Sexual Development

Development in Children: Major Landmarks

5 Through 7 Years of Age

Physical

  • Slow and steady growth continues.

Sexual

  • Children are involved in the final stages of establishing the foundation of their gender identity. They explore adult roles by reversal play, e.g.. playing house, but each child tries on a different role at certain times.
  • Usually gives up wish for special relationship with opposite sex parent and seeks a stronger relationship with same sex parent.
  • Body exploration is common. Aware of sex differences and reproduction but may not be too interested.
  • The media influences understanding of male/female family roles. Parents also communicate expectanctations for sex roles, which may or may not be typical.

Developmental

  • Learns sex words, sometimes called “bathroom vocabulary”. Due to influence of peers, there is a tendency to consider sexual terminology as “bad” words.
  • Asks questions about pregnancy, birth and babies. May ask of the father’s role in reproduction. Interest in comparing animal and human behaviour.
  • Begins to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
  • Becomes modest about own body. Beginning of self-consciousness leads to a desire for privacy and feelings of embarrassment may be exhibited.
  • Continuing development of gender identity shown by choice of leisure activities, ways in which feelings are expressed, and school subjects.

8 Through 12 Years of Age

Pre-teen children are aware, excited, interested in, and affected by the sexual aspects of their lives. These children frequently ask questions and are curious. This may be a very emotional time for children, and they may cry easily as they struggle with the transition from childhood to adolescence.

Physical

  • Begins to experience the physical changes of puberty (growth of genitals, breast development, etc).
  • Some girls begin to menstruate. Girls need to be prepared for the onset of menstruation and boys need information regarding nocturnal emissions (“wet dreams”). Girls and boys should be informed of these and other developments affecting the opposite sex as well as their own.

Sexual

  • Peer group has increased influence on child’s self-image. Chief attachments are still to members of their own sex.
  • Child may masturbate, sometimes to orgasm.

Developmental

  • Children begin to separate from parents. They learn that friends can have different ideas and customs and still be friends. Together, friends explore the whole range of life as they know and wonder about it.
  • Physical changes and feelings of the pre-teen can be positive; if not, feelings can include guilt, confusion, and embarrassment which results in less communication within the family. The result may be less support from the family.
  • Responsibility around the home increases. Parents are encouraged to avoid distinguishing between separate jobs for boys versus jobs for girls. Sexual discrimination begins at a very young age.

13 Years of Age and Older

The period of adolescence is marked not only by physical changes, but also by important behavioural changes. A new significance is attached to sexual expression and awakening.

Physical

  • Continues to experience body changes (puberty). On average, boys develop about two years later than girls.
  • Menstruation or sperm production; most girls menstruate by age 16, most boys are capable of ejaculation by age 15.

Sexual

  • Greater interest in sexuality, teens experience sexual fantasies as a way of preparing for and understanding their sexual roles.
  • Tends to be greatly influenced by peer groups.
  • Begins to become interested in or develops romantic relationships.
  • May have sexual attraction or experience with someone of the same sex. This is not necessarily an indication of a same-sex orientation. May masturbate.
  • May experience frequent mood swings.

Developmental

  • Strong need to assert independence; child may rebel against parents.
  • Becomes more aware of physical appearance, sometimes appears vain, at other times very self-critical.
  • Becomes capable of thought that considers all of the possibilities in a given situation.
  • Has a tendency to be involved in abstract matters, sometimes losing touch with reality. May regard thoughts and feelings as unique or special, sometimes developing a feeling of immortality, and feel that nothing bad will happen to them; It can’t happen to me.
  • Ability to perceive the future is limited. Therefore, talking about consequences years ahead will not be effective unless it is somehow made relevant in the here and now.
  • Often experiences Personal Fable: I am alone, no one understands me, and I am unique. No one else is experiencing or has ever experienced what I experienced.
  • Tends to experiment, try out different roles and search for “self”.
  • Starts to define personal values, using family, peer, and societal values as a guide.
  • Has a need for understanding parents and supportive environment.
  • The teen is moving rapidly to adulthood. It is a time of re-evaluation. The teen needs to establish independence from his/her family and peers, to be able to relate to the opposite sex, prepare for a career and finally start to establish a workable and meaningful philosophy of life.

Females 11 – 13 years, Males 12 – 14 (Early)

Physical

  • Start of growth spurt.
  • Great changes in body appearance.

Sexual

  • Same sex friendships become very important.
  • Peer group is very influential (it is used as a source of comparison for behaviour, dress, “what is in”, and “what is out”).
  • Interest in the opposite sex is more social than sexual.
  • Curious about love and sex.

Developmental

  • Thinks in concrete, rather than abstract terms.
  • Present rather than future oriented; considers immediate rather than long-term consequences.

 Females 13 – 14 Years, Males 14 – 17 (Middle)

Physical

  • Growth continues, but not as fast.
  • Females begin to menstruate.
  • Males begin to ejaculate.

Sexual

  • Peer acceptance continues to be very important.
  • Establishing greater independence can be a time of conflict because of wanting security and freedom at the same time.
  • There is a new desire for sexual experience and feelings that accompany the sex drive (initiated by body hormones).
  • Dating relationships are typically short-term.
  • There is more experimentation than involvement in opposite-sex relationships.

Developmental

  • Capable of more abstract thinking, more future oriented.
  • In periods of stress, there is a return to more concrete thinking.

Females and Males 15 – 19 years (Late)

Physical

  • Physical changes have stabilized.

Sexual

  • Conformity to peer group is less important.
  • Relationships with parents are more of an adult exchange.
  • Physical desire for sexual play increases.
  • Physical desire for intimacy increases.
  • Dating relationships have a deeper involvement, with concern for one’s partner.

Developmental

  • There is an improved ability to think abstractly, to consider possible solutions to a problem, and to predict cause and effect relationships.
  • Future plans are starting to be put in place.

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