Influences on sexual development

Part of the overall development of a child’s identity is their sexual identity.

Sexual development is a crucial part of the overall development of a human being. It is a part of the overall process of our life, and forms an integral part of who we are as human beings. At different times and at different points in our life, our sexuality presents itself in different ways. The overall development of our sexuality therefore includes:

  • Who we are as sexual beings.
  • How we develop our sexual identity.
  • The factors that influence our sexual behaviour and attitudes.

Parents or guardians are the first and primary health and sexuality educators of children. Infants and toddlers will typically develop their capacity to trust and their initial concepts of gender relations through interaction and learning with primary caregivers. In addition, it is important to recognise the fundamental role that educators play in the development of early childhood sexuality education, as well as later in adolescence.

What every child needs to learn is to integrate the physical, psychological, cultural, societal, educational, economic and spiritual aspects of their lives. Many of the building-blocks of physical, gender and sexual identity development occur in childhood, and continue to develop throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

In the home and school environment, young children will encounter many social interactions and learning opportunities that will contribute to their knowledge and behaviour around gender and sexuality. They will learn that they are different from those around them in various ways.

They begin to distinguish their biological sex and gender roles, recognise differences between people because of race (eg skin colour), customs (eg Muslims bow and Christians kneel when praying), and family compositions (eg single-parent homes, same-sex parents, extended families). - Triangle Project

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