Sexual Development in Adopted Children

While sexual development follows much the same pattern for all children, there are some special issues that adopted children might face. These include precocious puberty, the effects of childhood abuse or neglect on later sexual development, and questions about how the birds and bees applies to them. Our guests are Dr. Bradley Miller, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, a therapist specializing in adoption and an adjunct faculty member in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Hit the Highlights
  • What is precocious puberty?
  • How is precocious puberty defined medically?
  • Does it affect both girls and boys?
  • Why is early puberty a problem?
  • What causes precocious puberty?
  • Are adopted children at higher risk for early onset of puberty?
  • What physical signs should parents look for?
  • Are there specific risk factors for early onset of puberty and can anything be done to decrease that risk?
  • Are there foods that should be avoided or encouraged to reduce the likelihood of early puberty?
  • Are daughters of single mothers at increased risk for early sexual development?
  • Does race affect the age puberty begins?
  • Does a child’s weight affect the age puberty begins?
  • How is precocious puberty diagnosed?
  • How is it treated, or need it be treated?
  • How much growth can be expected after a girl reaches puberty?
  • Should puberty ever be medically delayed for growth reasons?
  • How can abuse and neglect in early childhood affect a child’s later sexual development?
  • How else does early abuse affect the sexual development from the physiological standpoint?
  • Does it matter whether it was abuse or neglect or what kind of abuse the child was exposed to—physical, mental or sexual?
  • The long term psychological impacts of abuse and neglect are legend, but specifically, how does this early life experience alter healthy sexual development?
  • What can we do to help our children with experiences they may have had before they came into our care? Some may not remember specific events, but obviously had exposure to sexual activity at an early age.
  • At what age should parents start talking with their children about sex and human sexuality?
  • How should parents talk to young children about sex?
  • How might the parent’s infertility affect the way they handle their child’s sexual development?
  • How can adoptive parents help their children to not internalize their birth parents behavior and not feel doomed to repeat their mistakes?
  • How can adoption affect a child’s perception of their sexuality?

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Image Credit: Andy Morffew