The word sexuality conjures up many diverse images, but childhood sexuality is rarely among these images. When pondering the sexuality of youth, adults invariably think of teenagers and young adults. These thoughts are oftentimes in terms of negatives and social problems, including sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy. Many Americans do not acknowledge the sexual nature of infants and toddlers. Rather than accepting children as sexual beings in process, they categorize them as asexual, or not having sexual interests or abilities. The misconceptions of most Americans do little to create an accurate picture of human sexuality in general. As scientists, philosophers, and other experts have established, human sexuality is an essential aspect of human experience at all ages. Human sexuality is a lifelong process that begins at birth and ends with death.
With respect to infants specifically, physical contact between infant and parents is a source of pleasure. Maternal contact coupled with the infant's biting and sucking seems to stimulate pleasurable reflexes. Babies are actually sexual in the sense of physical responsiveness. Female babies produce vaginal lubrication, and male babies have penile erections. Ultrasounds have even shown developing male fetuses with erections months before birth. But infants are not aware of their sexual experiences as sources of eroticism. Infants are unaware of the sexual significance of their relationship with the parents, but babies are aware of pleasurable sensations associated with physical contact with the parents. As infants acquire motor skills (the ability to move with intention) and begin to explore their own bodies, babies learn to handle their genitals. This deliberate genital touching quickly becomes associated with pleasure.
A common concern among family members is the issue of co‐sleeping, or children sleeping in the same bed as their parents. Does co‐sleeping lead to blurred sexual boundaries? Are children who sleep in the same bed as their parents more prone to later emotional problems than those children who do not? Does co‐sleeping lead to a higher occurrence of sexual abuse of children? While classical Freudians have traditionally argued against co‐sleeping on the grounds that it interferes with the resolution of the Oedipal and Electra conflicts, the answer to all these questions seems to be no. Current research indicates that children who co‐sleep with their parents are just as physically and emotionally healthy as those who do not. The age at which children stop sleeping with their parents is not predetermined; the age depends on when the parents believe the right time has come.