Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialism

Senator Sanders is saying some interesting things about the U.S. government that other political candidates would rather not talk about. Wealthy corporations pay little or no taxes, while the poor and middle classes have to finance the cost of government, including foreign wars. Our tax money eventually ends up in the pockets of wealthy corporations that produce arms.

Conservative opponents are justified in objecting that the wealthy corporations are creating wealth as well as creating jobs for some more humble citizens, so the corporations should be entitled to keep and enjoy the wealth they create. That’s perfectly acceptable when we’re talking about adults, but what about the children of the poor? The government has a responsibility to help children obtain essential resources, not just by taxing poor and middle class citizens, but by taxing wealthy corporations as well.

One defender of the establishment recently claimed that the trillions of dollars spent to help the poor over the past 50 years have not reduced the number of people living below the poverty level. But despite those discouraging statistics money provided to poor families contributes to improving their quality of life. When you are poor, even a little help may have a great effect. Crime rates have declined significantly over the past decades, despite the increase in numbers of poor young people who commit the most crimes.

We must acknowledge that the private Rockefeller Foundation financed the research of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, which started the post-war sexual revolution (although that foundation eventually stopped contributing after public opinion turned against Kinsey). The wealthy can do a lot to improve society for everyone. The essential components of a nation are families, which are essentially “socialist.” The question is to what degree should the socialist policies of the family be extended to distant citizens you will probably never meet. As long as every citizen may contribute something to the nation, he should have access to essential resources.

Sen. Sanders says he was against the war in Iraq, but he should be consistent and also oppose any future wars in Syria or Iran, unless our allies in the region are threatened with imminent invasion. Despite the relatively isolated (i.e. safe) geographical position of North America, the U.S. federal government spends more money on defense than education, and gives more financial aid to some tiny allies than all the other countries of the world combined – including our major allies and international trading partners who are already being invaded by millions of single young men claiming to be refugees.

It’s true that government programs are often inefficient and wasteful, even in education. The Bush Administration spent US$6 billion on the misdirected “Reading First” program, which was a failure according to a 2008 study that concluded the program had no measurable effect on reading comprehension. It’s also possible that the Bush program actually had a negative effect on children’s internal motivation to learn, by spending excessive time drilling very young children on boring decoding skills, and maintaining the simplistic traditional concept of learning as merely content delivery: the Franken-School monster.

Socialism has a bad reputation because of the tragic communist experiments that failed in Russia, China, and other countries. But those countries continue to behave like totalitarian police states today despite embracing the free market economy, and the example of contemporary Western Europe indicates that some “socialist” economic policies (e.g. free health care and free education) were not the cause of such past failures. I think that if Sen. Sanders wants to appeal to as many voters as possible, he should emphasize how his administration would protect traditional American freedom and avoid making the same mistakes as the U.S.S.R. and the People’s Republic of Albania.

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Emotional Incest

“She was very controlling, very manipulative. She ruled like a dictator…When I got to high school and learned about [Hitler], I thought, Oh my God, he must be related to my mother.” (1)

Sexual abuse of children is a popular and entertaining topic for many people, but physical abuse is more deadly and emotional abuse is much more frequent. Daughters are particularly vulnerable to emotional abuse by their mothers, and some victims report that the effects of their mother’s emotional abuse were worse than the sexual abuse they also suffered. An old saying in some cultures is: You only have one mother, thank God!

Although sexual abuse is commonly called a “violation” of boundaries, that choice of words is a rhetorical attempt to justify moral blame and legal punishment. In sexual or emotional incest, a more accurate label is confusion of boundaries since the parent doesn’t recognize that the child has a separate mind and may normally have different preferences that contradict the parent’s preferences. The emotionally abusive parent reacts to a child’s different preference as if it is a self-contradiction within the parent’s own mind.

Respecting boundaries means knowing where your territory ends and another person’s territory begins. Ethically, you need the other person’s permission to cross into her territory, and the other person needs your permission to cross into your territory. Some abusive parents don’t merely ignore a child’s boundaries, they deny that the child’s boundaries exist at all.

Ideally, every individual should be free to choose her own boundaries as long as they don’t impinge on another person’s boundaries. Other people may offer suggestions on boundary choice, and may suggest that some boundaries may be rigid while other boundaries may be fluid; but if another person says: “You must choose this boundary for yourself” or “Certain boundaries must be rigid or must be fluid,” we may strongly suspect that the other person dictating such rules has some selfish political, economic, or ideological motive for saying that. Each individual should be free to choose her own boundaries, as well as being free to choose if her chosen boundaries are rigid or fluid.

Abusive parents mistakenly see the child’s dependency as a negation of the child’s unique and independent identity. The dependent child is seen as no more separate from the parent than the parent’s hand or foot. Such parents confuse descendance or resemblance with identity. In reality, even in very close proximity or with the umbilical cord still attached, a child has a separate brain and a unique genetic program. An emotionally abusive parent acts as if the child is a reincarnation of her own youth, conveniently ignoring that this new child has different genes and the new child’s brain is developing in a different environment. Or the parent denies that such differences are significant or relevant.

The classic expression of emotional incest is the jealousy parents feel for their child and their consequent attempt to have exclusive power over a child’s every choice, thought, word and deed. I have argued that the classic problem of jealousy is not inevitable but rather a result of the relatively modern, monogamous “nuclear” family. In an ideal polyamorous family children never learn to be jealous because they don’t see models of jealousy in their home, and they aren’t isolated from other children and adults. Unfortunately, jealousy is clearly rampant today in the tiny nuclear family.

The belief that jealousy is supposedly inevitable has become ingrained in modern Western culture. An elementary lesson every young teacher must learn is to keep proper “distance” between himself and his pupils. Nowadays we think of the risk of accusations of sex abuse, but the policy of proper distance existed long before the contemporary mass hysteria over child sex abuse. One thing a modern parent can’t stand is a child coming home and going on and on about how great her teacher is and how she can’t wait to be with her beloved teacher again tomorrow.

In fairness the average parent hasn’t studied child development and isn’t dedicating her life full-time to making children’s lives richer and happier. Most parents spend the majority of their time earning a living and trying to deal with many other immediate problems they have inherited or created or stumbled into. So unfavorable comparisons between a mediocre parent and a good teacher are quite unwelcome at home. Parents are much happier if a child has no special feelings for her teacher, or even better if a child wishes her teacher could be more like dear old mom.

Grandparents and other relatives are in the same position as teachers. From a parent’s point of view, it’s not fair that the parent has to pay all the boring expenses like rent, utilities, groceries, and medicine, and then some free-wheeling aunt or uncle or idle grandparent comes along and offers to buy the kids toys or take the kids to the circus. One generous grandparent who offered to buy a gift for a child was told by the frustrated parent: Give me the money and I’ll buy it.

I was teaching in a girls’ school in 1990 when the mass hysteria over child sex abuse spread from the U.S. to continental Europe. In the beginning I thought it was funny that any parent would suspect a teacher of wanting to molest his students. In my case I was more likely to strangle the teenage girls in my class than make love to them. But the abstract threat of sexual “stranger danger” is convenient for parents. Any threats that exist outside the home are a perfect excuse to keep kids inside the home and away from any competitors for a child’s admiration and affection. Abusive parents conveniently ignore the statistics that clearly show the vast majority of child deaths and serious injuries are caused by parents rather than strangers. The mass hysteria over stranger danger is merely an excuse to justify isolating children and cover-up a parent’s real, selfish fear: losing exclusive authority and control over her little captive audience.

Isolating children to indulge a parent’s jealousy is a form of emotional abuse that is common and widely accepted nowadays, but it is no less damaging or reprehensible than sexual abuse or neglect. Under the guise of “protecting” children from the risk of spoiling or bad influences, such parents are themselves a bad influence on children. In the U.S. the exaggerated risk of stranger danger has become so popular that parents themselves are being arrested for letting children outdoors unsupervised, and a movement has arisen – Free Range Kids to combat the hysteria.

Human beings are social animals, so isolation is extremely painful for a growing child and is usually just the tip of the iceberg.  Parents most likely to emotionally abuse their child are the ones who have no adult partner and need a child’s company and “loyalty” to ward-off the parent’s own loneliness. Such parents either have low self-esteem and feel insecure and dread rejection, or they have an unrealistic opinion of their own expertise in supervising the child’s education, character development and social skills. The emotionally abusive parent thinks she is a jack-of-all-trades who doesn’t need any “outside interference” in her child’s life. In other words, a child is typically isolated by the worst possible parent.

In some cases a single parent isolates the child and then neglects her. I have witnessed a child make a comment and her parent simply doesn’t respond. After a reasonable pause the child makes a follow-up comment, and the parent doesn’t respond again. It may be that a parent is so incompetent she doesn’t know how to respond and doesn’t have enough self-esteem to say “I don’t know” or “I’m too exhausted to talk right now.” Or it may be that the parent doesn’t really want to be with the child, so by not responding in effect the parent isn’t there. The child is left wondering if she is hopelessly boring or completely worthless. That is a kind of emotional abuse just as bad as helicopter parenting.

Jealousy, forced isolation and neglect are certainly the most common expressions of emotional abuse today, but there are other ways that parents emotionally abuse children. A parent may actively shame a child’s sexual curiosity and natural lack of inhibition, or a parent may passively neglect to answer a child’s sexual questions and thereby model the parent’s own toxic shame. Regardless of the parent’s motivations, the effect in both cases is likely to be the child’s mental castration and eventual sexual dysfunction. A division of labor is useful in parenting as in most other kinds of work, and a parent should be competent in the kind of work she has to do. If a mother was mentally castrated by her parents when she was a little girl and is now sexually dysfunctional, she should not be supervising her own children’s sex education or anybody else’s.

Before a parent appoints herself supervisor of her child’s sex education the parent should ask herself: When she was a child did she enjoy the benefit of accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education, or was her sexual development neglected? Was she allowed to fondle herself whenever she wanted or was she made to feel guilty about her natural genital sensations? Does she still experience normal and healthy clitoral erections as every little girl does, or is her body now silent? A responsible parent feels overjoyed by her child’s healthy genital function, not jealous and resentful.

In reality child development is not an exact science, so in theory parents should be free to raise children as they see fit and vary from current fashions of political correctness if they prefer. However, ideally all children should learn that they too are free and may communicate with anyone about anything, including and especially if they disagree with their parent’s opinions and wish to protest their parents’ behavior. Not as an opportunity for government authorities to impose politically correct preferences on parents, but as an opportunity for parents to dialogue with other adults in the community and receive constructive feedback.

Traditionally, women play the role of the weak, innocent, childlike saint who can do no wrong and is always above suspicion. So whenever a mother does something clearly wrong it’s easier to blame the husband, father, brother or some other male. Some victims of child sex abuse confide to their therapists that they initially accused their father of being the perpetrator, when in reality it was the mother.

Some emotionally abusive mothers are not blameworthy, because they are deeply disturbed. Another daughter/victim described her mother this way: “She would call me from phone booths when I was a child to say that she had slit her wrist and that she was at a phone booth, that she was about to bleed to death.” (Ibid). In such cases serious psychiatric intervention is called for. I focus responsibility on the mothers who are otherwise fairly normal, not basket cases, although there may be many more deeply disturbed mothers out there who avoid detection because of the traditional parental privilege of isolating children and terrorizing their children into silence.

Selling treatment for sexual or emotional abuse is a big business, even though there is no evidence that any such treatment method is safe or effective by medical standards. Some therapists exploit confused victims of abuse by hiding the lack of evidence, while claiming that just as the child is helpless and not responsible for the abuse, so is the therapist helpless and not responsible for the cure. The victim/patient must “take responsibility for her own recovery.” Nonetheless, if any abuse victim refuses to experiment by trying unproven treatment, it’s a sign of weakness and lack of courage!

Rather than waste time and money on ineffective and possibly dangerous quacks and charlatans treating abuse after-the-fact, I suggest that parents and especially mothers should try to prevent emotional incest by allowing children their own identity and providing even very young children with the freedom to develop their own personality and preferences. Children today have to face a world of information that is very different from the world parents grew up in.


  1. Quoted in Beverly A. Ogilvie’s “Mother-Daughter Incest.” (Haworth Press, 2004.) Although I don’t doubt that some mothers do sexually abuse their daughters, and this book is purportedly about sexual abuse, almost all of the abuse described in the book is clearly emotional, not sexual.
Posted in child sexual abuse, children, parenting, sex, sex education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sally Mann’s Heroic Family

Every parent experiences her child’s naked body exposed sometimes, but few parents photograph the experience, and rarely does a parent exhibit such photographs publicly. One courageous mother who did, Sally Mann, became famous and earned the respect and admiration of many other parents and photographers. Her three children are now grown, having survived the silly controversy over their mother’s work, and we now have the precious benefit of hindsight in their mother’s fascinating memoir: “Hold Still” (1).

There is much bad news for Sally Mann’s enthusiastic critics. It turns out that Mrs. Mann isn’t merely a serious photographer, she’s a good writer and a profound thinker as well. On top of that, she comes from a rather distinguished family whose history would be worth reading in itself even if she had never picked up a camera. I wonder how many of her superficial critics can say that much about themselves. Sally Mann’s real “crime” was not that she exploited her children (the reason most normal people become parents), but that unlike most parents she had the courage to challenge religious tradition by “uncovering her children’s nakedness.”

In 1998 I was browsing in the Barnes and Noble’s bookstore on 18th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, when I came across Sally’s book “Immediate Family” (2), which featured photographs of her three small children posing nude in everyday life around the family farm in Virginia. The book on display also featured some pages torn by (apparently) some confused and disgruntled crusader for body shame.

The petty vandalism in a New York bookshop surprised me, because I had been living in Europe for the previous nine years so I had only briefly heard about Sally’s work and the ensuing controversy. In Europe an image of a top-free 11-year-old girl was used as an album cover (3), and books by British photographer David Hamilton (4), and the Swiss sex education book “Show Me!” (5) also featured images of nude children, but they never suffered any such attacks as far as I knew. Hamilton’s books included romanticized images of young girls that were closer to what might be called erotic art, and “Show Me!” included images of little boys with genital erections and little girls reaching out to touch them. None of these images seemed inappropriate to me, and if some Europeans thought they were inappropriate they didn’t feel their belief gave them the right to damage somebody else’s property or attempt to censor everybody who disagrees with their opinions.

“Hold Still” is the story behind the story, describing Sally Mann’s life from her own childhood to the present (she’s now over 60), as well as offering some fascinating stories about her own parents and ancestors. There is a wealth of information about her experiences but I was disappointed that the book doesn’t say much about the kids’ lives. The book doesn’t say anything about her children’s sexual development and their early sexual education, if any. That’s none of anybody’s business? Neither is anything about her children or her relationships with them. So a report or at least mention of what kind of sex education little Emmett, Jessie and Virginia had – if any – is conspicuous by its absence.

In the BBC series “The Genius of Photography” (6) Sally said photographing her children deepened, complicated and strengthened her interactions with her children. But we aren’t told the details of how their interactions changed or improved. Most of “Hold Sill” is about Sally Mann’s own life and the possible hereditary influences from her forbears. She says her father (a country doctor) and mother didn’t lavish a lot of attention on her or her older brothers. Sally says when she was growing up hers was not a family that touched. “There was no kissing” and even verbal expressions of love were largely absent. “I never heard the words ‘I love you.'” Her father was a dog lover, and as with many pet lovers he did express great love for his animals. One of his beloved dogs slept in the same bed with him, but little Sally was banished to her own bed. Little Sally was cared for primarily by her black nanny Gee Gee, who did take good care of the child, but probably couldn’t and didn’t satisfy little Sally’s need for physical affection.

At a time when doctors were awakened during the night to go out on house calls, little Sally’s father probably didn’t have much free time for his children. But Sally does mention that her dad used to read her the comics regularly before she learned to read herself, took her for rides in his expensive cars, and he carefully recorded the dates on her childhood artwork. Sally was a beautiful child herself, and her dad took pictures of her with his old Leica. A letter he wrote to little Sally was signed “Lots of love to you, Daddy.” I wonder if one reason Sally’s dad often appeared somewhat cold is because Sally’s mom – whose relationship with her daughter was strained and sometimes infuriating – might have demanded “proper distance” between dad and daughter, as is common in modern families.

The author describes a letter she once wrote to her father praising his exceptionally kind treatment of black people, but after mailing it she realized that what she had written was essentially a “love letter” to her father. She tried to get the letter back before it was delivered but she was unsuccessful. When her father receives the letter his reaction is described in some detail.

What about Sally’s famous children? They were the subjects of the controversial photographs, but they are minor characters in this memoir. There are no such intimate glimpses of the emotional lives of her own children and their interaction with each other or with Sally and their father. That focus on herself rather than the kids sounds like a primary purpose of this memoir is self-defense. The reader is being reassured that Sally is  a clear-headed and responsible person, not a sex maniac, pedophile, or merely confused and reckless like her critics. But unfortunately the avoidance of discussing intimacy and sex education has the effect of implicitly validating the traditional belief that sex is bad, dirty, etc. so kids need to be protected from it.

Interest in photography is normal but I wonder if Sally’s intense passion for photography was partly influenced by the crisis many women experienced growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Feminists were saying that being a mother and housewife is boring. In order to feel truly fulfilled a woman needs to do more, such as attend university, work outside the home, or be an artist. The pedophobic tone of that viewpoint is deeply disturbing to me. What could be more fulfilling than being a good parent? But like many women of her time (and after), Sally apparently needed to be more than “merely” a good parent. A mystery is why Sally chose photography to satisfy the feminist ideal of the politically correct modern woman.

Hopefully someday Sally’s kids will write a much more important memoir about their own experience of growing up in the modern, liberal Mann household, and their relationships with their controversial mother. Being photographed nude was probably not the center of their lives, and even becoming famous and controversial was probably not some overwhelming influence on their lives. Theirs was an unusual family, with a very courageous and creative mother. That’s the most interesting part of the story to me, but it might not be the most significant thing to the children. No parent is perfect, but I hope the kids now realize that their mother’s family photographs have broad cultural significance and possibly continuing value in combating the Western tradition of promoting body shame.

Although nudists commonly deny that nudity has anything to do with sex or the sexual revolution, it’s hard to deny that by “nudity” what everyone really means is exposure of the sexual organs. Since the vagina is internal and the tip of the clitoris protruding erect is only visible when a girl’s legs are spread apart, in effect images of Sally daughters were never taken (or exhibited) with their genital organs exposed. Nonetheless, even photographs of her unclothed little daughters with their legs together upset a lot of confused people. None of the published images even center on the children’s genital area. Although the children’s nudity around their home was common, there is no indication that the Manns might have been social nudists who visited naturist/nudist resorts where other families are nude as is more common in Europe.

A 1950s photography book that influenced Sally was “The Family of Man” (7), which included an image of an unclothed child seen from behind. The follow-up volume “The Family of Woman” (8) included an image of an unclothed young girl posing in “full frontal” nudity, but Sally doesn’t mention that second volume. Neither of those books were highly controversial, in part because their subjects weren’t primarily nude children, and in part due to the different period of their publication – before the hysteria surrounding daycare centers in the 1980s. In contrast, Sally’s family work was published when the mass hysteria over child sex abuse was well-established around 1990. Although Sally says she was only vaguely aware of the hysteria and was taken by surprise when her work was attacked on supposedly moral grounds, her publisher must have known and expected it. Didn’t Sally’s publisher inform her in advance? Ironically, by denying any suggestion that she deliberately risked notoriety she detracts from the heroic quality of her work.

Sally’s individual photographs of her children are not extraordinary works of beautiful art. They are documentary-style glimpses of everyday life. The technical quality of the images is great – much higher than the average photographer – and each image can stand on its own, but the priceless value of her family work is the portrait of her family that the whole group of images together offer. Do the published images provide an accurate, balanced, and comprehensive portrait of the Mann family? Probably not. Hence, it’s safer to call Sally’s work “art” rather than documentary.

Like her controversial contemporary, Jock Sturges (9), Sally used a large format camera, which is slow and cumbersome for such fast and furious subjects as children. I love large format film myself, and used it for some of the images in my own photo-documentary Girl Becomes Woman but a smaller and more portable 35mm camera with autofocus is more practical for photographing children. If Sally’s kids ever resented being photographed, it’s probably not because they were photographed nude, but because they were photographed at all using such slow and cumbersome methods.

All in all, “Hold Still” is a good book, much more satisfying than the previous film “What Remains: the Life and Work of Sally Mann” (10). But the story is still incomplete. We need to hear the voices of Sally’s children. One of her daughters, Jessie, was interviewed by the photography journal, Aperture, when she was 18, but the interview was too brief. I’m sure there is much more to be told about this fascinating and heroic family, especially from the children’s point of view.


  1. Mann, Sally. Hold Sill: a Memoir with Photographs. Little, Brown, 2015.
  2. Mann, Sally. Immediate Family. Aperture Foundation, 1992.
  3. Blind Faith. Polydor Records, 1969.
  4. Hamilton, David. The Age of Innocence. Aurum Press, 1992.
  5. Fleischhauer-Hardt, Helga (text), McBride, Will (photography). Show Me! A Picture Book of Sex for Children and Adults. St. Martin’s Press, 1975.
  6. Kirby, Tim (Director). The Genius of Photography: How Photography has Changed our Lives. BBC, 2009.
  7. Museum of Modern Art. The Family of Man. 1955.
  8. Mason, Jerry Ed. The Family of Woman. Penguin, 1979.
  9. Sturges, Jock. Radiant Identities. Aperture, 1994.
  10. Cantor, Steven (Director). What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. Zeitgeist Video, 2006.
Posted in children, nudity, parenting, sex, sex education | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Some Parents are Afraid of Bare-Chestedness

Good analysis and great advice.

Nudie News

I have spent a lot of time studying fear and anxiety, generally and how it relates to normalizing female bare-chestedness. I traveled to New Hamphire this week to attend the trial of the women who asked to be cited after police officers asked them to cover their breasts at a Gilford town beach. Two witnesses testified […]


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2015 in review

Statistics for 2015 seem to show a slight decrease in visitors, despite the slight increase in quality of my recent posts! The most-viewed posts were still those from previous years.


Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Clitoral Erection and Healthy Sexual Function


Female sexual dysfunction is commonly considered a psychogenic condition and is commonly believed to be temporary and potentially treatable by psychodynamic therapy. However, Goldstien and Berman (1) have written about what they call clitoral erectile insufficiency, referring to a local vascular condition in some women that is potentially treatable through pharmacological intervention. “There is a growing body of evidence that women with sexual dysfunction will commonly have physiologic abnormalities, such as vasculogenic female sexual dysfunction, contributing to their overall sexual health problems.” In 2012 I proposed a neurological aspect of the absence of clitoral erection in some women that is probably permanent and untreatable. However, such neurological impairment may be easily preventable during early brain development, through adequate genital self-stimulation long before the massive neural pruning of puberty. I also proposed the label Clitoral Erectile Dysfunction as more specifically descriptive of the most obvious functional effect of that neurological impairment (2). In the present paper I clarify my hypothesis and confront some possible criticism.


In some cultures physical mutilation of the tip of the clitoris by cutting or burning have been widely practiced, and in view of the history of religious hostility against sexual desire and sexual pleasure in the West, we may say that mental castration of girls and women is also widespread here and now. It’s not surprising that many Western women report some form of sexual dysfunction. In various surveys in the U.S.A (3), a majority of women who were surveyed self-reported sexual dysfunction, e.g. they never or almost never experience orgasm during normal genital intercourse. Due to the unfortunate tendency to blame oneself and feel ashamed, equally unsurprising is that many women deny the existence of clitoral erection, or claim that clitoral erection is unnecessary or unimportant, or admit faking orgasm only for convenience rather than to hide any inability to reach orgasm without the aid of a medical device popularly called a “vibrator.”

Genital Erection

Many parents know that normal little boys experience frequent genital erections, either spontaneously or due to manual self-stimulation. My own observations of children at naturist (nudist) resorts in several countries have revealed that genital erections are just as common in little girls as in little boys. Long before puberty the tip of the immature clitoris often protrudes erect up to 5cm (2in), with the hood suspended from it like a curtain. Even when fully clothed and not visible, if a little girl straddles my knee I can sometimes feel the erect tip of the clitoris protrude and press against my knee like a very firm fingertip.

But clitoral erections seem to disappear after puberty and are rare in adult women, at least nowadays in the West. Most women and men I speak to about clitoral erections seem baffled. Despite Masters and Johnson’s reports of clitoral erections they detected (4), many women and men today are unaware that clitoral erections exist or are possible. Although both boys and girls are subject to “inhibition” by parents, it’s possible that such shame-training is more severe for girls, or simply more effective due to the cultural double standard. My hypothesis is that in some cases healthy clitoral erectile function atrophies during the massive neural pruning around puberty due to parental prohibition of childhood masturbation and sex play, and this is not merely a psychogenic problem but a neurological injury. There is some evidence of brain differences that develop in boys and girls: Between age four and puberty the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus become larger in males compared to females, probably due to apoptosis (neuronal cell death) in females (5). Although the cause and functional significance of that finding is unclear, it is consistent with my hypothesis that girls who suffer a lack of stimulation during development have in effect suffered brain injury.

Physiology of Clitoral Erectile Dysfunction

Neural atrophy due to lack of stimulation during development is a well-accepted mechanism in brain development. The classic case is vision: if an eye is covered during development the animal becomes blind in that eye. There is not much wrong with the eye itself, but the relative brain areas that process signals from that eye atrophy due to lack of stimulation. “The fine-tuning of circuits in sensory cortex requires sensory experience during an early critical period. Visual deprivation during the critical period has catastrophic effects on visual function, including loss of visual responsiveness to the deprived eye1,2,3 reduced visual acuity4, and loss of tuning to many stimulus characteristics2,5” (6).

That is why newborns are examined for cataracts: if cataracts in an eye aren’t diagnosed and removed early the baby won’t develop binocular vision. Removing the cataracts later will be too late for normal brain development. The same principle is recognized for hearing and language, and these functions are all processed by the same part of the brain responsible for genital erection: the cerebral cortex (7). Although experimental evidence for this mechanism is with laboratory animals, I know of no dispute over the assumption that such a mechanism probably also exists in humans. I doubt that any responsible adult would suggest it’s Ok to prevent a child from exercising her legs until puberty, because the child will probably become a good walker anyway if she begins exercising her legs only at age 12 or 13. This is not a question of developing muscle tone, but rather early development of the respective brain areas that control the functions of each organ of the body.

Even a federal government website acknowledges this mechanism, although not specifically regarding sexual function: “The more babies are exposed to people speaking, the stronger their related synapses become. If the appropriate exposure does not happen, the pathways developed in anticipation may be discarded. This is sometimes referred to as the concept of ‘use it or lose it.’ It is through these processes of creating, strengthening, and discarding synapses that our brains adapt to our unique environment… Researchers believe that there are sensitive periods for development of certain capabilities. These refer to windows of time in the developmental process when certain parts of the brain may be most susceptible to particular experiences. Animal studies have shed light on sensitive periods… It is more difficult to study human sensitive periods. But we know that, if certain synapses and neuronal pathways are not repeatedly activated, they may be discarded, and the capabilities they promised may be diminished.” (8).

It’s also possible that early neglect may result in some local tissue damage, such as reduced vascularization and blood flow to clitoral cells, local ischemia, and stunted growth of the clitoris. There are some reports of genital erection occurring even after the spinal cord is severed (9), but only in patients whose erectile function was previously normal. Neural plasticity offers hope for regaining organ function lost due to disease or sudden injury to the brain, but again only in patients whose organ function was previously intact. I know of no women whose erectile dysfunction early in life eventually developed in adulthood. For these reasons I suspect that in some cases clitoral erectile dysfunction is probably permanent and untreatable.


I experienced repeated genital stimulation during early childhood (10), and I’ve continued to experience frequent erections (spontaneous and not) beyond puberty and into adulthood and old age. Contrary to popular fears, my early genital stimulation did not interfere with my otherwise normal development in other respects (11). In my younger years I was able to throb my penis to erection voluntarily. Much of human behavior that is apparently reflexive or involuntary in infancy, such as sucking, becomes voluntary later. Why shouldn’t genital erection also become voluntary in healthy individuals? In individuals with less developed genital function, erection seems to require considerable arousal, and according to my hypothesis they were probably insufficiently stimulated during early brain development before puberty.

What does penile erection have to do with clitoral erection? Some critics may object that genital erection is necessary for reproductive success in males but not in females. However, erection facilitates orgasm, and the anticipation of orgasm certainly contributes to sexual motivation or “desire,” as well as facilitating conception and contributing to a female’s quality of life. Researchers have found that females experience orgasm in other species of primates, so there is apparently evolutionary value to female orgasm.

Obstacles to Research

The cultural taboo against questioning the traditional sexual “inhibition” of children, especially any suggestion that childhood masturbation and sex play should be allowed or encouraged for any reason, leads to some alternative and bizarre attempts to explain female sexual dysfunction. One author has claimed that the reason many women have difficulty achieving orgasm during normal intercourse is because the clitoris is in the “wrong place” (12). Another author has claimed that since women don’t always have orgasm during intercourse, this “…must be seen as a design flaw” (13). I’m afraid the latter author is claiming a design flaw in anatomy or physiology, not a flaw in culture or education that leads to neural atrophy. There has also been well-intentioned criticism of attempts to medicalize all sexual problems in women (14), but in the case of clitoral erectile dysfunction I’m afraid such criticism would be misplaced. If my hypothesis is correct, we certainly don’t want to condone the continuing mental castration of millions of girls generation after generation.

In the past it was believed that “overstimulation” is a danger in early life, so children have been overprotected from self-masturbation and sex play with other children. Even premature babies used to be isolated to protect them from “stress,” but research has now demonstrated the contrary: the intense stimulation of touch and massage or “kangaroo care” of premature infants results in earlier discharge from intensive care. There are many things about the development of the child’s brain that we don’t understand. For example, although very young children usually love a gentle massage, they seem to go through a stage when they prefer to have their skin gently tickled. They are fascinated by the sensation of gentle tickling and like to feel it over and over again. It’s reasonable to guess that such stimulation serves some purpose in the development of the relative brain areas that control skin sensation. I certainly don’t like that sensation when anybody does it to me, but my relative brain areas that control skin sensation stopped developing a long time ago. The very concept of genital “overstimulation” of children lacks clarity and should require experimental validation rather than taking that supposed danger for granted (15).

An earlier version of this paper was published on my blog in 2012, and despite about 4,500 views so far it is interesting that the reaction of male and female readers up to now has been virtually complete silence. Although nobody wants to publicly acknowledge that my hypothesis is plausible, nor is anybody criticizing it. That should make us all wonder.

Testing the Hypothesis

This hypothesis could be disconfirmed by surveying women who report the presence or absence of clitoral erection in adulthood, and inquiring how permissive their parents were about childhood masturbation and sex play before puberty, to look for a correlation. Recognizing the limitations of retrospective self-report and correlation, preliminary studies should serve to at least draw attention to the question. It’s also possible that future researchers may detect differences in measurable genital vibratory perception thresholds in women who experienced more or less inhibition during their early development.


1. Goldstien, I, and Berman, JR. Vasculogenic female sexual dysfunction: vaginal engorgement and clitoral erectile insufficiency syndromes. Int J Impot Res. 1998 May;10 Suppl 2:S84-90; discussion S98-101.


  2. Sammy Elsamra, Michael Nazmy, David Shin, Harry Fisch, Ihor Sawczuk, Debra Fromer. Female sexual dysfunction in urological patients: findings from a major metropolitan area in the USA. BJU International, 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2009.09091.x. Another survey: 60% of women never or almost never experience orgasm during intercourse. Cited in: Kamisaruk, Barry R. et al. 2006. The Science of Orgasm. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 17.  See also: Laumann E,  Paik A,  Rosen R . Sexual dysfunction in the United States: prevalence and predictors. JAMA 1999;281: 537–544

  3. Masters, WH and Johnson, VE. Human Sexual Response. ISHI, 2010.

  4. Swaab, D.F., & Fliers, E. 1985. A sexually dimorphic nucleus in the human brain. Science228:1112-1115.

  5. Arianna Maffei1, Kiran Nataraj1, Sacha B. Nelson1 & Gina G. Turrigiano1. Potentiation of cortical inhibition by visual deprivation. Nature 443, 81-84 (7 September 2006).

  6. Jack Ende. Organic Impotence. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Boston: Butterworths; Chapter 187. 1990. See also: Yasin Temel1,*, Sepehr Hafizi2, Sonny Tan1, Veerle Visser-Vandewalle1  2006. Asian Journal of Andrology. “Evidence suggests that the most important structures [in penile erection] are the frontal lobe [of the cerebral cortex] , cingulate gyrus, amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus.” Another author has written that sacral (pelvic) parasympathetic (involuntary) nerves that produce erection “originate in the brain – in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus…”  Komisaruk, et al. op cit. p. 36


  8. Guyton, Arthur C. and Hall, John E. Textbook of Medical Physiology, 11th ed. Saunders, 2005.



  11.  Maines, Rachel P. 2001. The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  12.  Lloyd, E.A. 2005. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  13.  Moynihan, R. The making of a disease: female sexual dysfunction. BMJ 2003; 326 doi: 10.1136/bmj.326.7379.45 (Published 4 January 2003)


Posted in child sexual abuse, children, sex, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Ideal Sex Education

Lest any confused individuals read about the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping (1) and imagine they should imitate it in order to raise some children potentially free of traditional sexual inhibitions, I will consider what ideal sex education would be really like. Although ideal sex education may not be possible under current legal conditions, we should think about it as a kind of goal to be aimed for someday in the distant future.

Even though it’s possible that Jaycee Dugard’s daughters may have grown up without traditional sexual inhibitions (see my previous post Stolen Youth: Jaycee Dugard PART 2) or free from what may be bluntly called traditional mental castration, I doubt that their early sex education (if any) was anything close to ideal. Quite the contrary, considering the mental state of their jailer it’s possible that they suffered excessive sexual attention (e.g. more than they requested). In that case it would be heartening to learn if the girls nonetheless grew up fairly normal and healthy. But I’m just guessing. We need to hear the girls’ own voices and reward their remarkable courage if they tell their story, even though sex hysterics would consider such a report blasphemous or high treason against political correctness. Selfish opportunists and profiteers in the sex abuse rescue business hope and bet that all victims of even casual sex abuse grow up to become blithering idiots. For the benefit of the victims, the hysterics need to be proven wrong.

Just as some adults try to strictly censor children’s access to information, other adults like putting words in a child’s mouth. A classic howler is: “My child isn’t interested in sex.” Of course, after adults have carefully hidden sex and mentally castrated the child, she isn’t interested! If we assume that the only legitimate practice of sex is procreation, as some ancient religionists claimed (e.g. Thomas Aquinas), then unmarried children have no need and no business learning about sex. However, that point of view implies God wants human beings to be more similar to cows or sheep that only mate during the fertile period of the female hormonal cycle in mature individuals, rather than be similar to monkeys and apes that are sexually active even when infertile, including during pregnancy and even in juveniles before puberty. From the confused religious point of view, an ape is our “lower nature,” while our “higher nature” is closer to sheep.

In herd mammals like sheep there is actually a sharp difference between the sexual behavior of males and females. Males are always willing and eager to copulate, while a female is only receptive to copulation during a short part of her reproductive cycle. Even then, females in some species of seasonally mating mammals have to be forced or raped to breed. But in monkeys and apes, females are more receptive to copulation and even initiate sex, and sometimes even provoke males to copulate, so in effect males and females are more similar to each other (2). An important question any thinking adult must ask is: Should human beings strive to become educated apes, or spiritual sheep?

One of the more modern justifications for opposition to sex education in childhood is the confusion between physical maturity and so-called “mental maturity.” As I have pointed out previously (see Sexual Maturity) the brain grows and develops to maturity of structure and function before the genital organs have reached reproductive maturity. I am talking about physiological maturity, not some mysterious theory of mental or psychological maturity that is virtually synonymous with educational level (acquisition and understanding of information). In terms of the willingness and ability to learn, the brain of a ten-year-old is far superior to adults aged over 40, and any differences in “mental maturity” we see in those two age groups are actually due to education through formal schooling or life experience. The prudish belief that children aren’t yet able to “understand” sex is pure nonsense.

Analogously to the genital organs, maturation of the vocal organs is necessary to produce good speech, but children typically learn to comprehend their native language long before their vocal organs are mature, and such understanding sets the stage for eventual speech. Children begin practicing or playing at speech long before their vocal organs have fully developed, and such “baby talk” is perfectly normal. If a child’s brain doesn’t receive linguistic stimulation very early before the vocal organs mature, the ability to learn language will be impaired. When a child is very young she can even become bilingual or trilingual if her environment is rich in linguistic stimulation. The stimulation of linguistic experience from the earliest age is not useless but priceless. Nonetheless, according to the sheep-logic of sexual hysteria, prudes claim that the reproductive function of the sexual organs must mature before the brain can process (“understand”) sexual information. In reality, the exact opposite occurs: depriving children of sex education and sex play early in life causes complete or partial but certainly permanent impairment of sexual function.

Throughout most of European history scholarly thinkers traced modern civilized culture back to ancient Greece and Rome, but the discovery of extensive, sexually explicit “vulgar” art in the ruins of Pompeii during the Victorian period (when women’s ankles had to be covered in public) conflicted with the highbrow view of our culture’s ancestors. Granted, some of that ancient art portrayed primitive mythology and seemed exaggerated, e.g. the Roman god Pan copulating with a goat, and some Victorians were understandably upset by it. The Victorian solution was to hysterically condemn and censor any and all sexually explicit art as an aberration to be henceforth prohibited by law as “pornography.” In the 21st century we like to think we have advanced beyond the ankle-covered Victorians, but the laws prohibiting sexually explicit images written over 100 years ago are still in force today.

With the benefit of calm hindsight and a better sense of humor, what might ideal sex education be like in the future? First of all, we must assume that someday there will be legislative reform so the hysterical laws prohibiting sexually explicit images and child sex play will have been repealed. There can be no ideal sex education for children as long as parents and other teachers must live in fear of legal prosecution. Although it’s difficult to imagine that the current hysteria will ever end, that’s a requirement before anything else. That may not be any comfort to children in the here-and-now who are suffering legally enforced sexual neglect, but I don’t see any responsible alternative. So let’s start the dialogue and imagine that someday in the distant future there are no more laws prohibiting genital nudity or any kind of contact with children’s “private parts” (as opposed to their presumably public parts).

Ideal sex education should be accurate, balanced, and comprehensive, start early, continue throughout life, and be age-appropriate. It’s widely acknowledged that very young children learn more by modeling than by instruction, and there is evidence that children across the world and throughout most of history learned about sex by watching their parents (3). So after decriminalization of sex the next ideal step would be to provide very young children with family videos of parents and other young couples in their daily lives who first talk about sex and having babies in front of their children. Professional actors can be more effective than average parents who may have a lot of shame-baggage to cope with even after sex is decriminalized. Toddlers and preschoolers may not understand adult conversation that includes the vocabulary of reproduction, but they are extremely perceptive of moods and tone of voice, so hearing an adult discussion that is calm and warm has great value for young ears.

While parent-actors in the videos are talking about sex, child actors should be occupied playing e.g. with toys or other children. Adult actors can then become physically affectionate with each other, while the child actors occasionally glance over at the adults. The videos should portray realistic not dramatized interaction. The adults’ behavior should be very casual and playful, smiling and laughing to communicate safety to the child-observers. Adult models should not be poker-faced during sexual foreplay. Very young children should also be exposed to much older models (e.g. a widowed grandparent) fondling themselves manually, if not masturbating at least pleasuring themselves without shame. A narrator could explain that the grandparent doesn’t have anyone to be close to.

If a first-born or only-child is uninterested in other activities when parents become physically affectionate with each other, then the child may feel lonely and want to be included in cuddling. That’s fine and should be allowed. Ideal models should not express disappointment, impatience, or jealousy. Rather, parents should welcome the child’s “participation” lovingly with hugs and kisses. A child who wants to join her parents in cuddling is not being unreasonable. If some adults feel a need to hide in the dark then they are the ones who are behaving unreasonably. Parents who hide aren’t protecting any child, they are protecting themselves. Ideally, there should be more than one child present (even at different ages), so the children have the opportunity to become physically affectionate with each other if they want to.

Parent actors should take a break from their physical affection to cheerfully explain the need for mutual consent, adequate hygiene, and the limitations of immature anatomy (e.g. “do not attempt penetration”). When adults are sexually functional there is no rush to get it over with. Child actors in a video can portray listening to such verbal instruction and then model requesting and granting consent, adequate hygiene, and harmless sex play with other child actors. Dialogue can and should be humorous. Very young children who have the benefit of seeing such a video would be prepared for witnessing parents and other models later in real life.

Children are more likely to prefer each other’s company in sex play as in other activities, because children tend to have short bursts of high energy and their approach to everything is exploratory and playful, while adults tend to conserve energy for longer-term endurance and they focus on an end result; adults get bored with the imaginative and repetitious character of children’s play. Very young children don’t like being too serious for what they consider excessively long periods of time, which may interfere with dynamic brain development. Kids should always have access to many other children and adults who feel part of a community. I don’t think keeping children isolated in a “nuclear family” is ideal for children. Exclusive access to or exclusive “possession” of any child or adult serve no purpose other than indulging pathetic jealousy. Several individuals sharing affection is a model of social harmony, so especially in this day and age of declining fertility I think parents should seriously consider some form of polyamory. In a general atmosphere that is sex-positive, children expressing a desire for sex play with each other is normal and healthy.

If a parent prohibits her child from enjoying sex play with another child, we may suspect that the parent is guilty of emotional incest toward the child. Emotional incest is particularly pernicious for daughters, who already have the difficult task of overcoming their “negative Oedipus complex,” i.e. overcoming their erotic attachment to their mother and instead beginning to see males not as rivals in competition for the mother’s attention but as an even more interesting erotic object. A responsible parent helps a child venture outside the mother-daughter bond and cultivate emotional engagement with other children, including males.

In such an uninhibited atmosphere very young children in the future may be curious to inspect the genitalia of parents close-up, including touching and feeling the adults’ external organs. Parents should welcome such natural curiosity with smiles and calm explanations, e.g. explaining that when a sexually functional female is very aroused the tip of the clitoris protrudes erect (and sometimes spontaneously even when she is not very aroused), and internally the clitoris extends and forks around both sides of the vaginal opening so penetration by a penis is pleasurable – once the vagina is big enough after puberty.

Explain that the healthy penis likewise becomes erect when very aroused (as well as spontaneously sometimes even when not very aroused). Explain that the shaft is quite hard or stiff, while the tip is more like a sponge that springs back to shape when it is squeezed. (That is in contrast to the protruding tip of the erect clitoris which is hard all the way to the end.) However, the male testicles are sensitive to excessive pressure so they should not be squeezed although they may be handled gently. I imagine that children will be more than curious – they will be intrigued – to see the healthy male organ operational. I imagine that healthy girls in a sex-positive context will find such observations interesting, informative and entertaining, and normal children will probably ask to watch again. It’s possible that girls have evolved an instinct to observe and verify healthy male sexual function (along with other qualities) in order to choose a desirable mate.

Parents who are sexually dysfunctional due to shame-training and sexual neglect during their own childhoods, may feel ashamed of their dysfunction and reluctant to reveal their dysfunction to their children. That sad situation may be improved by consulting a good sex therapist who may not be able to cure permanent clitoral erectile dysfunction but may help parents reject the tendency to feel ashamed of a defect that was not their fault. A few parents may feel so ashamed that they hotly deny their dysfunction and instead accuse anybody who is sexually functional of being a “sex maniac” and/or “demon-possessed,” etc. I’m not a psychiatrist but perhaps in such extreme cases anti-psychotic medication may be helpful.

Under ideal conditions sex can and should be casual, entertaining and even slapstick. While consent, hygiene, and unplanned pregnancy are serious business, the primary purpose of sex is to have fun. An old joke is: Sex is only dirty if you do it right. That’s only a joke, so lighten up. Ideally, adults should openly and unashamedly express their desire for genital stimulation and their pleasure in such stimulation. If some adults lack sexual desire or have trouble enjoying sex, they shouldn’t become models and pass on their problems to their children. Sticking to family sex education videos would be appropriate in such cases. Adults who were raised in shame and are sexually dysfunctional clearly need “privacy.”

Children’s first sexual experiences should be carefully monitored by responsible adults, and eventually when children get a little older there should be continued adult supervision at a distance. Children who have the benefit of such ideal early experiences would probably initiate and enjoy sex play with other children regularly. Such early stimulation would be beneficial for developing healthy genital function, as well as serving to promote and maintain social harmony. By the time they finish preschool such children should be enthusiastic to learn about the human body in general, health and disease, and the community around them, as well as eager to become constructive contributors to their loving community. The current, bizarre tendency of adults to be paranoid and hysterical about nudity and sex while ignoring the more frequent and most deadly dangers children face in daily life, is not a trend that any responsible adult should want to continue.

Since parents also have a duty to teach kids discipline and self-control, opportunities for sex play should be contingent on good behavior. Opportunities for sexual pleasure may be structured as a reward and incentive for education and good citizenship. Just as ancient peoples failed to see any use for fossil fuels and considered petroleum not only worthless but even messy and dangerous, people in the future may discover that sexual pleasure is the greatest fuel yet for advancing civilization.

Ideal sex education would not only benefit human beings during childhood as well as the future parents they become when they grow up, but will also benefit the first generation of parents who provide the ideal experiences. Widespread sexual dysfunction in women today may explain why they tend to be overprotective of children – following their kids around everywhere under the guise of protective surveillance. Overprotective mothers may be using their children as a substitute for their own unsatisfying sex life. Rather than passing on the sick body shame you learned from your miseducated parents, try to become a responsible sex educator for your children and you will be a happier parent.

While we strive toward ideals, it’s Ok to make some mistakes. Healthy children are strong and resilient, and may even become stronger and more resilient by having the freedom to learn from their own mistakes. There is increasing evidence that young people today who were the victims of over-protective parents suffer a lack of self-confidence as well as lifelong dependence on their parents. Many college students today are emotionally fragile and react to everyday problems as if they are emergencies. They can’t bear uncertainty or the thought of possible failure. If a child is emotionally abused or neglected (much more common than any other form of abuse or neglect) she may be fragile and incompetent, but we should not treat all normal healthy kids as if they are helpless invalids who are hopelessly incompetent. The normal qualities of courage, creative thinking, and welcoming challenges that were taken for granted in previous generations are disappearing today.

With modern knowledge, contraceptive technology, and a bit of courage, people someday could create a better society without widespread sexual dysfunction and hysterical priorities that distort children’s needs for protection from real harm. How truly shameful that many adults today drive while sleep-deprived (just as deadly as drunk driving), smoke during pregnancy, and decline to breastfeed, while frantically worrying about nudity and sex play.


  1. Dugard, Jaycee. A Stolen Life: A Memior. Simon and Schuster, 2011.
  2. Dixon, Alan F. Primate Sexuality. Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.
  3. Josephs, Lawrence. How Children Learn About Sex: A Cross-Species and Cross-
    Cultural Analysis. Arch Sex Behav (2015) 44:1059–1069.
Posted in child sexual abuse, children, nudity, parent education, parenting, sex, sex education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment