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  • CHILDHOOD SEXUALITY: SEX IN INFANCY

    Ultrasound studies have provided some evidence that reflex erections occur in developing baby boys for several months before birth, while they are still within the uterus. Many newborn baby boys have erections in the first few minutes after birth often, even before the umbilical cord is cut. Similarly, newborn baby girls have vaginal lubrication and clitoral erection in their first twenty-four hours, so it is clear that the sexual reflexes are already operating at the very start of infancy and probably even before birth.

    An important phase of infantile sexuality comes from the sensuous closeness of parent and child through holding, clinging, and cuddling. This parent-child bonding begins at birth and extends to include nursing, bathing, dressing, and other physical interactions between parents and their newborn child. A child who is deprived of warm, close bonding during infancy may experience later difficulties forming intimate relationships or, more speculatively, in being comfortable with his or her sexuality.

    Very young infants respond quite naturally to a variety of sources of physical sensation with signs of sexual arousal. For example, it is common for baby boys to have firm erections while they are nursing. While this is alarming to some parents, who see it as somehow abnormal or perverse, the fact is that the sensation of cuddling close to the warmth and softness of the mother's body and having the intense neurological stimulation of suckling (the lips are well endowed with sensory nerve endings) combine to send messages to the brain that are interpreted as pleasurable and that activate sexual reflexes. Clitoral erection and vaginal lubrication in baby girls also occur commonly during nursing, indicating that this pattern is not restricted to one gender (although penile erection is more visible and thus more likely to be noticed). Similar signs of reflex sexual activation may occur when babies are bathed, powdered, diapered, or playfully bounced around. It is important to recognize, however, as Martinson points out, that "the infant is too young to be consciously aware of the encounter, and therefore no socio-sexual erotic awakening can be said to occur." How parents respond to observing these sexual reflexes during infancy may be part of the child's earliest sexual learning: the parent who is shocked or disapproving is apt to react in a manner that conveys discomfort, while parents who react calmly give children a message of acceptance regarding sex.

    As any observant parent knows, baby boys and girls begin to touch or rub their genitals as soon as they develop the necessary motor coordination. Kinsey and others have reported that this sometimes leads to orgasm in infants less than one year old. The question is, what meaning does this behavior have? Is the infant simply exploring his or her body, with an equal likelihood that equally accessible parts (elbow, tummy, genitals) will be touched? Or is there a sexual component to such behavior, with a genuine sense of pleasure, leading to repeated self-stimulation?

    Although infants cannot answer these questions for us, the evidence seems to support the latter view. Helen Kaplan notes that babies "express joy when their genitals are stimulated". Bakwin points out that "infants show extreme annoyance if efforts are made to interrupt them" during masturbation and adds that self-stimulation is done "many times during the day". By the third or fourth month of life, genital stimulation is accompanied by smiling and cooing. By one year of age, genital play is commonly observed when the infant is naked or bathing. Genital play is more common in infants reared in families than in infants reared in nurseries, suggesting that parent-child bonding plays a major role in the development of subsequent sexuality.

    The parents of very young children react to these displays of sexual behavior in a variety of ways. Some are amused, some are surprised, and some are alarmed particularly if they do not realize that this is a completely normal developmental pattern.

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    Men's Health Erectyle Dysfunction