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Children and sexuality: "Normal" sexual behaviour and experiences in childhood
Linköping University, Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences.
2001 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Child sexual behaviour has until recently remained largely unexplored in Sweden, despite theoretical interest in normal childhood sexuality. Issues about sexual abuse and its consequencies has, however, created a need for research on developmentally "normal" sexual behaviour and experiences among boys and girls, while growing up.

The overall purpose of the present thesis was to gain knowledge about sexual behaviour and experiences before adolescence, in normative groups of children in contemporary Sweden. The empirical work consists of five papers based on three separate quantitative studies. Two studies include preschool children (n=251 and n=185, and a sample from the USA, n=467) with questionnaires to parents and preschool staff. The thesis is also addressing adult views on child sexuality. One study focus on childhood sexual experiences up until the age of 13 (n=269), in which young adults (18-20 years old) answered questionnaires about solitary, mutual and nonconsensual childhood sexual activities.

A wide range of sexually related behaviour was observed, most of which was developmentally related. Parents reported more sexual behaviour in their children compared to preschool teachers' reports. Adult-like sexual behaviour, and behaviour of intrusive character, were extremely rare in the preschool children. Gender differences were explored and found on some aspects and there was a correlation between reported behaviour and family factors. A Swedish sample of preschool children's' behaviour according to parental reports, was compared to a similar sample from the USA, and similarities as well as cultural differences were found.

In self-reports from students, solitary experiences and mutual sexual activities together with a same-aged friend were common before adolescence. Non-consensual sexual activities, with same-aged children was relatively common. In other cases the non-consensual experiences happened together with an older teenager, or with an adult.

The results provide an incipient frame of reference for further studies on child sexual behaviour in Sweden. Observable behaviour is one very important factor to consider when clinicians and other child-care professionals are to make assessments of a child's developmental status and situation, and knowledge in this area therefore holds importantimplications. Child sexuality need to be addressed within paediatrics and child psychiatry, as well as in social work, not only in terms of risk andeffects after abuse, but also as an integral part of healthy child development.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköpings universitet , 2001. , 91 p.
Series
Linköping University Medical Dissertations, ISSN 0345-0082 ; 689
National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-28595Local ID: 13749ISBN: 91-7219-985-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-28595DiVA: diva2:249406
Public defence
2001-10-05, Berzeliussalen, Universitetssjukhuset, Linköping, 09:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Available from: 2009-10-09 Created: 2009-10-09 Last updated: 2012-09-04Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Preschoolers' sexual behavior at daycare centers: An epidemiological study
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Preschoolers' sexual behavior at daycare centers: An epidemiological study
1995 (English)In: International Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect, ISSN 0145-2134, E-ISSN 1873-7757, Vol. 19, no 5, 569-577 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The frequency of sexual behaviors in a population of preschoolers (n = 251) attending Swedish daycare centers was studied using a questionnaire given to the staff. Some behaviors turned out to be frequently occurring, like searching for body contact and responding to such contact. However, several behaviors were very uncommon (1% or fewer): touching an adult's genitals; attempting to make the adult touch the child's genitals; using objects against own or other childs genitals/anus; to masturbate obsessively, without pleasure or in a way that caused pain. Other behaviors occurred more frequently but were still uncommon (less than 2% of the children displayed such a behavior “sometimes” or “often/daily”): exhibiting own genitals; playing sexually explorative games; initiating games with a similarity to adult sexual activity; using sexual words; attempting to touch a woman's breast. Only masturbation and clinging body contact were positively correlated with behavioral disturbance. The correlations between age and single behaviors may be summarized as manifestations of the process of socialization. The results offer an incipient frame of reference for statistically normal expected sexual behaviors in preschoolers at daycare centers. The rarity of certain behaviors implies that their occurrence in an individual case may necessitate special clinical attention.

National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-80945 (URN)10.1016/0145-2134(95)00016-2 (DOI)
Available from: 2012-09-04 Created: 2012-09-04 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved
2. Sexual behaviour in Swedish preschool children, as observed by their parents
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sexual behaviour in Swedish preschool children, as observed by their parents
2001 (English)In: Acta Paediatrica, ISSN 0803-5253, E-ISSN 1651-2227, Vol. 90, no 4, 436-444 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Issues of what constitutes normal and healthy childhood sexual behaviour have acquired new implications in the light of child sexual abuse. Increased knowledge in this area is therefore of vital importance and studies in different countries are needed. In the present study parents of 231 children aged 3–6 y were asked to answer questionnaires about their child's behaviour at home. The questionnaire consisted of four sections: demographic data, a general behaviour checklist, a sexual behaviour inventory, and attitudinal questions to the parents. The results showed that children in Sweden exhibit a wide range of sexual behaviour, most of them developmentally related. Some behaviour appeared to be very rare in a normative sample of preschool children and included behaviours usually referred to as sexualized and problematic. Reports on sexual behaviour in the children were also related to general behaviour reports, the parent's socio-economic level, parental attitudes towards child sexuality and the openness of family habits.

National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-26008 (URN)10.1111/j.1651-2227.2001.tb00446.x (DOI)10461 (Local ID)10461 (Archive number)10461 (OAI)
Available from: 2009-10-08 Created: 2009-10-08 Last updated: 2017-12-13Bibliographically approved
3. Differences and similarities in sexual behaviour among pre-schoolers in Sweden and USA
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Differences and similarities in sexual behaviour among pre-schoolers in Sweden and USA
2000 (English)In: Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, ISSN 0803-9488, E-ISSN 1502-4725, Vol. 54, no 4, 251-257 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Studies of childhood sexual behaviour in a cross-cultural perspective are important in that they increase our knowledge of normative behaviour in general and enhance our understanding of cultural influences on child sexual development. Two studies, one from Sweden (n=185) and one from Minnesota, USA (n=467) of 3-6 year old children, were assessed with a 25-item scale derived from the Child Sexual Behaviour Inventory. Both studies were screened for the absence of sexual abuse. The Swedish parents completed the questionnaire about their child's behaviour at home and the US parents typically completed the questionnaire in the waiting room of a paediatric clinic. Pre-school children in Sweden exhibited more sexual behaviour than American children of the same age according to parental reports. These differences were most pronounced in boys. In both studies exhibitionistic or voyeuristic behaviour and touching behaviour was most frequent. Both intrusive and sexually explicit behaviour was very unusual. The results reflect how cultural context influences which behaviour is permitted in young children, and consequently what adults think constitutes normal and problematic childhood sexual behaviour.

National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-26009 (URN)10.1080/080394800448110 (DOI)10462 (Local ID)10462 (Archive number)10462 (OAI)
Available from: 2009-10-08 Created: 2009-10-08 Last updated: 2017-12-13Bibliographically approved
4. Teachers’ and parents’ reports on 3- to 6-year-old children’s sexual behavior: a comparison
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Teachers’ and parents’ reports on 3- to 6-year-old children’s sexual behavior: a comparison
2002 (English)In: International Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect, ISSN 0145-2134, E-ISSN 1873-7757, Vol. 26, no 3, 247-266 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Objectives: The main purpose of the study was to compare observed range and frequency of sexual behavior in 3- to 6-year-olds in two different environments: the home and the daycare center. The study also aimed to investigate parental and staff opinions on child sexual behavior.

Methods: Parents and daycare teachers of 185 preschool children, from different socio-economic housing areas, answered extensive questionnaires about each child’s sexual and general behavior. They were also asked about their own opinions on child sexual behavior.

Results: Parents observed significantly more sexual behavior in their children at home compared to teachers’ observations at the daycare centers in all age groups, while teachers reported more general behavior problems. Significant gender differences on sexual behavior were displayed at the daycare centers but not at home. Rare behaviors at home were also very unusual at the daycare center. Parental and staff attitudes toward child sexuality were quite open, although 67% of the parents and 41% of the teachers never spoke to the children on sexual matters. One fifth of the adults used no term for genitals at all, and even fewer had a name for girls’ genitals.

Conclusions: The findings indicate that young children explore their sexuality more at home than in settings with groups of children where the daily activities may be more structured and monitored. It enhances the importance of looking at the context in which the sexual behavior is taking place when investigating problematic sexual behavior.

National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-26515 (URN)10.1016/S0145-2134(01)00323-4 (DOI)11072 (Local ID)11072 (Archive number)11072 (OAI)
Available from: 2009-10-08 Created: 2009-10-08 Last updated: 2017-12-13Bibliographically approved
5. Sexual experiences in childhood: Young adults' recollections
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sexual experiences in childhood: Young adults' recollections
2002 (English)In: Archives of Sexual Behavior, ISSN 0004-0002, E-ISSN 1573-2800, Vol. 31, no 3, 263-273 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Childhood sexuality and children’s sexual experiences have become increasingly important to study because our knowledge on the impact of sexually abusive experiences on children’s developing sexuality has increased. The main aim of this paper was to study aspects of young adults’ recollections of their sexual experiences before the age of 13, solitary and shared, mutual as well as coercive. Anonymous questionnaires were answered by 269 final year, senior high-school students, mean age 18.6 years; 82.9% of the students reported solitary sexual experiences and 82.5% had mutual experiences together with another child. Most of the children had their experiences together with a same-age friend. Girls had more same-sex experiences than boys did. Thirteen percent reported coercive experiences where they had been tricked, bribed, threatened, or physically forced into participation. Some children, 8.2%, had coerced another child into participation in sexual activities. The majority thought of their childhood experiences as normal. There were also 6.3% of the respondents who had had inappropriate sexual experiences with someone at least 5 years older, the majority being girls. Gender differences were evident in several respects: girls were more often coerced, they felt more guilt, and they had far less experience of masturbation, whereas boys were somewhat more active in explorative activities on their own as well as with peers. Some kind of coercive sexual experiences appears to be part of growing up for quite a few children, although in general the years before puberty seem to be years of frequent mutual sexual exploration and experimentation.

National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-26514 (URN)10.1023/A:1015252903931 (DOI)11071 (Local ID)11071 (Archive number)11071 (OAI)
Available from: 2009-10-08 Created: 2009-10-08 Last updated: 2017-12-13Bibliographically approved

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