Preschool Sexuality Education?!

  • Karin A. Martin
  • Lacey Bobier


This chapter examines three aspects of sexuality education in early child care and education. First, it critically assesses formal sexuality education for preschoolers. Second, and more importantly, the chapter reviews what we know from the small body of research that examines sexuality in child care and preschool. Third, it examines the hidden curriculums of gender and heteronormativity that shape the sexuality education in preschools and child care centers. Throughout, we suggest that children already receive sexuality education through informal everyday interactions in preschool. Strengthening this informal system of education and not allowing “danger-only” approaches to define preschool sexuality education are key to its improvement.


  1. American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007). Report of the task force on the sexualization of girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  2. Angelides, S. (2004). Feminism, child sexual abuse, and the erasure of child sexuality. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 10(2): 141–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Best, R. (1983). We’ve all got scars. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bobier, L. & K. Martin (2016). Sexuality Education in Childhood. In Evidence-Based Approaches to Sexuality Education, edited by James Ponzetti. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Chaffin, M., Berliner, L., Block, R., Johnson, T. C., Friedrich, W. N., Louis, D. G., Lyon, T. D., Page, I. J., Prescott, D. S., Silovsky, J. F., & Madden, C. (2008). Report of the ATSA task force on children with sexual behavior problems. Child Maltreatment, 13(2), 199–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davies, S. L., Glaser, D., & Kossoff, R. (2000). Children's sexual play and behavior in pre-school settings: Staff’s perceptions, reports, and responses. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 1329–1343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. de Graaf, H., & Rademakers, J. (2006). Sexual development of prepubertal children. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 18(1), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. de Young, M. (1988). The good touch/bad touch dilemma. Child Welfare, 67(1), 60–68.Google Scholar
  9. Deblinger, E., Thakkar-Kolar, R. R., Berry, E. J., & Schroeder, C. M. (2010). Caregivers’ efforts to educate their children about child sexual abuse: A replication study. Child Maltreatment, 15(1), 91–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Early Childhood Education Task Force. (1998). Right from the start guidelines for sexuality issues: Birth to five years. Washington, DC: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.Google Scholar
  11. Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  12. Friedrich, W. N., & Trane, S. T. (2002). Sexual behavior in children across multiple setting. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26, 243–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Geasler, M. T., Dannison, L. L., & Edlund, C. J. (1995). Sexuality education of young children: Parental concerns. Family Relations, 44(2), 184–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gilbert, N. (1988). Teaching children to prevent sexual abuse. The Public Interest, 93, 3–15.Google Scholar
  15. Giroux, H., & Purpel, D. (1983). The hidden curriculum and moral education. Berkeley: McCutchan.Google Scholar
  16. Higennot, A. (1998). Pictures of innocence: The history and crisis of ideal childhood (Interplay). London, UK: Thames & Hudson.Google Scholar
  17. Holford, N., Renold, E., & Huuki, T. (2013). What (else) can a kiss do? Theorizing the power plays in young children’s sexual cultures. Sexualities, 16, 710–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hornor, G. (2004). Sexual behavior in children: Normal or not? Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 18, 57–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hulsey, T. L. (1997). What it takes for preschoolers to learn sex abuse prevention concepts. Early Education and Development, 8(2), 187–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jackson, P. W. (1968). Life in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.Google Scholar
  21. Jordan, E., & Cowan, A. (1995). Warrior narratives in the kindergarten classroom: Renegotiating the social contract. Gender & Society, 9(6), 727–743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Larsson, I. (2000). Differences and similarities in sexual behaviour among pre-schoolers in Sweden and USA. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 54, 251–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Larsson, I., & Svedin, C. G. (2002). Teachers’ and parents’ reports on 3-to 6-year old children’s sexual behavior—A comparison. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26, 247–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lindblad, F., Gustafsson, P. A., Larsson, I., & Lundin, B. (1995). Preschoolers’ sexual behavior at daycare centers: An epidemiological study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19, 569–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lopez Sanchez, F., Del Campo, A., & Guijo, V. (2002). Prepubertal sexuality. Sexologies, 42(11), 49–58.Google Scholar
  26. Martin, K. (1998). Becoming a gendered body: Practices of preschool. American Sociological Review, 63(4), 494–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Martin, K. (2009). Normalizing heterosexuality: Mothers’ assumptions, talk, and strategies with young children. American Sociological Review, 74, 190–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Martin, K. (2014). Making sense of children’s sexual behavior in child care: An analysis of adult responses in special investigation reports. Child Abuse & Neglect, 38(10), 1636–1646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Martin, K. A., & Kazyak, E. (2009). Hetero-romantic love and heterosexiness in children’s g-rated films. Gender & Society, 23(3), 315–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Martin, K. A., & Luke, K. (2010). Gender differences in the abc’s of the birds and the bees: What mothers teach young children about sexuality and reproduction. Sex Roles, 62, 278–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Martin, K. A., & Torres, J. M. C. (2014). Where did I come from? US parents’ and preschool children’s participation in sexual socialization. Sex Education, 14(2), 174–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McLeod, N., & Wright, C. (1996). Developmentally appropriate criteria for evaluating sexual abuse prevention programs. Early Childhood Education Journal, 24(2), 71–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. PCAR, & NSVRC. (2011). Child sexual abuse prevention and risk reduction: Literature review for parents & guardians. Enola: Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and National Sexual Violence Resource Center.Google Scholar
  34. Phipps-Yonas, S., Yonas, A., Turner, M., & Kauper, M. (1993). Sexuality in early childhood: The observations and opinions of family daycare providers. CURA Report, 23, 1–5.Google Scholar
  35. Robinson, K. (2013). Innocence, knowledge, and the construction of childhood. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., Wannäs, M., & Krook, K. (2003). Age and gender specific sexual behaviors in children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 579–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schalet, A. (2011). Not under my roof: Parents, teens, and the culture of sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Thorne, B. (1993). Gender play: Girls and boys in school. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karin A. Martin
    • 1
  • Lacey Bobier
    • 2
  1. 1.SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations