Sexuality is still too often associated to genitality and is actually much more complex. It sends back to notions of love, affection, commitment, tenderness, sensuality, pleasure, self-realization, genitality, etc. Because it is a component of human life that is as important as physical, mental and emotional well-being, it deserves special attention. Its importance is crucial in a baby’s or a toddler’s development. For a better understanding of a child’s sexuality, the following paragraphs describe the main steps of psychosexual development in children aged 0 to 6 years. Considering that every child develops at their own rhythm, ages are indicated for information purposes only.
The psychosexual development of the baby and the child aged 0 to 6 years.
From 0 to 15 months old: A little being of pleasure!
The baby’s sexuality first develops through the sense of taste. The mouth is the prime erogenous zone. The intense pleasure induced by non-nutritive sucking, breastfeeding and bottle-feeding is the first manifestation of human sexuality. This first feeling of sexual arousal occurs first in a feeding context. As he grows up, the baby discovers slowly his environment with his lips and tongue. Consequently, it is not rare to see a baby suck his foot, his thumb or his blanket with obvious pleasure. The sense of touch also grows in importance. Just think of the little one eating alone with his hands, the pleasure he feels when he plays with food and when he licks his fingers! In short, the baby first explores his body and his environment with his mouth, then with his hands.
Also, with all your caring ways, the baby discovers his body even further, in both sensual and sensorial ways. The softness of a tender kiss, the warmth of your skin against his, the gentle touch of the wind as you change him, the lightness of the water when you bathe him, the firmness of your touch when you massage him are all examples of events that have an impact on your baby’s sexuality and sensuality. It is therefore absolutely normal for your little one to have spontaneous genital reactions (erections for boys and vaginal lubrication for girls) because they are reflex physical phenomena in response to the touch, to friction or to the need to urinate.
In the same vein, it is perfectly normal that he touches his sex organs, just like he would discover his ear or his foot.
Your many attentions will also help your baby develop a feeling of physical and affective security as well as a feeling of love and trust that will help form his personality. Furthermore, you play an important role in the development of his sexual identity as you provide him, from birth, with characteristics that are specific to his biological gender (voice, choice of toys, choice of colors, choice of clothes, etc.) In brief, the sexuality is truly in place during the first months of the baby’s life.
From 15 months to 3 years: your baby is King!
With the initiation to pot training, your baby discovers a new erogenous zone: the anus. The excitement then comes with the pleasure felt when he releases or retains fæces. It is the physiological release of tension that induces great pleasure to the toddler. He then becomes aware that he masters his body and that he can have some control over his environment, including his parents. For example, he can "push" at the right time, or he may hold back to test the reaction of his parents or guardians. Becoming aware of his power over himself and others, the child quickly develops a sense of autonomy.
This step is usually accompanied by the "NO" phase, as part of his desire to affirm himself. It also coincides with the emergence of the language. The young child likes to identify the parts of his body and his environment. It is a nice opportunity for the parent to teach him a common and correct language to discuss his sex organs. They will also be explored a little more as, without a diaper, the child can easily touch it and experience pleasure through it. It is therefore possible to see a little girl rocking back and forth on a bouncing object such as a stuffed toy.
About the sexual identity of the little one, it keeps getting stronger, especially when he manages to see his own sex organs and those of the opposite sex. Around two or three years old, even though the child is able to identify his own sex and that of the others, he can be ambivalent of the permanence of his own sex. For example, a little boy can wonder if he will become a little girl one day. Also, through the eyes of his parents and others around him, the toddler will be inclined to adopt feminine or masculine characteristics, which will also help to develop their sexual identity.