Another normal area for youth to explore is their newly developing sexuality. Children who are transitioning from middle childhood to adolescence will express their developing sexuality in many natural, healthy ways. Often, youth will express a romantic interest toward one of their peers. When these "crushes" occur, they may call these special friends their "boyfriend" or "girlfriend." Youth may express an urgent desire to socialize with these friends on the school bus, during lunch, or during other group activities such as a basketball game. Or, they may connect with these friends in the community, such as festivals, church activities, or youth clubs. They may also want to communicate with these individuals over the phone, social network Internet sites, text messaging, and others. As youth socialize with these friends in late childhood, they may express their affection through gestures like holding hands, or hugging. However, as children get older and enter adolescence, many youth experiment with more sexual forms of contact such as with kissing, fondling and/or oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse. More information about this will be found in a future adolescent index article on teen sexuality.
Apart from developing sexually motivated attachments towards others, pre-teen children may also start thinking and worrying about their own sexual or gender identity. For example, a girl may decide that she doesn't want to be a girl and would instead like to be a boy. Vice versa, a boy may decide he would like to be a girl. These youth may begin dressing, styling their hair, or applying cosmetics in ways that the opposite sex typically would. They may also desire to participate in activities that youth of the opposite sex would stereotypically participate in. For instance, Jane might show a desire to play football with a guys' team.
Early in the puberty phase, youth may notice they become emotionally excited, or interested in youth of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both sexes. Later in adolescence they may express a desire to date, or become romantically involved with youth of either, or both sexes. Almost all youth will ultimately show interest in "going out", or dating other peers. This may include weekend activities or socializing on the phone and on computer "chats". Parents may be reassured to know that children's questioning of their sexual identity (as to whether they like boys or girls or both), should it occur, is a normal and natural part of developing an individual identity. Experimentation in early adolescence does not necessarily predict the child's sexual identity later in life. More information about gender identity and sexual identity is available in our Sexuality topic center, and in a future article concerning teen-aged sexuality.