||This article needs attention from an expert in Psychology. The specific problem is: there is scant biological content, an excess of Judeo-Christian cultural content and lack of substantial information of practices and consequences in other cultural settings Talk:Child sexuality#Expert Attention Needed. (March 2013)|
Child sexuality is concerned with the biological, psychological and social influences upon the sexual development of children, and the range of sensational emotional and consequent sexual activities, which may occur before or during puberty, but before full sexual maturity is established.
Human evolution of social systems seems to favor nurture kinship relations between adults and children, which implies cultures intended to protect children from harm. Cultures and religions codified these principles into rules in which children learn to control their natural bodily functions by publicly pleasing adults and privately exploring the world and testing the bounds of adult tolerance.
Ancient cultures 
In the traditions of confucianism, as in humanism, sexual activity and sexual education are generally less regulated but often considered a private matter, so that discussing it may be 'very bad taste'. Confucius is said to have stated: "I have never seen one who loves virtue as much as he loves sex." Confucius in 'Analects'
In Western Europe, the predominant religion was Catholicism, which was heavily influenced by Gnosticism, and theologians such as Bishop Augustine of Hippo considered orgasm a sin. Later, theologians amplified this idea and in medieval times clerics were urged to interrogate the laity and if errant, castigate them by a regime of supervised penance and a diet of bread and holy water for weeks or months (in the sixth century, the Irish St. Columban issued penitence tables which prescribed 20 days).
Within the wider Christian traditions, sex of any sort, except for the deliberate purpose of conception, was variously said by clerics to cause blindness, deafness and mental confusion, as well as (in Catholicism) eternal damnation of the sinner's soul if not fully 'confessed'.
In Islam, mixing between men and women is strongly discouraged, especially when in private. Although touching and kissing people beyond one's immediate family is not permissible, some socialization is encouraged so that men and women may come to know each other (Surah Al-Hujurat) as long as there is no obscenity, touching, secret meetings or flirting.
Modern times 
Little is known of child sexuality before the Age of Enlightenment, but it is presumed (considering the number of servants needed to run great households and the simple design of ordinary homes) that many children would have observed sexual activity as a frequent and natural phenomenon. In the 19th century, with the arrival of industrialization and literacy, sexual repression appears to have become institutionalized and extra-marital activity generally criminalized to the point where newly married couples experienced difficulty in achieving consummation of their marriage.
Until Sigmund Freud published his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905, children were often regarded as asexual, having no sexuality until later development. Freud was one of the first researchers to seriously study child sexuality. While his ideas, such as psycho-sexual development and the Oedipus complex, have been rejected, acknowledging the existence of child sexuality was a significant change. Children are naturally curious about their bodies and sexual functions – they wonder where babies come from, they notice anatomical differences between males and females, and many engage in genital play or masturbation. Child sex play includes exhibiting or inspecting the genitals. Many children take part in some sex play, typically with siblings or friends. Sex play with others usually decreases as children go through their elementary school years, yet they still may possess romantic interest in their peers. Curiosity levels remain high during these years, escalating in puberty (roughly the teenage years) when the main surge in sexual interest occurs.
Contemporary situation 
In the latter part of the 20th century, sexual liberation probably arose within a massive cultural explosion in the United States of America known as Age of Aquarius following the upheaval of the Second World War, and the vast quantity of audiovisual media distributed worldwide by the new electronic and information technology. Children are apt to gain access and be influenced by material, despite censorship and content-control software.
Child sexualization in Western cultures 
Children can discover the pleasure of genital stimulation naturally at an early age. Boys often lie on their stomachs and girls may sit and rock. Manual stimulation occurs about the time of adolescence and mutual masturbation or other sexual experimentation between adolescents of similar ages may also occur, though cultural or religious coercion may inhibit or occult such activity if there is negative peer pressure or if authority figures are likely to disapprove.
Some cultural critics in the Western world have postulated that over recent decades, children have been subject to a premature sexualization, as indicated by a level of sexual knowledge or sexual behavior inappropriate for their age group. The causes of this premature sexualization that have been cited include portrayals in the media of sex and related issues, especially in media aimed at children; the marketing of products with sexual connotations to children, including clothing; the lack of parental oversight and discipline; access to adult culture via the internet; and the lack of comprehensive school sex education programs. For girls and young women in particular, studies have found that sexualization has a negative impact on their "self-image and healthy development".
When an adult or older adolescent has a sexual relationship with a child, it is considered to be a form of child abuse known as child sexual abuse. This can also bring on the premature sexualization of the child. Other effects of child sexual abuse include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, propensity to further victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems. Child sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.
Theories and research 
Research into youthful sexuality has been largely conducted over the 20th century in the Western World and is mostly concerned with suppression for reasons of religion and/or fears about the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
Freud and Kinsey 
Sigmund Freud in his 1905 work Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality outlined a theory of psycho-sexual development with five distinct phases: the oral stage (0–1.5 years), the anal stage (1.5–3.5 years), the phallic stage (3.5–6 years) which culminates in the resolution of the Oedipus complex, latency phase (6–12 years of age), and the genital (or adult) stage.
Alfred Kinsey in the Kinsey Reports (1948 and 1953) included research on the physical sexual response of children, including pre-pubescent children (though the main focus of the reports was adults). It has been stated that some of the data in his reports could not have been obtained without observation of or participation in child sexual abuse, or through collaborations with child molesters, though this criticism in and of itself neither invalidates nor confirms Kinsey's findings, residing more in ad hominem territory. In 2000, Swedish researcher Ing-Beth Larsson noted, "It is quite common for references still to cite Alfred Kinsey", due to the scarcity of subsequent large-scale studies of child sexual behavior.
Current methodology of study 
Empirical knowledge about child sexual behavior is not usually gathered by direct interviews of children, partly due to ethical consideration. Information about child sexual behavior is gathered by the following methods:
- Observing children being treated for problematic behavior, such as use of force in sex play, often using dolls having genitals
- Recollections by adults
- Observation by caregivers
As mentioned above, most published sexual research material emanates from the Western World, and a great deal of dramatic audio-visual material which might influence social attitudes to child sexuality are generated either in the United States of America or else for that audience. 'Normative' may therefore relate to Western culture rather than to the general complexity of human experience.
Normative and non-normative behaviors 
Although there are variations between individual children, children are generally curious about their bodies and those of others, and explore their bodies through explorative sex play. Playing doctor is one example of such childhood exploration. Such games are generally considered to be normal in young children. Child sexuality is considered fundamentally different from adult sexual behavior, which is more goal-driven. Among children, genital penetration and oral-genital contact are very uncommon, and may be perceived as imitations of adult behaviors. Such behaviors are more common among children who have been sexually abused.
A 1997 study based on limited variables found no correlation between early childhood (age 6 and under) peer sexual play and later adjustment. The study notes that its results do not demonstrate conclusively that no such correlation exists. The study also does not address the question of consequences of intense sexual experiences or aggressive or unwanted experiences.
Symptomatic behaviors 
Children who have been the victim of child sexual abuse sometimes display overly sexualized behavior, which may be defined as expressed behavior that is non-normative for the culture. Typical symptomatic behaviors may include excessive or public masturbation and coercing, manipulating or tricking other children into non-consensual or unwanted sexual activities, also referred to as "child-on-child sexual abuse". Sexualized behavior is thought to constitute the best indication that a child has been sexually abused.
Children who exhibit sexualized behavior may also have other behavioral problems. Other symptoms of child sexual abuse may include manifestations of post-traumatic stress in younger children; fear, aggression, and nightmares in young school-age children; and depression in older children.
Normative behavior in Early childhood 
From the ages of three to seven, the following behaviors are normal among children:
- Children are curious about where babies come from.
- Children may explore other children's and adults' bodies out of curiosity.
- By age four, children may show significant attachment to the opposite-sex parent.
- Children begin to have a sense of learned modesty and of the differences between private and public behaviors.
- For some children, genital touching increases, especially when they are tired or upset.
Normative behavior in early school age 
Early school age covers approximately ages five to seven, and masturbation is common at these ages. Children become more aware of gender differences, and tend to choose same-sex friends and playmates, even disparaging the opposite sex. Children may drop their close attachment to their opposite-sex parent and become more attached to their same-sex parent.
During this time, children, especially girls, show increased awareness of social norms regarding sex, nudity, and privacy. Children may use sexual terms to test adult reaction. "Bathroom humor" (jokes and conversation relating to excretory functions), present in earlier stages, continues.
Normative behavior in middle childhood 
"Middle childhood" covers the ages from about six to eleven, depending on the methodology and the behavior being studied, individual development varies considerably.
As this stage progresses, the choices of children picking same-sex friends becomes more marked and extending to disparagement of the opposite sex.
By the age of 8 or 9 children become aware that sexual arousal is a specific type of erotic sensation and will seek these pleasurable experiences through various sights, self-touches, and fantasy. 
Sex play among siblings 
In 1980, a survey of 796 undergraduates, 15 percent of females and 10 percent of males reported some form of sexual experience involving a sibling; most of these fell short of actual intercourse. Approximately one quarter of these experiences were described as abusive or exploitative. A 1989 paper reported the results of a questionnaire with responses from 526 undergraduate college students in which 17 percent of the respondents stated that they had preadolescent sexual experiences with a sibling.
Child sexualization in non-Western cultures 
At seven or eight years of age, children of the Trobriand Islands begin to play erotic games with each other and imitate adult seductive attitudes. About four or five years later, they begin to pursue sexual partners in earnest. They change partners often. Girls are just as assertive and dominant as boys in pursuing or refusing a lover. This is not only allowed but encouraged.
A much earlier study (1915–1920) of Trobriand children reports that these children attempted to imitate adult sexual intercourse by the time they were 10 years old. Similar behavior at the same or earlier age was observed among the children in traditional Eskimo families and the children of the Bushmen.
Explorers and researchers such as Etienne Marchand, Adam Johann von Krusenstern, R.C. Suggs (1961), Fredrick O'Brien (1919), and others discovered the Marquesas had unique sexual customs considered deviant to Westerners. Children were permitted and sometimes encouraged to engage in sexual play with other children, encouraged to learn from adults by observation, and experiment with adults but with care taken to prevent activities that would cause pregnancy unless socially beneficial to the family. Western society has changed many of these customs so research into their pre-Western social history has to be done by reading antique writings.
See also 
- Adolescent sexuality
- Age of consent
- Covert incest
- Developmental psychology
- Developmental stage theories
- Genital play
- Psychosexual development
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Further reading 
- Diana Gittins, Children's Sexuality: Why Do Adults Panic?. In The Child in Question. Macmillan, 1997. ISBN 0-333-51109-3.
- Ronald Goldman and Juliette Goldman, Children's Sexual Thinking: A Comparative Study of Children Aged Five to Fifteen Years in Australia, North America, Britain and Sweden. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982. ISBN 0-7100-0883-X..
- Stevi Jackson, Childhood and Sexuality. Blackwell Publishing, 1982. ISBN 0-631-12871-9.
- Susan M. Moore, Doreen A. Rosenthal, Sexuality in Adolescence. Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0-415-07528-9.
- Sharon Lamb (2002). The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do—Sex Play, Aggression, and Their Guilt, Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-0107-8.
- Sharon Lamb (2006). Sex, Therapy, and Kids: Addressing their Concerns through Talk and Play. W.W. Norton.
- Sharon Lamb & Lyn Mikel Brown (2006). Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes. St. Martin's Press.
- Gil, E. & Cavanagh Johnson, T. (1993). Sexualized children – Assessment and treatment of sexualized children and children who molest. Launch Press. Cited in Larsson, 2000, op. cit.