There has been a lot of recent press attention given to young children who have been excluded from school for inappropriate sexual behaviour.  I watched one mother talk of her outrage and concern at the ‘predatory’ behaviour of a boy in her sons class.

The problem with having a sensible discussion about pre-teen sexuality is that the ‘official’ line is that pre-teens aren’t supposed to have one.  One recent study by Iqbal et al. (in press and cited by Iqbal and Pipon-Young, 2009) showed that across a panel of experts, very little consensus could be found on what is sexually inappropriate behaviour amongst children under 10.  In fact the only point of agreement was that children shouldn’t be labelled sex offenders.  Thank goodness for that at least.

What I find remarkable about this, is that it is over 100 years since Freud first theorised about childhood sexuality, and we find it just as profoundly shocking now as people did then.  Furthermore, there has been precious little advance in our understanding of the subject.  The reality of my consulting room though, is that men often talk to me about early sexual experiences, usually layered with years of guilt and shame.

I, like everybody else, am simply in the dark concerning ‘normal’ sexual development in children.  I tend to take a lead from ethology, however, which has no difficulty in describing the ‘proto-sexual’ development of, for example, the higher primates.  We, strangely, find it kind of cute to see animals start to lay down the foundations of their adult sexual behaviour in childhood.  Yet we find it so difficult to have the same disinterested acceptance of our own children’s development.

If Iqbal et al (in press) is a representative finding, and childhood professionals simply don’t agree or, it seems, understand childhood sexual development, then no wonder we, as adults, find it so difficult accepting this aspect of our own early life.

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