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Child Sexual Development

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The most critical factor in child sexual development is when parents view sex as dirty, inappropriate, or secretive. They may set rigid and restrictive limits on self-exploration, language, question, or curiosity, which is considered healthy in children.

When children are punished, chastised, or humiliated for their sexuality, they may associate sex with shame or guilt. Children need an environment where questions are received and responded to in a positive and loving manner. If not, their peers will become their educators regarding sex.

It would appear that human sexual expression follows a logical, orderly and self regulating developmental pattern in much the same way as other aspects of human behavior and that psychosexual disorders may be the result of the interruptions of that sequential growth process. It is well to remember that prior to the Victorian idealization of childhood innocence, children were commonly used and abused physically and psychologically. Eighteenth century aristocratic tradition imposed a barrier between parent and child. It was the height of bad taste to love one's spouse and children, as parenthood was thought to render both men and women less fit for amorous adventure. Infants were removed from their parents and suckled by wet nurses; mortality was high, even for children who were well cared for. Infanticide was the major method of population control, and infants were abandoned, neglected and intentionally killed by drowning, burning, scalding, potting and overlaying. Those who survived were often maimed or crippled to make them more poignant beggars and were at the mercy of unscrupulous and exploitive adults. Sexual exploitation of children was freely indulged in until the latter half of the 18th century, at which time it was fully repudiated. This was a decisive turning point in parent child relationships in that parents began to punish children for their sexual curiosity and activity (DeMause, 1974).

The Victorian era was a period of sexual schizophrenia for children. The cultural dictum that childhood was free of, and was to remain free from, sexual knowledge, interest and behavior, was contradicted by a constant and continual adult preoccupation with, and surveillance of, children's sexual potential. Freud's attempt to bring some sanity into this schizophenogenic bind was theoretically helpful; however, the sadistic trend in anti-masturbatory therapy accelerated when people became aware of infant sexuality (Spitz, 1952).

In the western culture, great controversy has been perpetuated over what adult (parent and professional) attitudes about children's sexual expression should be. Many child rights advocates believe that children are a disenfranchised minority in the age/class system and state that the privilege and responsibility of sexual behavior is one of the many human rights denied them. They suggest that the proper adult stance is one of permissiveness to encouragement (Farson, 1974; Yates, 1978). This argument is more than vaguely akin to the rhetoric of the pedophile groups who have a vested interest in the relaxation or abolishment of child protective (albeit restrictive) laws. Many child experts more conversant with the vulnerabilities of children in a complex pluralistic society opt for laws and social custom that, although somewhat limiting, provide protection from unscrupulous adults. Children, by definition, are not consenting adults in sexual matters and may need protection from the liability of sexual contracts in the same manner that they are not held accountable for business or labor contracts (Haroian, 1985, p. 3).

This position does not suggest that there is inherent harm in sexual expression in childhood; in fact, we have considerable evidence to the contrary. Sexologically, it is based on the knowledge that the benefits of free sexual expression of children can only occur in a sexually supportive society: a society in which all people have sex for sexual reasons, one in which sexual knowledge, skill and pleasure are valued for both males and females. A society that encourages sexual competency rather than constraint and in which every man, woman and child can say "yes" or "no" to sex without prejudice or coercion. To encourage children to be sexual in a sexually repressive or permissive/ambivalent culture is to exploit their healthy sexual interest, as they will be left alone to deal with a double standard and the sex-negative, self-serving attitudes of peers and adults (Haroian, 1985, p. 3).

All children are sexual beings. Natural and expectable sexual behavior is present from infancy into childhood. Sexual development includes a gradual progression of interest, curiosity and activity. It is not known what constitutes normal childhood sexual behavior from a scientific perspective. Behavior varies drastically among different groups of people due to their values, and among different youth due to differences in the strength of their sexual feelings and variation in their development. It is apparent that large numbers of children at almost all ages may engage in more extensive behaviors than many adults realize, including adult-like behaviors such as genital and oral contact, and sometimes intercourse. We must understand age appropriate sexual behavior to distinguish it from problematic sexual behavior.

Types of sexual development

Biological: At conception, all embryos are female. Change occurs between the sixth to twelfth week of fetal development as gonadal androgens are introduced. After this time, male and female genitals begin to develop. Involuntary erections have been observed in the womb. Lubrication and orgasm have been observed during infancy, these are physiological responses and are reflexive in nature. Between the ages of eleven and fourteen, most children experience a substantial increase in hormonal levels, accounting for the physical changes in puberty, which is the development of secondary sexual characteristics.

Sensual/Erotic: In infancy, children respond to kissing, rubbing, patting and caressing by

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