Sexuality in Childhood and Adolescence

young girl jumping on beach

"Learning about sex in our society is learning about guilt."

John Gagnon and William Simon

Week 10

Chapter 12 Introduction

Perhaps you have figured it out already through your reading, but sexual development begins during pregnancy.  This is biological development.  Sexuality develops cyclically in terms of physical, intellectual, and emotional changes throughout our lives.  Infants develop sexually through touch such as kissing, stroking, holding, and hugging.  These activities helps to forge the parent--child bond.  Touch is one of the first means a baby has to learn it is loved and through which psychosexual development begins.

Parents are very interested in teaching their lads and lassies about their various body parts--they teach them to point to their head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, arms, elbows, knee, and legs.  It is interesting that a young child can only whisper the names for their excretory functions and sexual parts.  In fact, they may not learn of proper names for their genitals until 5th grade sex-ed class if there is even one available.  When parents fail to teach the names of genitals and only talk of these areas in a whisper, the child may sense shame or guilt about their sexual organs.  One way an infant explores his/er sexuality is through touching their genitals.  This exploration is not purposeful and is not directed at orgasm.  However, many very well-intentioned parents will shame an infant rather than simply distract him/er.  Gender stereotypes affect the way many parents feel about and raise their children.

During preschool and early elementary years, a child's questions about reproduction should be answered in terms of where--where the baby comes from and where it was before it was born.  Preschoolers are curious about their bodies and may engage in harmless "sex-play". Unfortunately, it drives parents nuts. 

During the early elementary school years, children continue to be interested in sexual issues--the Freudian concept of the Oedipus/Electra complex is incorrect.  During this stage, love maps are developed in our brains, helping to create an idealized romantic and sexual partner.  The media is a prominent sexuality educator for children.  Sexual content on TV, in movies, or in print media influences children's views of sexuality.

Puberty is the stage of maturation when a human becomes capable of sexual reproduction.  Secondary sexual characteristics begin around age 8 for girls and age 9 for boys.  It takes from four to five years after the first physical changes to reach full reproductive potential.

Puberty for girls begins with secondary sexual characteristics of breast development, pubic and underarm hair.  The average age of menarche is 12 1/2.  The onset of menarche may be dependent on the proportion of body fat, with the mean body fat at menarche at 24%.  Puberty for boys begins with secondary sexual characteristics of increased size of the testes, and pubic and underarm hair.  The age of ability to ejaculate sperm, or spermenarche, is usually about age 13 or 14.

Age of onset of puberty varies widely for both males and females, which brings up the question, "Am I normal?"  With some exceptions for precocious puberty or vary late development, normal is what your body has provided for you.  Worries about normalcy also affect the emotional and social development of adolescents.  Rapid physical changes initiate many psychosocial changes.  Adolescents need to test parental (and teacher) authority, begin to feel peer pressure, and begin to develop a sense of identity.  During puberty, boys and girls begin to masturbate for sexual pleasure.

Adolescence is characterized by tasks that relate to the development of a healthy sexual being.  In early adolescence (females aged 9-13 years, males aged 11-15 years), physical changes require psychological and social adjustments on behalf of the adolescent and his or her family.  Conflicts with parents peak and peer norms become increasingly important.  Sexual experimentation of some kind is common, but sexual intercourse is usually limited.

Middle adolescence (females aged 13-16 years, males aged 14-17 years) brings about major transitions to abstract thinking and a feeling of invincibility.  Sexuality and sexual expression are of major importance.  Middle adolescents focus on themselves, and assume others will focus on them as well.

Late adolescence (females ages 16 and older, males aged 17 and older) sees teenagers moving toward adult roles and responsibilities.  Many are able to think abstractly and predict the consequences of their actions.  Adolescent cognitive development, and sexual self-concept.  Most U.S. adolescents engage in some form of sexual behavior, from kissing to intercourse.

Many gay and lesbian adults identify adolescence as a period of confusion about their sexual identity.  Gay males believe they might be homosexual at an average age or 17; lesbians at age 18.  "Coming out" generally does not occur until adulthood.

About 200,00 children are reported to be sexually abused each year, 90% by someone known in the family or friendship circle.  Girls are more likely to be abused than boys, and males are more likely to be perpetrators than women.  Six percent of boys and 15% of girls are sexually assaulted by their 16th birthday.  Sexual harassment is a fact of life at most middle and high schools.  In fact, 85% of girls and 76% of boys grades 8-11 reported they had been victims.



1.  Review the objectives for week 10 and read Chapter 12 in your text.

2.  View the PPT presentation for Chapter 12.

3.  Flip through the Flashcards for the chapter until you are proficient.

4.  Go to Chapter 12 Assignments and complete them.

5.  Contribute to forums and respond to another student's posting.

6.  Take the Open-Book Quiz and submit.