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and adults. Children may engage in heterosexual play, e.g., “playing doctor.” There is little impact of childhood sex play on sexual adjustment at ages 17 and 18 (Okami, Olmstead, & Abramson, 1997). In response to such play parents may teach children not to touch the bodies of others, or their own genitals, and may restrict conversation about sex. This may lead children to rely on their peers for sexual information.
Preadolescence (8 to 12 years)
In the United States as well as many other societies, children at this age have a social organization that is homosocial, that is, the social division of males and females into separate groups (Thorne, 1993). One result is that sexual exploration and learning at this stage is likely to involve persons of the same gender. In some societies, this separation continues throughout life. During this period, more children gain experience with masturbation. About 40% of the women and 38% of the men in a sample of U.S. college students recall masturbating before puberty (Bancroft, Herbenik, & Reynolds, 2003). U.S. adolescents report that their first experience of sexual attraction occurred at ages 10 to 12 (Rosario et al., 1996), with the first experience of sexual fantasies occurring several months to one year later. Among urban youth in some societies, group dating and heterosexual parties may emerge at the end of this period. Such experiences begin the process of developing the capacity to sustain intimate relationships.
Adolescence (13 to 19 years)
The biological changes associated with puberty, the time during which there is sudden enlargement and maturation of the gonads, other genitalia, and development of secondary sex characteristics (Tanner, 1967), lead to a surge of sexual interest. These changes begin as early as age 10 and as late as age 14, and include increases in levels of sex hormones, which may produce sexual attractions and fantasies. In the U.S., many males begin masturbating between ages 13