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Encyclopedia > Child sexuality

Child sexuality refers to sexual feelings, behavior and development in children. This article is about human sexual perceptions. ...


Two basic views

Theories of sexual development may be broadly divided into two schools of thought:

  1. Those which tend to emphasize innate biology, which may be encouraged or disturbed during childhood. That is, that human sexual development is primarily a biological process and thus basically similar across cultures, and that there is thus a relatively narrow model for healthy sexual development, although this may be disturbed by the influence of the larger culture or by other means. This is the approach used most often in the medical study of child development.
  2. Those which tend to emphasize sexuality as a social construct (with child sexuality strongly influenced by the larger society). This latter school often uses the terms normative (culturally appropriate behavior) and non-normative (culturally inappropriate behavior),[1] and is the approach used in most social scholarship and most discussed in this article.


Early research

The two most famous figures in child sexuality research are probably Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956). Sigmund Freud (IPA: ), born Sigismund Schlomo Freud (May 6, 1856 – September 23, 1939), was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who co-founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. ... Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956), was an American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology who in 1947 founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. ...

Freud's 1905 work Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality outlined a theory of psychosexual development with five distinct phases: the oral stage (0 - 1.5 years), the anal stage (1.5 - 3.5 years), the phallic stage (3.5 - 6 years) culminating in the resolution of the Oedipus conflict followed by a period of sexual latency (6 years to puberty) and the genital, or adult, stage. Freud's basic thesis was that children's early sexuality is polymorphous and that strong incestual drives develop, and the child must harness or sublimate these to develop a healthy adult sexuality. Category: ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... The Oedipus complex is a concept developed by Sigmund Freud, who was inspired by Carl Jung (he described the concept and coined the term Complex), to explain the maturation of the infant through identification with the father and desire for the mother. ... Freud describes in his model of psychosexual development five stages. ...

Freud's theories were developed about a century ago in an environment differing from the modern, and his research was largely confined to his own observations and readings.[citation needed] Some of Freud's theories (such as penis envy) have been largely superseded, and many modern experts consider his work obsolete, and the core body of his work has never been entirely accepted by the scientific and medical communities. For the Crass album, see Penis Envy (album). ...

Alfred Kinsey, whose two seminal works are the Kinsey Reports (1948 and 1953), marshalled the resources to make the first large-scale surveys of sexual behavior. Kinsey's work focuses on adults, but he also studied children and developed the first statistical reports of childhood masturbation. The Kinsey Reports are two books on human sexual behavior, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy and others. ...

Swedish researcher IngBeth Larsson, writing in 2000, notes that "It is quite common for references still to cite Alfred Kinsey", due to the paucity of subsequent large-scale studies of children's sexual behavior.[1]

Current methodology of study

Empirical knowledge about child sexual behaviour is not usually gathered by direct interviews of children, (partly due to ethical considerations),[1] but rather by:

  • Observing children being treated for problematical behavior such as use of force in sex play,[2] often using dolls having genitals.[3]
  • Recollections by adults.[4] and
  • Observation by caregivers.[5]


Normative and non-normative behaviors

Although there is variation between individuals, children generally are curious about their own bodies and those of others and engage in explorative sex play.[6][7] However, child sexuality is fundamentally different from goal-driven adult sexual behavior, and imitation of adult behaviors such as bodily penetration and oral-genital contact are very uncommon,[8] but are more common among children who have been sexually abused.[1] Children with other types of behaviour disorder may also display more behaviours of a sexual nature than other children.[1] Genital Play is the process of using genitals for entertainment while not particularly interested in sexual stimulation. ...

Symptomatic behaviors

Children who have been the victim of sexual abuse usually show sexualized behavior,[9][10] which may be defined as expressed behavior that is non-normative for the culture. Typical symptomatic behaviors in developed societies may include attempting to involve other children in unwanted sexual activities, and excessive masturbation or public masturbation. Sexualized behavior can constitute the best indication that a child has been sexually abused, although some victims do not exhibit abnormal behavior.[9] Sexual behavior is a form of physical intimacy that may be directed to reproduction (one possible goal of sexual intercourse) and/or to the enjoyment of activity involving sexual gratification. ... Woman masturbating, 1913 drawing by Gustav Klimt. ...

Children who exhibit sexualized behavior may also have other behavioral problems, although factors other than sexual abuse may cause these problems.[10] Other symptoms of 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.[9] Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a term for the psychological consequences of exposure to or confrontation with stressful experiences, which involve actual or threatened death, serious physical injury or a threat to physical integrity and which the person found highly traumatic. ...

Normative behavior

The following sections describe typical culturally-normed behavior in most current developed Western societies.

Early childhood

The term early childhood may cover up through ages four, five, or six, depending on the focus of the particular researcher or commentator. During this period,

  • Children are often curious about where babies come from.[11]
  • Children may explore other children's and adults' bodies out of curiosity.[11]
  • By age four, children may show significant attachment to the opposite-sex parent.[11]
  • Children begin to have a sense of modesty and of the difference between private and public behavior.[11]
  • For many children, genital touching increases, especially when they are tired or upset.[11]
  • Some generally-accepted prescriptions (American) are that during this period children should learn:
    • That touching their sex organs is normal, and to seek privacy when they want to touch their sex organs for pleasure.[12]
    • The biological differences between males and females, and how babies are made.[12]
    • That the child's body belongs to himself or herself, and how to say "no" to unwanted touching.[12]
    • The correct terms for sexual body parts, and how to talk about all their body parts without feeling "naughty".[12]
    • To learn and understand how to accept their appearances and their desires

Masturbation and orgasm

According to Alfred Kinsey's research in the 1950s, children are capable of experiencing orgasm from the age of five months. Kinsey observed that among three-year-olds, girls more often masturbated than boys. Lubrication of the vagina was also observed on sexually aroused girls, similar to that of adult women. Until boys start producing semen (around puberty), they can only experience Dry orgasms. The ability to ejaculate develops gradually and its timing has been relatively constant across cultures over the last century.[13] Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956), was an American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology who in 1947 founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. ... This does not cite any references or sources. ... An orgasm (sexual climax) is the conclusion of the plateau phase of the sexual response cycle, and is experienced by both males and females. ... Lubrication occurs when opposing surfaces are completely separated by a lubricant film. ...

More recent studies in Sweden indicate that masturbation in children of this age is unusual, and more common with boys than with girls.[1]

Some researchers have suggested that child masturbation may be considered nonsexual if the child has not learned to associate it with sex.[14]

Early school age

Early school age covers approximately ages five, six, and seven.

Children become more aware of gender differences,[15] and tend to choose same-sex friends and playmates,[15] even disparaging the opposite sex.[15] Children may drop their close attachment to their opposite-sex parent and become more attached to their same-sex parent.[11]

During this time children, especially girls,[16] show increased awareness of social mores regarding sex, nudity, and privacy.[16] Children may use sexual terms to test adult reaction.[11] "Bathroom humor" (jokes and conversation relating to excretory functions), present in earlier stages, continues.[17]

Masturbation continues to be common.[11][17]

Some generally-accepted prescriptions (American) are that during early school years, children should learn these concepts:

  • That all creatures reproduce themselves, and how plants and animals grow and reproduce.[12]
  • That all people, including the child's parents and grandparents, live through a life cycle that has a beginning and an end and includes sexuality at all ages.[12]
  • That people experience sexual pleasure in a number of ways, and that it is normal to have sexual thoughts and fantasies.[12]
  • About non-stereotyped gender roles, and that sexual identity includes sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual).[12]
  • About sexual abuse and its dangers — that sexual predators may seem kind, giving, and loving, and may be friends or family members; and to protect themselves from potential sexual abuse.[12]

A lesbian is a woman who is romantically and sexually attracted only to other women. ...

Middle childhood

'Middle childhood' covers the ages from about six to about nine, depending on the methodology and the behavior being studied. Individual development varies considerably.

As this stage progresses, children's choice of same-sex friends becomes more marked, extending to disparagement of the opposite sex.[18]

Sexual activities

  • A 1943 study of primarily white, middle and upper–middle class Midwestern urban boys found that 16% claimed to have had experienced coitus (more likely attempted coitus) by age 8.[19]

It has been suggested that Duration of sexual intercourse be merged into this article or section. ...

Later childhood age

  • Some generally-accepted prescriptions (American) are that during this period children should learn:
    • The general stages of sexual development in young humans of each sex and the general timing of normal development (including emotional changes).[12]
    • That sex is pleasurable.[12]
    • Knowledge about aspects of sex in society, including prostitution, rape, and exploitive relationships.[12]
    • How to protect oneself against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.[12]

Other studies have shown, however, that it would not necessarily be wise to teach a younger child about these types of things because they could potentially have a negative effect on their minds as well as sexual development. They will become far more sexually oriented than anyone their age, and that could possibly be detremental to their security.[20]

The age of puberty has fallen about four years over the last century, in most places.[21] This is probably due to changes in diet (primarily nutrition).[citation needed]

Sex play among siblings

In a study of 796 undergraduates, 15% of females and 10% 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 exploitive. The effect of non-exploitive sibling sexplay is unclear, with some studies suggesting long term effects, both positive and negative, and others finding no significant effects.[22][23]

Legal aspects

In some countries and localities, sexual relationships that involve children, even consensual, may be prohibited by statutory rape laws. Some but not all of these countries specifically allow youth who are close in age to have sexual relationships, although there is sometimes a minimum age below which it is considered statutory rape regardless of the closeness in age. This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ...

The age at which a minor may legally consent to sexual relations with a person of any age is referred to as the Age of Consent and varies from country to country. Age of consent laws Worldwide While the phrase age of consent typically does not appear in legal statutes,[1] when used with reference to criminal law the age of consent is the minimum age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to any...

Cultural issues

Sexualization of children

The sexualization of children in Western cultures emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century as a noted concern across various sectors (religious, feminist, educators, etc.). Sexualism is the belief that one set of sexual behaviors is intrinsically superior to another set of sexual behaviors. ... Leonardo da Vincis Vitruvian Man, for many a symbol of the changes of the Western culture during the Renaissance Western culture or Western civilization is a term used to generally refer to most of the cultures of European origin and most of their descendants. ...

Some cultural critics have postulated that over recent decades children have evidenced a level of sexual knowledge or sexual behaviour inappropriate for their age group.[24] A number of different causes are cited, including media portrayals of sex and related issues, especially in media aimed at children; marketing of products with sexual connotations to children[25] (for example the Bratz Baby dolls that wear thongs); lack of parental oversight and discipline;[26] access to adult culture via the internet; and school sex education programs[citation needed]. An early 20th century post card documents the problem of unwanted pregnancy. ...

Historical and tribal societies

Child sexuality, like adult sexuality, may take many forms and be gauged by different norms in different societies. Thus, a given behavior that is problematic in one society may be normative in another. For instance, observations of early Tahitian society indicate childhood sexual activity was more openly encouraged than normally found in other societies.[27]

Explorers and researchers such as Etienne Marchand, Adam Johann von Krusenstern, R.C. Suggs (1961), Fredrick O'Brien (1919), and others discovered the Marquesas had unique sexual customs considered deviant to Westerners. Children were permitted and sometimes encouraged to engage in sexual play with other children, encouraged to learn from adults by observation, and experiment with adults but with care taken to prevent activities that would cause pregnancy unless socially beneficial to the family. Western society has changed a lot of these customs so research into their pre-Western social history has to be done by reading antique writings. Ivan Kruzenstern Adam Johann Ritter von (knight of) Krusenstern (born November 19, 1770 in Hagudi, close to Rapla, in the Russian province of Estonia, died August 24, 1846 in Reval, now Tallinn, Estonia) was the Baltic German admiral and explorer in Russian Service who in 1803-1806 led the first...


  1. ^ a b c d e f Larsson, IngBeth. Child sexuality and sexual behaviour (2000, Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (report), Article number 2000-36-001. English translation (Lambert & Tudball) Article number 2001-123-20. PDF file.
  2. ^ Gil & Cavanagh Johnson, 1993, op. cit.; Cavanagh Johnson, T., Feldmeth, J. R. (1993). "Sexual behaviors – a continuum". In I. E. Gil & T. Cavanagh Johnson. Sexualized Children (pp. 39 – 52); Friedrich, W. N., Grambsch, P., Damon, L., Hewitt, S., Koverola, C., Lang, R., Wolfe, V., Broughton, D. (1992). "Child sexual behavior inventory: Normative and clinical comparisons". Psychological Assessment, vol. 4, no.3:303 – 311. Cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  3. ^ Cohn, D. S. (1991). "Anatomic doll play of preschoolers referred for sexual abuse and those not referred". Child Abuse & Neglect 15:455 – 466.; Everson & Boat, 1991; Jampole, L. & Weber, M. K. (1987). "An assessment of the behavior of sexually abused and nonabused children with anatomically correct dolls". Child Abuse & Neglect: 11 187 – 192.; Sivan, A., Schor, D., Koeppl, G., Noble, L. (1988). "Interaction of normal children with anatomic dolls". Child Abuse & Neglect, 12:295 – 304. Cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  4. ^ Haugaard, J. J. & Tilly, C (1988). "Characteristics predicting children’s responses to sexual encounters with other children". Child Abuse & Neglect 12:209 – 218.; Haugaard, J. J. (1996). "Sexual behaviors between children: Professionals’ opinions and undergraduates’ recollections". Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 2:81 – 89.; Lamb & Coakley, 1993; Larsson, Lindell & Svedin, publication datat not available; cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  5. ^ Friedrich, W. N., Grambsch, P., Broughton, D., Kuiper, J., Beilke, R. L. (1991). "Normative sexual behavior in children". Pediatrics 88: 456 – 464; Phipps-Yonas, S., Yonas, A., Turner, M., Kauper, M, (1993). "Sexuality in early childhood". University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs Reports, 23:1 – 5. ; Lindblad, F., Gustafsson, P., Larsson, I., Lundin, B. (1995). "Preschooler’s sexual behaviour at daycare centers: an epidemiological study". Child Abuse & Neglect vol. 19, no. 5:569 – 577.; Fitzpatrick & Deehan, 1995; Larsson, I., Svedin, C-G. (1999). Sexual behaviour in Swedish preschool children as observed by their parents. Manuscript.; Larsson, I., Svedin C-G., Friedrich, W. "Differences and similarities in sexual behaviour among preschoolers in Sweden and USA". Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. Printing information unavailable.; Smith & Grocke, 1995; cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  6. ^ http://parentkidsright.com/pt-sexplay.html
  7. ^ http://www.ces.purdue.edu/providerparent/Health-Safety/WhenChildren'sPlay.htm
  8. ^ Larsson & Svedin, 1999, op. cit.; Larsson & Svedin, publication data unavailable; cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  9. ^ a b c (Friedrich et al, 1992, 1993, op. cit.; Kendall-Tackett, K. E., Williams, L., Finkelhor, D. (1993). "The impact of sexual abuse on children: A review and synthesis of recent empirical studies". Psychological Bulletin, 113:164 – 180.; Cosentino, C. E, Meyer-Mahlenburg, H., Alpert, J., Weinberg, S., Gaines, R. (1995). "Sexual behavior problems and psychopathology symptoms in sexually abused girls". Journal of American Academy Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 34, 8:1033 – 1042.; cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  10. ^ a b Friedrich et al (1992), op. cit.; cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/hesguide/humanrel/gh6002.htm
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m http://www.plannedparenthood.org/educational-resources/for-parents/human-sexuality-what-children-need-to-know.htm Human Sexuality — What Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  13. ^ Janssen, D. F. (2007) First stirrings: Cultural notes on orgasm, ejaculation, and wet dreams. Journal of Sex Research 44(2), 122–134
  14. ^ Gagnon, J. H., and Simon, W. Sexual conduct – the social sources of human sexuality (Chicago, Aldine Publishing Company, 1973)
  15. ^ a b c http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sex-education/HQ00547
  16. ^ a b http://www.enotalone.com/article/2479.html Richardson, Justin, M.D., and Schuster, Mark, M.D., Ph.D. Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask), 2003, Three Rivers Press
  17. ^ a b http://www.plannedparenthood.org/central-ohio/sexuality-development.htm
  18. ^ http://www.secasa.com.au/index.php/workers/50/131
  19. ^ Ramsey, Glenn V. (1943). "The sexual development of boys," American Journal of Psychology, 56(2), 217-33.
  20. ^
  21. ^ http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/en/doc/2003-07/11/content_244578.htm China Daily Interview with Chen Yiyun, professor of the Institute of Sociology with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
  22. ^ http://www.springerlink.com/content/qg7tu631r7503228/
  23. ^ http://www.springerlink.com/content/t188h6334n81313g/
  24. ^ http://aboutourkids.med.nyu.edu/aboutour/articles/sexual.html#effects
  25. ^ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=109621&in_page_id=1770)
  26. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2943874.stm
  27. ^ [1]


  • Diana Gittins, Children's Sexuality: Why Do Adults Panic?. In The Child in Question. Macmillan, 1997. ISBN 0-333-51109-3.
  • Ronald Goldman and Juliette Goldman, Children's Sexual Thinking: A Comparative Study of Children Aged Five to Fifteen Years in Australia, North America, Britain and Sweden. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982. ISBN 0-7100-0883-X.
  • Loretta Haroian, "Child Sexual Development", monograph prepared for student use at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, ca. 1985. Online copy by the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality.
  • Stevi Jackson, Childhood and Sexuality. Blackwell Publishing, 1982. ISBN 0-631-12871-9.
  • Judith Levine: Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex argues that trying to protect young people from sex can actually exacerbate or even create the much-feared sexual danger.
  • Floyd M. Martinson, "Children and Sex, Part II: Childhood Sexuality", in Bullough, Vern Leroy & Bullough, Bonnie (eds.), Human Sexuality: An encyclopedia, New York: Garland Publishing, 1994, p. 111-116. Online copy, reprinted with permission.
  • Floyd M. Martinson, The Sexual Life of Children, Bergin & Garvey, 1994. ISBN 0-89789-376-X.
  • Susan M. Moore, Doreen A. Rosenthal, Sexuality in Adolescence. Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0-415-07528-9.
  • David L. Weis, "Childhood Sexuality", in Robert T. Francoeur (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, New York: Continuum, 1997. Online Copy by the Magnus Hirschfeld Archive of Sexology.
  • Sharon Lamb (2002). The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do--Sex Play, Aggression, and Their Guilt, Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-0107-8.
  • Gil, E. & Cavanagh Johnson, T. (1993). Sexualized children – Assessment and treatment of sexualized children and children who molest. Launch Press. Cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.
  • Kendall-Tackett, Williams and Finkelhor (1993), op. cit.; cited in Larsson, op. cit.
  • [2]

See also

This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... Mother and child. ... Child sexual abuse is an umbrella term describing criminal and civil offenses in which an adult engages in sexual activity with a minor or exploits a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... This article includes a list of works cited or a list of external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks in-text citations. ... In Developmental psychology, a stage is a distinct phase in an individuals development. ... Genital Play is the process of using genitals for entertainment while not particularly interested in sexual stimulation. ... Piaget, by André Koehne Jean Piaget [] (August 9, 1896 – September 16, 1980) was a Swiss philosopher, natural scientist and developmental psychologist, well known for his work studying children and his theory of cognitive development. ... En premiär by Anders Zorn Attitudes toward the nudity of children and children seeing nude people vary substantially, depending on the childs culture, age and the context of the nudity. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Puberty refers to the process of physical changes by which a childs body becomes an adult body capable of reproduction. ...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Child sexuality - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3043 words)
Theories of sexual development may be broadly divided into two types: those which tend to emphasize innate biology (which may be encouraged or disturbed during childhood) and those which tend to emphasize sexuality as a social construct (with child sexuality strongly influenced by the larger society).
Sexual exploitation of children was freely indulged in until the latter half of the 18th century, when it was repudiated.
Child sexuality is a complex topic that raises much controversy and a pragmatic way of viewing it in any society is to refer to the legal situation as being a consensus view of public attitudes.
Prostitution of children - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1667 words)
The prostitution of children is seen as forming part of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), and is sometimes connected to the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.
It was the limitations of the term child prostitution that led to the development in the mid-1990s of the term commercial sexual exploitation of children as a more encompassing description of specific forms of sexual violence against children related to trade.
The act of prostituting a child is in fact carried out by another party, as had been made clear in the definition provided by the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
  More results at FactBites »



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