The issue of children’s sexual development and their gender identification is very complex. He sees the sources of sexual development in all spheres of human functioning, i.e. biophysiological, psychological and social. How is children’s gender identity and identity developed? What has the greatest influence on the process of forming gender differences? When to suspect a child’s gender identity disorder?
Sexual expression of children
Sexual expression in children increases especially in the period from 2 years of age and lasts up to 6-7 on average. years of age as a manifestation of their biological and psychological development. It can be divided into 3 main stages, i.e. identity (up to the age of 2) when the child begins to correctly identify the female and male gender, stability (the period from 3 to 4 years of age) when he understands that the gender is the same throughout life, and steadiness (6 to 7 years of age), when it is aware that it is not clothes that define gender, but more complex factors.
Development of gender and sexual identity in children
Gender identity is the basic sense of what is male and female, a permanent and usually (though not always) stable sense of self as a unique, coherent unit over time. It is connected with the belief whether you are a woman or a man. In children, it begins at the end of the second year of life and lasts until the age of 4, when it does not change significantly. Shaping this identity is an element of the child’s individualization (separation) process, which begins in early childhood and is stabilized in adolescence.
The harbingers of the developing gender identity are, among others, the image of one’s own body and a sense of separateness from others, which as a result of further development transform into perceiving oneself as male or female. The child begins to identify with his own gender and recognize the diverse reproductive functions of both sexes.
After the development of the concept of gender and identification with a given gender, children start to develop masturbation, interactive and orientation behaviors, which are collectively referred to as sexual expression.
One of the most basic and earliest forms of it is masturbation (you can read more in our text on child masturbation), but it can also involve contact behavior.
Orientation behaviors are aimed at confirmation by the child, e.g. differences in the physiological structure of men and women and are manifested through peeping, child exhibitionism, but also questions relating to the sexual sphere. For this purpose, they also use the available books, magazines and websites.
Interactions, in turn, consist in recreating the observed interactions between other people. Children consolidate the acquired knowledge by taking on various roles and games, such as playing at home, playing different jobs or playing doctor.
Read more: Sexual Development in Children
Sexual awareness at a later age
At the age of 5-6 years, children develop a relative gender stability, the child begins to realize that despite the physical changes taking place in the body, man still keeps the same sex and begins to consciously compare the sex of adults, which further translates into in the way he behaves, i.e. it begins to reflect the behavior of an adult of the same sex with whom the child identifies and learns what behavior is characteristic of which gender.
For example, it is the association of blue with men and pink with women. It is the parent who plays a fundamental role and, through his behavior, shapes his child’s image of different genders, shapes his models. It shows him the limits of contact between other people, which translates into the child’s social skills later in life. It is the parents who instill specific definitions of femininity and masculinity in their offspring and shape the stereotypes and expectations that the child then carries with him throughout his life.
Shaping gender differences and the image of gender in a child also takes place by buying different types of clothes, shoes or toys for boys and girls, arranging the room in a different way and setting different expectations. As a rule, these are objects and expectations that conform to social norms and certain fixed patterns. The child learns what behaviors and attitudes are cultural patterns for his gender and learns to implement them over time. The shaping of such behavior continues throughout the school period through access to social media and other children.
In the later stages of development, the child develops a sexual identity as an improvement in gender identity. Sexuality begins to develop as soon as one’s gender is determined, and the periods of development include infancy, childhood and adolescence. The last one lasts about 8 years and during this period the first menstruation occurs in girls, the shaping of the mammary glands, the increase of adipose tissue and the shaping of the female figure, the appearance of pubic hair, and in boys it is, among others, testicular development, penile development and the appearance of mutations. It is worth emphasizing that physical changes go hand in hand with mental changes.
Gender identity disorders in children
Occasionally, gender identity disorders may develop, which we can recognize when a child:
- constantly insists that he would like to be of the opposite sex,
- prefers only clothes of the opposite sex,
- participates in games and activities typical for the opposite sex,
- behaves characteristically for a sex other than his.
Identity disorders may be the result of various factors, such as: hormonal disorders, disorders of the central nervous system, child’s body complexes, errors in upbringing, and also when his biological sex is not taken into account.
People who deal with such problems in children are sexologists and they have the necessary knowledge to conduct psychological management of children with such disorders, but as a rule, people involved in dealing with such children are also gynecologists, urologists, surgeons and endocrinologists.