In early childhood, sexual interest is an extension of pleasurable sensations and curiosity, not an outgrowth of eroticism. But by middle childhood, sexual interest becomes more goal‐directed. Although Freud theorized that sexual latency,
or lack of sexual interest, characterized middle childhood, today's developmentalists generally do not support Freud's position. Sexual curiosity and experimentation clearly continue and even increase in frequency during the grade‐school years. Same‐sex contact and play are also not unusual during middle childhood.
Preadolescence, often referred to as late childhood or the formative years, is the period of childhood between ages 10 and 11. At this time, children's fascinations with sexuality are coupled with hormonal and physical changes occurring in their bodies. With these changes comes self‐consciousness about the body, especially in regard to being seen nude by friends and parents.
Ten‐ and eleven‐year‐olds normally continue to associate and play with same‐gender friends, although they soon become aware of a heightened interest in members of the opposite gender. Growing sexual interests may take the form of off‐color comments, jokes, and notes. Simultaneously, these children show an increasing interest in their own bodies, asking more pointed questions about the birds and the bees: puberty, sexual activity, and the basics of pregnancy and birth.
Most sexplay for 10‐ and 11‐year‐olds is among same‐gender peers, even though much talk of the opposite gender takes place. Homosexual sexplay generally takes the form of showing off their genitals to each other and is not truly homosexual.
Preadolescent youngsters acquire and practice social and emotional skills to prepare for the social relationships that develop during adolescence. Groups of preteens frequently go shopping, to the movies, or to school dances and athletic events. Although no implication of genuine romance is apparent at this stage, some girls and boys develop crushes on each other and even date.