Answering Sexual Health Questions
Sexual development of children is characteristically associated with the teen years. But even young kids have an emotional and physical foundation for sexuality in restrained ways right from infancy. A 2 or 3 old child starts to develop awareness of being a male or female. This understanding of his or her own sex is called gender identity. Significant physical and emotional changes occur with the onset of puberty.
A 5-12 year old child is especially fascinated by pregnancy, birth, and gender roles. Kids in this age group prefer to play with children of their sex-- boys play with boys, and girls with girls. Their sexual attitude at this age is influenced peers and the media. If you disregard or ignore their questions they may turn to peers, or an older child for questions regarding sex, sexual organs, and reproduction.
For healthy growth and development it is important that most of the information and curiosity on sex and it’s related topics is imparted by a parent or teacher. But this rarely happens especially in India. Most children in India get most of this information from books, magazines, peers and various other sources. This leads to misconcepts and does more harm than actually good. If your child has question regarding sex, sexual organs, and reproduction do not disregard it or else your child may jump to his or her own conclusions. With changing times it has become necessary that we impart sex education to our children.
Sexual development usually starts in late childhood or early adolescence. During puberty a child grows rapidly and several physical changes occur in the body. This period of rapid growth and development or puberty has not only physical growth and sexual maturation, but several psychological and social developments as well. Puberty usually begins earlier in girls as compared to boys. It starts between eight and 12 years in girls and between the ages of 10 and 14 in boys. In some children puberty does not occur in this normal age range. This condition is known as late puberty or delayed puberty.
With the physical changes of puberty, your attitude and acceptance of these changes has a major impact on their healthy development. A child has mixed feeling about growing up or the physical changes of puberty -- at times they are excited and at times they are scared about growing up. They often wonder if they are "normal" and compare themselves with their peers. Children with early and delayed puberty are especially likely to get affected and will need lots of reassurance.
Consult your pediatrician if your child has delayed puberty. Adolescents with delayed puberty need evaluation and tests to rule out genetic disorders (such as Klinefelter syndrome, a disorder caused by an extra X chromosome in males, Turner syndrome, a disorder caused by an incomplete or missing X chromosome in females), and diseases such as disorders of the thyroid or pituitary gland, diabetes, kidney disease.
Puberty occurs due to maturation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. As a result of this maturation hormonal changes take place in the body and testes and ovaries produce sex hormones called testosterone and estrogen. Increase in these hormones causes the physical development and changes of puberty.
Signs of puberty in girls are:
- Growth of underarm and pubic hair
- Development of breast
- rapid increase in height or growth spurt (girls in general reach their adult height by about 16 years of age)
- Menstrual periods
- Increase in fat in the region of pelvis, breasts, and upper back
Signs of puberty in boys are:
- Growth of underarm, chest, facial, and pubic hair
- Deepening or cracking of the voice
- Involuntary ejaculation (it is a reflex in which semen is ejected from the penis after an erection and may happen during sleep)
- Rapid increase in height or growth spurt (boys in general reach their adult height by about 18 years of age)
- At times gynecomastia (in this condition a hard nodule is formed under each nipple which disappears in about 2 years)
- Growth of the penis and testes (testicles)
- Increase in muscle mass and strength.
During puberty besides the physical changes and sexual maturation, psychological (emotional) and social development, occurs as well. The adolescent develops his or her independence and own identity. They assess their personal strengths and weaknesses, think about their long-term goals and future which are more realistic. They also develop their sexuality.
Source: Onlymyhealth editorial team Feb 06, 2013
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