Sexual Development & Behavior Through the Lifespan

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Understanding sexual development and behavior throughout the lifespan can make a big difference in understanding human development overall. This lesson offers an overview of major developmental stages.

Understanding Sexual Behavior and Development

As a psychotherapist, Maddy works primarily with adolescents and adults, and she specializes in helping them with issues related to intimacy and relationships.

Maddy has found that sexuality comes up frequently in her work, and patients feel different levels of comfort discussing issues pertaining to sex. She tries to normalize these conversations by explaining that sexual development, or how people grow and change in relation to their bodies and sexuality, is part of life for every person.

Maddy knows that no two people develop exactly the same way when it comes to sexuality, but she helps her patients understand that their earliest experiences might be impacting their current relationship to sexuality and sexual behavior.

Early Childhood and Childhood

Many of Maddy's patients are under the impression that sexuality did not really start for them until puberty at the earliest, but Maddy helps them see that some of their sexuality has its roots in early childhood and childhood.

Most young children have a lot of theories about their bodies and other people's bodies, after all, and it is common for young children to want to touch themselves and explore sensuality. Young children might also have a lot of questions about reproduction and adult relationships. How adults respond to these behaviors and questions impacts their development and overall relationship to sexuality.

Maddy helps her patients see that by middle childhood, some of the sensuality and exploration associated with young children tends to fade away in favor of cognitive and other forms of development. This latency period is not completely void of sexuality, but it is a time when other kinds of growth and development often take precedence.

Adolescence

Then, as Maddy's patients well know from their own experiences, adolescence, usually the ages around puberty stretching through young adulthood, comes with a rapid uptick in sexual feelings, exploration of sexual and gender identity, and sexual behavior.

These are the ages when it is really common for individuals to start experiencing intense feelings of attraction to others, and these feelings might be confusing. Adolescents with a lot of media exposure might have questions or feelings about sexuality related to what they see.

When Maddy works directly with adolescents and their parents, she tries to help them understand that any questions they have about sexuality, including their own sexual orientation or gender identity, are normal and good to explore at this age. She also focuses on the significance of consent, or needing active permission to touch or experiment sexually with another person.

Safety, protection from pregnancy and STDs, and how to critically view pornography are other major issues that come up for adolescents around sexuality. Maddy tries to emphasize the importance of safety and taking things slow while also helping her patients see that their feelings and desires are normal.

Young Adulthood

Many of Maddy's patients are young adults, and she has noticed that there is a very wide range when it comes to their sexual experience level, sense of solidity in their identity, and desire to form intimate relationships.

How a person behaves and feels sexually in young adulthood will vary tremendously depending on circumstances, identity, and what has happened previously in their development. For many people, this is a time when exploration of sexuality becomes tied up with seeking a life partner and emotional intimacy.

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