Sexual Development in Early Childhood

People in our nation are hesitant to discuss sexuality freely. While friends may discuss the matter with one another, they would not generally discuss it with their parents or elders. Parents are also hesitant to address sexual issues with their children. As a result, while youngsters learn about sexuality by questioning their peers, reading books (if they can find them), and watching television, the information they learn is often erroneous and incomplete. This frequently leads to them engaging in risky and reckless behavior.

What is Sexual Development?

People's biological, psychological, and social changes as they age and develop the capacity for sexual reproduction are referred to as sexual development. It starts at birth and continues throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. A wide range of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes are part of sexual development, including the formation of secondary sexual traits, puberty, and sexual feelings and actions. Additionally, it encompasses the formation of gender roles and behaviors and the development of sexual identity, including the sense of being male or female.

Theories of Sexual Development

Several theories have been proposed to explain the development of sexuality in children and adolescents. These theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and they may all play a role in developing sexuality.

One theory is the psychoanalytic theory, which Sigmund Freud and his followers developed. This theory proposes that sexuality is a fundamental part of human nature and begins to develop in early childhood. According to this theory, children go through several stages of sexual development, starting with the oral stage, in which they derive pleasure from sucking and biting, and moving on to the anal stage, in which they gain pleasure from controlling their bowel movements.

Another theory is the social learning theory, which proposes that children learn about sexuality and gender roles through observing and imitating others. According to this theory, children observe the behaviors and attitudes of others, such as their parents and peers, and they learn to adopt these behaviors and attitudes as their own. This theory suggests that children's understanding of sexuality and gender is influenced by the social and cultural environment in which they live.

A third theory is the cognitive developmental theory, which proposes that children's understanding of sexuality and gender develops in a predictable and orderly manner. According to this theory, children's understanding of sexuality and gender progresses through several stages, starting with a lack of awareness and understanding, and moving on to more sophisticated and complex understandings as they grow and develop. This theory emphasizes the role of cognitive processes, such as reasoning and problem-solving, in developing sexuality.

Sexual Development during Early Childhood

Sexual development in early childhood is a complex and important process that begins at birth and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. During this time, children undergo many physical, psychological, and social changes that shape their sexual identities and behaviors. The formation of gender identity is one of the most important components of sexual development in early life.

Around the age of two or three, this idea of being male or female normally starts to develop. Children start to perceive and express their gender identity at this age and may also indicate gender-specific preferences for toys, hobbies, and clothing.

The emergence of gender norms and behaviors is crucial to early childhood sexual development. The society holds men and women to these standards, and various elements, such as cultural, social, and familial pressures, influence them. Children learn about gender roles and behaviors through observation and imitation and may begin to adopt them as they grow and develop. In addition to developing gender identity and gender roles, early childhood is also a time of significant physical changes related to sexual development.

For example, girls typically begin to develop breasts and menstruate during this time, while boys may experience growth of the penis and testes and the onset of puberty. These physical changes can accompany emotional and psychological changes, such as increased self-awareness and interest in relationships and sexuality.

How can Adults aid Healthy Sexual Development in Early Childhood?

It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the sexual development of their children and to provide a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages healthy development. This may include providing accurate and age-appropriate information about sexuality, supporting children's exploration of their gender identity and roles, and addressing any concerns or questions that children may have about their bodies and sexuality. There are several steps that adults can take to support healthy sexual development in early childhood.

First, adults can provide accurate and age-appropriate information about sexuality to children. This can help children to understand their bodies and their sexuality and to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors. Adults must provide information tailored to the child's developmental level and specific questions and concerns. Second, adults can provide a supportive and nurturing environment for children. This means creating a safe and comfortable space for children to explore and express their sexuality, ask questions, and seek support. It is important for adults to be approachable and non-judgmental and to be open to talking with children about sexuality.

Third, adults can model healthy attitudes and behaviors around sexuality. This means demonstrating respect for one's own body and the bodies of others and showing sensitivity and compassion when discussing sexuality and relationships. It is important for adults to be aware of their attitudes and behaviors and to strive to be positive role models for children. Adults can also encourage children to explore their gender identities and roles. This entails allowing kids to experiment with various hobbies and fashions and express themselves in ways consistent with their gender identity. Adults should avoid imposing rigid gender stereotypes and accept and support children's gender expression.

Influence of Peers

Peers can play a significant role in the sexual development of children and adolescents. This is because children and adolescents often look to their peers for guidance and support and may adopt their peers' attitudes and behaviors regarding sexuality. One way in which peers can influence sexual development is through social comparison, and this is how individuals evaluate themselves and their abilities with others. In the context of sexual development, children and adolescents may compare themselves to their peers regarding their physical appearance, sexual attractiveness, and sexual behaviors. They may adjust their attitudes and behaviors accordingly.

Peers can also have an impact on sexual development through social influence. The attitudes and behaviors of others influence individuals through this process. Children and teenagers may be influenced by the sexual views and practices of their peers in the context of sexual development. For instance, if kids see their classmates engaging in sexual activity, they could be more inclined to do the same. Gender identity and gender roles can emerge under the influence of peers. To blend in and be accepted, children and adolescents may observe the attitudes and behaviors of their peers and imitate those same attitudes and behaviors. As a result, inflexible gender norms and gender stereotypes may emerge.


Sexual development is a complex process that starts at birth and continues throughout one's life. It is especially important to ensure that in early childhood, children can learn and explore their sexual and gender expressions and are provided with healthy ideas of the same.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023


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