THE SEXUAL DANGERS
OF SPANKING CHILDREN
by Tom Johnson
1994, Revised 1996
Copyright is waived on this publication
THE SEXUAL DANGERS OF SPANKING
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.
"...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
Quintilian, A.D. 35-95
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
George Ryley Scott, historian, sociologist,
anthropologist.The History of Corporal Punishment.
"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)
Shere Hite, sex researcher,
sociopsychologist. The Hite Report on the Family.
"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)
Philip Greven, professor of history.
Spare the Child, Page 186.
"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)
Oskar Pfister, physician, psychoanalyst.
Love in Children and its Aberrations.
"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)
Dr. Haim G. Ginott, child psychologist.
Between Parent and Child.
"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)
British Psychological Society,
"Report on Corporal Punishment in Schools."
"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)
Otto Fenichel, M.D.
The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis,
"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)
Sigmund Freud. Three Essays on the
Theory of Sexuality, VII, Page 193.
"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)
The English Vice, Page 284
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)
Johann Heinrich Meibom, physician.
De Flagrorum su in Re Veneria &
Luborum Renumque Officio.
Leyden, Pages 5-6, 14-15.
"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)
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
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
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
Arizona law allows parents and others
in authority to paddle children, as long as they do not use inappropriate
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
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,
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."
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,
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
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
. . ., 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