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BABY AND CHILDHOOD SEXUALITY: THE PRE-ADOLESCENT STAGE

Hormonal changes occur as puberty approaches. Girls who stopped masturbating at the end of the phallic stage often start again around the age of nine or ten. It is still an ‘innocent’ activity which the girl may feel little guilt about unless she was criticized or punished for earlier masturbation or sex games. This increase in eroticism may be reflected in an increasing interest in portrayals of nude adult females and the father who was previously welcome in the bathroom is now banned.

Dreams or fantasies of appearing partially or wholly nude occur and are exciting. Sex games are undertaken now only with other girls and under the guise of dressing-up games or sexual enactment games such as kiss-me-like-a-boy-would and mutual genital inspection and bottom smacking may occur. The phase is a sort of ‘homosexual’ one and is perfectly normal. Girls rarely teach each other to masturbate-unlike boys. The reason may be that sexual skills are more innate in girls whereas in boys, as in higher primate males generally, there is a larger learned component to sex. Girls can seem to be very mature just before puberty and often take a special interest in relationships between the sexes, both human and animal.

Boys tend to gang together even more strongly in pre-adolescence and although there may be mutual showing of genitals it is not really a homosexual stage. They tend at this stage to denigrate women, presumably because of residual fears of them from earlier childhood arising from encounters with them in the form of mothers and teachers, and they also tend to regress towards the anal stage. Talk about excretion and breaking wind, making noises, eating crudely and failing to wash adequately are signs of this regression.

At this point, the end of latency, the first half of childhood is complete. The child has largely been reared within the small world of his or her own family with its particular combination of advantages and disadvantages. Any harm done in the process of psychosexual and other development will, from now on, become increasingly evident. It is this long incubation period between cause and effect which makes it so difficult to be sure about the significance of earlier events. The distortion of memory, the inaccessibility of the unconscious and the repression of painful thoughts and family myths make it hard to disentangle the facts. The most important lessons in life, the very early ones, do not even register in the conscious memory. And yet, in spite of the problems, it is possible to use the information given briefly in this chapter to understand what lies behind the difficulties experienced by adolescents and adults in their relationships with others and themselves. From what they say and avoid saying, from the way they say it and their associated emotional changes, from their dreams and fantasies, from their preferences and practices, and in other ways, it becomes possible to know what happened to them and how they felt, even unconsciously, during childhood. Sometimes repressed material is retrieved from the unconscious and the person then relives it as vividly as if it had occurred only an instant before and all the emotions originally associated with it return.

Of course everyone is different, but three patterns constantly recur in clinical practice though they appear in many guises. The first is a poor relationship with the self, involving excessive self-criticism, excessive self-consciousness, self-detestation or depression and excessive

self-blame. The two main causes are disturbed parental relationships, the child perhaps having been at least partly unwanted or believing himself or herself to be, and poor child spacing. The second is the suppression of sexuality, resulting in the child being frozen at some particular stage, perhaps making him or her regress to an earlier stage or deviating him or her from ‘normal’ development. The third is a persistent attachment to the opposite sex parent which can arise, amongst other reasons, if that parent was over-close or over-rejecting. The consequences can be profound not only for the individual’s future sexuality but for his or her emotions, personality and inter-personal relationships.

Although this brief account of baby and childhood sexuality can be verified by the average observant person, it is still not universally accepted. Some people find it hard to believe that events in childhood can exert such a profound effect on such matters as the ability to enjoy intercourse later in life. If it is accepted that infant and childhood sexuality and the way it is handled are the foundation for what comes in adulthood, then its enormous importance can be readily appreciated. To argue that childhood experiences have no bearing on events in later life is contrary to all the available evidence and also to common sense. After all, we happily accept such reasoning on non-sexual matters.

A more subtle and difficult criticism arises in the question of why children who are treated in virtually the same way with regard to sexual and emotional matters display totally different sexualities and sexual problems in adulthood. One answer lies in the fact that apart from one-egg twins no two individuals are genetically the same. Another answer is that no two people can really be subject to exactly the same influences and therefore any two people will respond differently to similar experiences. How secure children feel in their place in the family also affects their vulnerability to experiences. Also, the child’s own perceptions of what is happening may be different from those of a brother or sister who is going through the same experience.

For these, and no doubt other reasons, the long-term consequences of a similar upbringing can vary enormously. Parents too are not static personalities — they change as the years pass and react differently to, and therefore have a different influence on, each of their children.

All of this makes the study of childhood sexuality a minefield but an understanding of the processes outlined in this chapter can put problems into some sort of perspective. We are a product of all our yesterdays as well as of our genetic blueprint.

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