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Sexuality Through Childhood

Sexuality starts at birth and continues throughout our lives. As we go through life, we pass through some common stages of sexual development.

Birth to 3 years:

  • Learn about love and trust through touching and holding
  • Babies learn about their world by putting things in their mouths
  • May experience sexual pleasure and can have an orgasm
  • Begin to understand "I am a boy" or "I am a girl"
  • Children explore their own bodies (hands, feet, genitals, etc.)
  • Begin to learn the names of body parts
  • Are curious about the differences between boys' and girls' bodies
  • Are curious about their parents' bodies
  • Begin toilet training
  • Boys have erections of the penis
  • Girls have vaginal lubrication

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Ages 4 to 8:

  • May "play doctor"
  • Know all of their body parts including their genitals and can talk about them
  • Ask questions about pregnancy and birth
  • Learn where babies come from
  • Begin to understand what discussions and behaviours are private and what are public
  • Might masturbate
  • Develop an understanding of roles in families
  • Dress up and act out male and female roles
  • Feel attached to the parent of the opposite sex
  • Are aware of how boys and girls are alike and how they are different
  • Become shy about their own body
  • Understand that their bodies belong to them and they have the right to say “No”

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Ages 9 to 11

  • Start of puberty (physical changes in growth of genitals, breasts, etc)
  • Feel closer to friends of the same sex
  • Might masturbate by self or with others
  • Have a basic understanding of birth control, where babies come from and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Develop skills to be a good friend
  • Begin to understand the  purpose of dating
  • May be aware of what sexual abuse is and ways to act on it
  • Have difficulty in thinking beyond today

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Ages 12 to 18 years

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