Healthy Sexual Development 2017-12-02T21:18:00+00:00

Healthy Sexual Development by Age Group and How to Talk About Sexuality With Your Children

Healthy Sexual Development from Birth to Age 5

  • It is common for children with vaginas to experience vaginal moisture or vaginal “tickling.” For children with penises, it is common to experience practice erections as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Children this age sometimes touch their genitals, play doctor, or ask to touch or see other people’s genitals. This is common and is done out of curiosity rather than for a sexual reason.
  • Children this may imitate adult affection, for example, they may kiss and use their tongue because they don’t understand the difference between different types of affection.
  • Children may begin to ask where babies are made but often are not curious as to how babies are made yet. For example, children at this age are often satisfied with the answer “Babies grow in a uterus which is a body part below the stomach.” Be careful not to confuse the reproductive system with the digestive system as some children later think that babies get vomited up, or “poo-ed” out.
  • Children at this age might start to develop a sense of gender roles, or in other words, they start to understand what the world sees as activities and things that are typical for “boys” or typical for “girls.”

Think About Your Values

  • Decide when and where children can be alone, then explain these rules. For example, decide whether your child can be alone in their room with or without the door closed, whether they can shower alone, or whether they can spend time alone with other children in their rooms.
  • How does your family feel about roles for “boys” and roles for “girls”? Can boys and girls do similar activities or do they have separate activities?
  • What do you want your children to know about what family love looks like? What do you want your children to know about what romantic love looks like?
  • What do you want your child to know what type of language they can use when discussing their body parts? Is using the word penis and vagina okay when talking to the doctor or ensuring those body parts are cleaned when bathing?

Conversation Starters

  • When bathing your child, go through and name sexual body parts just as you would any other body part. Start with eyes, nose, ears, arms, chest, stomach, penis/vagina, etc. Once children get to know the parts you can point to a body part and ask them what that body part is.
  • Consider bathing opposite sex children together, or consider bathing with your child. This activity may give them an opportunity to know that not all bodies are the same. Name the body parts that are the same and that are different.
  • If your child has any type of doll point out what is or is not accurate. For example, dolls with breasts sometimes don’t have nipples but everyone has nipples.
  • If you or someone you know is pregnant, you can ask your child if they know where the baby is growing. If your child does not know say the baby is growing in the uterus.
  • You may want to allow your child to refuse to touch any family member that makes them feel uncomfortable. This sends a message to your child that they can say no to unpleasant touching, and that people will listen when they say no.

Healthy Sexual Development in Ages 5-9

  • Children in this age range may have questions regarding how a baby is created. This can be an important conversation to have so your child does not get misinformation or invents a way on how the sperm and egg meet.
  • Children may confuse digestive system with the reproductive system if not explained. For example, if birth is not explained, a child may think the baby is “poo’ed” out, or vomited up.
  • Children may start to show a preference for certain clothing, toys, or friends.
  • Children may touch their bodies and genitals, or be curious to touch others bodies at this age.
  • In this age range, children commonly bathroom humor or swear words to talk about sex. If you hear this, talk to your child about the words you want them to use.
  • Children in this age range commonly want more privacy. For example, they might want more time alone, and may not want anyone to see them naked.

Think About Your Values

  • Think about what kind of language can your child use to describe their genitals? Think about who your children can talk to about their body and when?
  • How does your family feel about roles for “boys” and roles for “girls”? Can boys and girls do similar activities or do they have separate activities?
  • What does your family believe about masturbation? If your family believes masturbation is okay, where and when is the best time for your child to masturbate?
  • What kind of rules do you want your children to have regarding how much time they spend watching tv or online? What types of media or websites are they allowed to access? What kinds of video games can they play?
  • What do you want your child to know about what a caring relationship looks like? What do you want your children to know about what family love looks like? What do you want your children to know about what romantic love looks like?

Conversation Starters

  • “Some grown-ups have children without being married. In our family, we believe…”
  • Decide when and where children can be alone, then explain these rules. For example, decide whether your child can be alone in their room with or without the door closed, whether they can shower alone, or whether they can spend time alone with other children in their rooms.
  • When watching videos, or television, point out what is accurate or inaccurate in media about real life. For example, if the characters on a show are all very thin or muscular explain to your child how that might differ from the average body.
  • If watching television or movie, point out situations that are consistent and inconsistent with your values, and tell your child(ren) why you like or dislike what is shown on the screen. For example, if one character hits another character, you may tell your child that hitting is not okay, and maybe come up with some way that character could have reacting differently.
  • If your child curiously touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, ask them not to touch you that way and explain why you are asking this of them. Similarly, if your child expresses discomfort when someone touches them, don’t make them touch that person.

Healthy Sexual Development for Ages 9-12

  • Puberty can start anywhere between the ages of 9-13, which can include a variety of social and physical changes.
  • Children in this age range may have lots of fluctuation in mood, sleep patterns, or weight. These changes are normal and expected.
  • Masturbation among this age group is a common occurrence.
  • Children at this age may talk to and want to spend more time with their friends than their parents.
  • Youth in this age range might start some version of dating or romantic relationships, which are often short term. Youth may also start exploring their sexuality by kissing, handholding, or dancing together at a school events.

Think About Your Values

  • What do you imagine for your child when they are involved in a romantic or sexual relationship? What expectations do you have for your child around dating? When do you feel dating is and is not appropriate?
  • What do you want your child to know about birth control? What do you feel are healthy expressions of sexuality? What are your expectations regarding when your child can have sex?
  • What kind of rules do you want your children to have regarding how much time they spend watching tv or online? What types of media or websites are they allowed to access? What kinds of video games can they play?
  • How does your family feel about roles for “boys” and roles for “girls”? Can boys and girls do similar activities or do they have separate activities?
  • What do you want your children to know about using deodorant, when to bathe, or shaving?
  • What does your family believe about masturbation? If your family believes masturbation is okay, where and when is the best time for your child to masturbate?

Conversation starters

  • Maybe a good idea to brainstorm ways to deal with intense emotional moments. For example, if your child is mad at someone, maybe they can write that person a letter instead of yelling. If your child is sad, maybe they can spend some time alone listening to music.
  • Share with your child your experiences of puberty. What worried you? What were some good memories? What do you want your child to know that you didn’t have information on?
  • If you menstruate, and you use menstruation products, show your child what they look like. Explain to your child how the menstruation products are used, where they are stored in the house and where menstruation products are sold.
  • Talk about nocturnal emissions with your child, and tell your child what you want them to do if they get the sheets wet.
  • Comments on topics of sexuality that are in the media. For example, if one of your child’s favorite songs features a reference to how to ask someone out on a date, ask your child if they know what the song is talking about. If they do know what the song is talking about, explain what you believe regarding oral sex.
  • Let your child listen in on a conversation that you are having with another adult regarding sexuality, depending on the situation maybe ask your child to comment.