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Healthy Living

Childhood and Sexual Evolution

Till recently it was believed that children had no sexual feelings until puberty. This mistaken notion had led people to assume that children were non-sexual entities and prevented the parents and elders from educating children properly in matters of sex. In fact, the foundations of adult sexuality are largely built during early childhood. Children become interested in the intimacy they observe between their parents. They want to know what happens in the parents’ bedroom. However, direct observation of parental sex upsets children. They are unable to understand what they see and often conclude that sex is a form of a violent struggle.

Children’s attitudes to sex are influenced by the environment at home. Parental disapproval is absorbed into the child’s personality and becomes an internal watchdog, a type of conscience.

Stages of Childhood Sexual Development

According to Freud, childhood sexuality develops in the following stages:

Oral Stage: Persists through the first year of life. Pleasure from sucking and eating is centred on the mouth. Hence the name oral stage.

Anal Stage:: Begins around two years of age. Toilet training becomes an important challenge for the child. The child derives pleasure from retaining the expelling faeces. Here, the pleasure is located near the anus. Hence the name anal stage.

Phallic Stage: Begins around the start of the third year. Interest centres on the penis. Boys fear castration (cutting off of the penis) as a sexual punishment. Girls envy penises and worry that they are castrated males.

Oedipal Stage: Develops when the attachment to the parent of the opposite sex becomes deeply possessive and passionate. The child even fantasises about killing the other parent. In the girls, it is referred to as electra complex.

Latent Stage: Usually sets in after the age of five, when sexual interest becomes repressed until puberty. In this stage, boys and girls form their own (gender) groups and do not mix with the opposite sex.

Genital Stage: Mature adult sexuality. Its healthy aim is intercourse with a life partner.

General Roles

General role behaviour is to a great extent established during childhood. Boys and girls tend to follow the behaviour patterns demonstrated by their parents. They learn from them such things as how to relate to members of the opposite sex and what types of work and emotions are appropriate to members of each sex. In conservative Asian societies, the roles for each sex are clearly determined. Men are the main income earners and decision-makers. So, boys are encouraged to be outgoing, self-reliant and dominating. Women are expected to keep house, care for children and be submissive. Even when women in many strata of society have become wage earners, girls are given a sheltered childhood, and expected to learn domestic chores and be submissive.


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