Sexual Development: What to Expect

[Birth to Age 2 ][ Ages 3-5 ][ Ages 6-8 ][ Ages 9-12 ][ Ages 13-18 ]

Many parents find normal sexual behaviour and development confusing. Sometimes you might wonder if your child’s sexual behavior is normal. You want to give your child some advice and information, but not too much too soon.

While children develop at different rates, there are some behaviours and stages that are common at certain ages. A better understanding of “what to expect and when” will help you foster healthy sexual choices and attitudes in your children.


Sexual Development in Children


What Happens

Birth to age 2 Babies and toddlers:
  • Learn about love and trust through loving relationships with parents and caregivers.
  • Explore their bodies, including their genitals.
  • Might have erections or experience vaginal lubrication.  
  • Experience genital pleasure.
  • Begin to learn expected behaviours.
  • Begin to notice differences between the bodies of boys and girls; children and adults.
Ages 3 to 5 Preschoolers:
  • Become very curious about bodies, and the differences between boys and girls.
  • Might play house or doctor or other forms of body exploration (or "sex play") with friends.
  • Learn that they are either male or female.
  • Learn about male and female roles by observing others.
  • Enjoy learning about and talking about body parts and functions.
  • Find adult bathroom activities very interesting.
  • Might ask questions about pregnancy and birth such as, "Where did I come from?"
  • Might learn words related to sex and try using them.
  • Might mimic adult sexual behaviour.
  • Might masturbate.
Ages 6 to 8 Children:
  • Begin to have strong friendships with children of the same sex.
  • Are affected by stories they hear in the media (e.g., AIDS or abuse).
  • Have definite ideas about male and female roles.
  • Have a basic sexual orientation and identity.
  • Want to be like their peers; for example, boys might feel pressured to choose the type of toys and activities that other boys choose.
  • Might engage in name-calling and teasing.
  • Might continue with sex play.
  • Might masturbate.

Sexual Development in Pre-Teens & Teens


What Happens

Ages 9 to 12 ‘Tweens':
  • Experience the beginning of puberty
  • Become more modest and want privacy.
  • Continue to value same-sex friendships.
  • Might experience increased sexual feelings and fantasies.
  • Develop crushes on friends, older teens, teachers, rock stars, etc.
  • Romantic feelings might be directed towards the same sex and/or the opposite sex.
  • Might take part in sexual exploration with peers.
  • Might masturbate to orgasm.
  • Might confront decisions about sex and drugs
Ages 13 to 18 Teenagers:

  • Experience the end of puberty.
  • Place great value on independence.
  • Experience increased sexual feelings and desire physical closeness with a partner.
  • Might face peer pressure to be sexually active whether or not they feel ready.
  • Might exchange close friendships in favour of romantic relationships.
  • Might make choices which lead to pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

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