of child sexual abuse may include manifestations of post-traumatic stress in younger children; fear, aggression, and nightmares in young school-age children; and depression in older children. [33]

Among siblings

In 1980, a survey of 796 undergraduates, 15 percent of females and 10 percent of males reported some form of sexual experience involving a sibling; most of these fell short of actual intercourse. Approximately one quarter of these experiences were described as abusive or exploitative. [35] A 1989 paper reported the results of a questionnaire with responses from 526 undergraduate college students in which 17 percent of the respondents stated that they had preadolescent sexual experiences with a sibling. [36]

Methodological issues

Empirical knowledge about child sexual behavior is not usually gathered by direct interviews of children, partly due to ethical consideration. [5] Information about child sexual behavior is gathered by the following methods:

Most published sexual research material emanates from the Western World, and a great deal of dramatic audio-visual material which might influence social attitudes to child sexuality are generated either in the United States of America or else for that audience. "Normative" may therefore relate to Western culture rather than to the general complexity of human experience. [41]

See also

Related Research Articles

Human sexual activity Human behaviour that is sexually motivated

Human sexual activity, human sexual practice or human sexual behaviour is the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality. People engage in a variety of sexual acts, ranging from activities done alone to acts with another person in varying patterns of frequency, for a wide variety of reasons. Sexual activity usually results in sexual arousal and physiological changes in the aroused person, some of which are pronounced while others are more subtle. Sexual activity may also include conduct and activities which are intended to arouse the sexual interest of another or enhance the sex life of another, such as strategies to find or attract partners, or personal interactions between individuals. Sexual activity may follow sexual arousal.

Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender. These attractions are generally subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, while asexuality is sometimes identified as the fourth category.

Adolescence Transitional stage of physical and psychological development

Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and psychological development that generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood. Adolescence is usually associated with the teenage years, but its physical, psychological or cultural expressions may begin earlier and end later. For example, puberty now typically begins during preadolescence, particularly in females. Physical growth and cognitive development can extend into the early twenties. Thus, age provides only a rough marker of adolescence, and scholars have found it difficult to agree upon a precise definition of adolescence.

Psychosexual development

In Freudian psychology, psychosexual development is a central element of the psychoanalytic sexual drive theory. Freud believed that personality developed through a series of childhood stages in which pleasure seeking energies from the id became focused on certain erogenous areas. An erogenous zone is characterized as an area of the body that is particularly sensitive to stimulation. The five psychosexual stages are the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital. The erogenous zone associated with each stage serves as a source of pleasure. Being unsatisfied at any particular stage can result in fixation. On the other hand, being satisfied can result in a healthy personality. Sigmund Freud proposed that if the child experienced frustration at any of the psychosexual developmental stages, they would experience anxiety that would persist into adulthood as a neurosis, a functional mental disorder.

"Playing doctor" is a phrase used colloquially in the Western world to refer to children examining each other's genitals. It originates from children using the pretend roles of doctor and patient as a pretext for such an examination. However, whether or not such role-playing is involved, the phrase is used to refer to any similar examination.

Paul Cameron Anti-gay American psychologist

Paul Drummond Cameron is an American psychologist. Cameron has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-gay extremist. While employed at various institutions, including the University of Nebraska, he conducted research on passive smoking, but he is best known today for his claims about homosexuality. After a successful 1982 campaign against a gay rights proposal in Lincoln, Nebraska, he established the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality (ISIS), now known as the Family Research Institute (FRI). As FRI's chairman, Cameron has written contentious papers asserting associations between homosexuality and the perpetration of child sexual abuse and reduced life expectancy. These have been heavily criticized by others in the field.

Genital play is a common early childhood behavior of genital exploration distinct from autoerotic stimulation. This behavior is part of a normative period of children exploring all of their bodies, and some psychologists have even suggested genital play is a sign of healthy psychosexual development.

Child abuse Maltreatment or neglect of a child

Child abuse or child maltreatment is physical, sexual, and/or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or a caregiver. Child abuse may include any act or failure to act by a parent or a caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child, and can occur in a child's home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with.

Sexualization is to make something sexual in character or quality or to become aware of sexuality, especially in relation to men and women. Sexualization is linked to sexual objectification. According to the American Psychological Association, sexualization occurs when "individuals are regarded as sex objects and evaluated in terms of their physical characteristics and sexiness." "In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner and are objectified. In addition, a narrow standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate." Women who embrace their sexual desires are considered to be sexy and attractive to men who want nothing more than to have a woman as a sex toy. In the eyes of men, women that practice this behavior serve the pure purpose of providing satisfaction and showcasing their human nature. According to the Media Education Foundation's, Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women, the sexualization of girls in media and the ways women are portrayed in the dominant culture are detrimental to the development of young girls as they are developing their identities and understanding themselves as sexual beings.

Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Although girls typically begin the process of puberty at age 10 or 11, and boys at age 11 or 12, criteria for pedophilia extend the cut-off point for prepubescence to age 13. A person must be at least 16 years old, and at least five years older than the prepubescent child, for the attraction to be diagnosed as pedophilia.

Childhood gender nonconformity (CGN) is a phenomenon in which prepubescent children do not conform to expected gender-related sociological or psychological patterns, or identify with the opposite sex/gender. Typical behavior among those who exhibit the phenomenon includes but is not limited to a propensity to cross-dress, refusal to take part in activities conventionally thought suitable for the gender and the exclusive choice of play-mates of the opposite sex.

Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is abusive sexual behavior by one person upon another. It is often perpetrated using force or by taking advantage of another. When force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester. The term also covers any behavior by an adult or older adolescent towards a child to stimulate any of the involved sexually. The use of a child, or other individuals younger than the age of consent, for sexual stimulation is referred to as child sexual abuse or statutory rape. Live streaming sexual abuse involves trafficking and coerced sexual acts and or rape in real time on webcam.

Human sexuality covers a broad range of topics, including the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, philosophical, ethical, moral, theological, legal and spiritual or religious aspects of sex and human sexual behavior.

Child-on-child sexual abuse is a form of child sexual abuse in which a prepubescent child is sexually abused by one or more other children or adolescents, and in which no adult is directly involved. While this includes when one of the children uses physical force, threats, trickery or emotional manipulation to elicit cooperation, it also can include non-coercive situations where the initiator proposes or starts a sexual act that the victim does not understand the nature of and simply goes along with, not comprehending its implications or what the consequences might be. Child-on-child sexual abuse is differentiated from normative sexual play or anatomical curiosity and exploration because child-on-child sexual abuse is an overt and deliberate action directed at sexual stimulation, including orgasm. When sexual abuse is perpetrated by one sibling upon another, it is known as "inter-sibling abuse". When victims of inter-sibling child-on-child sexual abuse grow up, they often have distorted recall of the act, such as thinking it was consensual or that they were the initiator.

Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child, indecent exposure, child grooming, and child sexual exploitation, including using a child to produce child pornography.

The relationship between the environment and sexual orientation is a subject of research. In the study of sexual orientation, some researchers distinguish environmental influences from hormonal influences, while other researchers include biological influences such as prenatal hormones as part of environmental influences.

<i>Sexual Preference</i> (book) 1981 book by Alan P. Bell, Martin S. Weinberg, and Sue Kiefer Hammersmith

Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women (1981) is a book about the development of sexual orientation by the psychologist Alan P. Bell and the sociologists Martin S. Weinberg and Sue Kiefer Hammersmith, in which the authors reevaluate what were at the time of its publication widely held ideas about the origins of heterosexuality and homosexuality, sometimes rejecting entirely the factors proposed as causes, and in other cases concluding that their importance had been exaggerated. Produced with the help of the American National Institute of Mental Health, the study was a publication of the Institute for Sex Research. Together with its Statistical Appendix, Sexual Preference was the conclusion of a series of books including Homosexuality: An Annotated Bibliography (1972) and Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women (1978), both co-authored by Bell and Weinberg.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to human sexuality:

Sexual arousal Arousal of sexual desire, during or in anticipation of sexual activity

Sexual arousal is typically the arousal of sexual desire during or in anticipation of sexual activity. A number of physiological responses occur in the body and mind as preparation for sexual intercourse and continue during it. Male arousal will lead to an erection, and in female arousal the body's response is engorged sexual tissues such as nipples, vulva, clitoris, vaginal walls, and vaginal lubrication. Mental stimuli and physical stimuli such as touch, and the internal fluctuation of hormones, can influence sexual arousal.

Sharon Lamb, is an American professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston's, College of Education and Human Development, and a fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA). She also sits on the editorial board of the academic journals Feminism & Psychology, and Sexualization, Media, and Society.

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Further reading