Is it wrong to have sexual attraction?

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Expert voices

Mag Anne Lintner and Mag Claudia Mayer

Childhood sexuality is less targeted and more characterized by spontaneity and trial and error. In principle, sexuality in all age groups has to do with seeking and experiencing physical pleasure. It can be understood as life energy that accompanies people for a lifetime.

In kindergarten, the children become more aware that they are girls or boys. They show interest in their own and the opposite sex and are increasingly grappling with their gender role. In "doctor games" the child acts out his curiosity and his thirst for knowledge.

In elementary school the child finds more cognitive access to sexuality and acquires specialist knowledge about the human body. A child does not always develop as it would be desirable, also with regard to its sexuality. There can be different reasons for this.

Stages of psychosexual development

It depends on how the child goes through and can complete the respective phase of psychosexual development.

With regard to the structure of gender role identity, infants and toddlers identify not only with the same-sex parent, but also with the way in which the parent interacts with the other. The child develops an idea or a fantasy about the sexual intercourse of the parents ("primal scene").

The drive development depends essentially on the object relationships, i.e. on the relationships with the caregivers. For the sexual development of the girl, the unconscious attitude of the mother to her own femininity is of great importance. It is a question of whether the mother desires the daughter as equals and as different and can be desired by her.

In order to be able to develop adequately, it is of great importance to be able to resolve the oedipal conflict. In this phase, the child desires the parent of the opposite sex. It is also about recognizing that there is something between the parents in which one as a daughter or son does not participate and is excluded, namely the sexual relationship between the parents. In this regard, it is important how the parents deal with this conflict and the child's fantasies about it. It is a balancing act between empathy and clarity in action.

So the girl turns to the father and at the same time identifies with the mother. What matters are the unconscious idea of ​​the sexual relationship between the parents and the desire of the father through the mother. The boy identifies with the father. There is a certain rivalry over the mother's desire.

For a healthy sexual development of the children it is necessary to be well accompanied through the psychosexual development phases with the help of the parents or other caregivers. This begins with a secure attachment in infancy and ends in adolescence through to the process of detachment. It is important to find a balance between attachment and the striving for autonomy. These needs should be perceived and taken into account by the educators.

Limits to Sexual Behavior

Another question is which sexual behavior can be described as borderline and no longer normal. This is not always easy to see from an adult perspective.

Whenever sexuality is lived out at the expense of others, it is necessary to intervene and correct it.

When children follow their curiosity, their pleasure principle and their need for physical closeness, this is part of the normal activities of a child. It is different when sexual acts are deliberately forced through pressure, promises or physical violence. In this case the boundaries are exceeded and the privacy of the other child is disregarded. In cases where there is a planned and targeted approach, there is usually a power imbalance between the children involved.

When we talk about sexual assault among children, certain terms should be used carefully. "Sexual abuse" is spoken of too quickly in everyday life. Children are referred to as perpetrators or victims and are treated accordingly. However, this ascription is fatal. In the case of sexual assaults among children, assigning the children involved to the perpetrators and victims can accelerate a development that harms them rather than benefits them.

In living together and in everyday work with children, it is important to look very carefully at how and why the attacks occurred. It is only from this perception that the situation can be assessed and appropriate and meaningful consequences can be developed.
In preschool age children are interested in their own and other people's bodies. Mutual examinations take place in the form of doctor games. They are age-appropriate, part of normal development and should not be fundamentally rejected. In the doctor games, however, rules should be discussed with the children, because they give the children orientation and security in dealing with one another.

Possible rules can be:

  • Doctor games are allowed if everyone involved wants to play them voluntarily!
  • Everyone decides who they want to play with.
  • Every child pays attention to whether the game is really fun.
  • Nobody should hurt the other!
  • If a child does not want to play, he or she can say no and leave the game.
  • Everyone has to accept the other's no.
  • It is not threatened or blackmailed to force you to play along.
  • If the others do not listen to the no, the child can get help from the adults.
  • Doctor games are only accepted between people of the same age - not between adults and children, older after-school and kindergarten children.

These rules should be coordinated and discussed by the adult in each case to his or her personal attitude, attitude or also within the institution or family. An initially amicable doctor's game can quickly develop into a border crossing, because the "doctor" perhaps introduces his clinical thermometer against the will of the "patient" in the eagerness of the investigation. The game quickly ends here and fun and joy turn into anger and pain.

If an adult perceives such situations or is told about them, intervention is necessary.

Doctor games are usually unproblematic when two children are on the same level of development. However, the more different the level of maturity and development between children, the greater the risk that the existing imbalance of interests and power relations will be exploited.

For the adult, this is where the difficulties begin:

  • Is it still a consensual game or is a child being pressured, manipulated?
  • Are the children involved at the same level of development or is one child far ahead of the other and therefore superior?

Without observing the children closely, these questions can hardly be answered. A sure instinct and sensitivity for the game situation help to gain clarity.

Summary

Games that go beyond childlike trying out, strongly reminiscent of adult sexuality, that involve emotional or physical violence and lead to injuries, are to be classified as abuse.

The spectrum of sexual activities that are part of a completely normal development is wide. Children must have the chance to discover their bodies and learn social rules. It would therefore certainly be wrong to prevent sexually colored games and not allow children a place of retreat. However, children should be protected from harmful experiences and sexual assault should not be trivialized.

It can be a relief for the responsible adults to talk to a specialist about difficult, sexually colored everyday situations and to receive support in assessing the situation.

The specialist advice center sees its task in helping all those involved in clarifying and processing what has happened.

Mag. Anne Lintner, psychotherapist for psychodrama and children as well as youth psychotherapist and Mag. Claudia Mayer, psychotherapist in training under supervision, both from the Wörgl child protection center