We now turn to a systematic account of a young child’s sexual and erotic encounters, first of all with peers and later with preadolescents, adolescents, and adults. Many children “experiment” with one another sexually. Approximately half of the mothers in the Sears study reported some activity that could be identified as sex play. Some play was between brothers and sisters, some with neighbor children, some with children of the same sex, and some with the opposite sex. This exploration is often carried to what could be dangerous extremes, such as the insertion of unclean or rusty objects into body orifices. “Doctor games” are popular, serving as an excuse for examining the sex organs of the child’s playmates. It would be wrong to assume that all of the activity in “playing doctor” such as taking temperatures rectally is erotic play. It would also be wrong to assume that all children who play doctor are erotically awakened. On the other hand, it is clear that “playing doctor” can have erotic overtones beyond the mere desire to play with other children and to satisfy curiosity about the nature of others’ genitals. Sex play can produce mixed emotions for the child as he or she tries to understand and sort out feelings of curiosity, fear of the unknown, erotic desire, and even guilt. The child’s guilt often is reinforced by the mother or someone else who discovers the children in sex play.

It is well known that during childhood, romances sometimes develop between boys and girls. The romance may contain the traditional elements of respect and affection on the part of the boy, accompanied by the desire to serve his beloved. He carries her books to and from school and may protect her from the teasing and torments of other boys. Traditionally reared girls are more tolerant of the romances of other children than are boys. Girls may snicker at and make jokes about the girl who is having a romance, but they do not exclude her from their group, as a boy might be excluded from the boys’ gang. There is evidence that girls are envious of the girl who has a boy to accompany her to school and who receives thoughtful attention instead of the annoyances that they have been accustomed to receive from boys.


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