This post describes my sexual experiences as a child, which were primarily positive experiences. Telling my story is important to balance the popular convention of only reporting negative descriptions of children’s sexual experience. No mainstream publication is willing to publish my autobiographical writings and letters to the editor, or anybody’s autobiography of positive sexual experiences in childhood, so the mass media are not a balanced representation of children’s actual experiences. Many people express shock at reports of children’s sexual experience, in part because there has been a lot of biased research on insensitive and exploitative child sexual abuse. Many people who had no experience of childhood sex play (or only negative experiences) mistakenly imagine that childhood sexual experience is a fate worse than death. Hence the conventional hand-wringing over the need to protect children’s “innocence.” But that popular perspective is distorted. Maybe if people had more exposure to reports of positive sexual experience in childhood, their perspective would be more balanced.
Image copyright © 2011 Frank Adamo
One of my earliest memories is standing up in my crib and seeing my father and mother through the doorway nude in the kitchen. If that seems like an unusually early memory, I also remember how I used to say “down the cellar” (dun-ga-lauw), and other baby talk. Other early memories abound. Unfortunately, I was an only child so I had no sex play with siblings at home. But when I was in kindergarten I remember running around with the other boys and sneaking up behind the girls to lift up their skirts. The girls laughed and didn’t express any anger the first few times, but eventually one said: “Stop that or I’ll tell the teacher!” So we stopped. To what extent my interest in girls was romantic might be doubted, but in first grade a classmate said “Hi handsome!” to me, and I remember I used to imagine entering the colorful illustrations of children in our readers, so I could kiss the girls. I also remember a classmate confiding that sometimes his penis “curls up.” I felt perplexed and I still have no idea what he meant. I had three female cousins (3-8 years older) who used to take me and my male cousin (six months older than me) to the public pool in the summer, and I remember them taking us into the girls’ changing room to change our clothes.
I once asked my mom where babies come from and she said: a mother’s abdomen. I asked how they get out, and she said: a doctor cuts them out. That was all she told me. My first real exposure to sexual information was through the jokes that children hear and repeat, often necessitating that we guess the meaning. A popular joke was about a beautiful actress from the big city whose car breaks down in a rural area and has to spend the night with a farm family. She propositions the farmer’s two young sons, who don’t know anything about contraception. When they agree to have sex with her, she puts condoms on them and says: “This is to prevent me from getting pregnant.” The next day she returns to the big city, never to be seen again. A few days later the two young brothers are working in the fields when one says: “I don’t care if she gets pregnant – I’m taking this damn thing off!” I don’t remember how much of the joke I actually understood at the time, but I think I got the general picture.
I don’t remember when I first heard the expression “blow-job,” but I knew what it meant – more or less. When I was six years old my parents separated, and they divorced two years later. I guess it was probably during my parents’ separation that my mom used to fondle my little penis in the evening while we watched TV. I remember becoming erect and she exposed me to look at my little erection. On at least one occasion I asked her to put her mouth on it, which she did. I then said “Now blow,” which she did also. I remember raising my arms and throwing my head back in an expression of delight. The fondling, oral stimulation and subsequent pleasure seemed perfectly natural and innocent to me at the time; there was no shame on my part.
In the second grade a boy in my class used to come over to my house after school, before my mother came home from work, and we played rape (we took turns being the girl), or Cowboys and Indians in the nude. We felt each other’s genitals and “blew” each other, but I don’t remember any kissing. He said that he liked my penis more than other boys, and although I felt no inhibition about boy-on-boy contact, we both married women when we grew up.
Boys in the second grade confided in each other who our favorite eighth grade girl was. At one point we entertained ourselves by saying “I love you!” to older (teenage?) girls we saw on the street, or even “How about a kiss?” Some of the older girls expressed surprise at our budding boldness, while others laughed or even blew us kisses. I think we enjoyed the shock value rather than actually hoping an older girl might really kiss us.
A teenage boy in the neighborhood once showed me and my male cousin a science book with an illustration of sexual anatomy at the teenager’s house (age uncertain: 7-8?). After an advanced explanation of sexual reproduction the older boy proposed touching us. We both refused, and my cousin left. But I stayed and the teenager offered me some money to touch me. I refused again, until he raised his offer to what seemed like a lot of money. I finally agreed, but when he reached down to expose me I changed my mind and left too.
Later that evening he came to my apartment but my mother wouldn’t let him in, which might have been a mistake. Maybe he wanted to apologize and reassure me that I don’t have to be afraid of him, or maybe he intended to raise his offer. I think I was afraid on account of his apparent anxiety in propositioning me, but I also regretted the missed opportunity to earn some hard cash.
Another neighbor boy my own age explained masturbation in simple terms, describing orgasm as “the thrill.” I was skeptical but I went home and tried masturbating myself. Believe it or not, I counted 10 powerful orgasms in the space of about an hour, before my little organ developed a friction blister (age uncertain: 9-10?). The orgasms were very pleasurable and similar to adult orgasms in every way, except that they were less intense, shorter in duration, and there was no white ejaculate, only a drop or two of clear seminal fluid. After a few days my blister healed and I began masturbating myself to orgasm a few times a day, every day, usually after school, either alone or with my cousin or other boys my own age. The scene in Fellini’s autobiographical film “Amarcord” in which four boys masturbate together, is quite realistic.
In the sixth grade I remember a classmate drawing a picture of herself wearing a bikini, with an arrow pointing to the suit bottom exposing her navel with the word “low.” I think it was the same year when I had my first “girlfriend.” A neighbor girl and I acknowledged that we liked each other and kissed each other on the lips. But another girl I liked (the one who had said “I’ll tell the teacher!” in kindergarten) rejected me in favor of another boy, which disappointed me immensely.
When I was 12 my mom and I moved to a new neighborhood where a boy my age claimed the girls around there “give.” He wasn’t lying. He eventually introduced me to several girls aged 9 to 14, and we enjoyed group sex play on numerous occasions – mostly looking, touching and play-intercourse without real penetration. I was fascinated by the feel of the girls’ soft skin, and I loved the interpersonal play with the girls. The group activities were made up of 2-4 girls + 2-4 boys; and there were also two other girls who only engaged in sex play with one boy at a time, for a total of about 10 children altogether. Once in a cinema the youngest girl (9) in our group sat between my neighbor and I, and she masturbated us both under our jackets at the same time. It was definitely the most exciting period of my childhood. I finally told my mother I was old enough to bathe myself now (without further explanation). She seemed a little surprised, but she didn’t object.
In the beginning of the childish orgies there was some discussion about which boys would be with which girls, but we eventually took turns. Although I had my preferences (the taller and more mature girls), I felt no desire for attachment, and I didn’t see the absence of romance with any particular individual as a problem. I enjoyed myself without any emotional complications. I loved everybody!
There was quite an ethnic mix. The oldest girl (14) of apparently WASP origin lived on the very edge of the white/black divide (what a real estate agent called “the combat zone”), and her family had some conflicts with black neighbors so she refused to let a black boy touch her. One day he eventually insisted and tore her blouse. She went home and told her family, who called the police. When the black boy was interrogated, he evidently defended himself by revealing what was going on in the neighborhood. When the police reported that to the parents, the girl (or her parents) claimed that we boys had all “forced” her to participate in sex play (repeatedly over the course of months or years?).
A mass investigation then followed, in which several children were interrogated in the principal’s offices of schools, and at the police station. We boys were stunned at being falsely accused, and terrified that we might be sent to juvenile prison, but the police eventually decided no force was involved so there was no formal charge or court hearing. Nonetheless, all the girls in the neighborhood became prisoners in their own homes, and we boys resigned ourselves to isolation from girls.
Despite all my early sexual activity I reached puberty late. In high school I was shorter than my age-mates, and girls became more selective. I became obsessed with one girl who I wanted to marry, but she rejected me in favor of an older boy. I eventually realized my fixation on her wasn’t “grown up” but infantile. I had few other intimate relationships with girls in high school, one of which included another visit by the police. When I was 17 I had a girlfriend who was 16. There was a lot of deep kissing and touching of breasts and genitals, and one night we attended a late concert and told our parents we would be spending the night at friends’ homes (“not together”). In reality after the concert we spent the rest of the night in my car in an empty parking lot. Our steamed-up windows drew the attention of a passing patrol car.
The police probably radioed in my license plate number and found out it was registered to a minor. They approached my car with their headlights off, got out silently, and suddenly shined their flashlights in my windows on both sides of the car. We were partially undressed and got dressed as quickly as possible. I saw a badge presented so I rolled down the window and they told us to get out of the car, which we did. One cop questioned me on one side of the car, while the other cop questioned my girlfriend on the other side. I was asked how old I was, how old she was, and if I was “in her.” I answered truthfully: 17, 16, and No, I wasn’t in her. My girlfriend was more imaginative and said she was 18, and she didn’t have any I.D. to prove her wrong. The police told us to go home. I didn’t have full genital intercourse for the first time until I was 18 (with a 19-year-old girlfriend).
After high school I read about the theory that early sexual experience is usually (always?) “traumatic,” so I succumbed to the temptation to ignore the many imperfections in my complex development (e.g. absent father) and instead blame all my problems on my mom fondling me. I dropped out of college at 19, and saw a psychiatrist who lent support to my temptation to be simplistic, calling my mother a “monster” and claiming her casual stimulation was “the kiss of death.” But I eventually realized he was one of the many quacks who was cashing in on the “early sexual trauma” myth. There was no valid evidence that early sexual experience between different age groups is usually seriously harmful, and there is now some strong evidence against that belief.*
My early upbringing was certainly inadequate, but I eventually realized it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to know and verify what early childhood experience “causes” later feelings or behavior. Although I was estranged from my mother for several years during my early adulthood, I went back to my hometown when she got very old and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and took care of her myself. Even when doctors tried to put her in a nursing home, I fought to keep her out. I stayed with her until the stressful end-stage when she no longer knew who I was, and I spread her ashes on a mountaintop.
Although my memory might not be 100% accurate, and some readers might even question my honesty, those are potential problems in any self-report of childhood experience. I haven’t embellished this description with fiction or drama, and have left out most of my childhood, but the point is that despite my very early and fairly extensive sexual experience, including what is popularly considered “significant, long-term, incestuous abuse,” I have never “repressed” my early sexual memories, never “split” into multiple personalities, never became gay or pedophile, etc.
I eventually went back to college and graduated, and as a teacher for 20 years I have seen children’s innocent sex play right in the classroom, and have recorded their sexual talk and jokes, some of which make my own childhood memories seem tame. One eleven-year-old girl recorded the joke about a little girl who sees her father undressed, and asks what his male organ is. The father tells her it’s his doll. After the father goes to bed to take a nap, the daughter decides to play with his doll. When the man wakes up, he notices that his genital area is inflamed and wet. “What have you done?” He asks his daughter. She explains: “I was playing with your doll when it suddenly spit in my face, so I pulled its hair.” Some of the other things I have recorded are so politically incorrect that most people probably wouldn’t believe they were spontaneous statements even if critics heard the recordings themselves.
I read the popular literature on incest and was skeptical about many of the reports, so I wrote to one author asking for verification but received no reply. I once planned to write a book myself on incest and solicited reports from victims in North America and Europe. One young woman sent me a tape in which she described her years of sexual activity with her father, and the subsequent break-up of her family. I asked her if I could interview her other family members to hear their sides of the story, but she refused. An interesting thing about the tape is that the first five minutes or so are a calm, dispassionate description of the years of sex, while the next 20 minutes of the tape are a dramatic, tearful description of the day she revealed the secret to her mother, and the explosive aftermath. I wonder how much grief I saved myself and my family by never revealing my mother’s fondling when I was still growing up. The lack of response to my ads seeking incest victims, as well as the incongruous telling in the tape described above, lead me to suspect that at least some of the popular literature on incest is embellished with fictional stories.
Nowadays there are excellent sex education books and videos for children that explain almost everything about the subject. Some, like the series produced for French TV by Folimage-Valence “The Tree of Life,” 1992, which has been dubbed into other languages and is available at newsstands in Europe, feature beautiful graphics, animated characters, and pleasing music, and are intended for kids from age 4. Children also need to learn about the importance of consent, and to avoid witch hunts later there should be parental consent as well, and ideally even legislative reform. Accurate, balanced and comprehensive sex education should be an essential part of children’s general education. How sad and incredible that many parents and teachers today choose to reject sex education, in part due to the distorted popular image of early sexual experience.
*Rind 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).