The girl child

The issue of childhood sexuality is controversial, and one which still makes many people uncomfortable. But, although childhood sexuality is very different to that of the mature adult, there is little doubt that humans are sexual beings from birth. Toddlers, and even babies as young as three to five months old might touch their genitals. Parents can be assured that this activity is quite normal, and the child finds it soothing and relaxing.

Pre-school girls are curious about their bodies, and are interested in and aware of gender differences, such as male and female genitals and how boys and girls urinate. They may mimic adult social and sexual behaviours they observe, such as holding hands and kissing. Girls of this age may role-play or talk about being married or having a partner. It is not uncommon for young children to touch or play with their genitals or to play games, such as “doctor”, that include sexual exploration. This is a natural way for children to explore their bodies. Generally, by the age of about five or six, children develop a sense of privacy and become aware that there are societal restrictions on sexual expression.

Puberty, the set of physiological changes that results in physical sexual maturity, usually begins between the ages of eight and twelve in girls. The breasts and genitals develop, pubic and underarm hair grows, the pelvic bones become more developed, fat is deposited on the breasts, hips, thighs to form the characteristic rounded contours of the adult female body, and there are increased secretions from the oil and sweat glands. Menstruation begins at about age 12 or 13 (although age of onset ranges from 10 to 16). It may take a year or two before menstruation and ovulation occur regularly. When these physical changes begin, girls may feel self-conscious, and are often uncomfortable undressing in front of others.

Puberty is accompanied by a surge of interest in sex. During this period, more girls gain experience with masturbation, although they generally start masturbating regularly later than boys. Because preadolescents tend to play with others of their own sex, early sexual exploration and experience may happen with other members of the same sex. By age 12 or 13, some young adolescents pair off and begin dating and/or "making out," but overt sexual behaviour with the opposite sex is still the exception. The prospect of having intercourse is viewed with distaste by many preadolescent or very young adolescent girls.

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