I suspect the mere fact that I put toddler and sex in one sentence may shock many parents. The reality is that children are created as sexual beings, because they are boys and girls with different private parts and different gender identification as boy or girl.
How do children develop?
Mothers have noted that their boys can have erections and newborn infant females do lubricate. The capacity for sexual arousal is present in a child at the time of birth.
During the first 18 months of life, children’s sexual development may include exploring the body and beginning to learn the names of various body parts. Infants begin to touch and rub their genitals. This is just one part of general bodily exploration and touching the genitals probably occurs no more often than touching other parts of the body.
Parents can mention to their children the correct names for their private parts, keeping in mind that most children will name their private parts according to what their peer group calls it.
In the area of gender differences, most children know their own gender, but few young children identify gender on the basis of genitalia. Children’s typical responses are, “I know I am a girl because my mom named me a girl,” or, “I am a boy because I have boy hair.”
Infants gradually learn that genital stimulation is pleasant. A study done found that 36 percent of mothers of one-year-olds reported genital play in their children and masturbating activities leading to orgasm-like responses have been noted from as early as five months, but this is not the norm.
What is my role?
You can help your toddler develop a healthy attitude towards gender differences by teaching him values and morals regarding sex and sexuality as he grows. As children in this age group begin to experiment with nudity, touching and exploring their own and others’ genitalia, the guidelines set by parents teach them the balance for these activities in their lives.
Read: What do you value?
So what do they know about their gender?
You’ll see that during the developmental phase between three and six years, children start to form their gender identification based on their sexual parts. This means that they become more aware of the physical differences between boys and girls and they become more fascinated with the private parts of their own gender as well as the private parts of the opposite gender.
It is typically this phase where many toddlers become more exploratory with their own bodies and the bodies of the opposite gender. They may play “doctor-doctor”, touch each other’s private parts and pay more attention to the private parts of their parents.
Children are curious and will typically explore their world and try to gain mastery of their world by playing even sexualised games and activities. Often, children in this age group will like to run around naked, swim without a costume and will be quite “exhibitionistic”.
Where two-year-olds will gleefully streak from the bath, running stark naked through various rooms of the house, four-year-olds will talk about their private parts, their pooing and their peeing, but will be more cautious in their exposure of genitalia. It is quite clear that four-year-olds are interested in sexual parts and functions.
This is developmentally appropriate and to be expected and an important part in each boy and girl forming their gender identification. Don’t be alarmed by this!
Children only develop modesty at about six or seven. There is little self-consciousness with most children before this.