The Rind Study: Censored?

The belief that sexual “seduction” of children is usually seriously harmful was popularized by Freud over 100 years ago, based on his observations of 18 hysterical patients (1). Freud’s observations were distorted by his very unscientific “pressure” method, and he proposed his theory at a time when medicine, psychology, and cross-cultural anthropology were primitive. By coincidence the seduction theory was wholly consistent with the ancient religious condemnation of any sexual experience outside monogamous marriage (2).

The seduction theory was eventually rejected by Freud himself and his followers as overly simplistic, but it was revived in the late 1960s by feminists who falsely claimed Freud changed his theory because he was under intense criticism for exposing child sex abuse.  Feminists claimed Freud’s original simplistic theory was right: child sex abuse is responsible for most of women’s problems, so women today should cash in on the political and financial woe-is-me benefits of victimhood (3). The feminists thought child sex abuse is exclusively men against little girls, and hence is a sinister male strategy to cultivate feminine subservience. They were conveniently unaware that in reality both women and men sexually abuse boys as well as girls.

In the 1970s some small, biased surveys of selected populations described severe sequelae of early  sexual experience in some individuals, and – like Freud – claimed such weak and limited evidence may be generalized to the whole population. Freud’s old simplistic theory seemed to now be supported by sophisticated (social) science, won wide acceptance as politically correct dogma, and created a booming business for psychotherapists and other self-proclaimed rescuers of child sex abuse victims (real or imagined).

The convenience of that new orthodoxy for traditionalists became obvious in the 1980s when suspicions of widespread child sex abuse in daycare centers (already under criticism by conservatives who promoted stay-at-home mothering) spread and resulted in witch hunts culminating in the hysterical belief that devil worshipers were organizing and orchestrating sex abuse in daycare centers to defeat Christianity and take over the world.

Not surprisingly, a few perceptive critics in the 1990s questioned the sincerity of some individual claims of child sex abuse, as Freud himself had eventually done a century before, and even discovered that some therapists were persuading patients through suggestion to imagine they were sexually abused as children and then call those fantasies “memories.” Modern therapists merely copied Freud’s “pressure” technique a hundred years before, which resulted in patients saying whatever the therapist wanted in order to please the therapist. Eventual malpractice suits caused a sharp decline in profiteers specializing in so-called “recovered memories” of sex abuse as well as so-called “multiple personality disorder” (4).

In 1998 Bruce Rind and colleagues finally conducted a meta-analysis of 59 unbiased studies of college students that did not support the dogmatic belief that early sex abuse is usually seriously harmful (5). Previous studies were imprecise, qualitative analyses of biased samples – mostly females in treatment for mental problems – while Rind quantitatively analyzed males and females more representative of the general population. The work of Rind et al. indicated severe sequelae of child sex abuse were exaggerated and much less frequent in the general population.

There has never been any valid evidence of a causal link between early sexual experience and later mental problems, and it is reasonable to assume that there may be other variables such as family environment (before and after the sexual experience) that explain the positive, neutral, or negative outcome later in different cases. Rind found less negative effects when the child perceived he was willing, but critics oddly objected to considering the victim’s perception of willingness, since children are supposedly too young to understand consent. The critics thus confused the correlates of actual outcome of the experience with the moral quality of the event. Saying that a victim felt he had consented (and later reported he was less harmed) is not the same as saying children are always or ever competent to understand consent.

If the mass hysteria over child sex abuse had been based on genuine concern for children’s health and safety, then we would expect that Rind’s evidence would be welcomed as a relief. But Rind and his work had actually undermined the sacred premises of the child sex abuse rescue business, so he was viciously attacked by vested political and financial interests as if he had committed sacrilege.

The Alaska State Legislature was the first government body to confuse politics with science by criticizing the Rind study, and under political pressure the U.S. Congress eventually voted to censure the American Psychological Association (APA) for publishing that study. In House Concurrent Resolution 107 (H. Con. Res. 107), the Supreme Court was quoted as an expert on the subject of child sex abuse, which “is [always] pervasively and intensely harmful,” and specifically attacked any suggestion “that sexual relationships between adults and ‘willing’ children are less harmful than believed.”

In reality, previous biased surveys had merely noticed a history of child sex abuse in some mental patients, and simply assumed a causal link without any specific evidence of causation. Rind’s work supported the idea that there is good reason to believe physical abuse, neglect and other family problems better correlate with negative outcomes than does sex abuse.

The APA conducted an in-house review and concluded: “Well, with all due respect, it isn’t a bad study. It’s been peer-reviewed by the same principles as any kind of scientific publication. It’s been examined by statistical experts. It’s a good study.” But The APA eventually bowed to public relations pressure by conceding that some of the language in the Rind study was “inflammatory,” and promised that the APA would more carefully consider “the social policy implications” of future articles on controversial topics submitted for publication.

Under duress of the public relations nightmare, the APA asked the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to review the APA’s decision to publish. The AAAS officially declined the request, which was an indirect expression of support for the study’s scientific validity – and an obvious criticism of those who questioned the scientific quality of the study and the APA’s standard peer review process for publishing studies. However, the AAAS did say: “examining all the materials available to the Committee we saw no clear evidence of improper application of methodology or other questionable practices on the part of the article’s authors.”

The AAAS further stated: “The Committee also wishes to express its grave concerns with the politicization of the debate over the article’s methods and findings. In reviewing the set of background materials available to us, we found it deeply disconcerting that so many of the comments made by those in the political arena and in the media indicate a lack of understanding of the analysis presented by the authors or misrepresented the article’s findings. All citizens, especially those in a position of public trust, have a responsibility to be accurate about the evidence that informs their public statements. We see little indication of that from the most vocal on this matter, behavior that the Committee finds very distressing.”

Chairman of the AAAS committee, physicist Irving Lerch, said “[s]ome of the political statements were clearly self-serving. I think some politicians tried to inflame or cash in on public sentiment by purposely distorting what the authors said.”

Some critics stooped to calling the Rind study “junk science,” while in reality Rind’s work was a significant advance over previous research. Instead of focusing on Rind’s data or methodology, critics repeatedly focused on the political incorrectness of the findings as supposedly “trivializing” child sex abuse. Analogously, another study of child cancer patients found they were surprisingly well-adjusted. So why didn’t moralists and politicians attack that study as trivializing cancer? Revealingly, crusaders against sex play during childhood seem to be uninterested in the easily available statistics that show the vast majority of child deaths and serious injuries are due to physical abuse and neglect by parents, and have nothing to do with sex crimes by strangers (6).

Although Rind’s study caused no immediate reaction in the scientific community, it was attacked by a talk-show host at a fundamentalist radio station, and the resulting publicity worried profiteers in the sex abuse rescue business, so some self-interested criticism of the Rind meta-analysis finally appeared in a scientific journal two years later. Prominent among Rind’s critics were Freudian psychoanalysts who specialize in the “treatment” of homosexuality, a branch of the talk-therapy business in significant decline. An organization of such therapists publicly welcomed support from religious groups.

In later articles Rind easily answered his critics, pointing out their fallacies and contradictions, and eventually even quoting the worries of critics with vested interests that Rind was threatening the income of those who live off the myth that child sex abuse is usually seriously harmful. One critic admitted that he wanted “to protect good psychotherapists from attack and financial ruin as a result of suits that are costly both financially and emotionally.” One former patient of such therapy was awarded a $10 million settlement from his “therapist” and hospital. Rind suggested the APA and other scientific organizations should defend researchers and stand up to such political attacks in the future, rather than bowing to politically driven hysteria (7).

Throughout Western history religious authorities have attacked and sometimes executed scientific thinkers for contradicting orthodox beliefs. Although science has progressed and has more freedom today than ever before, scientific evidence that contradicts orthodoxy is still very unwelcome in the house of cards built on “ancient scripture.” People who have the courage to explore and welcome advances in our knowledge and understanding of the world must still fight against censorship and other attempts to silence the truth.

Attacks against child sexuality are often circular: they claim sex play in childhood is inevitably harmful, while ignoring that typically early education specifically preps children to view and react to sex negatively. When anyone proposes accurate, balanced and comprehensive sex education from the earliest age, critics say we shouldn’t do that because early sex play is inevitably harmful! As I have pointed out many times before, the mass hysteria over child sex abuse contributes to the traditional mental castration of millions of girls, instead of protecting children from possible injury.

One mistake Rind did apparently make and then did not confront is that he reportedly accepted an invitation to speak to the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), a group of self-professed pedophiles with an obviously self-serving political agenda, so it appeared that Rind was at least sympathetic to those who wish to defend pedophilia. If that report is true, then the invitation and Rind’s acceptance should have been addressed by Rind himself. But that mistake after-the-fact does not detract from the hard evidence on child sex abuse that Rind’s study contributed to modern science.

Everyone has some good and some bad in them. Nobody is all good or all bad. We should cultivate what is good in every person: the healthy paternal and maternal instinct to love children and protect children from true harm. And we must pity and resist the opportunists and profiteers who pretend to love and protect children while really only loving and protecting themselves.


  1. Freud, Sigmund. The Aetiology of Hysteria (1896).
  2. Fout, John C. (ed). Forbidden History:, The State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe. (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992).
  3. Whittier, Nancy. The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotion, Social Movements, and the State. (Oxford Univ. Press, 2009).
  4. Ofshe, Richard and Watters, Ethan. Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria. (Univ. of California Press, 1994).
  5. Rind, Bruce et al.  A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples (Psychological Bulletin 1998, Vol. 124, No. 1, 22-53); and Rind et al. The Validity and Appropriateness of Methods, Analyses, and Conclusions in Rind et al. (1998): A Rebuttal of Victimological Critique From Ondersma et al. (2001) and Dallam et al. (2001) (Psychological Bulletin 2001. Vol. 127. No. 6. 734-758).
  6. Adamo, Frank. Real Child Safety 2nd Ed. (Foundation for Research and Education on Child Safety, 2014).
  7. Rind, Bruce, et al. Science versus orthodoxy: Anatomy of the congressional condemnation of a scientific article and reflections on remedies for future ideological attacks. Applied & Preventive Psychology 9:211-225 (2000). Cambridge University Press.
Posted in child sexual abuse, children, sex, sex education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sex Play and Sex Work

There is widespread hostility against sex work even when it only involves mature adults, with traditionalists and feminists joining hands to condemn women who “sell their body,” and worse: evil male customers who support the nasty business. Sex work always and necessarily exploits women; they cry all the way to the bank. However, some sex workers choose their career willingly, and vehemently resent being “rescued” against their will. While most people – both sex workers and prohibitionists – oppose “underage” sex work, an examination of the reasons is instructive.

One reason sex work is outlawed is because many people think if sex work becomes decriminalized it is a form of blanket approval of explicitly exchanging sex for money. But it is important to distinguish between some situations in which exchanging sex for money is unobjectionable, and other situations in which exchanging sex for money may reasonably be disapproved of.

When children are very young and uninhibited they enjoy spontaneous sex play without any need for economic incentives. Genital play is motivated solely by curiosity and the desire for pleasure: sex play is its own reward. But under some conditions an asymmetrical desire develops between individuals so an offer of an additional non-sexual incentive naturally arises.

Some individuals are considered more attractive than others, so when given a choice very attractive individuals prefer each other rather than less attractive individuals. An extreme example is a deformed or diversely able (handicapped) person who would like to have sex with someone who has no such deformity. An offer of money or other incentive is perfectly understandable in this case, and so is accepting that offer perfectly understandable.

The person who accepts payment in such a case is renting certain body parts and precious time just like any other employee or independent contractor. The most important difference between sex work and other kinds of work is which body parts are being rented. A sex worker doesn’t “sell her body” anymore than a secretary does, although accusing a sex worker with the phrase “selling her body” has more rhetorical impact.

Sex play often becomes sex work because many children in Western countries are indoctrinated to become fearful or hostile to sexuality, and such fear or hostility is expressed and transmitted to others eventually. Although euphemistically referred to as “inhibition,” a more accurate term is mental castration

Some medical professionals in the past recommended burning a little girl’s clitoris with acid to reduce her interest and capacity for pleasure, and in some Third World countries even today women cut off a little girl’s clitoris. The modern medical ritual of circumcision was originally a form of symbolic castration.

For most growing girls the very thought of sex becomes unpleasant or even painful, so cash or other incentives become necessary. There is some evidence that introducing financial incentives reduces children’s precious internal motivation to learn, so it’s possible that introducing or encouraging financial incentives for sex may likewise interfere with children’s physical enjoyment of genital contact and thereby harm children’s development of healthy sexual function. Ideally, children should have models of sexually functional adults who enjoy sex for its own sake, rather than models of sexually dysfunctional adults who always require payment for sexual contact.

When sexuality is being discovered in early childhood it is something very exciting, but if that desire is satisfied the novelty eventually wears off. The age at which any particular child becomes less curious about sex play may vary greatly depending on the individual, immediate family, or wider environment. There may even be genetic differences between individuals in the desirability of physical sensations; some people may be more “thick-skinned” than other people.

Whatever the reason, two five-year-olds are the same age, but one may be less enthusiastic about sex play than the other, as opposed to other types of play. The more enthusiastic child who is creative can offer something in exchange for sex play, and depending on the other child’s degree of interest, the latter may accept the offer or hold out for more value in the exchange. Sexual bargaining is not evil or destructive; it stems from a sense of justice. When individuals have different degrees of interest, bargaining is a natural form of compromise.

Another common scenario in early childhood is that some individual children are considered more desirable as a playmate in general, so the less popular child is more likely to consent to sex play or offer sex play even if not desired in itself. This scenario is especially likely when there are other children competing for the popular child’s attention. There may be negotiation and bidding for the popular child’s attention, including offers of sex play. As some children get older they accept this discrepancy in individual value as a fact of social life, and after an adolescent period of posturing (Who me, exchange money for sex?) eventually see nothing strange about offering sex for some other value, or accepting something non-sexual in exchange for sex.

Still another common reason for sex work is that some adults may find professional sex workers exotic or otherwise attractive and hence be occasionally willing to pay for sex regardless of the availability of attractive “free” sex partners.  Due to a girl’s susceptibility to clitoral erectile dysfunction the majority of women in the West today are sexually dysfunctional. They are unable to experience clitoral erection, and they reach orgasm infrequently and with difficulty. They must settle for “enjoying the closeness,” and faking orgasm  So women more often need an additional incentive to participate in sex and hence are the most frequent sellers rather than buyers of intimate company.

Traditional marriage has an obvious commercial aspect, even though modern Western culture attempts to hide the commercial aspect through romantic narratives of endless love or the “mutual benefits” of marriage. Explicitly exchanging sexual services for money is publicly condemned, but the institution of marriage itself has long been viewed as a business affair. Sexual services are traditionally viewed as a form of family resource or wealth that should be carefully managed by wise parents rather than squandered by inexperienced youngsters. Hence parents of daughters attempt to capitalize on the male’s lesser dysfunction (“stronger desire for sex”) compared to the average mentally castrated female, by demanding payment for sexual services – the “bride price.”

I believe that the discrepancy between male and female desire is minor if both individuals are sexually functional. Human females commonly make a greater effort than males to groom themselves, dress up, manicure, pedicure, to appear attractive. Although the man may be the one who eventually verbalizes the proposition, in effect the woman has orchestrated and initiated the sex in many cases.

In our close relatives, monkeys and apes, healthy females are not merely receptive to sex. In what is called proceptivity, females actively solicit copulations with males. Females present themselves in the mating position, as well as licking the male’s face or genitalia. Mature females even solicit sex from juvenile males, and especially juvenile females are very persistent in soliciting sex from mature males. Evidently jealous of each other, juvenile females occasionally harass mature females during copulation, and mature females harass juvenile females during copulation. In our very closest relative, the bonobo, an immature female sometimes climbs between two copulating adults.*

The same female enthusiasm may be seen in very young human children before they are mentally castrated. Little girls are often more enthusiastic than little boys about sex play, and have to settle for each other as playmates when boys are interested in other forms of play. Girls seem less interested in sex when they get older because traditionally there is greater parental effort invested in mentally castrating girls, so their capacity to enjoy sex is reduced or eliminated more effectively than boys, rendering the financial incentive more important or essential for the maturing female. As girls grow up they are traditionally taught to be more “practical” about sex.

While many parents condemn sex work publicly, girls are traditionally brought up to never “give it away” for free rather than in exchange for a lifetime meal ticket. Other girls will call any girl who gives sex away “a slut,” or whoever settles for a small one-time payment will be called a prostitute. The healthy development of a girl’s capacity for sexual pleasure is sacrificed for long-term financial return.

Far from discouraging sex work, parents traditionally teach daughters that economic advantage is the only reason to have sex. Hence the meeting point between traditionalists and radical feminists: both condemn heterosexual sex purely for pleasure. Both also share the illusion that sexual inhibition in childhood is only temporary. Once adulthood is reached, girls can simply turn off their sexual dysfunction and magically become sexually functional.

Another way of looking at clitoral erectile dysfunction is that most women are not sexually dysfunctional – they are just diversely able. But being diversely able is acceptable only when it is inevitable and irremediable. Nobody in their right mind chooses to become diversely able voluntarily. So if clitoral erectile dysfunction can be prevented, why do parents continue to mentally castrate millions of girls generation after generation?

While nobly claiming that the criminalization of sex work protects young girls from being forced or pressured into sex work against their will, tradition ignores an attractive girl’s willing desire and freedom to chose sex work. When it comes to young girls working as prostitutes, we should note that 12-year-olds may be called “children,” but they are very far from 5-year-olds or even 8-year-olds. A pampered 12-year-old growing up in the average American home today is certainly very different from a 12-year-old growing up in a brothel in New Orleans in 1917. In the film “Pretty Baby” the 12-year-old whose virginity is auctioned off to eager men was prepared for her career long before she was actually “deflowered.”

Girls growing up in brothels in other countries even now cannot be compared to an average 12-year-old in the U.S. today. Of course, no 12-year-old should ever be forced to become a sex worker if she doesn’t want to. In other words, she should know she is free to choose not to become a sex worker, without any threat of rejection by her parents or any other negative consequences. Where sex work is legal, laws set an arbitrary age standard (counting birthdays) that is convenient for legal administration and enforcement, but ideally what should matter is not the girl’s chronological age, but her understanding of the consequences of different choices, and her freedom to chose alternatives. Criminalization of sex work at any age restricts a girl’s choices no less than coerced sex work. Prohibitionists and sex traffickers oppose each other, but they are actually on the same moral plane.

The most peculiar part of the story “Pretty Baby” is that many men placed (or still place) such a high value on virginity, compared to the value they placed (or still place) on a more mature and experienced woman. The traditional fascination with virginity might be based on the mistaken assumption that if a physically mature girl has never had genital intercourse before, her vagina hasn’t been stretched and hence is tighter and will provide more pleasure to the male. But in reality the opposite is the case: an inexperienced girl has undeveloped vaginal muscles so her vagina is actually weak and loose.

Repeated genital intercourse is a form of exercise that eventually strengthens the vaginal muscles just like any other striated muscles. Note that I’m talking about a physiologically mature vagina. The immature vagina is too tiny for genital intercourse in any case (it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle), as well as being vulnerable to laceration and infection if penetrated by anything. Some girls are under the illusion that an older male with a mature penis will bring more pleasure to a small and immature virgin vagina. Accurate, balanced and comprehensive sex education from the earliest age would destroy such ridiculous and dangerous myths as the tight virgin vagina, and relegate the primitive fascination with virginity to the dustbin of history.

One important advantage of decriminalizing sex work is that people naturally become bored having sex with only one person over time, so professional sex workers provide a safer alternative than extra-marital affairs. Professionals are not only more careful about unplanned pregnancy and infections, they keep proper emotional distance from clients. Rather than risk a spouse becoming emotionally involved in an extra-marital affair with a neighbor or co-worker, and thereby break up both families, the legal availability of professional sex workers would provide a safe outlet for satisfying a married person’s natural wanderlust. A professional sex worker can’t possibly marry every one of her clients.

There are also documented cases of some law enforcement agents who take advantage of the criminalization of sex work to rape or rob sex workers – including “underage” sex workers. Some psychopaths inside and outside the government think labelling some activity as illegal gives them the license to ignore normal moral conduct and do whatever they want.

We need not advocate a blanket acceptance of exchanging sex for money, but nor should we support a blanket condemnation of sex work under any circumstances – especially if a sexually restrictive atmosphere contributes to the mental castration of millions of growing girls. Condemning any form of explicit sex work leads to the absurdity of firing teachers who are discovered to have been sex workers in the past, or even taking children away from parents who are revealed to be (or have been) sex workers. There are no valid data to show that sex workers (past or present) are likely to be less competent or less responsible parents or teachers. Some sex workers may even make the effort to become more competent childcare providers than other people to compensate for their politically incorrect sexual lives.

How dare anybody submit a child to the tragedy of being separated from a beloved parent or teacher simply because it is considered politically correct to do so? The popular concern over the supposed dangers of explicit sex work in any form, and supposedly widespread “sex trafficking” (relying on wild and unfounded claims and bogus statistics) is hardly worthy of any thinking person’s support.

* Dixon, Alan F. Primate Sexuality: Comparative Studies of the Prosimians, Monkeys, Apes, and Human Beings. (Oxford University Press, 1998).

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Sex, Morality, and the Law

Everybody has moral beliefs or judgments about what sexual conduct is right or wrong. Some of those beliefs become encoded into laws that everyone is expected to obey, on pain of punishment. Why do some moral beliefs about sexual conduct become laws, while other beliefs do not?

In the past, religious authorities merely dictated moral standards of sexual conduct, based on divine revelation to church leaders, or expert interpretation of ancient “scriptures.” Such sources of supposed spiritual authority have been openly cited as justification for secular legislation regulating sexual conduct (1).

Later the primitive medical profession recommended the same moral precepts, by coincidence, but then claimed such standards were necessary to prevent epilepsy, blindness, infertility, etc. Even though such primitive medical claims have now been rejected by modern evidence-based medicine, the same laws – usually over 100 years old – are still on the books regulating sexual conduct today (2).

The primary legitimate function of governments is to create or maintain public order, i.e. minimize conflicts between citizens and groups. A government makes, administers, and enforces laws, such as requiring that everyone drive on the right side of the road, to avoid excessive disorder or chaos on your way to work (3).

According to some legal scholars, legislation is primarily guided by utility – the benefits expected from prohibiting certain conduct. In theory, such benefits are for everyone or most people, not for some special interest group. Justice applies in the administration of the law – for everyone or most citizens, not merely some well-financed lobby. A cynical joke is: How much justice can you afford?

Although citizens are formally obligated to obey laws, the government is unable to eliminate all law-breaking. Some statistics suggest the majority of property crimes go unprosecuted and unpunished, and that is probably true of other types of crime as well. The government is simply unable to prevent most crimes or catch most criminals. So citizens are also educated to obey laws voluntarily to minimize the frequency of law-breaking.

Ideally, children obey their parents and cooperate voluntarily because they believe their parents are fair: the child’s needs and desires are balanced against the needs and desires of other family members and individuals in the community. Adult citizens are persuaded by the same reasoning: as long as the laws are perceived as fair, it’s desirable if everyone obeys the laws.

Very young children will attempt to get what they want regardless of fairness, so parents and other teachers must use various means of coercion to keep children under control, until kids learn that fairness and voluntary cooperation are preferable to an atmosphere of sneakiness or coercion. Children also need to learn that they can’t get away with pretending to be fair while actually cheating. Adult citizens need the same instruction.

All children are not the same, and all adult citizens are not the same either. Ideally, in a constitutional democracy the majority rules but minorities are protected from unnecessary suffering. Democracy does not mean mob rule. That isn’t merely a gesture of generosity on the majority’s part, but a practical way to obtain essential voluntary cooperation from minorities.

Just as parents should be realistic in their expectations of children’s behavior, so should governments be realistic in their expectations of citizens’ behavior. A useful technique to get voluntary obedience from children is to prohibit as few things as possible, and absolutely insist on obedience only where there is a clear risk of death, serious physical injury, or property damage. That technique works with adults too. Kids need lots of opportunities to make choices, and so do adults.

Adult citizens obey the law because they fear punishment, and also because they believe the law is fair and reasonable. But if some special interests maintain old laws that serve their own advantage or profit, rather than being fair, and then attempt to silence uncomfortable criticism, or they use terror to force citizens to obey whether they believe the law is fair or not, then eventually people will unsurprisingly disrespect and disobey the government whenever they think they can get away with it.

The government thus becomes even less  effective than what results from the mere difficulty of catching criminals. The government has thereby failed miserably in a fundamental function: failing to cultivate voluntary obedience. Citizens become cynical of the law, and even government employees act very cynical: they only care about their own job security and career advancement, regardless of fairness or the negative impact of their own conduct on society as a whole.

Another primary function of government is to attempt to give citizens some peace of mind: we are not completely defenseless against psychopaths. Citizens need to know that there is no constant danger of imminent catastrophe. The U.S. Congress failed in that function when it voted to censure the Rind study on child sex abuse. Despite mass hysteria over the supposed dangers of child sex abuse Congress attacked the best evidence that such widespread fear and anger are exaggerated (4).

Unsurprisingly, that hysteria has now spread to sex play between children, with 10-year-olds being arrested for playing doctor! When two children or teens enjoy sex play in private, who is the victim and where is the injury? A traditional claim is that “licentiousness” leads to a focus on the body rather than the spirit, and a breakdown of constructive social conduct in general – the slippery slope to anarchy. But other people (e.g. me) believe the contrary: sex play early in life is necessary for the development of healthy sexual function and responsible citizenship.

Neither belief can be definitively proved or disproved at our present state of knowledge, but there is evidence that the majority of women today are sexually dysfunctional and large numbers of women become irresponsible citizens, e.g. endangering children by smoking while pregnant, refusing to breastfeed, and driving while sleep-deprived (just as deadly as drunk-driving), or rejecting motherhood entirely, while at the same time keeping a sharp lookout for indecent exposure.

Recently a drunken teenage girl in Europe was videoed having genital intercourse with a group of boys of various ages (some 18), and the video was distributed on the web. The local police were quoted as saying they didn’t care what the kids did in private, but publicly publishing the video was a mistake that called for regulatory interference.

In the view of the local police the crime in that jurisdiction was not the sexual conduct itself, but violating the norms of public display. A similar case is breastfeeding in public. In many countries some mothers breastfeed in public parks, etc., and the local police would never dream of interfering. But in other countries some people believe that exposure of the breast in public (even in the context of feeding a baby) is “indecent” and ought to be prohibited.

The modern breastfeeding organization La Leche League was founded by mothers who were outraged by police harassment of mothers who breastfeed in public. In this case a bad law (or bad law enforcement) inspired the creation of a great educational organization that now fosters breastfeeding worldwide.

Some people make rhetorical claims that their personal beliefs about sexual conduct are the only “right” ones, and then go on to vomit irrelevant verbiage as the reasons. But the bottom line is this: There is no way to establish the supposed superiority of some moral beliefs about sexual conduct as opposed to contrary beliefs.

Some people approve of public breastfeeding, children enjoying sex play, and teens having sex (even at different ages), and some other people disapprove. As long as I don’t force you to watch, you are attempting to impose your beliefs on me by demanding that child sex play, teen sex, and public breastfeeding be prohibited, i.e. subject to punishment.

In moral disagreements about sexual conduct it’s important to consider the motives and effects of the conduct. In principle, crimes are defined and criminals are punished to prevent or deter personal injury or property damage. Is the sexual conduct demonstrably exploitative or injurious to an identifiable victim? Or are the only “victims” the individuals who would like to impose their beliefs on others, but can’t do so if the conduct is not prohibited?

There is clear evidence that some special interests profit from body shame in general and breast shame in particular. The bra industry and the infant bottle formula industry have multi-billion-dollar markets for their products. (5). When powerful multinational corporations have significant financial interests in body shame, we should be very suspicious of laws that – by mere coincidence? – promote body shame in general and breast shame in particular.

A common strategy to morally or legally condemn sex play is to claim that children are inevitably incompetent to consent (6). It is true that children (especially very young children) don’t usually understand the consequences of their choices or the alternatives available, but it’s possible that in some specific cases a particular older child may be instructed to understand choices and alternatives so the general rule may not be applicable to every child. Laws that rely on an arbitrary age of consent are merely an administrative convenience – not an expression of logic or wisdom.

In addition, in some cases children may be indifferent so informed and explicit consent is not necessary. For example, when a five-year-old girl pulls down her three-year-old brother’s underwear to show her brother-less girlfriends a boy’s pride and joy, her motivation may be quite innocent and the boy may feel indifferent about her behavior. Even though the three-year-old boy is probably incompetent to consent (understand alternatives and consequences), the girl’s behavior need not be considered abusive or even inappropriate.

I think a responsible caregiver who witnesses such behavior should take the big sister aside later privately and calmly teach that since her little brother is old enough to understand language and communicate his preferences (if any), in the future she should at least ask for the boy’s permission before doing something like that again. But that’s merely my opinion, not a proposal for legislation.

Is civil disobedience justified? Should mothers be encouraged to breastfeed in public, whenever and wherever they like, regardless of the law? Should teenagers be encouraged to enjoy safe sex, preferably in private, regardless of the law? Civil disobedience is the willful disobeying of certain laws to protest unfairness and unnecessary suffering, and is wholly justified and appropriate whenever the following conditions exist.

When certain groups of people are denied the right to vote to make or change laws, they are hopelessly dependent on those who can vote to make laws that protect them from unnecessary suffering. When those who can vote do not make laws that protect the disenfranchised, then civil disobedience of the laws is justified (7).

That is certainly the case with teen sex. Children and teens are denied the right to vote, and the laws of many jurisdictions specifically prohibit teens from having sex. Teens are even denied the opportunity to learn about how to have sex safely and effectively, and are thereby denied the opportunity to promote the development of sexual function and healthy habits.

In the case of public breastfeeding, mothers have the right to vote, but they are relatively powerless against the rich pharmaceutical lobby that has tremendous influence on legislators who make laws as well as other government employees who administer laws. In some jurisdictions the infant bottle formula companies even secretly disobey laws intended to promote breastfeeding. In that case, mothers are effectively disenfranchised because their votes are rendered useless, so civil disobedience is justified and appropriate.

Civil disobedience may include peaceful acts of protest and disruption of public order, as well as disobedience of specific laws. Government employees often over-react with violence, and the government’s own irresponsible conduct unwittingly promotes sympathy for the protestors.

In effect, teens already engage in widespread civil disobedience. They not only violate excessive prohibitions against sexual conduct, they refuse to cooperate in school and they practice random disruption of public order, as well as vandalism of public and private property, and reckless behavior (driving while intoxicated) that endangers the safety of others. Censorship of critics who call attention to excessive repression of teen sexuality contributes to citizens losing sight of the genuine injustices that are really bothering young people.


  1. Fout, John C. (Ed.) Forbidden History: The State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe. (University of Chicago Press, 1992).
  2. Money, John. The Destroying Angel. (Prometheus, 1985).
  3. van den Haag, Ernest. “Punishing Criminals.” (Basic Books, 1975).
  4. Rind, Bruce, et al. Science versus orthodoxy: Anatomy of the congressional condemnation of a scientific article and reflections on remedies for future ideological attacks. Applied & Preventive Psychology 9:211-225 (2000). Cambridge University Press.
  5. Palmer, Gabrielle. The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business. (Pinter and Martin, 2009). 
  6. Pearson, M. The Age of Consent: Victorian Prostitution and its Enemies. (David and Charles, 1972).  
  7. van den Haag Ernest. Political Violence and Civil Disobedience. (Harper, 1972).
Posted in breastfeeding, child sexual abuse, sex | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Breast Pride and Breastfeeding

Where does breast shame come from? Is it instinctive or learned behavior? When babies are born they feel no shame. Before infant bottle formula was invented there was no need to cultivate breast shame. Even religious art commonly depicted Jesus being nursed by bare-breasted Mary. Mothers commonly breastfed their babies in church during mass. Why did that change? When does a little girl decide she doesn’t want anyone to see or photograph her chest uncovered? Why does a modern mother decide she doesn’t want anybody to see her exposed breast – even while breastfeeding?

beach new crop

Breasts are something to be proud of, just like any healthy part of the body, but breast pride is sabotaged early in life when little girls see their mothers hiding their breasts. That is a model of toxic breast shame, a problem so pervasive in modern Western countries that it seems “normal.” Fathers today don’t dare compliment their daughter’s budding breasts, let alone caress them. How “indecent” that would be! In many jurisdictions exposing a little girl’s chest or touching a girl’s breasts is considered no less a crime than exposing or touching her genital area. Even four-year-olds at the beach are told to wear two-piece bathing suits to learn how shameful breasts are.

As John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out in his book “The Economics of Innocent Fraud,” multinational corporations have the money and the incentive to dedicate full-time staff to cultivate markets for their products (1). What better way to cultivate the $30 billion/year infant bottle formula industry than by promoting body shame in general and breast shame in particular?

The infant bottle formula industry is not the only special interest that profits from breast shame. The bra industry has $3 billion/year in annual sales in the U.S. alone. In modern culture breasts are supposed to be covered and appear “perfect.” How ludicrous to see crowds of women all with their breasts propped up by bras to look perfect! Even some little girls insist on wearing falsies to appear that they have perfect breasts. Some women refuse to breastfeed their babies even in private for fear that suckling will injure the appearance of their nipples.

Who cares about breastfeeding? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) used to receive $1 million /year from the infant bottle formula industry (2), but the AAP now recognizes that “All major medical groups worldwide agree that breast-feeding is best for mother and baby.” (3). That is an understatement, considering the known dangers of infant bottle feeding.

Putting the baby to the breast immediately after delivery makes the mother’s uterus contract, reducing the amount of uterine bleeding and the risk of hemorrhage. Breast-feeding also stimulates production of the hormone oxytocin, which diminishes pain and contributes to a feeling of euphoria. Human breasts produce colostrum which contains antibodies to protect the newborn from infection. Infant bottle formula contains no antibodies, so bottle-fed newborns are immune-depressed in a hospital environment where there are antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Bottle-fed babies have an increased risk of potentially fatal necrotizing enterocolitis, as well as a higher risk of eventually developing obesity and diabetes. Baby bottles must be kept scrupulously clean to avoid contamination, and bottle-fed babies spit-up the formula frequently. Some bottle-fed babies become “heavy spitters.” The great expense of infant bottle formula is not only unnecessary but an unwise investment – greatly appreciated by some multinational corporations.

There are many tricks used to discourage mothers from breast-feeding, such as claiming that if anesthesia was used breast milk is contaminated by the drug. But in reality if anesthesia was used during delivery the baby already has anesthesia in his blood before birth. Another trick is to take the baby away immediately after birth for “washing and monitoring.” Such babies are then given glucose solution or formula while out of the mother’s sight so the baby is no longer hungry when it returns to the mother. Such babies also develop nipple confusion and become poor breastfeeders.

Every newborn should breastfeed immediately, even after C-section, and be washed only after the first breastfeeding. If necessary the baby can be monitored at the breast (e.g. a portable instrument is merely attached to the baby’s hand). Newborn tests required vary from state to state, as well as varying over time. They can wait. In the first hour of life babies are alert and need eye contact, soothing speech, and affectionate skin-to-skin contact to begin bonding with both parents.

Every normal woman can produce enough breast milk for two babies at a time. Lactation can even be stimulated in adoptive mothers or wet nurses who did not give birth themselves. Even after a baby begins eating solid food (at about six months) she should not be given cow’s milk, which is poorly digested and stresses the baby’s kidneys. A baby can continue to benefit from part-time breastfeeding as long as the mother and baby want to – even well past one year of age. The average age of weaning in pre-industrial cultures is four years old.

The next time you see a photograph of a little girl “carelessly” exposing her chest, think twice about demanding censorship or teaching little girls shame. Think about what effect such shame-training may have on her future behavior as a mother. Think about the damage of denying breast milk to babies, and think about who is profiting from breast shame.


1) Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Economics of Innocent Fraud. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

2) Palmer, Gabrielle. The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business. Pinter and Martin, 2009.

3) Shelov, Steven P. et al. (eds). Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009

Posted in breastfeeding, censorship, children, nudity, parenting, photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Your Child a Sex Maniac? Part 3

“…the challenge of all human relationships: accepting people as they are, while fostering further integration and growth.” – Daniel J. Siegel.

Please read the previous posts first: Is Your Child a Sex Maniac  and Is Your Child a Sex Maniac Part 2 to understand the context of this topic.

Accepting children as they are – sexual beings – is precisely what some adults have difficulty doing. A child is not a lump of clay that can be molded any way we want. Each child has a unique genetic endowment, unique environmental influences, and possibly unique needs and abilities beyond our control that impose limits on our idealistic hopes and dreams of cultivating a particular conception of citizenship. Yes, we should provide the best opportunities for education possible, but not threats of rejection or despair if a particular child doesn’t meet adult expectations of “proper” behavior.

The most revealing case of child sexual behavior described by Friedrich consisted of a seven-year-old boy who experienced mutual fellatio with a 19-year-old relative over a period of several months. The younger boy obviously enjoyed the relationship because it only came to the attention of adults when he tried to interest older boys at school in doing the same (1).

When some people hear a story like this they tend to feel so much rage against the older boy that they ignore the needs of the younger child. There is widespread vindictiveness against children and adolescents who enjoy sex play, in which the authorities apply adult standards of culpability to young people, especially males, while ignoring the suffering that investigation and prosecution may cause the child victims as well as other children and parents in the community (2).

The younger boy in this case was obviously frustrated by the loss of contact with the 19-year-old abuser, and that was interpreted by adults as particularly problematic, even though the little boy was unsuccessful in recruiting older playmates at school. If the child had cried for help the adults probably would have been less upset. What really made adults lose their heads was that the little boy was going around looking for new sex partners.

Good citizens wisely focus on increasing the attention and affection a child is (or isn’t) receiving from parents and older siblings at home. A responsible adult amplifies a child’s positive, enjoyable feelings and diminishes the child’s negative, uncomfortable feelings. But individuals who didn’t participate in the child’s sexual experience or even witness it told the boy later to re-interpret his pleasurable experience as negative, and persuaded the boy to stop wishing he could re-establish contact with the 19-year-old.

More reasonably, adults should tell a child: “Don’t worry, be happy!” Not: “You are a victim! Don’t be happy! You ‘should’ feel angry, hurt, sad!” The adults in this case poisoned the boy’s happy memory. Instead of understanding and validating a child’s healthy sexual response, some adults typically exhibit a complete lack of empathy for children who enjoy sex play.

When someone uses physical violence, threats, or deception to begin or maintain a painful sexual relationship, that is a grave moral wrong. But if a child participates enthusiastically and bemoans the loss of contact long afterwards, that is clearly a different matter. The contrast between those two scenarios is clear if we imagine an adult woman seen on video enthusiastically participating in sex and bemoaning the loss of contact with the partner long afterwards, and then later she is persuaded by a radical feminist to believe all heterosexual intercourse is rape!

According to the published description of this case the younger boy lacked adequate attention and affection at home, so the sexual attention he received from the 19-year-old was unsurprisingly welcomed by him as much better than the usual neglect. The very fact that he was looking for someone outside his family indicates he couldn’t depend on his parents to satisfy his needs. Children always have some way of expressing that they need something, but for some reason the parents in this case weren’t listening.

On a practical level, the younger boy’s attempt to find a substitute for the older boy was problematic only because it was viewed as scandalous by others, not because the younger boy himself was feeling ill or behaving pathologically in any sense.

Imagine a patient who goes to see a pediatrician, and the doctor asks: “What are your symptoms? Pain? Discomfort? Difficulty breathing? Lack of appetite?” The patient replies: “Nothing like that, doctor. I’m simply unable to find a playmate.” A reasonable pediatrician would determine that the boy’s problem is: he lacks discretion about sexuality. Although by age nine or ten most children have learned to be discrete about sexuality, most children of seven or eight have not yet learned that practical lesson. The “patient” in this case was not abnormal or suffering from any pathology; he was normally indiscrete for his age.

The younger boy in this case was clearly a happy victim during the abuse. All of the negative consequences to the seven-year-old entailed the intervention of other people long afterwards as proximate causes. Let’s not confuse the wrong against the lawmakers and the wrong against the parents (whose trust the older boy betrayed) with the insensitivity the younger boy experienced at the hands of others after the fact. The proximate cause is the last opportunity before an injury to prevent the injury, and the adults in this case ignored that opportunity.

Analogously, in a homicide should we ignore the person who pulled the trigger (the proximate cause of death) and instead blame the death on the designer or manufacturer of the weapon? The wholesaler? The truck driver who delivered the weapon to the store? The older boys at school who reported the child did the politically correct thing, and thereby showed their own immaturity. Ignoring the child’s probable suffering afterwards was accepted as a “necessary evil,” but necessary for what?

Human relationships are usually much more complicated than the mere presence or absence of sexual contact. Unlike true trauma resulting from car crashes, etc., it is questionable to view each instance of legally defined sex abuse in an ongoing relationship (sometimes over the course of years), as single events. Friedrich does not describe what else was going on between these two boys. In addition to the obviously pleasurable sensations of the genital contact, as far as we know there may have been some non-sexual emotional engagement, sensitive communication, and fundamental attunement between the younger and older boy that was very important to the younger boy.

The younger boy in this case probably lacked such emotional engagement, sensitive communication, and attunement with the other people in his life at that time, so he unsurprisingly welcomed the older boy’s physical contact along with satisfaction of unmet emotional needs. When the younger boy tried to recruit others to join him in sex play he may have hoped to revive an essential emotional connection that he experienced with the 19-year-old and then lost when the abuser was no longer available.

We should be suspicious of any evaluation of such cases that merely states: there was sexual contact between a child and 19-year-old, so that’s all we need to know; everything else is irrelevant. The irresponsible adults who later fixated on the illicit sexual contact and persuaded the child to turn a very positive memory into a very negative one, went beyond teaching the child a needed lesson about the practical importance of discretion; they completely ignored the younger boy’s needs and perspective, and that is not justifiable without appealing to political correctness.

The child’s delicate self-concept was recklessly transformed from “A big kid’s favorite pal” to a shame-filled self-concept of “Damaged goods.” Worse, the younger boy’s pleasant memory was transformed into a sad memory for ulterior motives. The child wasn’t made to feel ashamed for his own benefit; he was exploited to maintain current cultural standards of sexual propriety. The child’s major injury did not occur during the legally-defined instances of abuse; the worst injury occurred when an insensitive adult sat the boy down later and said something like: What the hell are you thinking? An individual child’s sense of well-being was sacrificed to maintain and promote the feminist-inspired hysteria over early sex.

Nineteen may be considered late adolescence or early adulthood, but it is certainly very far from seven. What would have been different if the older boy in this case were nine instead of nineteen? Would the younger boy have enjoyed the experience even more? He might not have enjoyed it as much. We don’t know that, but it is certain that adults would have been less upset by it.

Some experts on abuse argue that there can be a greater developmental difference between a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old than between a 21-year-old and a 14-year-old. When evaluating this case and similar cases, we should be primarily concerned with if and how much the child actually suffered, not what upset the adults: the difference in age and the child’s positive reaction – adults who weren’t even there or otherwise involved in any way.

Adults who are scandalized by a child’s desire for sexual intimacy or positive view of sexuality, should consider what negative effects their own reaction may have on the child now and in the future, rather than “setting the record straight” about a crime that happened in the distant past, and thereby publicly vindicating the gruesome tradition of mentally castrating children.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should ignore the illicit sex that occurred. Nobody is saying that 19-year-olds should perform fellatio on 7-year-olds. But the overwhelming attention that others focused on the sex that occured is clearly distorted if not hysterical. Far more important is the individual child’s overall well-being in the present and future, and that entails acknowledging and validating the child’s pleasure and positive evaluation of his experience, as well as his unsurprising indifference to cultural anti-sex values of such hysterical concern to some adults.

This child enjoyed his sexual experience and wanted to enjoy similar experiences in the future. That was not an “evil” or “perverted” wish, but simply the natural consequence of the circumstances. For practical reasons children need to learn modesty and discretion in public, but in the privacy of a “professional’s” office children should not be made to feel ashamed of the bodily pleasure they experienced and their desire to experience such pleasure again. Where is the therapist’s empathy for the patient?

Child sexual behavior is sometimes called “acting out,” but there is no rational explanation for using that negative label. If a child enjoyed his first experience of sex play and wants to repeat it, that is no different from enjoying and wanting to repeat any pleasurable body experience. When many people were very young they were introduced to the enjoyable experience of listening to music, and ever since then they have eagerly sought to repeat that experience – every day and even several times a day. When they listen to music now and encourage others to enjoy music are they acting out?

Describing child sex play as “acting out” seems to be an expression of the traditionally negative view of sexual pleasure outside marriage, and since children can’t marry then sexual pleasure in childhood is always “wrong.” Some adults seem to have trouble confronting the fact that children can enjoy sex play without their enjoyment being somehow evil, inappropriate, unhealthy, etc. Positive reactions to sexual pleasure (i.e. expressing a desire to repeat the experience) are perfectly normal, natural and understandable, and need not be labeled as pathology.

As David Finkelhor and Heino Meyer-Bahlburg have proposed, even negative early sexual experience (insensitive, exploitative, coercive) may not have a direct negative impact on life course, but may have only an indirect impact through subsequent life events after the abuse. Early sex abuse should not be automatically assumed to be the beginning of the cascade of negativity. The origin of a child’s problems might be before or after the abuse, such as prior insecure attachment to caregivers or subsequent family break-up.

This case illustrates that individual children vary greatly in their reactivity to early sexual experience, and we have no idea to what extent that variability is due to genetics or environment, and the relative importance of the environment previous to the experience or the environment after the experience for the long-term. So far most researchers have only exhibited an odd interest in the characteristics of the experience itself: Which parts of the child’s body were touched? How many times? How long did the touching last? Oddly, agents of the inquisition and lynch mobs share a similar focus.

Attempting to protect children by preventing or terminating sexual experience as soon as possible by any means necessary is a superficial scattergun approach that may cause more harm and lead to a more negative outcome than a sexual experience itself. As Columbia University Professor Heino Meyer-Bahlburg M.D. said: “I am often appalled at the way child sex abuse is handled in this country; how the children and families are victimized by government policies and regulatory agencies, in comparison to what happens in Western Europe. In my clinical work, I have seen marked exacerbation of the effects of child sexual abuse by what happens as a consequence of agency intervention.” (3).

At the same conference on children’s sexual development even Friedrich himself said: “…after realizing in my first large normative study that sexual behavior in children is ubiquitous, I have begun to appreciate the normative aspects of sexuality in children. I have also come to realize that children’s sexuality is, quite surprisingly, a relatively uncharted area.” (4).

Another of Friedrich’s interesting findings is that parents who are more highly educated and more affluent report more sexual behavior in their children, compared to parents who are less educated and less affluent. But we don’t know if that’s because children of educated parents are more sexual, or if educated parents are more observant, or less reticent in reporting sexual behavior; and we will never find out as long as hysterical concern for political correctness blocks impartial research on children’s sexuality.

A preliminary study of African-American children’s sexual behavior found that their caregivers reported much less sexual behavior than white parents do (5). Although it’s not clear why that is so, hysterics who claim child sexuality is not normative are in the company of the poorest segment of society with the highest rate of unplanned pregnancy.

The superficial, adult-centered view is that childhood is merely a preparation for mature life, but the reality is that many children never survive beyond childhood (e.g. victims of accidents or fatal illness), and we have no way of predicting who those children will be. Recognizing that fact requires respecting every child’s perspective: as far as children are concerned, childhood is their life. What about those children we know with certainty have no future (the terminally ill)? They are likewise denied the freedom to enjoy sexual pleasure, not to protect the terminally ill child but to protect the cultural ideal of prudery.

Despite a cultural context that strongly disapproves of child sex play, it is clear that many kids (perhaps most) do it anyway. We must consider the possibility that sexual behavior in childhood is natural or instinctive in some sense, so cultural prohibitions of it are unrealistic. Worse, the failure of individual children to meet cultural expectations may be the cause of unnecessary grief and misery, as if families living with poverty and disease don’t have enough grief and misery already.

Sex abuse must be distinguished from normative sex play. Sexual experience that is insensitive, exploitative, or otherwise injurious is certainly abusive, but not all sex play is like that. Some dogs bite, maul, and even kill children, but that doesn’t mean all dogs must always be avoided like the plague. Anything can be abusive. Forcing a child to overeat and become obese (or failing to encourage adequate exercise) is a cruel form of abuse.

A widespread and unrecognized form of cruel child abuse is preventing girls from enjoying healthy sexual function, i.e. clitoral erection. There is good reason to believe that sexual stimulation during development is probably conducive to healthy clitoral function and the capacity for female orgasm in maturity. In contrast, neglecting the clitoris or penis during development is likely to risk future sexual dysfunction due to the well-known process of atrophy of relative brain areas that do not receive sufficient stimulation during growth. Sexual neglect is a form of child maltreatment like any other.

Although there is no direct evidence for that hypothesis yet, there is some indirect evidence. For example: “…both males and females who reported CSEP [childhood sexual experiences with peers] were more likely to have experienced orgasm during postpubertal petting (females 38% vs. 29%, X2=16.9, p<.001; males: 59% vs. 49%, X2=13.9, p<.001).” (6). Such findings should not be surprising since they are consistent with more general evidence from both human and animal studies that early tactile stimulation of the body has positive effects on the development of brain function (7,8). See: Clitoral Erectile Dysfunction .

In animals there is evidence that high levels of licking/grooming behavior in infancy lead to more effective regulation of stress later. How applicable that observation is to human children is an open question, but the point is that modern culture may be completely wrong about the possible effects of early genital stimulation. As far as know extreme forms of licking/grooming behavior may have a therapeutic effect on young mammals who suffered neglect or other adversity earlier in their lives.

The mass hysteria over child sex abuse depends, in part, on the hundred-year-old psychoanalytic theory of “neurosis,” i.e. early sexual “seduction” that is inter-generational is traumatic. But the case of this seven-year-old boy is clear evidence against that theory. In the classic model of trauma an experience that is perceived as painful, injurious or threatening causes fear and (in the future) heightened reactivity against any similar stimulus. But in this case the child’s reaction was the opposite: he enjoyed it so much he wanted to repeat it. The classic model of trauma has to be twisted beyond recognition to fit this kind of case. I’ve never heard of a car-crash victim subsequently attempting to crash his car into others repeatedly to “cope with” his initial trauma.

There is some specific evidence that men who experienced oral sex during childhood engage in more frequent oral sex as adults (9). Although that evidence is not proof that the early oral sex caused the later frequency of oral sex, it is counter-evidence against the theoretical prediction that oral sex in childhood is likely to be traumatic and lead to avoidance of oral sex later.

None of the biased retrospective research on the supposed effects of early sexual experience has ever proved any causal relationship. For ethical reasons researchers are unable to perform the kind of prospective studies needed to prove cause and effect in human sexual behavior. In one quasi-prospective study non-abused children who were already depressed and later experienced sexual abuse were interviewed again. In the second interview they were found to be depressed. If the second interview had been a retrospective study, crusaders would have automatically and mistakenly attributed the depression to the sexual abuse – unaware that the kids were already depressed before the abuse.

Longitudinal studies of child development should include specific measures of sexual behavior (from direct observation as well as reports by observers) along with general measures of school performance, etc. Although such studies can’t prove any cause and effect in child development, they can disprove popular beliefs that early sexual experience inevitably or usually has an observable negative impact.

Pointing out the lack of valid scientific support in this field doesn’t stop some hysterical individuals from claiming and insisting they know that early sexual experience is likely to have a “negative” impact on children. Crusaders who are more interested in the political outcome of debate rather than empirical science simply switch to moral rhetoric or the political correctness of demonizing early sexuality, or they try to silence open discussion by pretending that the issue is a national “emergency” requiring censorship.

Responsible discussions of children’s sexual behavior necessarily include admissions that “insufficient data are available,” and “more research is needed.” In the absence of valid laboratory tests to measure children’s mental health in each particular case, any pseudo-medical “assessment and diagnosis” and grandiose judgments about “treatment” of a particular child’s sexual behavior may be grossly inappropriate, potentially injurious, and fairly described as arrogant. It is even worse than arrogance; such an attitude is reasonably called hysteria.


1. Friedrich, William N. Children with Sexual Behavior Problems. Norton, 2007.

2. Zimring, Franklin E. An American Travesty: Legal Responses to Adolescent Sexual Offending. University of Chicago, 2004.

3. Discussion in a workshop published in Bancroft, John (Ed.) Sexual Development in Childhood. Indiana University, 2003.

4.Friedrich, William N. Studies of Sexuality of Nonabused Children. In Bancroft, John (Ed.) Sexual Development in Childhood. Indiana University, 2003.

5. Thigpen, Jeffry W. et al. Normative Sexual Behavior of African American Children. In Bancroft, John (Ed.) Sexual Development in Childhood. Indiana University, 2003.

6. Reynolds, Meredith A. et al. The Nature of Childhood Sexual Experiences: Two Studies 50 Years Apart. In Bancroft, John (Ed.) Sexual Development in Childhood. Indiana University, 2003.

7. Field, T.M. et al. Tactile/kinesthetic stimulation effects on preterm neonates. Pediatrics, 77(5), 654-658.

8. Wiedenmayer, Christoph. Sensitive Periods in the Behavioral Development of Mammals. In Worthman, Carol M. et al. (Eds.) Formative Experiences. Cambridge University, 2010.

9. Paul, J.P. et al. Childhood/Adolescent Sexual Coercion among Men Who Have Sex with Men: Understanding Patterns of Sexual behavior and Sexual Risk. In Bancroft, John (Ed.) Sexual Development in Childhood. Indiana University, 2003.

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Is Your Child a Sex Maniac? Part 2

Please read the previous post first: Is Your Child a Sex Maniac? to understand the context of this topic.

Helping children learn and grow is an ambitious undertaking of enormous complexity that requires infinite patience and a large dose of humility. Nonetheless, political opportunists and profiteers in the sex abuse rescue business want people to believe judging children’s sexual behavior should be as quick and simple as arithmetic.

Typically, a child does not complain about having participated in some sexual experience; an adult witnesses the behavior or overhears an innocent narration or request for information, and then the adults freak out and make a federal case out of it. The popular image of a terrified child running to a heroic adult for help is the rare exception rather than the rule. A much more common scene is a child casually reporting a curious feeling of pleasure during sex play, and the shocked parent or other adult falls to pieces. Let’s keep that latter image in mind when considering the sensitive topic of children behaving sexually.

Adults who were sexually abused when they were young may be the worst “protectors” of children in the here and now. A hypersensitive adult’s past fears or sadness intrude upon and color her current relationships with children. In the jargon of attachment theory, mental models from the traumatic past will bias present perceptions and expectations, creating inaccurate attunement with a child (1).  Such adults are rigid and lack response flexibility. They ignore the current context and are incapable of a diversity of responses to the thought of childhood sexual experience. Hypersensitive adults are, themselves, frightening to the child rather than being a source of protection or security.

Obvious abuse is characterized by coercion or exploitation, but some confused adults attempt to extend moral outrage and fear of trauma even to mutually consensual sex play among children. Hysterical adults disregard the frequent absence of coercion or exploitation, and consider some arbitrary difference in age as necessarily “abusive.” Or a lone child “abusing” himself is sometimes considered a victim of a “sexualizing” environment, although it’s not clear how a lone child can coerce himself or exploit himself.

How much childhood masturbation is too much? Believe it or not, some therapists define that “problem” purely in terms of the individual parent’s personal preferences. The so-called “therapy” for children who masturbate “excessively” or behave “intrusively” toward other children usually includes extended evaluation for possibly undisclosed abuse, defined by law, even though author Friedrich says child sexual behavior should not be viewed as criminal (2).

Children with unconfirmed abuse may have been exposed to sexuality in the immediate environment (e.g. viewing pornography or adults during sex), which is not usually considered abuse. But sporadic examples of children in troubled families who have witnessed adults during genital intercourse or oral sex are not an adequate basis for reliable generalization about the possible effects of such an environment on children in an otherwise normal family. Even if a child’s problem behavior begins just after witnessing adult sexual behavior, and hence was likely triggered by it, we have no way of knowing whether other adversity or dysfunctional relationships in the child’s life were predisposing factors.

Family nudity, co-bathing, co-sleeping and massage are not problematic or inappropriate in the context of a healthy family. As far as we know there may be many cases of children in healthy families viewing pornography or adult sexual behavior without any adverse effects. The mere threat of withdrawing valued privileges like nudity, co-bathing, or massage, will be sufficient to deter misbehavior in a healthy family.

In contrast, an openly sexual environment is probably unadvisable in a disadvantaged home where a child is subject to multiple forms of deprivation or adversity, and has been sexually intrusive or aggressive, especially a repeat offender. However, it should be emphasized that in some cases where parents are overly restrictive the child’s sexual behavior may be an attempt to provoke more sensitivity from adults.

The book “Children with Sexual Behavior Problems” was edited and published posthumously, so I am reluctant to accuse the late author of inconsistencies. Reporting laws in many states require notifying social services if a victim reveals abuse by an older child, usually a sibling. Nonetheless, the author says schools need not be notified unless the abuse took place in the school, because there is a risk that the school will “complicate” the situation by reacting insensitively.

Considering the many documented cases of insensitivity by social services and juvenile courts (3,4), I would trust school teachers and administrators to be at least as sensitive if not more so than social workers and juvenile court judges. But is there really a need to notify anybody?

The perspective of worried adults often distorts and demonizes what is actually harmless child sex play. In another case described by Friedrich, two female cousins (age 8) enjoyed minor sex play over a period of a year that included kissing each other “down there.” When the mothers found out they asked separate therapists for advice. Friedrich interviewed one of the children and established that there was no coercion or history of abuse, nor any other behavior problems or risk factors, and hence judged the sex play as normative.

But the other child’s therapist told the other cousin she had been the victim of “sexual abuse,” and told the child to write a letter to her cousin to say she was upset about it. The coached child subsequently developed behavior problems and sleep problems. When the parents terminated “therapy” with the highly suggestive therapist, that child’s behavior returned to normal.

Some adults are worried by false claims that beginning to act sexually “is not part of the normal preteen’s repertoire in our culture,” as well as unwarranted recommendations that child sex play should be discouraged by distractions, surveillance, no-sex rules, etc.  There are no valid data to support such claims and worries. In the Lamb and Coakley study, 80% of female undergraduates reported sex play before 12 years old (5). Instead of telling adults to stop worrying, we tell children to stop enjoying normal, healthy sex play!

What is the “right” age to become aware of sexuality or begin enjoying sex play, in general or in the case of some particular child? How can anyone calculate the “right” age? Healthy children are curious and eager to learn from birth. Research on effective early education demonstrates that we cultivate children’s precious curiosity and priceless desire to learn by satisfying that desire, not by ignoring it, lying in response, or providing only incomplete information (which is a form of lying).

Some adults attempt to inhibit all expressions of emotion by children, not merely sexual excitement but anger, fear, disappointment, boredom, etc. Such children learn to hide their feelings and may become super-obedient on the surface, but at the cost of adults not knowing what the child is really feeling. Experiments have verified that some children who act calm and obedient are nonetheless experiencing high levels of stress hormones in their circulation. There is a risk that eventually such apparently imperturbable and obedient children will distrust what others appear or claim to be feeling, and aren’t even sure what they are feeling themselves.

In a peculiar passage Friedrich wrote: “I have had a number of unnerving experiences during interviews with preteen victims of sexual abuse where the child was openly flirtatious;” Why should an openly flirtatious child be unnerving to a healthy adult? As I described elsewhere, I have received uninvited kisses on the lips and my genitals have been surreptitiously touched by preteen pupils but I have never been unnerved by it.

If some adults are “unnerved” by a child behaving sexually, they may be revealing their own anti-sex bias and paranoia stemming from ancient beliefs that early sex play causes blindness, etc., and requires gruesome restraining devices. Adults need to explore the origins of their own fears, and distinguish their own hypersensitivity from a child’s innocent curiosity and playful behavior.

Many fathers and mothers report arousal in the presence of a child, and react by avoiding the child, which may be interpreted by the child as rejection. The problem here is not the parents’ arousal, but their inability to accept their arousal as normal, and their failure to behave responsibly by thinking and acting in the child’s best interest rather than running away and hiding, with the child left wondering “What’s wrong with me?”

One of the many important differences between children and adults is that an adult usually has much more freedom in choosing who to have friendships or other social relationships with. That is not merely due to the adult’s greater physical mobility, but also because parents, teachers and other adults often limit children’s choices and force a child to interact with some people and not others. Adults claim they do so to protect the child from “bad influences,” but in reality an adult’s policing of children’s friendships is sometimes motivated by the adult’s own selfish political or religious preferences.

One practical effect of such restrictions is that children are denied the sensitivity and attunement only available with other children of the same or similar age. Forcing a child (usually girls) to spend the day with safe grandma or a trusted auntie rather than a cherished classmate or new neighbor (boys!) is a form of cruel deprivation, too often excused by the supposed threat of innocent sex play. Young children, especially, are less verbal than adults, and certainly benefit from regularly sharing the non-verbal communication, e.g. touching, that children are naturally better at. (To be continued.)


1)    Siegel, Daniel J. The Developing Mind. Guilford, 2012.

2)    Friedrich, William N. Children With Sexual Behavior Problems. Norton, 2007.

3)    Wexler, Richard. Wounded Innocents. Prometheus, 1990.

4)    Ofshe, Richard. Making Monsters. University of California, 1994.

5)    Lamb, Sharon, and Coakley, Mary. Normal Childhood Sexual Play and Games: Differentiating Play from Abuse.  Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 17, pp. 515-526, 1993.


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Is Your Child a Sex Maniac?

“There is a stunning lack of precision and science in the field of child mental health.” – William N. Friedrich

One reason child sex abuse is so upsetting to adults is that children are traditionally considered asexual and uninterested in sex, so any sex play that occurs in childhood “must be” coerced, overwhelming and “dysregulating” for the child. However, children are sometimes observed expressing a robust desire to enjoy sex play (some published cases will be described below) and those children are mistakenly viewed as “sexualized” or “disturbed.”

A healthy child is very energetic and enthusiastic rather than passive and lethargic. Healthy children are like pro boxers in top condition who need fresh sparring partners several times a day. Childcare is a very labor-intensive occupation. But when a child expresses enthusiasm about sex play, that contradiction of adult expectations is overwhelming and dysregulating for some adults. If sex play is normative in childhood, then who is disturbed – the child who exhibits an enthusiastic desire to enjoy sex play, or the adult who gets upset about it?

Some adults have an incentive to view child sex play as a serious problem, because that way adults hide or excuse their own hypersensitivity. Early thought was that bed-wetting and nightmares are “key” symptoms of sex abuse, but in reality many child sex abuse victims sleep better than their parents. Worried adults even subject children who enjoy normative sex play to repeated questioning and dramatic emotional displays that are unnecessary and upsetting to the children. Such adults are exhibiting their own irresponsibility and mental imbalance.

Adults who have a lot of experience with children know that there is a broad continuum of child sexual behavior from normative to disturbed, stemming from many different pathways. Problematic cases (i.e. fixation on sex or repeated coercion of other children) usually appear in more chaotic families in which children have experienced several forms of instability or adversity in general, not merely normative sex play.

Some parents don’t understand the importance of satisfying a child’s fundamental needs, e.g. secure attachment to caregivers, sleeping at least 10 hours every night, and eating breakfast before being thrust into a competitive classroom. Such children are usually bound to fail in school and suffer low self-esteem as a result. In such cases eventual behavior disorders are unsurprising, and sexual behavior may be the least of the child’s problems.

Therapists who earn money in the sex abuse rescue business create different typologies of what is called problematic sexual behavior. They include purely self-focused behavior (i.e. excessive masturbation, but difficult to draw the line between excessive and not excessive), which in the past was literally called “self-abuse,” and aggressive or intrusive sexual behavior toward others.

What becomes labeled as sexually “intrusive” behavior is arbitrarily defined by adults. The label of intrusive behavior may arbitrarily range from a child with no sex abuse history, and no true psychopathology or other behavior problems who merely touched another child’s genital area once, to a child who was the victim of physical and other forms of abuse by multiple perpetrators and repeatedly attempts to coerce genital penetration with other children. Classifying child sexual behavior is far from an exact science.

An author who led the thinking in the field of treating children with sexual behavior problems noted that the majority of children who exhibit problematic sexual behavior are neither victims of sexual abuse nor future sex offenders. He stated that based on his experience with hundreds of children who have been sexually intrusive toward other children, they are rarely so compulsive as to re-offend after being caught (1).

But many people who had little or no experience (or only negative experience) with sexuality when they were young believe that even mutually consensual sex play is always a reason for grave concern and action. Even some therapists who specialize in this field (and should know better) get overly upset by children behaving sexually, and cater to hysterical parents and witch-hunters. Treating children with real or imagined sexual behavior problems is a growth industry.

According to the book “Children with Sexual Behavior Problems,” therapists need to identify families in which the parents misinterpret innocent sex play and simply require reassurance and support. Even in the case of real (severe) sexual behavior problems, the context of dysfunctional family relations is frequently the underlying problem – not the sexual behavior. Attempting to prevent future intrusive behavior should focus on improving the capacity of the parents to satisfy children’s basic needs, e.g. for secure attachment to caregivers.

As another distinguished psychologist has noted, a child is rarely “overwhelmed” by any single experience, not even the sudden and unexpected diagnosis of a potentially fatal disease. What matters is the quantity and frequency of negative challenges in a particular child’s life (cumulative stress), relative to the presence of internal and external protective factors available to that particular child (2).

The best evidence available indicates that in most cases early sex abuse is not seriously harmful (3), and traditionally research on children’s sexual behavior has not investigated why most children are resilient or immune from serious injury. Most researchers have instead focused on attempting to demonize sex play and make money by “treating” the minority of families who do need help, and by attempting to broaden (by definition) that lucrative market as much as possible.

There is some evidence that experiences commonly called “traumatic” are sometimes actually neutral or positive (in the long term) for most people who experience them. Individuals who suffer from severe post-traumatic stress are a minority, not the majority of trauma victims. The widespread hand-wringing over sex play in childhood is clearly distorted.

Children who are sexually intrusive tend to be aggressive in other ways as well. Their intrusive sexual behavior is merely part of their intrusive behavior in general, and is often learned from adults (parents, teachers and other models) who are generally insensitive, abrupt, and intrusive toward children. In contrast, competent parents model respect for other people’s boundaries. They talk to a child first to find out what is going on in the child’s mind at the moment, and then if appropriate propose contact and wait for the child’s consent, rather than merely reaching out and grabbing a child. Why aren’t adults so concerned about non-sexual aggression in childhood?

According to some definitions of “sex abuse” and “sexually intrusive behavior,” children who were sexually abused engage in sexually intrusive behavior more frequently. But cause and effect are far from clear, since these children have higher rates of other forms of instability and adversity in their lives. It is irresponsible to automatically attribute sexually intrusive behavior to early sexual experience when many more children who are sexually intrusive have no known history of sex abuse.

One survey examined the following items: 1) persists in touching other kids after being told not to, 2) plans how to touch other children, 3) forces other children to engage in “sex acts,” 4) puts finger or other object in other child’s “rectum” or vagina (more likely introitus than vagina). Interestingly, sexually abused kids had lower rates of three out of four of the above behaviors considered “aggressive” compared to children who had no known history of sex abuse. Children who are victims of sex abuse are a minority of the general population, and as far as we know most children with sexually intrusive behavior are not sex abuse victims.

A healthy child has varied interests. Children’s relations with other people should not be dominated by a sexual focus, but sexual arousal is normative in childhood and may be managed in a healthy manner by occasional sex play with other children. If children spend a lot of time at home with insufficient opportunities for educational games or other learning activities, sex play with siblings or other relatives of very different ages may become a habit.

Frequent “play dates” with other children outside the home may avoid the tendency to fixate on sex play in an impoverished family, as well as enriching the child’s repertoire of pro-social behavior. Conversely, parents or other adults who are overly restrictive about sex play may actually provoke children to become sexually intrusive. Adults can and should provide structure and safe limits, but without excessive sexual restrictions.

What about extremely intrusive behavior? Friedrich described the case of a nine-year-old boy who reported being repeatedly coerced into “anal penetration” over a period of years by his adoptive brother (two years older). At first the older boy denied any coercion, but eventually admitted to one possible occasion. When informed, the parents said they could stop the behavior and opposed any further action. But the therapist recommended removing the older boy from the home, which a court did. Although we don’t know all of the circumstances in this case, none of the factors described seem to justify such harsh treatment of the older boy.

One disadvantage of the mass hysteria over child nudity is that many adults have grossly inaccurate and even magical ideas about children’s anatomy. Few boys have an adult-sized penis at age 11, and if the boy in this case did, he could not penetrate a nine-year-old’s tiny anus. On the other hand, an immature penis is too tiny to reach into another little boy’s recessed aperture. Realistically, the so-called “penetration” in this case was most certainly minimal if at all.

There is a possibility that the claims of coercion were also exaggerated, and possibly motivated by the younger boy’s culturally induced shame and sibling rivalry. Significantly, there was no report of any physical injury or subsequent physical pathology. Finally, the parents’ confidence that they could protect the younger boy in the future should outweigh the opinion of the therapist who merely spoke to the boys a few times.

We must consider the possibility that removing the older boy from the home may be far more injurious than the risk of further coercion of the younger boy. If the accusations were indeed exaggerated, the younger boy himself may suffer severe guilt feelings or paranoia over possible revenge later. From a dependent child’s point of view, the injury of non-consensual sex play is brief and temporary compared to the long-term or permanent catastrophe of perceived parental rejection and abandonment. Instead of risking further sexual impropriety, the therapist and court risk creating a future ax murderer.

The judgment in this case also promotes the mass hysteria over sex abuse, since the supposed risk of (possibly) coerced sex play was considered more important than any other considerations. There is obvious arrogance and hysteria in the attitude of authorities when it comes to sexuality. For example, when families are resistant to continue “treatment” (that has never been proven safe or effective by medical standards), therapists are advised to be ready to “coordinate” (i.e. coerce) future sessions with the aid of the local social services department or juvenile court.

Analogously, some arrogant public school teachers are known to quickly threaten calling a social worker if parents show any lack of enthusiasm about the outdated curriculum offered by overworked staff in an overcrowded school. In general, working with the government should not be allowed to go to a person’s head. In addition to the lack of precision and science in the field of child mental health, individuals who work with local, state, or federal governments are certainly imperfect and fallible just like the rest of us. (To be continued.)


1. Friedrich, William N. Children with Sexual Behavior Problems. W.W. Norton, 2007.

2. Garbarino, James. Lost Boys. Anchor Books, 1999.

3. Rind, Bruce et al.  “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples” (Psychological Bulletin 1998, Vol. 124, No. 1, 22-53); and Rind et al. “The Validity and Appropriateness of Methods, Analyses, and Conclusions in Rind et al. (1998): A Rebuttal of Victimological Critique From Ondersma et al. (2001) and Dallam et al. (2001)” (Psychological Bulletin 2001. Vol. 127. No. 6. 734-758).

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