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2002 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 7, No. 2
May 2002

Normal Sexual Development

Infancy

  • Children begin to explore their bodies, including their genitals.
  • Skin touch is the primary method infants have available for learning about their bodies, other's bodies, and their sexuality.
  • Other people's response to that body exploration is one of the earliest forms of social learning.

Childhood

  • Half of all adults report having participated in sex play as children.
  • Children express interest in feelings aroused by touching their genitalia in the same way they express interest in the light of the moon, or a flower blooming. Children express general interest in others' bodies and may touch. Adult reactions teach shame or that privacy is important for certain behaviors.
  • Masturbation occurs naturally in boys and girls, and begins in infancy. By the age of two or three years, most children have learned that masturbation in front of others is likely to get them in trouble.

Pre-Adolescence

  • A strong interest in viewing (via photographs, films, videos, etc.) other people's bodies.
  • Very few children become sexually active in pre-adolescence. When they do, it is usually initiated by adults.
  • Sexual activity or play during this age usually represents the use of sex for non-sexual goals and purposes.

Adolescence

  • Adolescence itself is generally marked by the societal acknowledgment of sexual capacity. The way other people react to a teen's physical sexual characteristics (body hair, formation of breasts, deepening of the voice, beginning of menses) have a profound affect on both the young person's sense of self esteem and the development of his/her social skills.
  • The adolescent develops a growing awareness of being a sexual person, and of the place and value of sex in one's life, including such options as celibacy.
  • The adolescent may work toward significant resolution of confusion and conflict about sexual orientation.
  • It is during this time that individuals are able to join together the physical and social aspects of sex and sexuality.
  • Most adolescents practice some types of interactive sexual behaviors with others, such as fondling, open-mouth kissing, and simulated intercourse.

Adapted from:

Simon, W., & Gagnon, J. (1998). Psychosexual development. Society, 35 (2), 60-68.

Sgroi, S., Bunk, B., & Wabrek, C. (1988). Children's sexual behaviors and their relationship to sexual abuse. In A. Gitterman (Ed.), Vulnerable Populations. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Sarrel, L. (1989). Sexual unfolding revisited. SIECUS Report, 18 (1), 4-5.