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Stages of Healthy Sexual Development



BIRTH TO 8 YEARS

Expected development:

  • Curious about own body, including own genitals
  • Self-stimulation is normal and pleasurable
  • Curious about differences between male/female bodies
  • Gender identity develops (knows "I am a boy)
  • May engage in sex play with peers ("you show me yours and I'll show you mine")
  • Enjoys "potty talk" especially at mealtimes
  • Interested in where babies come from, preganacy, birth
  • May learn expected male and female behaviors

What to Teach

  • Accurate names and functions of all body parts
  • Sexual parts of our bodies are special and private and we keep them covered in public
  • Difference between public and private
  • Similarities and differences between boys and girls
  • People have the right to refuse touch from anyone at any time (we don't touch people who don't want to be touched)
  • Where babies come from (accurate, simple, age-appropriate)
  • Bodies are all different and good, just the way they are

AGES 9-13

Expected development:

  • Puberty begins (wide timetable for physical and emotional changes)
  • Sexual attraction for children of same or opposite gender may begin
  • Sexual orientation usually known or suspected
  • Curiosity about puberty, reproduction, sexual feelings and attractions though child is often reluctant to discuss these things with parents
  • Peers become VERY important. Peer pressure influences: clothing, music, values, sexual practices, drug/alcohol use, smoking
  • Rapid mood swings are normal

What to Teach

  • Body changes – body hair, menstruation, breast development, vaginal  lubrication, penis/testicle growth, erections, wet dreams, hygiene, skin changes
  • Masturbation – what it is, and it’s done only in private
  • Reproduction and pregnancy – what intercourse is
  • Puberty happens at different ages and rates for everyone
  • Hormones and their effects on boys and girls
  • Right to refuse touch from anyone at anytime, and need to respect that others have same right
  • Gender roles and stereotypes (address and debunk myths)

AGES 14-18

Expected development:

  • Increased interest in dating and sexual relationships
  • Are physically able to become pregnant (sometimes as young as age 10)
  • Peer pressure still important, though may begin to lessen toward end of this period
  • May engage in risky or even delinquent behavior - brains are still immature and child may not be able to make consistently healthy decisions
  • Increased interest in being independent, driving, having sex, tattoos, piercings, getting jobs to earn spending money, clothes

What to Teach

  • Reproduction, pregnancy, birth - in greater detail
  • Sexually transmitted infections and how to protect themselves
  • Birth control and condom use
  • How to say "NO" to unwanted sexual contact
  • Respecting boundaries and personal space of self and others
  • Body image and changes, gender roles, stereotypes
  • Differences between healthy vs. unhealthy romantic relationships 

Used with permission from "Gulp! Talking with Your Kids About Sexuality" a pulication of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Volume 2, Number 1. August 2000.