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life, and by the person’s relationships with others, including family members, intimate partners and friends.
Childhood (Birth to 7 years)
The capacity for sexual response is present from birth. Male infants have erections, and vaginal lubrication has been found in female infants in the 24 hours after birth (Masters, Johnson, & Kolodny, 1982). Infants have been observed fondling their genitals; the rhythmic manipulation associated with adult masturbation appears at ages 2 1/2 to 3 (Martinson, 1994). Children engage in a variety of sexual play experiences while very young. These appear to be natural behaviors, but many cultures restrict or prohibit such activities. Thus such play becomes increasingly covert as the child ages (ages 6 to 9 in the United States) and becomes aware of cultural norms (Reynolds, Herbenik, and Bancroft, 2003).
The quality of relationships with parents is very important to the child‘s capacity for sexual and emotional relationships later in life. Typically, an attachment or bond forms between the infant and parent(s); it is facilitated by positive physical contact. If this attachment is stable, secure, and satisfying, positive emotional attachments in childhood are more likely (Goldberg, Muir, & Kerr, 1995). Early childhood is also the period during which each child forms a gender identity, a sense of maleness or femaleness, and begins to be socialized according to the gender-role norms of the society (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Such gender identities eventually become vital components of adolescent and adult sexuality.
In the United States, children between the ages of three and seven show a marked increase in sexual interest and activity. They form a conception of marriage or long-term relationships and of adult roles. They learn that there are genital differences between males and females (Goldman & Goldman, 1982), and may show interest in the genitals of other children