Island Sexual Health Society Be informed, not surprised

Two parents talking to their teenage children about sexuality

Parents are their children's first sexual health educators. It is important for parents to stay as current on their own knowledge as possible. Our parent workshops can help parents and children to talk more comfortably

Sexuality through the lifespan

Each person is a sexual being with normal desires to be loved and touched. Although feelings about and experiences with sexuality may change as we age, all humans are sexual beings.

It is essential to know that sexuality involves a lot more than just sexual activity. A person is still a sexual being even if they are not sexually active. Sexuality encompasses

  • our gender identity and orientation
  • feelings of attraction
  • the way(s) we choose to be intimate with others
  • our personal body image
  • our sense of right and wrong (i.e., values) and how this influences our behaviour(s)

Early childhood sexuality (birth – 3 years)

  • Learns about love and trust through touching and holding
  • Sucking (need for oral satisfaction)
  • Spontaneous reflexive responses
    • males: erections of penis
    • females: vaginal lubrication
  • Gender Identity develops (child knows “I am a boy” or “I am a girl”)
  • Sex role conditioning (boys and girls are treated differently)
  • Exploration of own body (hands, feet, genitals)
  • May enjoy nudity
  • Toilet training
  • Curiosity about differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies
  • Curiosity about parents’ bodies

Late childhood sexuality (4 – 8 years)

  • Childhood sexual play (e.g. Doctor)
  • Sex role learning: how to behave like a girl or boy
  • Learns sex words: “bathroom vocabulary”
  • Asks question about pregnancy and birth
  • Begins to distinguish acceptable and unacceptable behaviour
  • Possibility of masturbation
  • Becomes modest about own body
  • Media influences understanding about male/female family roles

Early adolescent sexuality (9 – 11 years)

  • Puberty begins (growth of genitals, breast development, etc.)
  • Possibility of masturbation
  • Closeness of same sex friends
  • Possibility of body exploration with others

Adolescent sexuality (12 – 18 years)

  • Puberty changes (physical and emotional) occur
  • Menstruation or sperm production begins
  • Possibility of masturbation
  • Pleasure from kissing and touching
  • Greater awareness of being sexually attracted to others
  • Possibility of sexual activity
  • Possibility of pregnancy or impregnating
  • Possibility of contraception and sex safetydecisions
  • Strong need for independence

Young adult sexuality (19 – 30 years)

  • Possibility of sexual activity
  • Possibility of mate selection
  • Decision making about partnerships, marriage, family life, and careers
  • Possibility of masturbation
  • Possibility of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting
  • Possibility of contraception and sex safetydecisions
  • Possibility of ending a relationship

Adult sexuality (31 – 45 years)

  • Possibility of mate selection
  • Maintaining of relationships (sexual and non-sexual)
  • Possibility of masturbation
  • Possibility of parenting responsibilities (sex education of own children)
  • Possibility of pregnancy and childbirth
  • Decision-making about contraception and sex safetydecisions
  • Possibility of grand-parenting
  • Possibility of ending a relationship

Adult sexuality (46 – 64 years)

  • Menopause
  • Possibility of grand parenting
  • Possibility of sexual activity
  • Possibility of mate-selection
  • Possibility of masturbation
  • Possibility of contraception and sex safetydecisions
  • Possibility of divorce or death of a partner/spouse

Adult sexuality (65 years onward)

  • Body responds sexually, but more slowly
  • Possibility of grand parenting
  • Need for physical affection
  • Possibility of masturbation
  • Possibility of sexual activity
  • Possibility of sex safetydecisions
  • Possibility of other health issues affecting sexual activity
  • Possibility of death of a partner/spouse

Adapted from Beyond the Basics: A Sourcebook on Sexuality and Reproductive Health Education published by Canadian Federation for Sexual Health (formerly Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada)