“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.” -Anais Nin
Most things in life are developmental. Human lifespan has programmed continuous growth and maturation into our genetic code, which acts as an imperative that makes skill building one of the richest aspects of daily living. Nowhere is this truer than in our foundational relationship to our sexuality. Last weekend I shared a multi-generational afternoon at the lake. There were four of us there: my daughters separated by a decade -12 and 21, a good friend who is 34 and me at 48.
As I sifted through the shared conversations on our physical relationships, a developmental hierarchy emerged that I had never before seen in the magazine reports on sex throughout a human lifespan. Although sexual development may not always fit these chronological time spans, I do believe that, like any hierarchy of knowledge, we pass from one level to the next by mastering the phase we are in. As obvious as that seems, the lack of real information and the diverse experience of sexual pleasure confound the process for many. So I am taking a leap here in outlining the basic levels of development that need to happen through our first five decades.
Children experience their sexuality at different ages and in different intensity through their first decade. Most discover their genitals and how it feels to touch before they hit adolescence. If they have already been shamed by their emerging recognition of sexuality or if there is no safe place to learn about the powerful and mysterious feelings their body holds, adolescent years become a power struggle internally and with family.
Since sexual discovery is critical during these years, mastery here is about free access to information and the assurance that sexual curiosity is normal and healthy. My twelve-year-old has “gone out” with a couple of boys, which is really not much more different than hanging out with her brothers and their friends. She is in no hurry to engage in sexual acts; although she is curious about how people kiss and why you would put your tongue in someone else’s mouth. I adore the innocence of this early special friendship and wonder why some children feel so rushed into more sexuality than their emotional life can hold.