THE SEXUAL DANGERS
OF SPANKING CHILDREN
by Tom Johnson


1994, Revised 1996
Copyright is waived on this publication


THE SEXUAL DANGERS OF SPANKING CHILDREN
 

"...It is a disgusting and slavish treatment which would certainly be regarded as an insult if it were inflicted on adults... And consider how shameful, how dangerous to modesty are the effects produced by the pain or fear of the victims. This feeling of shame cripples and unmans the spirit, making it flee from and detest the light of day..."

Quintilian, A.D. 35-95
S P A N K I N G, defined as slapping of the buttocks, is a form of hitting and thus of physical violence. That fact alone should make the spanking of children unacceptable by the same standards that protect adults, who are not as vulnerable. However, there is more to spanking than simply hitting: spanking also trespasses on one of the body's most private and sexual areas -- the buttocks. To fully address the wrongness of spanking children, therefore, we must consider not only the issue of physical violence, but also the issue of sexual trespass. 

While the harm of spanking's physical violence has been thoroughly explained and demonstrated over the past century in a vast body of academic literature, scientific research, legal treatises, and relatively recently in the popular media, it is quite rare that the sexual consequences of spanking are openly and seriously discussed. This pamphlet aims to raise public awareness about the sexual aspects which make spanking an especially inappropriate and even dangerous way of disciplining children, whether it is done by parents, educators or other caretakers. While this pamphlet focuses on "spanking," the most seemingly benign form of physical punishment, the arguments raised herein apply equally to paddling, switching, caning, strapping, or any other mode of forcible buttock-beating. 
 

Buttocks are a sexual zone

Like women's breasts, the buttocks are a sexual or erogenous part of the human anatomy, even though they are not actually sex organs. This is why baring one's buttocks in public is considered indecent as well as unlawful and why their exposure in movies or on television constitutes nudity. It is also why someone who uninvitedly fondles another person's buttocks is treated by law as a sexual offender. The sexual nature of the buttocks is explained not only by their proximity to the genitals, but also by their high concentration of nerve endings which lead directly to sexual nerve centers. Hence, the buttocks are a major locus of sexual signals. 
 

Children are sexual beings

The sexuality of the buttocks is significant not just to adults, but to children as well. Even though they are sexually immature and without an active sex drive, children are from birth neurologically complete sexual beings who are capable of experiencing erotic sensation. The existence of pedophiles, furthermore, means that children can also become the targets of sexual intentions. As much as we might like to imagine childhood as an innocent, carefree world beyond the influence of sexuality, we do children a disservice if we fail to recognize that they too have erogenous zones which deserve consideration and respect. 
 

Spanking as sexual violation

Since children are sexual beings and since the buttocks are a sexual region of the body, we should question the propriety of slapping children's buttocks. We generally understand that fondling or caressing a child's buttocks is a sexual offense (even if the child does not understand it to be so). We also know that slapping an adult's buttocks is a sexual offense (even if the offender does not get sexual pleasure from doing so). 

The question, then, is why slapping a child's buttocks is not considered a sexual offense. Is it because spanking, unlike fondling, is physically painful and used to punish misbehavior? No, or painfully spanking a misbehaving adult would not be a sexual offense. Is it because children are less likely to be sexual targets than adults, less likely to feel violated, and therefore protected less strictly? No, or fondling an adult would be a far more serious crime than fondling a child. A more plausible explanation for this breach of logic is simply that the majority of people are unable or unwilling to believe there could be anything indecent about a practice as old, common and accepted as the spanking of children -- something which nearly everyone has received, given or witnessed at least once. And since spankings typically come from esteemed or even beloved authority figures, many people are loath to question this behavior. 

In any case, freedom from sexual violation is one of the basic tenets of liberty most revered by Americans and by most of the free world. As this principle of inviolacy applies to adults, it should apply equally, if not especially, to children, who are below the age of consent. Spanking children may be a time-honored tradition, but any tradition that so gratuitously disregards their inviolacy deserves to be discontinued. 

Some argue that spanking is justified or even commanded by the Bible, specifically the Book of Proverbs. There is a distinction, however, which should be of key interest to fundamentalists, between the practice in King Solomon's day of beating people on the back and the modern American habit of buttocks-hitting: the latter is not prescribed anywhere in the Bible. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that the Old Testament contains passages which could be (and in some cases have been) construed as divine endorsements of wife-beating, racial warfare, slavery, the stoning to death of rebellious children and other behaviors that are outrageous by today's standards. As Shakespeare once wrote, "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." 
 

Spanking as sexual abuse

As in ages past, there are people today who are sexually excited by spanking. This trait, which is often expressed in pornography and associated with sadomasochism, is known in the scientific literature as flagellantism. While many flagellants seek to engage in consensual spanking between adults, some find the spanking of minors to be either more arousing or more opportune. 

Since children in this country up to eighteen years old can still be legally and forcibly spanked by parents, guardians, teachers, school principals and other child care professionals, it is often easy for flagellants to obtain positions where they can sexually abuse children with little or no fear of repercussions. As long as society sees spanking as a legitimate act of discipline, and as long as the spanked youths are presumed to have "deserved" it, sexually abusive spankers have an effective moralistic disguise for their true motives. History, court records and current events contain numerous cases of flagellant sexual abuse against defenseless victims, and there is no telling how many instances have gone unreported. 

Some adults might rationalize: "Well, I know my intentions are purely nonsexual, so there's nothing wrong with my spanking a child." The main problem with this rationale is that it fails to consider all the children who are at the mercy of other adults, among whom there will always be some with motives that are not so pure - and not necessarily obvious. Even spankings that have no sexual motive contribute to the cover that sexually abusive spankers depend on, affirming the old alibi: "Hey, lots of people spank their kids. So what's the big deal?" 
 

Spanking and psychosexual development

Even without sexual motives on the part of the punisher, spanking can interfere with a child's normal sexual and psychological development. Because the buttocks are so close to the genitals and so multiply linked to sexual nerve centers, slapping them can trigger powerful and involuntary sensations of sexual pleasure. This can happen even in very young children, and even in spite of great, clearly upsetting pain. 

This kind of sexual stimulation, which undermines any disciplinary purpose and which most people would agree is unsuitable for children in any context, can cause a child to impressionably attach his or her sexuality to the idea of spanking. This fixation may endure to cause problems in adult life. Or, on the other hand, the child might react against these unseemly feelings of pleasure by repressing his or her sexuality, so much perhaps that as an adult, he or she has difficulty experiencing sexual pleasure and intimacy. 

An additional danger is that the confusing mixture of pleasure with pain will become the basis for permanent sadomasochistic tendencies. Sadomasochism, in which a person takes pleasure in inflicting or receiving pain, drives behavior that is destructive to oneself and to others, and therefore to society at large. While the intensity and background of individuals' sadomasochism varies widely, the great majority of studied cases point to a single origin: childhood whippings, usually on the buttocks. 

The odds that spanking a child will lead to psychosexual aberrations would be difficult to calculate. However, the fact that there is any chance at all of these serious problems occurring should be reason enough to do away with the practice of spanking. The risks are completely unnecessary. 
 

Spanking and modesty

Imagine your reaction if an authority figure, having discovered some misdeed of yours, pinned you across his or her lap and began slapping your buttocks. Painfulness aside, most people would consider this a rude, inexcusable assault on their modesty, no matter what they had done to "deserve" it. 

Many people might assume that children, especially very young children, are too ignorant or naive to feel such indignity, or perhaps too impressed by the physical pain of spanking to care about much else. The truth is, however, that spanking can seriously injure a child's sense of modesty. When a child is old enough to be told by adults to act modestly (which is not merely a social requirement, but also a wise precaution against potential child molesters), that child is likely to internalize and develop modesty as a personal value that will increase with age. This value persists even though the child might lapse into immodest behavior from time to time, as most children do. Consequently, the child whose buttocks are slapped may experience deep and lasting sexual shame, especially if the punishment is done in front of others or involves a state of undress. Actually, there are some adults who consciously emphasize this humiliation as part of the punishment (and some, for that matter, who do not limit spanking to younger children or even to preteens). But just as inflicting sexual shame is an unthinkable punishment for adults in any civilized society, it is surely an outrageous way to treat children. 

It is a strange inconsistency, furthermore, for adults to exhort children to modesty while punishing them in a way that aggressively denies their modesty and privacy. Such mixed messages tend to confuse children or make them skeptical toward adult authority. Especially if adults hope to instill children with strong values of modesty, self-respect, and respect for others -- values that become very important through the trials of puberty and adolescence - adults should teach by example and refrain from the disrespectful practice of bottom-slapping. 
 

Conclusion

It is not disputed that spanking has a sexual side as well as a punitive side. Indeed, our popular culture and media suggest there is wide awareness of this fact, however unspoken. Society has nonetheless failed to squarely address the serious implications of spanking's punitive/sexual duality. Considering the power of sex to corrupt, along with the coercive nature of punishment, we should be alarmed at the very idea of discipline through spanking -- all the more so when it is directed at a group of people as powerless, fragile and unsuspecting as children. 



 

EXPERTS' QUOTES

"Spanking on the buttocks can produce definitely erotic sensations, including sexual orgasm, in some children. Some of these children have been known to cause themselves to be spanked, by misconducting themselves on purpose and by pretending distress while receiving the desired 'punishment'... The frequency with which this happens is not known, although it may not be altogether rare. .. The spankings in these cases may have been given for the adult's own perverted gratification ('sadism'); or at least there might have been culpable awareness and toleration of the child's sexual reaction on the part of the adult. ...Only some decades ago perverts masquerading as governesses or tutors were reportedly anything but rare in some European countries." (1965) 

J. F. Oliven, pathologist. Sexual Hygiene and
Pathology.


"In many cases, the avowed disciplinary value of flagellation in schools and colleges was a mere pretense to enable sadists to secure sexual titillation." (1886) 

George Ryley Scott, historian, sociologist,
anthropologist.The History of Corporal Punishment.


"When a child is hit on the buttocks...this kind of violent touch can be sexualized in the child's mind not only because of a real flow of blood into the genitalia, but also because of a longing for intimacy with the parent: if painful physical touch is the only fulfillment of that longing, then this can `feel good'." (1995) 

Shere Hite, sex researcher,
sociopsychologist. The Hite Report on the Family.
Page 42.


"These are the realities that most of us remain eager to deny... So long as children are beaten by adults, the obsessions with domination and submission, with power and authority, with shame and humiliation, with painful pleasure -- all hallmarks of sadomasochism - will remain an enduring consequence of the ordinary violence and coercion done in the name of discipline... Sadomasochism is not an aberration; it is inherent in corporal punishment..." (1990) 

Philip Greven, professor of history.
Spare the Child, Page 186.


"I have had constantly to do with neurotics in whom sadistic feelings were first aroused by corporal punishment; after the sadistic impulse thus awakened has been repressed and forms the starting points of very malignant aberrations about which it would be very disingenuous to aver that they would have developed without the free use of the rod... The number of those who are harmed through beating, especially upon the buttocks, is undoubtedly very great... Even one who passionately contemns sexuality will hardly be inclined to deny that the corporal punishment induced well-marked sexual stimulation -- although the gluteal region is not within the domain of the genital organs." (1924) 

Oskar Pfister, physician, psychoanalyst.
Love in Children and its Aberrations.


"Frequent spankings, too, may have a negative impact on sex development. Because of the proximity of the sex organs, a child may get sexually aroused when spanked. Or he may so enjoy the making up that follows the punishment that he will seek suffering as a necessary prelude to love. There are many adult couples who seem to need a good fight before a good night." (1966) 

Dr. Haim G. Ginott, child psychologist.
Between Parent and Child.


"Advocates of corporal punishment in schools should examine very carefully the weight of evidence now available and, particularly in light of the pornographic component, consider whether they can justify the continuation of a system with such a capacity for exciting unhealthy interest." (1980) 

British Psychological Society,
"Report on Corporal Punishment in Schools."


"Being beaten excites children sexually because it is an intense excitation of the erogenous zones of the skin of the buttocks and of the muscles below the skin..." (1945) 

Otto Fenichel, M.D.
The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis,
Page 315.


"Ever since Jean-Jaques Rousseau's Confessions, it has been well known to all educationalists that the painful stimulation of the skin of the buttocks is one of the erotic roots of the passive instrument of cruelty (masochism)." (1905) 

Sigmund Freud. Three Essays on the
Theory of Sexuality, VII, Page 193.


The adult flagellant fantasy, in short, always derives from the infantile one. As with all sexual perversions, we are dealing with a variety of arrested development...that puberty and subsequent experience have been unable to dislodge... We need to examine its roots in childhood..." (1979) 

Ian Gibson,
The English Vice, Page 284


"But what you would not so readily believe upon my Affirmation, was that there are Persons who are stimulated to Venery by strokes of Rods, and worked up into a flame of Lust by blows... A strange instance what a Power the force of Education has in grafting inveterate ill Habits on our Morals." (1629) 

Johann Heinrich Meibom, physician.
De Flagrorum su in Re Veneria &
Luborum Renumque Officio.
Leyden, Pages 5-6, 14-15. 


NEWS REPORTS

 

The New York Times (12/22/92)
The director of a Manhattan junior high school for children at risk of dropping out was arrested yesterday and charged with sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy who was a ninth-grader at the school, officials said... In addition, [Robert Viteretti, deputy commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District] said that after reports of the arrest spread yesterday, two former students telephoned his office to say that they had also been abused by the director. .. Mr. Viteretti said that on two occasions [the director] asked the boy into his office, then closed and locked his door and pulled down the boy's pants and underwear. 'He would start spanking the boy for his own sexual gratification, and stroking and caressing his genitalia,' he said... [The director] has admitted touching and spanking the boy.

Reuters News Service (11/30/93)
A dozen Roman Catholic priests sexually abused 34 boys over two decades at a now-closed seminary, a three-year investigation by the Franciscan Order has found... The abuses included nude games, spanking, fondling, masturbation, and oral sex, a panel of six investigators found.

The Sacramento Bee (3/26/95)
PHOENIX -- The headmaster of a private school has been arrested and accused of forcing a 15-year-old girl to remove her clothing and kneel in prayer while he struck her with a wooden paddle.

The girl's mother witnessed the paddling, too frightened to do anything to stop it, Phoenix police said. The three swats left bruises and welts on the girl's buttocks. The teen's 6-year-old sister, waiting in the next room, also heard her sister's cries for help, police said.

The teen was not even a student at the school. Her mother had brought her there to consider enrolling her in September.

Police say Michael William Wetton told the girl during her 75-minute ordeal on Feb. 24 that he wanted her to understand corporal punishment, which is used to discipline students at the school...

This is not the first time Wetton has been accused of child abuse. He is facing trial next month for allegedly leaving bruises on the buttocks of a 9-year-old student after a paddling in August.

Arizona law allows parents and others in authority to paddle children, as long as they do not use inappropriate force.

After Wetton's arrest, some parents directed anger at the police. The parents said they consider Wetton, an English citizen, a superior teacher who has improved their children's manners and academic performance.

"I'm not sure these aren't trumped-up charges," said Rosemary Rice, a board member of the school and parent of a student.

Cookie O'Kelley, another board member, also is angry over the police action.

"It was ludicrous," she said. "It makes absolutely no sense."

Rice and O'Kelley are defense witnesses for Wetton in his upcoming trial.

O'Kelley, Rice and other parents say they enrolled their children at the academy because they wanted stricter discipline and higher academic standards than public schools provide. Parents must sign a release acknowledging paddling is part of the discipline.

"The Bible says to use the rod," Rice said, adding that the arrest "is an assault on Christian beliefs."...

As part of the orientation, Wetton reportedly took the girl to a room alone and told her to take off her clothes. Crying, she removed everything but her bra and panties. Wetton then struck her once with a wooden paddle. Wetton then reportedly forced the girl to disrobe completely, made her kneel as if in prayer and struck her across the buttocks. Then, police say, he forced her to grab the edge of a table, spread her legs and submit to another swat. Finally, he made her bow down to him and recite the Lord's Prayer.

PTAVE Reports (Australia, 11/83)
BRITAIN -- We reported last month that Colin West, Headmaster of the Lower School, St. Aiden's, Carlisle, would be retried on charges of indecently assaulting girl pupils. The Crown alleges that Mr. West spanked girls, ages 11 to 14, on their bare buttocks with a shoe and then rubbed their buttocks with antiseptic cream... The court heard in March, 1982, two girls were called to West's office because they were not wearing full uniform. West told one to go back to class, but detained the other. She told the court the following: "He dragged me into his office and slammed the door behind him and said, 'I'm going to teach you a lesson.' Then he slapped me across the face. I started crying. He pushed me by the throat and I fell back against the bookcase. He pulled me by the arm and pulled me over his knee. He was kneeling on the floor. He pulled my skirt up and hit me about twice. Then he pulled my knickers down. He hit me across my bare bottom. He kept hitting me until I said I'm telling my mum and dad about you. He put his hands on my shoulders and said, 'I love you more than any other kid in this school. You need not tell your mum what happened.' "

A letter read on BBC Radio 4's "Any Answers?" (4/84)
"My partner is a retired headmaster of a prep school where he had the power to beat any small boy. He now spends a great deal of time and energy in contacting young men and women who are willing to be beaten, as this is the only way he can get sexually aroused."


SUGGESTED READING

Charles, Jeffrey, Sin, Sex and Spanking School-Aged Children. (Independent publication. Contact the author at 1450 Cutler Ave., Burton, Michigan 48509.)

Freud, Sigmund, "A Child is being Beaten: A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversion." (1919) Reprinted in the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. (Consult a University library.)

Gibson, Ian, The English Vice. London: Duckworth, 1978.

Green, Gerald and Green, Caroline, S-M: The Last
Taboo. New York: Grove Press, 1974.

Greven, Philip, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. New York: Random House, 1991.

Hyman, I. A. and Wise, James H., Corporal Punishment in American Education. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979.

Hyman, I. A., Reading, Writing and the Hickory Stick: The Appalling Story of Physical and Psychological Violence in American Schools. Boston: Lexington Books, 1990.

Johnson, Tom, Spanking: For Adults Only. (Independent publication) Available on computer diskette (IBM compatible text file) from PTAVE, P.O. Box 1033, Alamo, CA 94507-7033.

Krafft-Ebing, Richard von, Psychopathia Sexualis. (Translated from the German. Consult a university library.)

Maurer, Adah, Paddles Away: A Psychological Study of Physical Punishment in Schools. Palo Alto: R&E Research Associates, 1981.

Miller, Alice, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. (PTAVE strongly recommends all Miller's works.)

. . ., Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.

. . ., Banished Knowledge. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

. . ., Breaking Down the Wall of Silence. New York: Dutton,1991.

Newell, Peter, Children are People Too: The Case Against Physical Punishment. London: Bedford Square Press, 1989

Scott, George Ryley, The History of Corporal Punishment. London: T. Werner Laurie, Ltd., 1886, Republication: Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1974

Straus, Murray A., Beating the Devil out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families. New York: Free Press, 1994.

De Zulueta, Felicity, From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1994

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