Childhood Development and Sexual Behavior

One of the earliest signs of sexual behavior may be displayed on an infant’s face with a smile or excitement upon having their genitals touched during a diaper change or bath. Thrusting is an early sexual behavior that occurs around 8 to 10 months as a possible sign of affection; usually, the infant clings to the parent, nuzzles, and thrusts and rotates the pelvis for several seconds. Baby boys have been shown to exhibit behaviors characteristic of an orgasm as early as five months and girls as early as four months; the difference in this orgasm is the lack of ejaculation that occurs only after puberty. Masturbation is a sexual behavior typical for infants and young children, which initially occurs between 6 to 12 months; infants often rub their genitals against soft objects, such as a towel, bedding, or a doll, and once they mature may prefer manual genital stimulation as hand coordination increases. Orgasm reached through masturbation is rare until the second year, but overall is frequent among children.

Playing “Doctor” is behavior of sexual curiosity that develops during infancy, sometimes as early as 12 to 15 months of age. Children do not typically engage in genital play with others until about the age of two. A child may investigate other children’s genitals or may hug, cuddle, kiss, or climb on top of them, but this is no need for concern.

During early childhood, three- and four-year-olds commonly express affection through kissing. In this stage, sexual curiosity about genitals increases, apparent from sex games like “show” and “playing doctor” commonly observed between the ages of 6 and 10, although it can begin earlier; this sexual behavior mostly occurs with the same sex and does not predict sexual orientation as an adult. Children may show their genitals to each other, touch each other’s genitals, or masturbate together. During preadolescence, children become preoccupied with and self-conscious of their bodies. The difference in behavior from the previous stage is sexually related, such as developing close, usually same-sex, friendships and thinking that the opposite sex are dorks or have “cuddies.” By age 13, masturbation is reported as the primary means of achieving orgasm with 45% of males and 15% of females in one study. Most same sex behavior occurs from a lack of availability of partners of the other sex; interest in the opposite sex increases as puberty approaches.

Adolescence is signified by the secondary-sex and reproductive characteristics of puberty; masturbation is a major outlet reported to occur in 46% of boys and 24% of girls, exposing that masturbation is more frequent among boys. The concern for most parents with adolescent children is the abundance of hormones following puberty that contribute to a strong sex drive. Many adolescents make use of petting to express affection, satisfy their curiosities, heighten their sexual arousal, and reach orgasm, while avoiding pregnancy and maintaining virginity. One study found that 97% of teenagers had engaged in kissing, a form of petting, by the age of 15. Around 13 or 14 years of age a boy’s erections become more frequent and a concern for many boys due to unexpected occurrences. With adolescent children the occurrence of oral sex increases as they get older and studies have found that half of the high school students in the United States are sexually active. A NHSLS study reported that their primary reason for the first coital experience was curiosity, or “readiness for sex”; this suggests that providing accurate information to adolescent children about sex may reduce the curiosity that leads them to their initial experimentation. Considering that adolescents who develop early secondary sex characteristics may begin dating earlier which likely increases the chance of progressing to sex at an earlier age, many parents might want to begin doing their homework for the big sex talk soon.

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