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#29288 - 12/20/02 04:06 PM Childhood Sexuality
Ken Singer, LCSW Offline

Registered: 08/24/00
Posts: 5781
Loc: Lyons, CO USA
In another thread, I offered to post some info on childhood sexuality, what is normal or not. The following is from an outline for a class I teach periodically through Rutgers Graduate School of Social Work for social workers and others who work with children or caretakers. It is about what sexual behaviors are normal in childhood and other behaviors that call for intervention. Please remember it is just an outline I use in doing the class and I will respond to questions that may arise from it.

Here it is:

Rutgers School of Social Work, Continuing Education for Social Workers (C.S.W.)

B. Cultural and societal discomfort around childhood sexuality includes denial of both normal and deviant sexual development prior to puberty. Sexual behavior in children is normal, is learned behavior, and sexual deviance is not an inborn trait. Sexual behaviors are physiologically reinforced. (Feels good, do it again.)
C. Myths and misconceptions about childhood sexuality.
1. “Children are not sexual because they are not physically mature.” Erections in male fetuses seen in sonograms, vaginal lubrication in infants, etc.
2. “Genital exploration is not sexual in nature.” It is not about sexual fantasies or romance with another person. It is really about the child’s sense of “when I rub myself, it feels good.” It is sexual in that sense.
3. “Masturbation has harmful effects for children.” Define masturbation- is it genital stimulation that merely feels good? Stimulation to the point of arousal? To the point of orgasm? (Yes, even infants and children can have orgasms, not ejaculations). Yes it is all of these.
4. “Children do not need to know about these things until they are older.” It has become more and more difficult for parents to shield kids from media exposure to sexual information in magazines, tv, video tapes, internet sites, older peers and siblings, etc. Parents need to provide accurate and age-appropriate information because kids are curious and want information.
III. Development of sexuality in children
1. Arousal is initially associated with physiological sensations, i.e., intimacy, arousal, orgasm, and/or tension reduction (Ryan). Child initially is self-focused, experiencing sexual arousal in response to physical changes (temperature, touch). Cognitions related to these sensations develop over time and become associated with particular stimuli through experience (“When I touch my [genitals], it feels good.”)
2. The notion of interpersonal sexual touching may emerge with peers, as solitary and parallel play evolve into interactive play, or may be introduced through observing others or in experiences of sexual victimization or exploitation.

3. Whether early experiences of sexual stimulation are pleasurable, confusing or traumatic, physiological reinforcements become associated with emotion, cognition, and psychological states. The young child may experience solitary masturbation as arousing or soothing; parental reactions to sexual behavior as validating, repressive, or punitive; abusive experiences as confusing, physically or psychologically comforting, uncomfortable painful, or emotionally traumatic.
4. Early interactions with peers are developmentally expected, but will be experienced in the context of the associations each of the children bring with them (i.e., memories, perceptions and beliefs) and in turn, contribute to future thoughts and feelings. Forethought (fantasies) soon becomes a source of stimulation, reinforcing the contextual variables of memory.
5. Ryan concludes, “Educators and care givers can be trained to recognize, evaluate and respond to the sexual behavior and interpersonal functioning they observe among children in order 1) to validate or correct what children are learning and practicing, 2) to protect children from being victimized by other children, and 3) to hold children personally responsible for abusive behaviors.”
IV. “Normal” sexual interests and behaviors
A. Pre-school (up to age four)
1. Limited peer contact, self-exploration and stimulation (bending over, looking into mirror.)
2. Touches/rubs own genitals randomly
3. Watches others, pokes others out of curiosity
4. Shows genitals
5. Interested in bathroom functions
6. Dirty language without realizing context
7. Plays “house”, “mommy/daddy”, “doctor”, imitating behavior
8. May insert objects, stops with pain or correction from parent
9. Interest in elimination, girls may attempt to urinate like boys
B. Young school age (five to seven)
1. Increased peer contact, non-coercive experimental interactions
2. Watches others but asks to touch
3. Wants privacy when using bathroom or changing clothes
4. Touches self for specific enjoyment, possibly to orgasm without compulsivity or direction from older peers or adults
5. Repulsed by or drawn to the opposite sex
6. Tells dirty jokes, plays games of “show”, uses “doctor” as game to explore, not imitating real doctor
7. Big interest in passing gas (may last longer with boys...into adulthood?)
8. May play kissing or holding hands with opposite sex
C. Pre-adolescent (eight to twelve)
1. Increased peer contact, non-coercive experimental interactions cont.
2. Touches self, may touch others but stops when told to
3. Exhibitionistic behaviors, mooning, comparing penis size
4. With older pre-adolescents, there may be kissing, petting, dry humping, interest in erotic or pornographic pictures. Key factor here is that “normal” means with peers and without force or coercion.
V. Problematic sexual behaviors
A. Defined in Task Force Report on Juvenile Sexual Offending as, “interfering in the child’s normal developmental tasks; disturbing healthy relationships; impeding participation in activities; increasing a child’s risk of victimization; or causing physical, psychological or emotional distress to the child.”
Consent- When a partner agrees with an action. This partner must understand the proposed action without being tricked or confused. Partner must know the standard for the behavior in the culture, family and peer group. Partner must also be aware of the potential consequences for self and others, as well as alternatives to the behavior. Partner must also be assured that a decision to agree or not participate will be respected and must be mentally competent. Does not apply to children with significant age difference or with adult/child “consent”.
Coercion- Using tricks, bribes, force, threats, or intimidation to get someone to go along with what you want them to do. Coercion is the tool to get someone to comply or cooperate.
Compliance- When victims simply go along without actively resisting even though they may think it is wrong and don’t want to participate.
Cooperation- When a victim participates and doesn’t know or understand the consequences or meaning of the activity. Particularly true where age or mental status prevents the person from making a decision about the behavior.
The younger the child, the more persistent the behavior in spite of adult correction, the more distress of the peers in relationship to the actor, the more likely some professional intervention may be needed.
1. Preoccupation with sexual themes, especially aggressive ones
2. Pulling up others’ skirts, shirt or pants down
3. Sexually explicit or precocious conversations with peers
4. Sexual graffiti, especially chronic or impacting on individuals (such as writing “fuck” vs. “Janie fucks her dog”)
5. Sexual teasing, embarrassing others
6. Single occurrences of peeping/exposing/obscenities, pornographic interest, frottage
7. Preoccupation with masturbation, mutual or group masturbation
8. Simulating foreplay with dolls or peers with clothing on
D. Abusive or red flag behaviors in children- While the actual behavior is important to note, imbalances in the relationship is also critical to move a behavior from a yellow to a red flag one. Some relationship factors include:

1. Size, strength and age differential
2. Power or authority differential, such as someone in safety patrol using his authority, or being in a babysitter role
3. Lack of equality and consent, particularly where the other is less sophisticated or knowledgeable
4. Presence of coercive threats, violence or aggression
5. Power of popularity (“If you don’t go along, I won’t be your friend”)
6. Arbitrary labels like “leader” or “boss”
7. Fantasy roles in play such as “king/slave”, “doctor/patient”
The red flag behaviors include:
1. Sexually explicit conversations with significant age differences
2. Touching the genitals of others
3. Degrading self or others with sexual themes
4. Forcing exposures of others’ genitals
5. Sexually explicit proposals/threats (verbal or written notes)
6. Repeated or chronic peeping/obscenities/pornographic interests or frottage
7. Compulsive masturbation/task interruption to masturbate (leaving an activity to masturbate)
8. Masturbation with penetration
9. Simulating intercourse with dolls, peers, animals
E. No questions about this behavior
1. Oral, vaginal, anal penetration of dolls, children, animals
2. Forced touching of others’ genitals
3. Simulated intercourse with peers with clothing off
4. Any genital injury or bleeding not explained by accidental cause

Again, remember this is just an outline used in a 5 hour class with plenty of questions/answers. I hope I'm not opening up a hornet's nest with this but will be glad to respond to questions or comments.


Blissfully retired after 35 years treating sexual abuse

#29289 - 12/20/02 05:08 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
andrew-almost52 Offline

Registered: 10/31/02
Posts: 243
Loc: canada
Ken - an excellent source of info. thanks for the posting. My kids are 9 & 11 and this posting was very reaffirming and reassuring.

#29290 - 12/20/02 07:24 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
zadok1 Offline

Registered: 11/05/02
Posts: 188
Loc: Ohio
i love stuff like this. like i said, learning more empowers me, and i love information like this. thanks

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those that are evil, but because of those who do nothing about them- Albert Einstein

#29291 - 12/20/02 09:08 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
Wuamei Offline

Registered: 08/19/02
Posts: 2700
Loc: The left turn I should have ta...
Ken thanks for posting this very helpful info. It's easy at least for me as a survivor to wonder what normal is, or shoulda been.

Maybe I'm stirring up the hornet's nest here ;\) , but I gotta wonder:

What does passing gas have to do with sexuality?

"7. Big interest in passing gas (may last longer with boys...into adulthood?)"

Tho I never thot of it sexually, I guess for me, & for many of my adolescent & pre-adolescent friends, it was a kind of an expression of "macho"
to us if not always to the girls :rolleyes:

I guess it was sort of a rite of passage (ok pun intended; couldn't pass that one up)! \:D

And yeah I guess it could go into adulthood--especially if you're still trying to live your childhood! \:\)

If anyone else is interested in this vital topic, I refer you to "Badtimes Virus," which I posted on December 9 in Survivor Poetry.

Ken, seriously, this is all very helpful info. I need to look it over more. So I'm copying it to my Word program. Thanks a lot.


"I can't stand pain. It hurts me."
--Daffy Duck

#29292 - 12/30/02 06:58 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
michaelb Offline

Registered: 04/21/01
Posts: 211
Loc: cincinnati, ohio
I'm really hoping you can answer a question for me..I guess i am recovering repressed memories of abuse, but i keep trying to deny anything ever happened to me. One thing i know for certain is the fantasies i had at 5 years it normal for a 5 year old to have homosexual fantasies?????? i used to imagine i was hercules and i would force my slaves to perform oral sex on me, i did not want to be the slave anymore.......i was 5 in 1960.......oral sex was not exactly talked about alot, if at all.......for so long, i just thought this meant i must be gay, but that has never seemed right to me, even though i've had quite a few gay guys come onto me over the years....i was flattered, but declined their advances........

So i guess the big question i have for you is it normal for a 5 year old to have such ideas?????? I always just thought or rationalized that it was nature's way of telling me i was gay....When i would question how i knew about oral sex at 5 i had no answers....My therapist told me that the only way i could have known about things was that i had experienced things that i should not have....I am so torn up about thinking that those bad things happened to me when i was so little.... If i repressed the memory of abuse, how did i not repress my knowledge of oral sex?????

I'm just trying to understand what is going on with me, why i cannot fully accept the abuse... I know i am very messed up mentally, but it is like if i accept the abuse as fact, that i'm giving is like if i keep fighting it, it cannot be true.......does that make any sense to you?????

please let me know what your opinion is as it seems you have knowledge in childhood development....your input will be greatly appreciated.......thank you.......michael

#29293 - 12/31/02 03:12 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
Ken Singer, LCSW Offline

Registered: 08/24/00
Posts: 5781
Loc: Lyons, CO USA
Hi Michael:
You wrote:
"i used to imagine i was hercules and i would force my slaves to perform oral sex on me,"

It is very normal for kids (and others) to fantasize being a superhero. However, it is not in the natural development to want to give or receive oral sex. Remember that as kids, we associate "down there" as a place where you go to the bathroom. There is a natural dislike for wanting to put your mouth on genitalia. It is not til much later that people get over the repulsion and one can say that oral sex is an acquired taste later in teenage or adult years. Some adults still find oral sex to be distasteful (sorry for all the puns).

Childhood curiosity about body functions is normal. Kids want to know about urination and defecation in themselves and others. Touching others' genitals out of curiosity is normal. Wanting to watch others go to the bathroom is likewise normal. Remember, we are taught from early on that body waste is "dirty" ("wash you hands after going to the bathroom" and that includes urination). So, if that is the message we get, where does the idea originate of putting a bathroom organ (we know of penises as urine-delivery devises, not body parts capable of pleasure, at least not until a little later) in the mouth? A more sophisticated (adult) fantasy might be forcing or wanting slaves or enemies to suck one's penis, but not for a 5 year old.

You wrote:
"....My therapist told me that the only way i could have known about things was that i had experienced things that i should not have."

I would agree with your therapist. When kids do sexual behaviors that are not age appropriate (such as listed in the original post for this thread), it is likely that the behavior was introduced by an older or more sophisticated person and the behavior is imitative. Some behaviors are naturally discovered, like genital touching, but any time you have a behavior that is really age-inappropriate, it is a good likelihood that it was introduced by another person.

Hope that is helpful.

Blissfully retired after 35 years treating sexual abuse

#29294 - 12/31/02 05:46 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
michaelb Offline

Registered: 04/21/01
Posts: 211
Loc: cincinnati, ohio

Thank you for your response. Your response was helpful, but not the answer i was hoping to hear..I'm in such denial, I keep trying to deny what i know...

For so long, i rationalized that these fantasies just meant i knew i was gay at 5 years old, though i've never had sex with a guy....I have even argued the nature vs nurture position because of these fantasies of mine. I know how naive i sound, i guess because i have been so naive/blind my entire life. It is just so hard to accept that such disgusting things happened to me when i was so young.. I just wish he would have killed me instead.. I guess in many ways he did kill me, at least my soul....

Guess i need to hear your opinion on this too...At the same age, 5, i used to pull my underwear down lying in bed...the cold sheets felt so good....I would imagine i was being crucified, like Jesus....but i was penis would become aroused and i'd feel very confused and disgusted and the game would be over, because i hated becoming aroused....i'd pull up my underwear and be very upset....I've told my therapist about this, but nobody else....

Guess i should explain more about myself...When i was a kid i so believed in God....but now i do not....I've tried going to church, but when i hear a priest or preacher tell me how much God loves me in a sermon, i just have to bolt....I literally, get up and exit the church....It just makes my skin crawl..

I know arousal in children is normal, though i would imagine the images i have engulfed around my early arousals are not normal. Additionally, the feelings of repulsiveness and disgust are probably not the reactions most children would experience.

Getting back to your reply, your explanation about oral sex has much validity for me...Ever since I had the oral sex fantasies at 5, i thought i would not mind somebody putting their mouth on me down there, but i could not imagine even thinking about doing that to another person. I guess i did not think i could do that until i fell in love with a fraternity brother. Our relationship was very physical in nature. He was a college wrestler and we wrestled constantly. I initiated most of the contact, but it was apparent we both liked what was happening.We were about the same size, though he was stronger than me and i would always be put into very sexually vulnerable positions. Not until recently, did i realize how similar my relationship with him was to my relationship with my uncle. My uncle would constantly tickle me and wrestle with me...I guess it became a prelude to other things.....Nothing sexual ever happened with my fraternity brother, but i know that i would have had sex with him...We both joked about performing oral sex on each other, but i guess we were too afraid of loosing our friendship...The funny thing is, i guess he was the only person i loved enough or ever felt safe enough with that i would allow myself to have sex with...

I know i'm asking for alot of opinions from you, but i really need validation...At least some sense of peace in my own mind, if that is possible. Please answer the following:

1) Is it normal for kids at 5 to become aroused???

2) Normal for kids to have homosexual fantasies???

3) Normal for kids to have sexual fantasies about Jesus/God?????

4) Normal for 5 year olds to be so disgusted/repulsed by becoming aroused sexually????

Your assistance and input is greatly appreciated. By the way, have you ever talked to gay guys to see what their early childhood fantasies were??? At what age is it normal to have sexual fantasies?????

Thank you so much for your consideration and input.......michael

#29295 - 12/31/02 07:56 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
Ken Singer, LCSW Offline

Registered: 08/24/00
Posts: 5781
Loc: Lyons, CO USA
Hi Michael:
I can respond to some of your questions but I defer to a colleague of mine who is a Ph.D. in human sexuality. I emailed him your questions and asked him to get back to me asap.

When I get his response (and he's the most knowledgable person I know in the human sexuality field), I will post his response.

I don't know if he is around this week and I'll be out of town for about five days after the 1st, so please be patient.

Hang in there.

Blissfully retired after 35 years treating sexual abuse

#29296 - 01/06/03 09:20 PM Re: Childhood Sexuality
michaelb Offline

Registered: 04/21/01
Posts: 211
Loc: cincinnati, ohio
Just wanted to thank you for answering my questions. I really appreciate the time and effort involved. Take care.....Michael


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