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  • CHILDHOOD SEXUALITY: SEX IN EARLY CHILDHOOD (AGES 2 TO 5)

    By age two, most children have begun to walk and talk and have established a sense of being a boy or girl. There is unquestionable curiosity about body parts, and most children discover (if they have not already) that genital stimulation is a source of pleasurable sensations. Genital play first occurs as a solitary activity and later in games like "show me yours and I'll show you mine" and "doctor." In addition to rubbing the penis or clitoris manually, some children stimulate themselves by rubbing a doll, a pillow, a blanket, or some other object against their genitals.

    Conversations with three-year-old boys and girls indicate that they are well aware of the sensual feelings of genital stimulation, although these feelings are not labeled by them as erotic or sexual (concepts the child does not yet understand). The following comments from our files illustrate this point:

    A three-year-old girl: When I rub my gina it's nice and warm. Sometimes it tickles. Sometimes it gets real hot. [Note: this child referred to her entire genital area as her " 'gina" and was specifically describing manual rubbing of the mons and clitoris which she practiced at least a half-dozen times a day. From age 2.5 to age 3.5, she preferred to go bottomless so she could have easy access to her genitals and frequently took off her underpants to achieve this goal.]

    A three-year-old boy: Look at my wiener! I can make it stand up. I rub it and it stands up and it feels good. Sometimes I rub it a lot and it feels very, very good. Sometimes I just rub it a little. And then it feels a little good. [This boy was very proud of his "wiener," which he liked to show to visitors. His parents told us that he stimulated his penis "several times a day" that they knew of and were pretty certain that he also pursued this activity in private.]

    At about the same time, children also become aware of parental attitudes of disapproval of genital play and may be confused by parents who encourage them to be aware of their bodies but exclude the genitals from such awareness. While it is important for parents to educate their children about socially appropriate behavior (e.g., it is not acceptable to show or fondle your genitals in public places), some parents try to stop all forms of their child's sexual experimentation by saying "That's not nice" or "Don't touch yourself down there," or by nonverbal communications such as pushing the child's hand away. The negative message that the child gets in such situations may be among the earliest causes of later sexual difficulties. This attitude is compounded by many children's assumption that their genitals are "dirty" from messages received during toilet training. The emphasis on cleanliness in the bathroom ("wipe yourself carefully," "wash your hands after you go") conditions the child to see genital function in negative terms, even though it actually represents a legitimate health concern of parents.

    By age four, most children in our society begin asking questions about how babies are made and how birth occurs. Some parents respond with matter-of-fact answers, while others are obviously uncomfortable and reluctant to discuss this information at any length. Children have a pretty good idea of what bothers mommy or daddy, so they may react either by not asking such questions at all or by bombarding one or both parents with questions to see them squirm.

    Four-year-olds generally have vague and somewhat magical notions about sex. They often believe the "stork-brings-the-baby" explanation without any further questioning, or, if given a more accurate explanation of reproductive facts, interpret them in unique ways. For example, four-year-olds are quite literal in thinking that the mommy's egg from which a baby grows is just like the ones bought by the dozen in the grocery store. Similarly, some four-year-olds presented with a "daddy-plants-a-seed-in-mommy's-body" explanation of conception and pregnancy are convinced that there is a patch of dirt inside the mother's body that must be periodically watered and weeded for the baby to grow. This way of viewing sexual matters reflects the four-year-old’s concrete, literal view of the world in general.

    Children who attend nursery school or day care centers before reaching school age are apt to confront many situations with sexual overtones. For instance, Billy and Peter, each four years old, have to be told repeatedly that it's not appropriate to kiss each other while they're playing. In the same nursery school class, Gerry amuses himself by sneaking up behind a girl and pulling up her skirt ("So I can see her underpants," he explains with a lot of giggling). Both girls and boys express considerable interest in bathroom functions and bathroom etiquette, and both sexes are very willing to try out new "dirty" word^ a common practice that tends to alarm parents more than teachers.

    At age five, when most children enter kindergarten, the opportunity to relate to age-mates in a structured environment leads to modesty, and sex games decrease in frequency. Children of this age become fascinated with learning words about sexual parts that they have not heard before, and jokes about sex and genital function begin to make their rounds, often heard first from a slightly older child and then repeated. The five-year-old may not understand the joke but laughs heartily (sometimes at the wrong line) to cover this up. As Money observes, when frank, direct information about sex is not available to a child, sexual jokes become the most important source of sex education for both girls and boys. Since even young children quickly learn the difference between a "clean" and "dirty" joke, this leads to the attitude that sex is dirty.

    At this age children also begin to form ideas about sex based on their observations of physical interactions between parents — seeing Mommy and Daddy hugging and kissing, and obviously enjoying it, is a pretty good advertisement for the pleasures of physical and emotional intimacy. On the other hand, seeing parents constantly fighting or hearing one tell the other "don't touch me" can have just the opposite effect on the child's view of intimacy.

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    Men's Health Erectyle Dysfunction