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Sexuality and Childhood

Bragg, S; (2020) Sexuality and Childhood. In: Cook, DT, (ed.) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies. (pp. 1445-1449). Sage: London, UK. Green open access

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Most contemporary discussions of childhood and sexuality open by noting that the terms are particularly contested and fraught when brought together, the focus of intense public concern, ambivalence, and unresolved tensions. This may be in part because in Western culture the disputed and always-ambiguous boundaries between childhood and adulthood so often hinge on the question of innocence, which in turn has been defined in terms of sexual ignorance. Crossing this boundary, acquiring (adult) sexual knowledge or experience, even through abuse, has signified not only loss of childhood but also of the protections due to innocent children. Anxieties also circulate around the question of whether children are being appropriately socialized into sexuality and by whom (parents, the school, other experts, the media, young people themselves). Historically, proper sexuality has been defined normatively, as reproductive heterosexuality within the nuclear family. The contemporary sexually liberal and pluralistic moment tends to emphasize consent, which gives rise to new ethical complexities in relation to youth. The figures through which childhood has been thought about also often reference sexuality directly or indirectly and as problematic: from the masturbating child to the unmarried/teenage mother or sexualized child. The topic is of interest to childhood studies because of its insistence that childhood (and by implication also childhood sexuality) is a social construction rather than a singular or natural entity that can be identified outside history and cultural context; the broad interdisciplinary approach taken by childhood studies can map and theorize shifts in the social meanings of childhood and sexuality. Childhood studies also attempts to center children’s voices—in this case, their own accounts of their sexual lives, experiences, and pleasures—while simultaneously troubling this very endeavor. This entry aims to open up definitions and understandings, indicating briefly how the question of childhood and sexuality has been governed, imagined, and lived in diverse ways.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Sexuality and Childhood
ISBN-13: 9781529714388
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.4135/9781529714388.n536
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781529714388.n536
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Education, Practice and Society
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10072874
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