This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

Normal Sexual Development in Childhood

In the adult human, the ovaries and testes are homologous organs, meaning they have common origins if you trace development backwards. The clitoris and penis are homologous, representing a different course of development from the same beginning structures.

What are "homologous" organs?

After a baby is born, it is effectively sex neutral for a few years. People cannot tell, just by looking, whether a newborn baby is male or female. Experiments show that a male baby dressed in a pink dress is rated feminine, while a girl baby dressed in male clothes is treated like a boy. People take their cue from clothing and hair arrangements because the faces of baby boys and girls look much alike.

Sigmund Freud had an elaborate theory about childhood psychosexual development, discussed in Chapter 11 (Personality). Freud believed that adult psychological problems could often be traced back to complications in developing through the series of stages he labeled the oral, anal, and phallic stages.

Most psychologists feel that this theory is of historical interest only, because research has not supported the importance Freud placed on it. For example, there is no evidence that problems during later life are caused by problems with breast-feeding or toilet training, as Freud believed.

What was the "latency" stage in Freud's theory? What did Hyde say about this stage?

Until they are about 4 or 5, most children are without shame or self-consciousness about their bodies. Parents must gently convey the value of modesty, if that is part of the culture. Freud said that children around the age of 5 enter another stage called the latency stage that lasts until adolescence. During this stage, Freud said, children do not take an active interest in sex. However, present-day researchers disagree with Freud. Hyde said flatly there is "no latency stage" (Hyde, 1982, p.262). Children often engage in exploration and "show me" games at this age. Such play may occur between same-sex children, although this does not predict homosexual orientation later.


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