Children don’t have sexual feelings do they?
It’s all very well to talk about adults having sexual feelings, but children don’t have sexual feelings do they?
Yes, but childrens feelings are more sensual then sexual. Child and adult sexuality are different in fundamental ways. Talking about children’s sexuality can make us feel uneasy because we may assume that sexuality means the same for children as it does for adults. Children’s sexual behaviour does not have the same meaning and does not occur with the same thoughts and feelings as similar adult behaviour.
Two five-year-old boys are being chauffeured to a party. One says to the other: “I had a dream I was sexing with a girl.” Giggles and snorts cocoon them until the other thinks of a comeback that goes one better. “Well …I had a dream I was sexing with Robert.”
Big ears at the wheel is riveted. Has my son just come out? … These boys in short pants all have their baby teeth, yet already they are talking about losing their virginity.
But then I remember getting engaged to Roderick Davis in kindergarten and scenes behind the shelter shed and soon I’m more relaxed about the fact that sexuality is more exotic these days…
Some of these thoughts may go through your mind as you try to understand incidents involving your child’s sexuality. Young children talking about sex can make us uncomfortable. Children are perceived as innocent, while sex is not. However the images and information about sex that young children are now exposed to means they use language and know more of the facts of sex than children even a decade ago. But children’s language and sexual behaviour does not have the same meaning as it does for adults.
Differences between child and adult sexuality
Mary felt very uncomfortable when her five-year-old son Matt pressed his groin into her thigh as she lay on the couch. When he leaned over and began to play with her breast she thought he had gone beyond curiosity. She felt very confused.
Like Mary, you may have concerns about whether your child’s sexual behaviour is normal. In many cases this concern is unfounded and is due to misunderstanding how child sexuality differs from adult sexuality. Parents sometimes attribute adult meanings to children’s behaviour. You may see similarities between the sexual behaviour of children and adults, and mistakenly think they have the same motives. For instance when your five-year-old hugs, kisses and sensually touches you, it may seem that there is an erotic component to their behaviour. However it is much more likely that it is just a demonstration of affection for you.
Children’s play involving sex or sexual roles is universal. Incidents such as a four-year-old boy lying on top of his fully clothed mother and saying “I want to make love to you” is likely to be mimicking something they have seen on TV. Your three-year-old touching your genitals is most likely to be harmless curiosity on their part. They may also be testing boundaries, to see where you set limits. Their language and behaviour may appear adult-like but it lacks the passionate, erotic component of adult sexuality.
When adults talk about ‘having sex’ they are usually referring to sexual intercourse. And when adults talk about ‘sex’ the word can include a range of sexual activity including kissing, caressing, fondling, oral or genital sex. President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings highlighted the debate over the definition of sex, but for adults the word sex is associated with sexual feelings, arousal and excitement. Young children don’t have the same knowledge or experience. Even if they have seen sex on TV or other media their ideas are limited to thinking ‘sex’ is kissing or rubbing around together. They don’t understand the concept of feeling sexy or ‘turned on’.