Making Sense of Childhood Sex Play

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Reader’s Question

I’m a male feeling a little discomfort about an experience I had at around 7 or 8 years old. A male friend wanted to mimic adults having sex. I consented, and we both participated; there was no force or manipulation. Once we started, I felt confused and did not like what was occurring. We just dry humped with clothes on but shirts off. It didn’t last that long. I stopped, and that was my innocent experimentation. I’ve accepted that it was normal sex play between two boys of the same age.

The problem I seem to have is coming to grips with the uncomfortable feeling I felt at that time. I just want to know whether that discomfort I had when it occurred was normal? How should I make peace with that uncomfortable feeling?

Psychologist’s Reply

As you said, what you describe seems like normal or typical sex play during childhood. Children are curious about the adult world of sex, and have sexual feelings, but lack the knowledge and experience to fully understand everything. The fact that you ended up finding that the experience was not enjoyable makes sense. First, even at that relatively young age, children often have more eroticized interest in one sex than the other. That is, if you consider yourself heterosexual, then even at that young age, role-playing sexual activity with another boy may have been the part that made it uncomfortable. Either way, children frequently recognize that any ‘sexual’ activity they engage in is not something adults think they should be doing, which may also have contributed to your uncomfortable feelings at the time. In other words, simply doing something sexual, with a boy or girl, may have resulted in uneasiness related to doing something adults may have punished you for, had you been discovered.

Sometimes, as adults, we are uncomfortable with our own childhood sex play because it is difficult to reflect on those experiences without doing so through an adult lens. So, for example, if the sex play was with a peer of the same gender, we may now wonder what those experiences ‘mean’ with regard to our sexual orientation. In reality, though, with whom we end up sharing childhood sex play probably has more to do with availability of interested peers, rather than sexual orientation or attraction toward that individual.

In terms of making peace with the discomfort experienced at the time, I wonder why this particular experience requires a different perspective than that we take with other uncomfortable experiences from childhood. In other words, certainly there are many experiences we’ve had that turned out not to be pleasant, nor something we wanted to do again, once we gave it a try. Often it’s simply the case that something that seemed appealing at first ended up not being so. Perhaps, because as adults we place special meaning on sexual experiences, reflecting on such experiences from childhood seems to command a richer understanding or interpretation. In actuality, though, perhaps taking the experience at face value is most realistic and makes good sense.

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