*Headings written as questions throughout the chapters--for example, "How common is hooking up?" and "Is coming out to parents always a good thing?"
*"In Their Own Words" boxes with firsthand accounts from adolescents and young adults.
*"Focus on Research" sidebars that discuss research methods, challenges, and controversies in the field.
*End-of-chapter summaries and suggested readings.
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Sexuality from Childhood through Adolescence
Human sexuality is more than sexual intercourse and it does not begin in adolescence with the onset of puberty. Instead, sexuality is a developmental process, some aspects of which appear in infancy, are elaborated on in childhood, and fundamentally altered with the onset of puberty. Sexuality — broadly conceived to include sexual curiosity and exploration — antedates puberty by many years, first appearing early in life. Puberty brings with it the initiation of sexual desire and the capacity for sexual response, but the precursors of adult sexuality are present long before the emergence of genital sexuality during early adolescence.
Children are sexual beings, as Sigmund Freud long ago famously argued, an idea on which he built an elaborate theory of psychosexual development. The basic theory is that children are inherently sexual beings, whose sexuality unfolds through various sexual stages. Although most of Freud's principal contentions about early sexuality have been discredited, his basic insight that children have an interest in sexuality and engage in behaviors that appear to be sexual is an important observation about the development of sexuality. The low level of sex steroids present in a child's body prevent a child from having and experiencing a true adult sexual response, but children do engage in behaviors that are sexual in appearance and which give them pleasure.
* SEX PLAY IN CHILDHOOD
What Is Sex Play in Childhood?
Childhood sex play is difficult to define, but it is important to provide some definition of the concept in order to distinguish it from child sexual abuse. There is no generally agreed-upon definition of childhood sex play (de Graaf & Rademakers, 2006), but the term includes prepubescent children's interest in and exploration of their own genitals or the genitals of others. When childhood sex play includes another child, the children are approximately the same age, perhaps no more than 2 years apart. Childhood sex play is not coercive and does not involve forced participation. In addition, childhood sex play may include children of the opposite sex or the same sex.
Sex play is a common activity during childhood, perhaps more common than many adults realize. Anthropologists report that what they refer to as "sexual rehearsal play" is common among nonhuman primates and among children in many nonindustrial societies ( Josephs, 2015). It is a troubling activity for many contemporary Western parents, who often have two questions about it when they discover its occurrence in their own children: Is it normal? and What should I do about it (Moser, Kleinplatz, Zuccarini, & Reiner, 2004)?
What Are the Most Common Sex Play Behaviors among Young Children?
Studying sex play in childhood is difficult for reasons that are both practical and ethical. First, it is challenging, if not impossible, to question young children, especially those under the age of 6 years, about sex play because of the problem of defining and describing those behaviors to the children. Second, even if children could report on their own sex play, there are ethical reasons for not asking them to report on behaviors and feelings that could be embarrassing or upsetting. For these reasons, the study of sex play in childhood relies on the retrospective reports of adults, usually college students, about their behavior when they were young, or on parent reports, usually mothers, on the behaviors they have observed in their children. Occasionally, reports about childhood sexual behavior are obtained from early childhood educators in learning settings (Balter, van Rhijn, & Davies, 2016). There are limitations to all these methods that include the unreliability of memory and adults' lack of knowledge about child behavior when the adult is not present. Data collected using these techniques are not invalid, but their true validity is unknown and we should interpret these findings cautiously.
One study of Swedish adolescents found that sex play before the age of 13 was common (Larsson & Svedin, 2002). About 80% of older adolescents reported that they had engaged in solitary or mutual sexual play before they were 13 years old. The most common solitary activity was exploration of the self including genitals, and the most common mutual sexual play was kissing and hugging.
Friedrich and colleagues (1992) developed a child sexual behavior inventory that relies on mothers' reports of 38 behaviors assessing sexual behavior of children between 2 and 12 years of age. The five most common childhood sex play behaviors based on a sample of over 1,000 U.S. children who had not been sexually abused include the following: touches sex (private) parts when at home, touches or tries to touch their mother's or other women's breasts, stands too close to people, tries to look at people when they are nude or undressing, and is very interested in the opposite sex. The three least common behaviors are tries to have sexual intercourse with another child or adult, puts mouth on another child's/adult's sex parts, and asks others to engage in sexual acts with him or her (Friedrich, Fisher, Broughton, Houston, & Shafran, 1998). The findings reveal that sex play involving touching and looking is common among prepubescent children, but other behaviors, especially those involving attempted intercourse and oral sex, are uncommon and may be indicative of sexual abuse or other behavioral problems (Friedrich et al., 2001).
The most common feelings young adults remember having when they engaged in sex play during childhood are feeling excited (but not sexually excited), being silly/giggly, having pleasant body sensations, and feeling good/ fine (Larsson & Svedin, 2002). Feelings of guilt are uncommon, although more females than males remember feeling guilty. Most young adults, especially males, remember positive feelings about their sex play (de Graaf & Rademakers, 2006).
Who Is Likely to Engage in Sex Play?
Young children under the age of 5 years are more likely to engage in sex play than older children. Several explanations are possible for the decrease in sex play as children get older. First, gonadal hormones decrease after about age 5 years, and remain low until puberty, perhaps leading to a declining interest in sex play in middle childhood (Udry & Campbell, 1994). Second, the decrease may reflect an increase in socialization as children get older and learn that sex play is inappropriate, especially in public. Third, children may become more secretive and cautious about their sex play as they get older, so mothers are less likely to observe this type of play among older children even though it does occur (Kellogg, 2009).
Boys are more likely to engage in sex play than girls. Some kinds of sex play that are more common among boys than girls include self-stimulation, looking at sexually explicit pictures, and sexual teasing (Larsson & Svedin, 2002). These early gender differences in sex play may be due to differences in socialization in which boys are given more freedom to express their sexual interests than girls. These differences are present even among children as young as 2 years old, however, which suggests the possibility of biological differences between genders in interest in sexuality.
Two family factors related to sex play include maternal education and parents' attitudes about childhood sex play (Friedrich et al., 1998). Mothers with more education report more sex play among their children than mothers with less education, which could be due to more lenient attitudes about sex play among educated mothers, or to more awareness of childhood sex play among educated mothers. Further, parents who think it is normal for children to be sexually curious report more sex play among their children than parents who do not think this is normal.
Differences in childhood sex play vary across cultures and ethnicities. For example, Dutch children engage in more sex play than U.S. children (Friedrich, Sandfort, Oostveen, & Cohen-Kettenis, 2000). These differences are undoubtedly due to differences in sexual socialization that begin at an early age. Dutch adults have more liberal attitudes about sexuality than U.S. adults, which may include more liberal attitudes about sex play in childhood. U.S. parents are less tolerant of childhood sex play than Dutch parents and may be more likely to punish it when it occurs. Other research on U.S. Latinos found that mothers reported more childhood sex play, especially interpersonal sex play, in comparison to white mothers, a difference that may reflect more tolerance of sex play among Latino parents (Kenny & Wurtele, 2013). Together, these studies reveal cultural differences in parental attitudes about childhood sex play and in differences in the frequency of childhood sex play.
What about Sibling Sex Play?
Sex play in childhood is a troubling occurrence for many parents who worry that it indicates psychological disturbance or may lead to sexual and other problems later in life. Of even greater concern is sibling sex play, not only for the same reasons about sex play among friends but, in addition, because it suggests a violation of the incest taboo. How common is sibling sex play and what effect does it have on later sexual development? About 15% of college students with a sibling report that they engaged in some type of sibling sexual play when they were young (Finkelhor, 1980; Greenwald & Leitenberg, 1989). The median age of sibling sexual activity is about 10 years, a little older than typical sex play among friends. Sibling sexual activity often includes exhibiting genitals and touching genitals, in addition to a small percentage of young adolescents who have intercourse or attempt intercourse with a sibling. Force or the threat of force is uncommon when the sexual activity is between siblings who are close in age, but more common between siblings with a wider age gap.
Is Sex Play in Childhood Related to Sexual Behavior in Emerging Adulthood?
In general, nonaggressive sex play in childhood is unrelated to sexual behavior during emerging adulthood (Leitenberg, Greenwald, & Tarran, 1989; Okami, Olmstead, & Abramson, 1997). The absence of a relationship between childhood sex play and later sexual behavior suggests that these two types of behaviors are unrelated, although they have a surface similarity. Perhaps sex play in childhood has more to do with curiosity than with sexuality, while emerging adult sexuality is more strongly influenced by biological and psychosocial factors directly related to a sexual response.
There is no association between nonaggressive sibling sex play and later sexual behavior among young men, but some young females who engaged in sibling sex play are more sexually active in college than females who did not engage in sibling sex play (Finkelhor, 1980). Sibling sex play can be related to psychological difficulties in adolescence if the sex play involves force or the threat of force (Hardy, 2001; Krienert & Walsh, 2011).
There is one qualification to the general conclusion of no association between childhood sex play and emerging adult sexual behavior. If the sex play in childhood involves genital contact, even if it does not include intercourse, then emerging adults are more likely to engage in premarital sexual intercourse and have more intercourse partners than emerging adults who's sex play during childhood does not involve genital contact (Leitenberg et al., 1989). We need to be cautious about attributing an increase in emerging adult sexual behavior to genital contact during childhood, since there are many reasons why these behaviors might be related. Nevertheless, sex play involving genital contact may be different in some important ways from more typical sex play and indicate an early interest in sexuality that goes beyond typical sex play and persists into emerging adulthood.
The story of the idea that masturbation is a moral failure and a dangerous disease is well-known (Laqueur, 2003). Based on Judeo-Christian beliefs that masturbation is a sin against nature and God, medical practitioners in the United States and in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries provided health-related descriptions of the medical ills that could befall someone as a result of "self-abuse." Dr. R. V. Pierce's (1875) book The People's Common Sense Medical Adviser in Plain English provides an example of this concern, and includes an impassioned description of what the doctor terms spermatorrhea, or seminal weakness, that results from excessive masturbation. According to Pierce, masturbation "saps the vigor, undermines and ruins the constitution, and, if the victim marries and has not by such indulgences rendered himself entirely impotent, he becomes the father of puny offspring; or, more frequently, being entirely impotent, it renders both his own life and that of his companion most wretched" (p. 816). Pierce pays less attention to female masturbation, but it too is presented as a serious assault on one's physical and mental health.
We live in more enlightened times, but the stigma surrounding masturbation continues to exist, although to a considerably lesser degree and expressed in a much less impassioned language. The subject of masturbation remains a sensitive and dangerous topic of discussion, however, that has even cost people their careers. One famous case occurred in 1994, when U.S. surgeon general Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign her post after giving a speech in which she suggested that masturbation should be a topic taught in sex education courses (Greenberg, 1994).
What Percentage of Adolescents Have Masturbated?
Two conclusions emerge from several recent studies of the prevalence of masturbation among adolescents in the United States, Britain, and Australia: first, masturbation is common in adolescence and throughout the lifespan; and second, more males than females report that they have masturbated. In one study of U.S. adolescents between 14 and 17 years of age, about 75% of males and about 50% of females reported that they had masturbated (Robbins et al., 2011). The percentage of adolescents who have masturbated increases during adolescence, dramatically for males. Further, males of all ages masturbate more frequently than females. For example, 20% of males report that they masturbate four or more times per week, while only 7% of females report masturbating that often. These findings are representative of results from other studies of adolescents and adults in the United States (Das, 2007), Britain (Gerressu, Mercer, Graham, Wellings, & Johnson, 2008), and Australia (Smith, Rosenthal, & Reichler, 1996). One additional finding is that lesbian and gay adolescents are more likely to report masturbating than heterosexual adolescents, perhaps revealing a stronger sex drive among lesbian and gay adolescents (Gerressu et al., 2008).
Why Is Masturbation More Common among Males Than Females?
The findings that more males than females report they masturbate and masturbate more often are among the largest and most consistent differences between males and females for any aspect of sexuality (Petersen & Hyde, 2010). Why these gender differences exist is not well understood, but at least three explanations are possible. One is that there are no real differences in male and female masturbation, only gender differences in a willingness to report masturbation. The assumption underlying this explanation is that males are less ashamed about masturbating than are females, and so are more willing to report on an anonymous survey that they masturbate.
A second explanation for gender differences in masturbation is based on the existence of the sexual double standard that allows males more sexual freedom than females. According to this idea, masturbation is more acceptable for males than for females, a belief that when internalized leads females to suppress their sexuality, including their desire to masturbate.
A third explanation is that gender differences in masturbation may have a biological basis and are rooted in differences in those aspects of brain functioning that control sexual arousal. In addition, some have argued that gender differences in gonadal hormones, especially level of testosterone, lead to a heightened sexual drive among males. In line with the idea that gonadal hormones released during puberty have a stronger effect on male than female masturbation, consider Figure 1.1, based on data collected by Alfred Kinsey in the late 1940s and early 1950s on the prevalence of masturbation in males and females of different ages. The graph reveals two important findings. First, after puberty, significantly more males than females report that they have masturbated. Second, of more relevance for the biological explanation for gender differences in masturbation, note the shape of the two graphs. For males, the prevalence of masturbation increases dramatically after the onset of puberty during early adolescence. The percentage of males who have masturbated at age 15 is 13 times higher than the percentage of males who have masturbated at age 11, suggesting that male masturbation is highly related to the occurrence of biological changes that begin during puberty. In contrast, there is no evidence of a puberty effect for females. For females, the prevalence of masturbation gradually increases year by year between childhood and emerging adulthood.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sexuality in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood"
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Table of ContentsOverview
1. Sexuality from Childhood through Adolescence
2. The Biology of Adolescent Sexuality
3. Parents and Adolescent Sexuality
4. Parent–Adolescent Communication about Sex
5. Peers and Adolescent Sexuality
6. Dating, Romance, and Hooking Up
7. Adolescents, Sex, and the Media
8. LGBTQ Adolescents in a Heterosexual World
9. Teen Mothers, Their Children, and the Fathers
10. STIs, Condom Use, and Risky Sex
11. Teaching Sex in and out of School
12. The Sexual Health of Adolescents in the 21st Century
Students and instructors in psychology, family studies, sociology, social work, nursing, health, and education; therapists, counselors, nurses, social workers, educators, and other practitioners who work with adolescents. Will serve as a primary text in advanced undergraduate- and graduate-level Adolescent Sexuality courses and as a supplemental text in such courses as Adolescence, Human Development, and Human Sexuality.