Other Free Encyclopedias » Marriage and Family Encyclopedia » Pregnancy & Parenthood » Sexuality in Childhood - Formation Of Sexuality In Childhood, Childhood Sexuality And Later Sexual Behavior, Gender Issues, Exploring Sexuality In Childhood

Sexuality in Childhood - Exploring Sexuality In Childhood

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Children often explore sexuality through sex play, for example, by "playing doctor." Sex play refers to sexual peer interactions in childhood that are participated in on a voluntary basis with children of similar age, size, and developmental status (Cavanagh Johnson 1999). This sex play generally takes place among peers (children within three years of one another of similar size and developmental status) and are voluntary experiences (Bauserman and Davis 1996; Byer, Shainberg, and Galliano 1999). Although these early sexual experiences within the context of play tend to be fairly routine, information about sexuality can be gathered from these encounters. Through sex play, children participate in information exchange in which they learn to label their sexual thoughts and functions (Langfeldt 1990). By looking and touching, children start to build an understanding of "what the body looks like, what differences exist between boys and girls, and what it feels like to touch another's body" (Cavanagh Johnson 1999, p. 12). Childhood sex play can also have an effect on later adult sexual functioning as these early experiences can later influence the adults' ability to achieve orgasm and reduce sexual dysfunction because they have learned early on how to manage their sexuality (Langfeldt 1990). If parents are supportive of sex play, children can learn the guidelines for social behavior concerning sexuality in terms of appropriate time and place for expression of sexuality (Langfeldt 1990).

Toni Cavanagh Johnson (1999) explains that children also frequently use their own bodies as a map and have a natural interest in discovering the different functions of their body parts. When children do explore their bodies, they not only learn about their bodily functions but also begin to understand what various people think about sexuality based on their reactions to the child's exploration. These reactions also provide children with rules for physical interaction (Schuhrke 2000). Based on adults' responses to their body exploration, children learn if their behavior is considered "good" or "bad," which will have an effect on the frequency with which they will engage in body exploration.

Another way that children explore their sexuality is through bathroom humor and games in which children begin to learn about the capabilities of their bodies (Cavanagh Johnson 1999). The most common situations in which genital nudity occurs, such as bath times or toilet training, are significant moments in the child's learning process as children discover their parents' or caregivers' openness to nudity and sexuality (Schuhrke 2000). Furthermore, because humor provides information to children regarding sexuality, a good deal of sexual information comes from sexual jokes, stories, and songs (Langfeldt 1990).

Children also gather information about sexuality through the media (Cavanagh Johnson 1999). Books, magazines, videos, and the Internet are all sources of material with sexual content whose messages tend to be indirect, nonverbal, ambiguous, or inconsistent. However, parents and caregivers can turn the discovery of sexual material into a constructive opportunity for sex education.

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