SEXUAL EXPLORATION IN EARLY CHILDHOOD: WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW
As you may or may not be aware, I’m a mom of twin girls, who will turn four in May. I remember when I was pregnant, I was taking a psychology course Psychosexual Development. This was the most interesting class I have ever taken. Not because I’m a pervert, but because I was curious and ohhh the things that I learned from this class. I thought I knew a lot about sex. Little did I know, this class would teach me to be more open-minded than ever, allowing me to examine human sexuality throughout the lifespan and not just during our “sexual years” which is typically considered 20s-50s. (As a society we don’t like to acknowledge that teenagers and the elderly have sex).
As humans, we are sexual beings, there’s no doubt about it. The capacity for sexual response is actually present from birth according to Kinsey research. From the moment we are able to make a mind and body connection during infancy, we explore sexual pleasures.
Children are sexual beings.
So why is this important for a parent to know about their child’s sexual curiosity?
Well, according to the very limited research on childhood sexuality, the early sexual experiences that children have, influence future sexual expression and adult sexuality. The way you react to these experiences, as a parent, will shape the way in which your child comprehends sexuality. So, you can potentially really screw up your kid, if you deprive your children of exploring their bodies and participating in sensual pleasures (physical affection like kisses and hugs). Children learn to express themselves through physical affection and when children are discouraged from these things, they can become violent as adults and experience difficulty in future intimate relationships.
Normal behaviors during early childhood…
Infancy- first two years of life
- Babies discover the pleasures of genital stimulation and quite possibly orgasms (this finding makes me uncomfortable, no joke).
- Babies can’t tell the difference between sexual pleasures from other activities that provide pleasure such as breastfeeding and bathing. For example, when you sneeze, it feels good right? Well, a child doesn’t know the difference between a sneeze or genital touching. All they comprehend is the fact that these actions feel good.
- Boys experience erections during this stage and girls experience vaginal lubrication.
- Infants touch their genitals out of curiosity and simply because it feels good.
Toddlerhood- 2-3 years old
- Toddlers explore self-stimulation aka masturbation. Yes, toddlers actually masturbate, it’s normal.
- Toddlers become more curious about body differences. Why mommy and daddy have different things between their legs.
Preschoolers- 3-6 years old
- Kids become more interested in sexual differences and body parts, so they may want to play Doctor or house in order to explore. This is normal behaviors for children, they think of it as a game rather than something sexual and so should parents. However when this occurs, just make sure everyone is safe. My rule is, “no touching of others’ genitals”.
- Kids around age 5 self-stimulate their genitals, they show their genitals to others, they touch others (mom’s boobs). After 6 these behaviors decrease in public as they learn that sexuality is a private matter.
What you can do as a parent…
- Accept the fact that your kid is a sexual being. Just deal with it. I know it’s probably uncomfortable to think about this.
- Allow your child to touch themselves as an explorative behavior, however, you can explain to them the proper time and place for such activities. I tell my kids not to touch their vaginas in front of others. I tell them that they could do it during baths or when they are alone in their rooms.
- Teach children the proper terms for body parts. My girls became especially curious around 3. They would take showers with either mommy or daddy and put two and two together. When they finally asked, “What is that” (pointing at my vagina), without hesitation I answered, “my vagina”. I also explained to them that they also have vaginas. I turned this situation into a teaching opportunity. I explained that girls have vaginas, but boys do not. I said, “daddy and Merlot (dog) are boys and boys have penises”. I treated it like a normal discussion.
- Do not discourage your children. This will only cause them to feel like their genitals are dirty or that touching oneself is bad. Children that are scolded for such actions grow up with negative connotations regarding sex.
- Keep your answers short and simple. My children like to talk about babies and how babies come from mommies. They don’t know how the baby is made inside mommy or how the baby comes out. This is too complicated for them to understand at this age. I let them use their imaginations for now.