One way to ascertain the extent of sexual knowledge and sexual experience of children is to look at content in their fantasy world as revealed in their dreams, stories, and myths. Fantasy activity per se is universal in human life, representing the ongoing baseline mental activity of humans. Attending to this internal mental activity is behavior learned early in childhood (Rosenfeld et al. 1982). Dreams occur during sleep, while fantasies occur during waking hours; they are similar enough that fantasies are also called daydreams. It is assumed that sometime in the first year of life, before they begin to speak, children begin to fantasize (Gardner 1969). In studies of child play it has been found that young children are very comfortable with fantasy and are able to move quickly and easily from reality to fantasy and back again (Martinson 1992). Children's styles of fantasy are remarkably similar to those of adults, except that fanciful daydreaming appears mostly unique to children (Rosenfeld et al. 1982).
Fantasy was very often practiced, at any time of mental inactivity. When my actual sexual knowledge was lowest, sadistic ideas and perversions were often fantasized, replaced in time by a more accurate and acceptable fantasy content. As far as fantasy is concerned, the ideas I devised were usually far worse without knowledge than my fantasy developed through knowledge towards actions that married couples usually practice. I would say that before the age of 13, fantasy was either very innocent of erotic concepts, or very sadistic and violent through ignorance.
During or subsequent to genital self-stimulation in the second year of life, both girls and boys frequently make affectional gestures toward their mothers and touch their mothers' bodies. But such open affection begins to disappear after a few weeks and is replaced by an "inward gaze and a self-absorbed look" that soon begins to occur, indicating that a fantasy feeling- state now becomes a regular part of genital stimulation (Roiphe and Galenson 1981:252).
One might expect that the fantasy feeling-state accompanying genital play would show up in the stories young children tell, but it does not appear to do so, not for American children, for American children learn very early that they must not talk about sex, at least not in the presence of adults. That is one reason why the subject of sex does not commonly appear in their stories. An inability or unwillingness to use words referring to sex was one of the most striking findings of Conn's play interview study of 200 children four to fourteen years of age (Conn and Kanner 1947; see also Kanner 1939).
In his play interviews, Conn found that sexual fantasies accompanying masturbation-imagining the sight or touch of genitals, buttocks, or breasts, and thoughts of coitus-were reported by a very small number of boys below nine years and by no girls of any age. For instance, in play interviews, the children even as young as four years of age spoke hesitatingly and without embarrassment of the boy's "thing" and the girl's "thing," but other distinctions had something secret or hidden about them. It was not so much that they did not know names for the genitals; in fact, Conn found no less than sixty-one different names for genitals among the 200 children. But the children regarded these names as bad, nasty, or dirty and hence not to be uttered in the presence of adults. Children with such inhibitions can hardly be expected to report stories they make up or dreams they have had about sex and sexual activity. Another reason for the lack of stories about sex is limited information and lack of sexual experience. With more information and/or experience, children's fantasy life changes. This is evident in some of the cases reported later in this chapter.
There have been two major studies of the stories told by young children (Ames 1966; Pitcher and Prelinger 1963). Ames found that in children two to four years of age, the predominant theme at every age for both boys and girls was violence. Of fifteen two-year-old boys (mean age 2.5), 60 percent of die stories dealt with violence, and for fifteen girls the figure was 68 percent. Other themes in the stories to two-year-olds were: food and eating (boys 14%, girls 27%); sleep (boys 77%, girls 28%); good and bad (boys 0%, girls 21%); possible sibling rivalry (boys 21%, girls 7%); possible castration (boys 14%, girls 0%); and reproduction (boys 0%, girls 7%). None of the group of thirty two-year-olds described stories overtly concerned with anal activity.
Of Pitcher and Prelinger's 137 two- to five-year-olds, eight main themes were found: aggression, death, hurt or misfortune, morality, nutrition, dress, sociability, and crying. Aggression appeared most often- 124 times in 360 stories; hurt and misfortune was the next most frequent theme, appearing eighty-nine times. For boys, aggression tended to be much more violent than for girls. Even at two and three years of age, the boys' calamities involved much violence. Boys reported to Ramsey (1943) on dream content in which they found themselves with erections on awakening. The dream content contained non-erotic but potentially violent stimuli-fighting, accidents, wild animals, falling from high places, giants, or being chased or frightened. Among Pitcher and Prelinger's two-year-olds, the theme was largely concerned with violence of body intactness-some part of the body was broken or severed. The interest in this theme, especially among boys, would appear to be consistent with fears of castration. This theme was almost absent in the stories of three-year-old boys, however. Gardner (1969), based on clinical experience, does not believe that castration anxiety is a significant concern for the normal boy, nor is penis envy a preoccupation in the well-adjusted girl. Rather, the healthy child accepts his or her sex and has pride both in the sexual and nonsexual aspects of the self
For Ames (1966), the number of stories featuring some kind of violence ranged from a low of 63 percent for boys at two years to a high of 8 8 percent of boys at three and a half years. The next most common theme was aggression. Ames also found boys to be much more violent in their expression than were girls. In general, Ames found spanking to be strong in the early age as well. Ames concluded, "If it should be that they absorb the violence from the culture, then such absorption must be considered a rather universal phenomenon expressing itself as early as two years of age" (Ames 1966:390).
The following case is an interesting self-analysis of the fantasizing of aggression with some sexual feeling mixed in.
I can only vaguely remember an episode which took place when I was no more than three or four years old. This is the first sexual experience I can recall having. In one of my children's fairy tale books was a picture which attracted my attention. I would spend long periods of time studying it intently. I cannot remember much about the picture other than that it was of a young child-I don't recall the sex. The child was wearing sleepers like the ones I had, and was sitting with its own fairy tale book in its lap. The child was yawning and rubbing its fist in its eye, signifying, I suppose, that it was sleepy. Looking at that picture I can remember a strange and different feeling came over me, something that was vague, something that I hadn't remembered experiencing before. I would identify it now as a feeling of aggression and at the same time a sexual feeling. I can vaguely recall a strange sensation emanating from my loins. I felt like I wanted to hit that child and yell at it; why, I don't know. That is all I can remember from the situation; I don't know if I manipulated or touched my genitals in that circumstance or if I had an erection.
But what of themes that relate to the sensory and sexual experiences of life - intimacy, kindness, eroticism? Ames (1966) found that though kind and friendly stories were not very common at any age from two to five years, they sometimes occurred at two and three years of age. Pitcher and Prelinger (1963) found that girls sometimes referred to love, courtship, and marriage. The girls were more likely than the boys to express emotion and affect around a parental figure, particularly a mother. The boys displayed an extraordinary lack of interaction with either mother or father. Pitcher and Prelinger found that it was rare that the phenomenon of excitement and of aggression between a man. and a woman took place in the stories. They attributed this in part to the taboo on sexual knowledge for children in the United States and the fact that adults keep most aspects of their own sex life secret. The younger infants appeared at times to make transparent references to the issue of pregnancy in their stories, but the connection of the various details tended commonly to be illogical or poorly motivated. Gardner (1969) agreed with Ames and Pitcher and Prelinger that the conscious fantasy life of the normal child at this age contains little overt sexual material. But Gardner found that from about age eight and onward, sexual fantasies might take any form known to adults. It may be a phase-specific theme that the culture does not allow or encourage to be more specific and accurate among younger children. But Pitcher and Prelinger (1963) did not rule out the possibility that manifestations of unconscious (or more or less conscious) preoccupation with sexuality are prevalent in many of the stories of young children. In the following case a preadolescent girl attributes part of her sexual awakening to sex dream experience,
Wild and confused dreams made me feel funny -- just as if I had to urinate. The dreams included boys and girls kissing, and the funny feeling I got was both distressing and exciting. I had no idea as to what the dreams meant, but I definitely realized that they pertained to sex.
In neither of the two studies nor in Gardner's clinical observations do the fantasies of children reflect any sensual-sexual experience in the family. It will be recalled, however, that Borneman (1983), in gathering information about the content of forbidden riddles, songs, verses, and games in Austria, reported what he regarded as an inordinate number of verses about brother- sister incest and a fair number about parental intercourse-all of them in stories appealing to children between ages six and seven, This may reflect cultural differences in the exposure of children to sexual knowledge and sexual. experience, but it more likely reflects a difference in methods of soliciting information from children.
Wermer and Levin (1967) distinguished between two kinds of fantasies, erotic fantasies in general and masturbation fantasies in particular; they did so in the following way. Erotic fantasies consist of all types of fantasies of a sexual nature, including those that could become reality if the person being fantasized about were available as a participant with the one who is fantasizing.
Masturbation fantasies, on the other hand, are sometimes of a kind that could not be fulfilled in any reality relationship with another person. In addition, the aim of masturbation fantasy is self-gratification, and the person masturbating may have little or no desire to translate his or her masturbation fantasy into action. In the masturbation history of a healthy person, masturbation fantasies tend to undergo a variety of changes as the person passes through different phases of psychosexual development.. First masturbation for young, innocent children is apt to be accompanied by fantasy content that, as described by one young man, is "either very innocent of erotic concepts or very sadistic and violent through ignorance." As one person stated,
The fantasy in connecting with masturbation, running from highly sadistic to just an ordinary sexual intercourse relationship, seemed to parallel the development of my sexual interest.
The following are some examples of young children's perverse and violent sex dreams and fantasies,
The following are examples of what would be regarded as more normal sexual fantasies.
I began to masturbate after the third grade, when I was between the
ages of nine and ten. (I could have begun earlier; my memory is hazy
about how old I was.) I would come home from school in the aftemoon
to an empty house. I would grab a snack and sit in front of the
television, and I would masturbate. Even from the start I always
masturbated to orgasm and often had multiple orgasms (two or three ' )~
I usually bad a fantasy about slave girls being stripped naked,
humiliated and mistreated by a jeering crowd or by one man.
I tended to have masochistic fantasies during masturbation. I would imagine that I was being tortured and twist or stretch my penis, so there was a degree of pain as well as pleasure. Sometimes I would also push things up my rectum, such as the end of a toothbrush, that would also add to my "torture" fantasy.
My first masturbation fantasies involved me (a girl) being held captive by a gang of boys, having to perform rituals including intercourse with them all, and showing my body to the group.
Besides masturbation as part of my childhood experience, I had a dream that I dreamt several times. It was about my elementary school teachers being captured, stripped and tied up in the cafeteria. I was an onlooker and saw a man torture the teachers. He would force couples to have sexual intercourse, cut off breasts from the ladies and penises from the men. I couldn't figure out any reason to have this type of dream. I always liked my teachers, nude people were nothing new to me, and I didn't have any sex hang-ups.
The thing that really got me on this track is the fact that my father had a
subscription to Playboy. I was able to sneak a magazine into my room and while
looking at it I would masturbate and fantasize that I was in the picture with
the girl myself. I would think I was having intercourse with her and the
procedure worked quite well to excite me. I was sort of having a love affair
with the picture instead of the real thing. I masturbated quite often; most of
the time with a Playboy in my hand.
I remember the first time I used pictures to accompany my masturbation fantasies. While looking at Life magazine I came across a color spread of Renaissance portraits and scenes showing partially naked women. These pictures gave me an erection so I used them in my fantasies while masturbating. From then on I would use pictures frequently, but I only used the same picture several times. After that their novelty would wear off. Later, quite by accident, I found some pornographic magazines. I brought them home and hid them and would haul them out when I was alone. During this time (fourth and fifth grade), I probably masturbated three or four times a week on the average, but possibly more.
My only sexual outlet was fantasizing while masturbating. I was turned on by girls and sex but was so shy and tied to home by mother that I couldn't do much. I never went to dances or other such heterosexual activities.
As I got older, girls began to be a greater part of my masturbation fantasy. At first I would just think of girls I liked at school and masturbate at the same time. I never really thought of sexual intercourse with girls because I did not understand exactly what interaction you could have with girls.
All I really noticed about having erections when I was seven or eight years old was that they occurred when I thought about a young girl I felt romantically inclined toward. Also, they made it very difficult to roll over in bed. I never knew the purpose of the arousal, but I was aroused.
As I picked up information from peers and the occasional "dirty" book, I began to imagine having sex play and intercourse with the girls in my fantasies. Quite often I would image a "bondage" situation. The girl was often helpless and I would be forcing myself on her. Sometimes I would imagine that I was the captive and the girl or girls were taking advantage of me. I attribute this to my not knowing how to interact with girls or get their attention. So I felt that only by forcing myself on them could I ever have sex.
Upon dating, my masturbation fantasy included the boy I was seeing at the time or images of marriage.
Not all persons who masturbate fantasize. In the Kinsey et al. sample (1953), just about half of the females reported that fantasies had occurred almost always in connection with most of their masturbating, at least during certain periods of their life, with another 14 percent fantasizing some of the time. For a fair number, masturbation fantasies had not begun until some years after they began to masturbate; fantasies were least common for the younger females. For males, 72 percent had almost always fantasized while masturbating and another 17 percent fantasized some of the time. For some, fantasizing is a necessary concomitant of successful masturbating.
In 1982 Goldman and Goldman published a book on children's sexual thinking. Children in the age range of five to fifteen in suburbs in the English-speaking countries of Australia, England, and North America, as well as children in Sweden, were asked a series of questions, half of which were specifically aboutsex. Amajorfinding of the study was thatin societies where children are deprived of honest answers and explanations about sexuality (which is more or less the case in all of the English-speaking countries), children construct explanations about biological and sexual processes in the form of myths of their own making. Their low-level thinking was conveyed to them primarily as a result of their parents' modesty training.
I can masturbate only through fantasy; once I lose the dream world I quickly realize how dumb I've been and become very disgusted with my actions. I can only explain this as guilt feelings.
Goldman and Goldman called it low-level thinking because evidence from the Swedish sample indicated that the same retardation was not prevalent in Sweden, where cultural and educational experiences equipped children to understand complex biological concepts. The myths that children deprived of accurate sexual information used in explaining biological processes grew out of the kinds of experiences and education they had received. Goldman and Goldman described three bases for the children's mythologies-the digestive fallacy, analogic teaching, and artificialist explanations. The digestive fallacy (Freud's cloacal theory) was found to be strongly held by younger children. It involves explaining the origin of babies by reference to the digestive system. Children explain that the mother eats food and becomes fat. The food is the baby and it comes out where waste from food normally comes out, through the anus. Goldman and Goldman postulated that myths resulting from retardation of sexual thinking are partly due to inadequate communication and adult inhibitions about using correct terminology and descriptions with children.
Many of the analogies used in children's books and by parents to explain the origins of babies, for instance, appear to be taken so literally by young children that they retard rather than advance children's understanding, especially if the analogies are false analogies. The following is a case in point. An interviewer asked a young child, "If I asked you to tell me just one way that people get babies, what would you say?" The young child answered, "I would say, a store, buy a duck, and a duck.... I saw it in a book.... [Find out from this book" (Bernstein and Cowan 1975:87). In other words, the analogy used in the children's book apparently left the child with the impression that to get a baby one needed a duck, perhaps several ducks!
New medical artificialist myths have replaced older artificialist myths reflecting the power and mystique associated with doctors, nurses, hospitals, and operations today and the secrecy that often surrounds them. Artificialist myths that are strongly held by children in their early years involve not any biological functions but rather what goes on in hospitals.
Goldman and Goldman (1982) claimed that a fairly recently developed medical
myth is that of conception and birth by Cesarean, in which children tell, or at
least perceive that they have learned, about the mother being cut open to insert
a baby and later cut open again to take the baby out. The significantly higher
level knowledge of sexual processes that Swedish children possess is reflected
in less mythological explanations. (See also Barthalow-Koch
1980.) For people
who believe that knowledge is better than ignorance, even for young children,
this is compelling evidence.
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