Besides self-stimulation, prepubertal children often engage in play that can be viewed as sexual (Sandnabba et al., 2003; Thanasiu, 2004). Such play takes place with friends or siblings of the same sex or other sex who are about the same age (Thanasiu, 2004). It can occur as early as the age of 2 or 3 years, but is more likely to take place between the ages of 4 and 7 (DeLamater & Friedrich, 2002). Alfred Kinsey and colleagues (1948, 1953) noted that 45% of the females and 57% of the males in their sample reported having these experiences by age 12. In other research, 61% of a sample of American college students reported engaging in one or more forms of sex play with another child before age 13 (Greenwald & Leitenberg, 1989), 83% of Swedish high school seniors (81% of males, 84% of females) acknowledged engaging in childhood sex play prior to age 13 (Larsson & Svedin, 2002), and 56% of a group of adult pro­fessionals remembered engaging in activities perceived as sexual with other children before age 12 (Ryan et al., 1988). The activities ranged from exhibition and inspection of the genitals, often under the guise of playing doctor, to simulating intercourse by rubbing genital regions together. Although most adults, particularly parents, tend to

react to the apparent sexual nature of this play, for many children the play aspects of the interaction are far more significant than any sexual overtones.

Curiosity about what is forbidden probably plays an important role in encouraging early sexual exploration. Curiosity about the sexual equipment of others, particularly the other sex, is quite normal (DeLamater & Friedrich, 2002; Thanasiu, 2004). Many day-care centers and nursery schools now have bathrooms open to both sexes so that children can learn about sex differences in a natural, everyday way.

Besides showing interest in sexual behaviors, many children in the 5-7 age range begin to act in ways that mirror the predominant heterosexual marriage script in our society. This is apparent in the practice of playing house, which is typical of children of this age. Some of the sex play described earlier occurs within the context of this activity.

By the time children reach the age of 8 or 9, there is a pronounced tendency for boys and girls to begin to play separately, although romantic interest in the other sex may exist at the same time (DeLamater & Friedrich, 2002; O’Sullivan et al., 2007). Further­more, despite an apparent decline in sex play with others, curiosity about sexual matters remains high. This is an age when many questions about reproduction and sexuality are asked (Gordon & Gordon, 1989; Parsons, 1983).

Most 10- and 11-year-olds are keenly interested in body changes, particularly those involving the genitals and secondary sex characteristics, such as underarm hair and breast development. They often wait in eager anticipation for these signs of approaching adolescence. Many prepubescent children become extremely self­conscious about their bodies and may be reticent about exposing them to the view of others. Separation from the other sex is still the general rule, and children of this age often strongly protest any suggestions of romantic interest in the other sex (Goldman & Goldman, 1982).

Sex play with friends of the same sex is common during the childhood years (DeLamater & Friedrich, 2002; Sandnabba et al., 2003). In fact, during this time, when the separation of the sexes is particularly strong, same-sex activity is probably more common than heterosexual encounters (DeLamater & Friedrich, 2002). In most instances these childhood same-sex encounters are transitory, soon replaced by the heterosexual relationships of adolescence (Reinisch & Beasley, 1990). Nev­ertheless, for some of these children, sex play with friends of the same sex can reflect a homosexual or bisexual orientation that will develop more fully during adoles­cence and adulthood. However, youthful same-sex experiences in and of themselves rarely play a determinant role in establishing a homosexual orientation (Bell et al., 1981; Van Wyk, 1984). We encourage parents who become aware of these behav­iors to avoid responding in a negative fashion or labeling such activity as homo­sexual in the adult sense.

It is clear that self-discovery and peer interactions are important during child­hood development of sexuality. These factors continue to be influential during the adolescent years, as we will discover later in this chapter. But first we turn our atten­tion to the physical changes that accompany the onset of adolescence.