Sexual Development

Sexual Development of Children (Birth - 4 years )


Babies are born with the ability to feel pleasure in their genitals and other erogenous zones. Boys’ penises have erections, and girls’ vaginas lubricate from birth. Babies will touch and play with their genitals, just as they do with everything else in the world.

Physical closeness is essential for babies and children. Infants cannot learn to speak unless spoken to and likewise cannot learn how to love and show affection unless they are hugged, tickled and kissed. This also helps build positive self-esteem. Physical affection with babies and young children is the foundation of healthy sexual development. Security objects and activities, such as imaginary friends, blankets, favorite toys and thumb sucking, are also normal and sources of comfort and affection for children.


By the time they begin to speak (18 months to 2 years), children know whether they are male or female. They learn the differences and similarities between genders.

Sexual Develpment of Children (5 - 9 years)


Children of both sexes may experience sex play with other children, especially same‑sex friends. It is important to remember that this play does not acquire sexual meaning until after puberty. Children may masturbate but learn to hide it if met with correction or disapproval.


Children begin to learn how to make and keep friends, and may go through a period of disliking opposite-sex children. They learn the concepts of public and private behavior. There is increased interest in pregnancy, childbirth and the family. Children experiment with “dirty” words and slang terms for information and sometimes for shock value.

Sex Play Among Children

Sex play among children is common and, like other play, is a normal expression of curiosity. Undressing, “playing doctor” and “playing house” are typical of preschool children. This helps children understand gender differences and is usually limited to peers, although young children may want to touch their parents’ sexual organs. It is important to remember that childhood sex play is primarily motivated by the “need to know,” and not (for young children) by sexual/erotic feelings.

If children exhibit frequent aggressive behavior, overt sex act behavior or seem preoccupied with sex over a period of time, particularly toward children significantly younger (a two-year difference), consult with your public health nurse or other health professional.

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