The term child sex play is usually used to refer to that part of young children's intimate play life wherein children mutually engage in activities that adults designate as sexual, play such as exposing themselves to each other and touching each other's genitals. The term child sex play can be broadened to include any type of same- or opposite-sex sexual activity involving two or more children of the same age that occurs at any time prior to the onset of adolescence. [*1]
Infants before they are old enough to walk or even to crawl show interest in others of their age by actively seeking eye and touch contact with each other. And they have more contact with others at this age than one might expect. Many infants, even as young as six to twelve months old, have contact with other infants. When in each other's presence, infants watch each other, point at each other, and move toward each other. When within reaching distance, they may touch each other on the face, body, or clothing and then engage in games of mutual pointing and touching. The relatively high frequency of watching, pointing, touching, as well as vocalizing in the presence of another infant suggests a strong interest in peers even at this early age. Because of their lack of touch finesse and lack of familiarity with such an exchange, the game may end in one or both indicating a desire to be rescued from it.
Whereas infants have a very limited mobility, young children are able to walk about and to play with peers under less care and supervision. This extends the range and increases the variety of peer contact and experiences, including some experiences that adults characterize as sexual. Playing with siblings and neighborhood children, attending kindergarten, and beginning grade school open many new possibilities for interaction. As young children learn to play together in an amicable fashion, they single out one or two playmates for whom they show real affection. Freud (1938) observed that children from three to five years old are capable of evincing a very strong object selection that is accompanied by strong affect. But it can occur even earlier. Kinsey's interviews with a small sample of two-year-olds and their mothers revealed a good deal of cuddling and kissing by two-year-olds (both boys and girls) not only of their parents but also of others. Reporting on life in the Israeli kevutza, Spiro (1958) noted in a bisexual children's peer group with a mean age of two that the most frequent expression of heterosexual behavior consisted of a simple embrace of one child by another, followed in frequency by stroking and caressing, kissing, and touching of genitals. Bell (1902), in his study of more than 2,500 cases of affectionate friendships between three- to eight-year-olds, found what he called the emotion of sex-love beginning in the behavior of children in the third year of life. This emotion was exhibited in paired relationships through such activities as hugging, kissing, lifting each other, scuffling, sitting close to each other, confessing to each other and excluding others, grieving at being separated, giving gifts, extending courtesies to each other that are withheld from others, making sacrifices such as giving up desired things or forgoing pleasures, and being jealous. Bell characterized the love demonstration of children as spontaneous, profuse, and unrestrained. The following case is illustrative.
At the tender age of 5, 1 found the idea of a boyfriend very appealing. We experimented with kissing on several occasions; however the idea formed, we were sure we were in love. When I was 7 or 8, he asked me to marry him. I was overjoyed and really believed that we would marry when we "grew up."
I, a girl, was about 5 years old and never played with other girls. Children in the neighborhood looked upon us as an "engaged couple." One afternoon while playing in his house we decided to take off our trousers. There was something exciting about it, something I had never felt before.
Kindergarten was curiously arousing in that I enjoyed sleeping next to girls on our mats during rest periods.
Since adults are reluctant to inform about or to model sex behavior for children, children make their own attempts at satisfying their curiosity about sexuality and sex life. This results in bodily exploration, sexual experiments, and sexual games carried on largely in secret from adults. Hence, children live out their unorganized affectional and sexual feelings and their curiosity through their play. Their interest in their own genitals and the genitals of their peers increases. They study their own genitalia, fondle them, and show them to others. Gundersen et al. (1981) found in a nursery school that boys' interest in the genitals of others was primarily directed toward interest in the genitals of other boys; girls also showed a marked interest in boys' genitals. In other words, both sexes were preoccupied with boys' sexual organs. Discovery of boys' genitals excites more interest; not only is there more to see, so far as external genitalia is concerned, but an unexpected erection adds to the excitement.
When we played with each other in the nude my penis became erect; I marveled at this. She asked what it was for. I didn't know.
Doctor/nurse/patient games, family role-playing games, and similar forms of play are common children's play.
It was at the age of 5 that 1, along with my three friends who were sisters and lived next door, first viewed the genitals of a boy. They had a male cousin who came to visit and we all ended up behind the furnace playing doctor. No matter what he would say his symptoms were, we were so fascinated with his penis that it was always the center of our examinations. I remember giggling as I punched it and as I dunked it in some red food-colored water that we were using for medicine. This seemed to give him great enjoyment. One girl put hand lotion and a bandage on his penis and in the process he had an erection. We asked him to do it again but their was no such luck. He suddenly felt embarrassed and offended and said he didn't want to play anymore.
Undressing and thereby exposing one's body to a playmate is surely one of the earliest and least organized forms of young children's sex play. It is spontaneous, light-hearted, and exploratory rather than goal oriented. They are not sure what they are looking for or what they will find. They may act excited, giggle, and feel and act silly. It is not sexuality that excites them as much as the discovery of something new or the feeling, due to previous conditioning, that they are doing something naughty. Young children are fascinated by undressing and exploring each other, even in societies where nudity of children is more readily accepted than it is in the United States. Gundersen et al. (1981) reported that being naked in itself appeared to be very enjoyable for Norwegian nursery children, and there seemed to be very little shyness when playing outdoors or indoors, although some children never undressed. Generally the teachers did not interfere with the children. Young boys are Often disappointed the first time they see girls' genitals, in that they expect more.
I was very disappointed at what I saw, for there was only a slit and nothing more.
At age five children begin to be more self-contained, serious about themselves, and impressed with their ability to initiate grown-up behavior. Sex play and games involving exposure are likely to decrease in frequency as children become more modest and less apt to expose themselves. There is less bathroom play and interest in bathrooms than occurs earlier. They are familiar with, but less interested in, the physical differences between the sexes.
Youth who remember childhood sexual experiences often remember them because of something noteworthy that happened-and that is often the reaction of a parent, as in the following.
Out of curiosity she and 1, about age 5, exposed our genitals to each other. We were caught in the act. Mother sent her home, told me not to ever do that again, gave me a good licking and sent me to my bedroom for the rest of the day. I couldn't understand why she was so mad; she never explained to me why I was punished. I was hurt and confused and, worse yet, my curiosity was still not appeased. This event is solidly implanted in my mind, for it was the first time I had encountered such fury from my mother.
Even when no physical punishment results, it can happen that one of the children's parents will enter the room "hollering and screaming," as one boy reported. On the other hand, the following case of an understanding parent seems to be more typical of parental responses today.
My mother told me that she had found out that a neighbor girl and I had been exposing and touching each other's genitals in the closet. She did not scold me but told me that it is natural that children are curious and want to know what the opposite sex looks like. I felt relieved, having believed that I had trodden on forbidden ground.
Nor do both parents necessarily agree on the seriousness of children exposing themselves to each other.
I still remember how much I liked my father. Mother told him what I had done. He wasn't angry at all, just talked to me calmly, and tried to get me to stop crying. I don't think mother ever understood how much she hurt me psychically that time.
Preadolescence is the span of four or so years of childhood immediately preceding adolescence, though the onset of adolescence is somewhat variable. Interest in sex is quite high in preadolescence, though sex exploration and sex play may be less common than in earlier childhood. Preadolescents are more cognizant of and influenced by the sexual scripts and social taboos subscribed to and taught by adults they are in contact with than are younger children. Preadolescent boys and girls are conscious of gender differences and play a great deal as separate gender groups. Girls, in preadolescence, play with dolls and paper dolls, play house, and stress more complex adult relationships than they did at earlier years, while boys are more physically active and object oriented.
Cross-sex antagonisms develop that are in part due to these and other differences, in part due to the effort of individuals in each gender group to identify more closely with their own sex and separate themselves from the other sex. Individuals also become aware of differences that adults instill in each sex. Sex differences-innate and those imposed by adults-become incorporated into boys'and girls' subcultures. The male subculture supports and encourages sexual activity; this affect s the incidence of their sexual experiences-How much the incidence of sexual experience is affected by socio-cultural and how much by physiological factors is a moot question and impossible to ascertain. We do know that penile erections come quickly and easily in preadolescent boys, more quickly than in adult males, though the speed at which orgasmic climax is reached in sex play varies widely as it does in adult males. The capacity of preadolescent boys to achieve repeated orgasms in limited time exceeds the capacity of teenage boys, which in turn exceeds that of adult males (Kinsey et al. 1948).
Ramsey (1943), in studying the erotic responsiveness of nearly 300 boys from an urban junior high school in a middle-sized Midwestern city (die respondents were mostly white, middle class, and Protestant), asked each boy to rate his response to each item on a list of erotic stimuli. Ramsey found wide variation in the erotic responsiveness of each boy. The items, arranged in declining order based on the item's rating as a stimulant by the group as a whole, were as follows: sex conversation, female nudity, obscene motion pictures, and daydreaming. About 50 percent of the boys reported erections resulting from some type of non-erotic stimulus. The situation in which responses occurred usually involved elements of fear, excitement, or other emotional stimulant. The items reported as non-erotic stimuli included carnival rides, war motion pictures, being late to school, reciting before a class, fast rides, playing a musical solo, band music, and fear of punishment. These responses were most frequently reported for boys aged ten, eleven, and twelve years.
For girls the incidence of preadolescent heterosexual sex play (i.e., the active incidence) appears to be highest in the younger years of preadolescence rather than in the older years of preadolescence. Eight percent of the females in the Kinsey et al. (1953) sample recalled heterosexual sex play at ages five and seven, but fewer recalled it in the years of preadolescence. Only 3 percent recalled having sex play just before pubescence. For most, preadolescent play was restricted to a single experience or to a few stray experiences. Exceedingly few of the girls seemed to have developed a pattern of frequent or regular sexual activity. The situation was different for boys. Seven boys for every one girl were engaging in heterosexual play as they approached adolescence; the girls who did accept contacts at that age apparently had more than one male partner (Kinsey et al. 1953).
Neither Ramsey (1943) nor Kinsey et al. (1953) show evidence of a striking increase in the incidence of sex activity as puberty is reached. Kinsey's data on the active incidence for each year did show that for boys who later go to college, heterosexual play of all kinds dropped off after about age ten, presumably in response to a redefinition of the meaning of this type of behavior. But among boys who did not finish high school, there was reportedly a high level of continuity of heterosexual activity throughout preadolescence and into adolescence. There were gender differences, however. Among males a much higher percentage carried their preadolescent play directly into their adolescent and adult activity than was true of females. The discontinuities between the adolescent and preadolescent activities of the female appear to be the product of social custom and not of anything in the female's biological or psychological makeup. The incidence of heterosexual sex play for girls just prior to puberty in part depends on restraints placed on them by their parents as they approach puberty-restraints that girls often resent after a carefree childhood.
Many naive and more or less erotic experiences of childhood carry over and are elaborated on in preadolescence, for it is early preadolescence before some children get around to the stage that often occurs much earlier, namely exposing themselves to each other. At this older age the game of exposing is not always as innocent as is exposing at younger ages.
She often let me watch her urinate, but I always refused to permit her to watch me. I repeatedly told her that I was "different." Later that year I became bolder. She and I ran back into the woods and undressed in front of each other. I suggested that we touch each other's genitals, but she refused.
When we were in the fort, the boys asked us to "take down our pants" so that they could see what we looked like and they in turn would do the same. My friend and I didn't go for the idea but after lots of friendly persuasion we agreed to do it on the condition that everyone was sworn to secrecy. We all really gawked after the pants were down and I remember being rather embarrassed but also fascinated at looking at the different penises. This was not my first time seeing a penis because I had watched my dad get dressed. I recall that some of the boys would sometimes have erections and one boy told another that he really had a "boner," having an erection with the largest penis of all the boys.
He told me to pull down my pants and he did the same. He had an erection and he put his penis between my legs. He said that this was how to "fuck." Being totally unfamiliar with the term and his not knowing the exact technique, I thought it was a silly thing to do and never attached much importance to the incident. I often wonder what would have happened if he actually knew what to do. I guess I must have been a permissive, ignorant child.
To play our game it was necessary that we both take down our pants and expose our genitalia. The leader of the game had a nickel, which he was ready to toss. If I called the correct side of the coin as he tossed it, he would then touch his erect penis to my genitals. It was like a gentle love pat, not a forceful shove. After the first few times, no matter which side of the coin landed up we touched our genitals every time. I remember experiencing great pleasure when his penis touched my genitals. It was a tingly feeling that surged through me. I liked the feeling and thus we engaged in the game about 15 times that afternoon.
My friend and I decided to organize a club. Right away we recruited a third member, a girl. Our intentions were to hold secret meetings for the purpose of displaying our naked bodies to each other. We were quite excited about the potential of our group, especially since we anticipated the further physical development of our most important member, the girl. We realized that we were doing something not quite proper and this realization was reflected in the name we selected for the club, "The Naughty Club." Our girl member moved away before our club could achieve its objectives. When she moved away we decided not to hold any more meetings.
The first time I recall ever thinking about "sex" or boys having to do with sex was when I was about 11 years old when still within the context of my childhood group. We would have secret meetings in my playhouse, bum candies, and pass around "dirty" pictures that we had cut out of magazines. One time we even got the idea of pulling down our pants in front of each other. This was never repeated, partly because I objected to it so violently and partly because we lost fascination with these meetings after a while.
Based on participant observation in four elementary schools, Thome and Luria (1986) analyzed relationships between sexuality and gender in the experiences of nine- to eleven-year-old children. They found, as have other researchers, that gender segregation-the separation of girls and boys in friendship and casual encounters-is central to daily life in elementary school. It is so common that they found it meaningful to speak of separate boys' and girls' worlds. Girls tend to focus on themes of romance in their conversations about sexuality; boys focus more on sex. Crushes and hero worship that occur among young children also occur among preadolescents.
Through grade school and into junior high I had "crushes" on older boys, boys 6-7 years older. It would actually hurt me to see them with other girls. You don't have to be very old to be hurt; it starts at a very tender age.
We got terrible crushes on boys. You'd think the world would end if one of these nights you wouldn't receive a call.
During the summer I and a couple of my friends developed crushes on a couple of girls, and that summer was spent in a sort of competition as to who would be the first to "establish communication" and ask their girl on a date. It was an especially confusing period of time for me, because I was experiencing feelings that I hadn't felt before. I'm sure some of the things I said and did were rather foolish, but it was perfectly serious.
At the age of ten, sexual topics started to become the main area of conversation, both at the lunch table and on the playground. Through grade school there was always mention of the subject, especially in jokes, but it seemed to be stepped up, I suppose in response to obvious physical changes that were occurring in both us boys and more prominently the girls.
Though they are interested in romance, girls are not all equally accepting of their "more prominent physical changes," as demonstrated in the following two cases.
One morning in the fifth grade I noticed humps appearing on my chest. I was amazed, scared, and pleased all at the same time. To show how pleased I was, I called all of my girlfriends' attention to this phenomenon and let them "feel" my breasts.
The girls in our school were ridiculed to a certain degree by the others if they had a bust. I very much did not want to be singled out and made fun of, so I tried very hard to hide my changing figure. When my mother bought me a bra while I was in the sixth grade, I refused to wear it. Instead I wore two undershirts and a tight slip to hide my bust.
Much same-sex as well as cross-sex play in preadolescence has nothing to do with sex. The play of boys is more active and vigorous than is that of girls, but even boy-girl play is apt to be active and vigorous; to succeed at such play girls must adopt some of the active, vigorous play patterns of boys. In recent generations, gender differences have not been as rigidly defined and girls and boys overlap in many characteristics, such as style of dress, sports, and social activities. Boy-girl play at this age contains many approach and avoidance routines, as both sexes are practicing new roles. It is not always clear to an adult observer whether they are fighting with each other or-attempting to establish a relationship. Their motives are not always clear to themselves, and they may be doing both.
A group of Girl Scouts decided to have a roller skating party with boys invited. I didn't know how to roller skate very well, and to make matters worse, I didn't like girls. The party turned out to be a free-for- all with the boys chasing the girls around trying to pull their hair. The girls finally fought back which made us very happy. I think the reason why we acted that way was because we didn't know how to act with girls. All the boys agreed that it had been lots of fun, but the girls were quite disappointed. I guess that even at the age of eleven they expected a more romantic attitude on the part of us boys.
In chase-and-touch play, one may be defined by members of the opposite sex as having cooties, which are transferred to others by chasing and touching. Girls, more likely than boys, are the ones designated as having and giving cooties. Girls are the ultimate in untouchables at this age. They may be contaminating through some additional characteristic that stigmatizes them, such as being overweight or poor (Thorne 1985). Thorne (1985:176) found that an occasional boy is also treated as contaminating (for example, a boy who was " stinky' " and " 'smelled like pee' "). Boys at the bottom of the boys' hierarchy are sometimes called girls, which also indicates their low status.
Stigmatizing peers, although it plays a role in arriving at status
distinctions, is one of the more unpleasant aspects of the teasing that is
characteristic among children at this age. Teasing serves many purposes for
preadolescents. Besides establishing one child's low status in his or her own
gender group as well as across gender lines, it is also used to assert that
another child is popular and is accepted in peer interaction. Later on, teasing
becomes part of a pre-romantic type of interaction that reaches a peak among
twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, particularly among girls.
Purported romantic liaisons are matters of public notice and widespread rumor and teasing. Sexual and romantic teasing marks preadolescent social hierarchies. It is the most popular children and the pariahs-the lowest status, excluded children-who are most frequently mentioned as targets of liking. Linking someone with a pariah suggests shared contamination and is an especially vicious tease (Thorne and Luria 1985).
Games like chase-and-kiss indicate that there are nascent sexual meanings in cross-gender chasing. The threat of kissing-most often girls threatening to kiss boys-is a ritualized form of provocation. Teachers are more disturbed by it among fifth and sixth graders than they would be if it happened to younger children, perhaps because girls " 'have their development' " (Thorne and Luria 1986: 11). In the following case a boy is the chaser and kisser.
At about age nine, one boy liked both my best friend and me. One day during recess he chased me around the playground. He finally caught me in a parked car in which I was hiding and kissed me fifty times. I felt very good since he had kissed me more than he had my friend, making me sure that he liked me more than her. I enjoyed being kissed by boys since I thought it meant that they loved me and I knew that someday I would love and marry one boy.
As part of their play, even very young children engage in discourse using words that adults think they should not be using or should use with more discretion than they do. When words about body parts and bodily functions are first used, they are used innocently to exchange information or to explain parts of their anatomy. But even preschool children are old enough to discern the provocative value of some "dirty" words to shock or challenge a parent or other adult, or to tease their peers, especially in cross-sex teasing.
Young children like to talk about objects and activities that they sense adults consider dirty or taboo, such as bugs, worms, fleas, pigs, excrement, enemas, and flatulence (Borneman 1983). It is not long before they are capable of learning the even greater provocative power of certain slang words for referring to body parts and bodily sexual functions-words such as cock, cunt, shit, fuck. Gundersen et al. (1981) found a clear tendency for Norwegian nursery school boys to use such sexual words more frequently than did girls but found no gender difference in the selection of words. Borneman (1983) recorded what he regarded as an inordinate number of verses about brother-sister incest and a fair number about parental intercourse in the child culture of Austrian children, all of them appealing to children between ages six and seven.
Dirty words, jokes, rhymes, pictures, and songs play a major part in the communication that goes on among preadolescents. Many of the dirty words are not explicitly sexual. Both boys and girls use them when talking to friends of their own sex, but boys use them much more than girls do; dirty talk is a stable part of their repertoire. Dirty talk is also used in the taunting and teasing that goes on in relations between boys' and girls' groups. Thorne and Luria (1985) found that dirty words were a focus of rules and rule breaking in elementary school. Boys more frequently than girls flaunted dirty words, risking punishment for their use. Fifth- and sixth-grade boys also showed pornography in the form of soft-core magazines like Playboy and Penthouse and took great care to prevent the material from being confiscated.
Preadolescents spend much of their school day in organized activity under the watchful eyes of principals, teachers, librarians, hall monitors, cafeteria workers, security officers, and others. Given this setting, it is understandable that Thorne and Luria (1986) did not find much activity that could be characterized as directly sexual in nature, for in the presence of teachers girls and boys generally interact in relaxed ways as they do in mixed groups where gender is not made strongly salient. This contrasts markedly to the frenetic activity that often characterizes unsupervised cross-sex interaction on the playground and elsewhere.
Mixed parties are a phenomenon added to the sexual scene in preadolescence. They are fairly common, especially among the middle class. Heterosexual parties are sometimes referred to as group dating; such parties often precede or signal the beginning of paired dating. These parties may be a part of a school activity, they may be planned by organizations of girls, or they may be private parties planned by the youngsters themselves or by their parents.
Many of our parents would arrange for boy-girl parties in their homes, spending their evening upstairs while we were left quite unchaperoned in the basement.
As I recall, the initial party of consequence was a mixed birthday party given in honor of one of the girls. This, more or less, started the run of parties that began to take place nearly every Friday evening during the school year. The kids attending these home parties weren't ever paired off in couples but were invited on an individual basis.
Oftentimes the ratio of boys to girls was uneven-falling either way. The parties throughout the year usually began between 7:30 and 8:00 P.m. and lasted till around 10:00 Pm. when the parents at whose house the party was being held or another "volunteer" would drive the kids home.
For the sake of honors and awards the Chick-a-dee Campfire girls planned parties and hayrides. The boys were not quite as enthusiastic as we hoped they would be, but they came and soon couples developed.
I remember making out invitation lists for parties trying to invite the fellows in whom each of us was interested. Even with all the planning, we never paired off except by more frequent attention given by a favorite during "wink 'um" and "clap-in-clap-out."
In childhood, if there is any pairing off, it is done not because of sexual
maturation but primarily because the culture or one's group expects it. A
primary group in the form of a gang or clique of a bisexual nature can play an
important part in preparing individuals for dating by helping to minimize
shyness, fears, frustrations, and anxiety.
There was one girl in particular who was mature physically by the fifth grade and who had ideas of dating before the rest of us did. She was a very strong leader and encouraged the rest of us to date. She seemed to know all the facts of life, and she took advantage of our curiosity at this age and told us all she knew.
Much of first pairing off is hardly distinguishable from girl-boy parties and is usually not formalized, nor is it expected that these relationships will last for long. The relationships are predominantly social rather than sexual. They commonly involve engaging in activities such as riding bikes together, hitting each other playfully, walking home together, smoking together, sitting next to each other at a movie or on the school bus, sharing possessions, attending parties, and even having formal dates with parental support in some cases.
I began dating in the fourth grade. Every Friday night he and I would go to the show and home. His mother chauffeured, and we would hold hands and kiss goodnight.
I don't think our sixth grade boys followed the normal pattern of not liking girls because all of us spent a great deal of time together after school and on weekends. The big romance of the sixth grade was between one of the boys and me. We naturally spent lots of time together at the boy-girl parties and at other times.
During these years (6th-8th grade) we used to sit with a special guy on the bus after basketball games. Going to the games, all of the fellows had to sit in the front of the bus, but going home things would change.
Dating with me began in the seventh grade. It was a companionship relationship and usually consisted of riding our bikes, playing tennis, or going swimming with a bunch of other kids, or the gang would come to my house at night and play group games such as hide-and-seek, starlight-moonlight, etc.
The bravest thing a fellow could do was to find out if the girl you were interested in was going to the show and then appear at the same show and sit next to her. After the show you could walk her home if it was not too far out of your way.
During sixth grade he took me on my first official date--doubling with another couple to the Saturday matinee. He and I developed a great deal of affection for each other, maybe "puppy love" is a better term, and it was quite sad when he moved at the end of the school year.
My mother was quite perturbed when, in the sixth grade, I turned down my first date offer.
My first date was when I was in the sixth grade. There were four couples who went to the Ice Follies by bus all alone. The whole time I was there I can remember being miserable because I wished I was with the girls instead of a boy. After the show we all went over to one of the girls' houses for dinner and dancing. I ran away when my date asked me to dance and then was actually cruel to him the whole evening. I guess I was not ready for a boyfriend just yet, although other girls were beginning.
My first paired dating was in the seventh grade. My friend called for me at home like a perfect gentleman, and gallantly escorted me to the car where his father sat patiently waiting. When the program was over we waited in front of the school for his father to pick us up and take me home.
In communities where it is popular, "going steady" develops as early as the beginning of the preadolescent pairing-off experience (at least it is going steady in the minds of the participants). Symbols of the going-steady status (such as bracelets and rings) are offered and accepted even while the steadies are not in reality dating each other at all, except in their own fantasy world.
After I had been in junior high for a few months I fell in with the going-steady pattern. Before long she asked me to give her a ring or a bracelet of mine which she could wear. After hearing "All the other girls are wearing their boyfriend's rings" many times, I bought a cheap dime-store ring which I gave her. This going-steady period lasted for about five weeks. I never had a date with her or even phoned her during this time. It seems it was all done just to keep up with what other kids were doing.
I began going steady when I was twelve years old and I thought a lot of the boy I was infatuated with. I was sure I had found the secret to happiness and that this was love. My girlfriends also had steady boyfriends and we used to double date. Our dates were not really dates at all but the time we spent together was fun. The boys hardly ever picked us up at our homes. The girls would regularly go to the show Friday nights and Sundays. We would always sit in the same place and the boys would always come and sit with us or behind us. Then after the movie the boys would walk us home. Hardly ever, in fact never, did we take the boys into our homes to talk; we would always stand outside. I do not believe that I ever kissed my boyfriend but we did hold hands in private. I believe that going steady made me feel important and gave me some self-confidence.
Kissing is an activity that many children are familiar with from early childhood. They have kissed and been kissed by their parents, their siblings, relatives, and sometimes their playmates. There is provocative kissing in chase-and-kiss, sometimes an unserious play kiss confined to a smack on the cheek or a brief brushing of the lips (Rainwater 1970) as well as more serious goal-directed kissing. Kissing is frequently marked by excitement, erotic overtones, confusion, embarrassment, guilt, disgust, or some combination of these.
A series of make-out-parties which I enjoyed began in the fourth grade. Liking to kiss people came naturally from my affectionate surroundings, and I made good use of it.
Sixth grade finally rolled around and I was in the "in group." We all had to have a boyfriend, so I got one. My girlfriends began to have boy-girl parties on weekend nights. I just hated going to them. My boyfriend always wanted to kiss. I pretended like I liked it, but I really wanted to throw up all over him. It just grossed me out. The guilt feelings ran really high. I was afraid my parents would find out, and I lived in fear.
Everyone at mixed-couple parties sat on the couch with the lights out and kissed. 1, a 7th grade girl, was so embarrassed and confused at such activity that I left the party early, went home and cried. I hated that boy from then on and refused to go anyplace with him.
In whatever way it first occurred, she and 1 (9-10 years old) began to try out simple methods of love-making, such as kissing and embracing. Although I could not ascertain it clearly at the time, there seemed to be a distinctly warm and comfortable feeling in what we were doing. This probably marked my first real sexual attraction toward the opposite sex.
Parties involving dancing, and sometimes slow dancing with close body contact, occur during preadolescence in homes and in the school. Like kissing, dancing can bring its moments of ecstasy and moments of unpleasantness.
When I entered junior high school there weren't many fellows who were on the dance floor at school dances. They were all in a group in the comer and that is where I ended up too. We told jokes, tested our strength on the bars that stood along the walls, and teased any fellow who dared to ask a girl to dance.
I remember one of the chaperones. Whenever she found a couple dancing a little closer than she thought was proper, she would shove the ruler between the couple and say, "Six inches apart, children."
The ability to dance caused a new type of party to evolve. The girls planned these parties, which always centered around the slow dance. These parties usually started slow and inhibited, the boys grouping on one side of the room and the girls on the other. As the party progressed, however, the boys, due to group support, gathered up enough courage to ask a girl to dance. The dancing was of the "cheek-to-cheek" kind and if the girl had no reservations about whom she was dancing with, the couple usually stuck together throughout the entire evening.
At our parties there was a small amount of dancing and a large amount of games. This consisted of embarrassing things for me. They were winkum, passing life savers with tooth-picks, etc.
I would have preferred other games to dancing. For me this came too early and pushed me faster than I wanted to grow up; however, I was caught up in the false social whirl of this group and began to think as they did.
Activities of a group or paired nature during preadolescence sometimes change from games or dancing into more intimate caressing and fondling experiences, referred to by the ambiguous euphemism "making out."
We'd start out by playing games like "spin the bottle." Later everyone would pair off. After we had coupled up for the evening, we usually had contests, such as what couple could hold a kiss the longest, etc.
The lights were shut off or the parents would leave and the "necking" aspect of the party would begin. The silence of the party would be broken intermittently by someone "cracking a joke," changing a record or getting up to dance.
During fifth and sixth grade home parties, she and I always managed to get together. More often than not we crept away to a quiet comer of the cellar and began doing "our things." Kissing and tight embraces proved to be the extent of our actions, but the opportunity for such behavior occurred quite frequently.
I was in the seventh grade. There were only couples there. We ate and danced for a while and then everyone sat on the couch with the lights out and kissed.
The slow songs and dim lights seemed like heaven, with a stiff penis being the first pleasurable sign. Sometimes the girl and myself would hold each other tighter as the songs progressed and many times, about halfway through a song, we would start to touch bottoms and really hold each other tight--oh, I hoped the songs would never end. This sometimes led to making out after a few songs or just holding hands, but whatever it was it was really "neat."
Boy-girl mutual genital fondling is not a universal experience of preadolescent couples in the United States, but it is not unknown either. Ramsey (1943) reported that sexual experiences, when they did occur for boys, most frequently involved manual manipulation associated with direct observation of each other's bodies. Exhibitionistic sex play was the next most frequent type of behavior.
We both had reached the ripe old age of twelve. Sexual experimentation was not new to me nor to him. That evening after dark we met secretly at a secluded spot. We kissed for a while and both of us became increasingly excited. This led, in turn, to the unfastening of our clothes and the placement of his hand on my breast. Gradually his hand crept downwards, beneath my pants until he was gently stroking my mons veneris and clitoris. He wanted to "finger" me but I resisted firmly as a girl had to draw the line somewhere! Now he posed a rather surprising question. He wanted "me" to touch "him." He exposed his erect penis and pulled my hand toward it. At the thought of touching it I trembled, but managed to do so. I think I was the first girl in seventh grade to actually "feel out" a boy as this was previously unheard of. We continued to mutually masturbate for a while and then I decided that it was time for me to go home. The significance of this encounter lies in the fact that for the first time one of my childhood experiences had suddenly become really sexual, and the action was tinged with my first feelings of guilt. I suffered a great deal following this incident for fear of losing my reputation.
Whether or not children engage in simulated or actual sexual intercourse depends on the way they have been brought up and how knowledgeable they are. In the following two cases of simulated intercourse, the boy is more naive than the girl.
My girlfriend and 1-15 and she 6-used to ride our bikes together, play house, etc. One day, while playing indoors, she expressed a desire to take our pants off. This seemed a mere violation of the nudity taboo rather than anything related to sex, as I had no knowledge of such things. We undressed, she laid on her back on the bed with her legs spread apart. I got an erection, which pleased her. She told me to roll over on top of her. This seemed like a strange thing to do, but I decided to comply. Just then my mother entered the room.
She asked me if I wanted to see her genitals. I didn't know what she meant, but it sounded mysterious and I was interested. We went to our secret hiding place and she told me what to do. To kiss her genitals and to put myself on her and to push and get back. I didn't get very much out of it.
Some societies are considerably more permissive than U.S. society, encouraging-or at least not discouraging-child sexual behavior (Ford and Beach 1951). In communities where parents speak openly about sex and place no taboos on physical contact, exploration of each other's bodies and actual intercourse takes place between children as young as five or six years of age.
Sexual life begins in earnest among Trobriand Island children at six to eight years for girls and ten to twelve years for boys. Sex play includes masturbation, oral stimulation of the genitals of the same and opposite sex, and heterosexual copulation. At any time a couple may retire to the bush, the bachelors' hut, an isolated yam house, or any convenient place and there engage in prolonged sexual play.
Among the Ila-speaking peoples of Africa, this is regarded as a time of preparation for adult life and mature sexual functioning. It is reported that there are no virgins among these people after the age of ten. The Lapcha of India believe that girls will not mature without the benefit of sexual intercourse. Early sex play for boys and girls in that society characteristically involves many forms of mutual masturbation and usually ends in attempted copulation. By the time they are eleven or twelve years old, most girls regularly engage in sexual intercourse.
Johnston and Deisher (1973) found that children in a permissive American commune related to sex as something interesting and enjoyable but not as of central importance to their play activity. Such permissiveness is not characteristic of many American communities, yet Ramsey (1943) found that in his sample of primarily middle and upper-middle socioeconomic level Midwestern urban boys, 6 percent had had heterosexual intercourse by age six, 11 percent by age seven, and 16 percent by age eight. We do not have comparable data for girls or boys from more recent periods. At every age in childhood, boys tend to engage in more sexual activity than do girls.
First experiments with copulation are not unusual for American children between the ages of ten and fourteen. By twelve years of age, approximately one boy in every four or five has at least attempted to copulate with a female, and more than 10 percent of preadolescent boys experience their first ejaculation in connection with heterosexual intercourse, according to Kinsey et al. (1948). Preadolescent attempts to have genital union occurred in nearly 22 percent of all male histories, which is over half (55%) of the histories of boys who had engaged in preadolescent heterosexual play. Ramsey (1943) reported that about one third of his sample of middle-class boys had attempted sexual intercourse. The incidence of heterosexual involvement varies with the socio-educational level, being least frequent for preadolescents; who eventually go to college (Kinsey et al. 1948). The lower-level boys had considerable information and assistance in these matters from older boys or from adult males, and in many cases their first heterosexual contacts were with older girls who had already had experience.
For these boys coitus may have occurred with some frequency and with a
variety of partners.
Kinsey et al. (1948) found considerable evidence that preadolescents recognized oral contacts as taboo; nevertheless, American preadolescents occasionally practice oral sex play. Mouth-genital contact occurs in about 2 percent of cases of girls and 9 percent of cases of boys who have had heterosexual play experience.
After stripping girls, beginning in the second and third grade, my
curiosity led me to touch, smell, and eventually to taste that hole.
In sum, even in a society such as ours that goes to great pains to restrict sexual activity among children, children go through stages of heterosexual development. In some communities and socioeconomic groups, these stages begin in preadolescence or earlier. The stages also take longer or shorter to complete depending on sexual and social maturity, the permissiveness of superiors, and the support of peers.
In preadolescence, if not before, youngsters form attachments or crushes on persons outside the family. The love feeling is expressed to the other person in a form that depends on the youngster's age, sexual and social maturity, permissiveness of superiors, and the support of peers. It may appear in the form of rough-house love play (hitting a boy, pulling girls' hair), writing notes, inviting to a party, or simply walking someone home. If the other person responds to this attention, the two may enter into the first of what often turns out to be a long series of close relationships with peers of the opposite sex. Some are informal and relaxed; others are formal and intense. Some involve sexual experiment; others do not.
Often a sexual experience is part of a specific school setting or occasion such as an athletic event, a band or play rehearsal, a visit to relatives (cousins are favorite objects of attention), or a party with peers. There is little doubt that these encounters with their varying degrees of emotional involvement are important at the time that they occur and influence later attitudes toward love, sex, and the opposite sex. They also provide a set of learning experiences, including such obvious things as learning how to kiss, how to dance, how to talk to a person of the opposite sex, and how to fondle and caress. The process of learning these skills is often exciting and dramatic but also anxious and embarrassing. A college student, on reading about stages of heterosexual experience in preadolescence, wrote the following:
As I recall, this was a period of great experimentation, exposure, and discussion of sex. Elaborate games which we thought disguised our motives quite well were created in order that we might expose ourselves in what seemed to be a permissible manner. The fourth grade was characterized by serious boy-girl relationships in which "making out" was a vital component. In the fifth and sixth grade the boys my age were getting their thrills, much to the horror of us girls, by taking pictures of each other experiencing an erection. The longer I spend recalling attitudes, conversations, and actions of the six to twelve age group, the more convinced I am that this certainly was no latency period.
The trend toward more active sexual lives among adolescents is also reflected in the lives of some pre-adoleseents. Girls who are as young as twelve show up at health clinics, schools, and parenting programs. It is not that there are so many pregnancies under age thirteen, but the number receives a great deal of media attention and publicity. Preadolescent pregnancies do present special problems for community agencies. There were only four girls known to Hennepin County's (Minnesota) family service division in 1992, but that number does represent an increase (Hopfensperger 1993). It was unusual for a twelve-year-old girl to have a steady boyfriend and to engage in an active sexual life in the 1970s. It is not just lack of information on birth control and sex education that is at the heart of the problem. Many of the girls come from troubled family relationships, and they lack the acceptance and feeling of self-esteem necessary to say no to sexual intercourse. Without self-esteem it is very difficult to reverse the trend of male dependency and early birth of children that is characteristic of girls this age.
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