In the U.S. today, we like to think of pre-adolescents and early adolescents as asexual. We like to keep our image on them as not yet soiled by the filth that is sex. We also tend to think that children and pre-adolescents need to be protected from any kind of exposure or information to anything sex-related.
Of course, all available evidence points to the fact that children and pre-adolescents do have sexual interests, desires, curiosities, and behaviors. And there is no evidence to suggest that exposure to sexuality (unless forced) is detrimental to their well-being.
But this country often cares more about ideology than science, and so researchers have a very hard time getting permission from the Ethics Committees at schools and universities to study sexuality in children and early adolescents.
Which is why this study published in the Journal of Early Adolescence (Vol. 32, Iss. 2) is so fascinating: The researchers got to ask 9- to 12-year-olds about their sexual thoughts, intentions, and behaviors!! I don’t know how on Earth they got permission to do this, but I’m really glad they did!
Researchers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed over a a 1,000 African American children ages 9-12 living in either Atlanta, Georgia, or in Little Rock, Arkansas. They asked a bunch of different questions and here is a selection of the results.
Many were thinking and getting ready…
– ready to learn about sex: 46% of 9-year-olds and 70% of 12-year-olds;
– had thought about having sex: 14% of 9-year-olds and 41% of 12-year-olds;
– had had a girlfriend or a boyfriend: 51% of 9-year-olds and 82% of 12-year-olds;
– had kissed a girlfriend or a boyfriend: 15% of 9-year-olds and 36% of 12-year-olds;
Few were planing for action or fooling around….
– were ready for sex: 4% of 9-year-olds and 25% of 12-year-olds;
– anticipated having sex in the next year: 4% of 9-year-olds and 20% of 12-year-olds;
– touched ‘private parts’ of boyfriend/girlfriend: 1% of 9-year-olds and 14% of 12-year-olds.
Very few were actually doing it….
– had oral or vaginal sex: 1% of 9-year-olds and 7% of 12-year-olds;
And I suspect the frequencies for all of these are probably higher than reported, for at least 2 reasons:
1. While the kids filled out questionnaires on a computer, their parents were present: Either waiting at the other end of the room or in a different room altogether. No matter how much you try to convince a 9-year-old her answers are confidential, I bet she still fears her parent might somehow find out.
2. Due to Ethics Committee constrains, they couldn’t ask all pre-adolescents every question; instead, some questions served as ‘gateways’ to other questions. For example, only those kids who said they had engaged in private parts touching were asked questions about oral and vaginal sex; those who responded ‘no’ on private parts touching were automatically coded as ‘no’ on oral and vaginal sex as well.
Either way, yep, many pre-adolescent kids have sexual and romantic thoughts. And some even engage in sexual behaviors. Go figure.
Miller, K.S., Fasula, A. M., Lin, C. Y., Levin, M. L., Wyckoff, S. C., & Forehand, R. (2012). Ready, Set, Go : African American Preadolescents’ Sexual Thoughts, intentions, and behaviors. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 32, 293-307. DOI: 10.1177/0272431610393247