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From Bonnie Bullough, R.N., Ph.D., Vern Bullough, R.N., Ph.D., Marilyn A. Fithian, Ph.D., William E. Hartman, Ph.D., and Randy Sue Klein, Ph.D., "How I Got Into Sex", p. 290-296, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books), copyright 1997. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Pioneer Researcher in Childhood Sexuality

Floyd M. Martinson, Ph.D.

Photo of Floyd
Floyd M. Martinson is a pioneer in the study of childhood sexuality. A rural sociologist, he has taught at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota for over fifty years.

I WAS BORN on November 11, 1916, and spent my childhood and adolescence on a farm in western Minnesota. I played alone much of the time, accompanied only by my dog. There were not many friends my age on neighboring farms. My closest friend didn't have much time for play; he was expected to work all the time.

I attended Buffalo Lake open-country school, with eight grades and one teacher to teach all of them. I got to miss one class because two classes were combined to ease the teacher's load. I always wonder what I missed that year.

When it came time to go to high school, there was a decision to be made. Kerkhoven High School was fifteen miles away, and there were no schoolbuses. Would I go to high school or would I stay home and help on the farm? I wanted to go, but it wasn't my decision to make. These were difficult times on the farm--crops were affected by scorching heat; hot, dry winds; and lack of rainfall. It was also the time of the Great Depression, coupled with the severe drought. I remember the air was filled with dry-as-dust topsoil blowing across the fields, depositing itself like snow drifts along field fences. Great balls of tumbleweeds rolled across the dry, crusty bottom of what had been Buffalo Lake. I remember a day when we were cutting our sparse crops. Dad was riding the tractor, the lugs kicked up clouds of dust, and I was riding the binder, sweat and dust covering me. Grasshoppers, attracted by the salt and sweat, sat on my back and ate holes in my shirt. It was a time that left a lasting impression on a teenager.

The decision was made that I would go to high school. We rented a room (board and room, $15 a month), then began a four-year routine of someone taking me to town on Sunday afternoon and picking me up again on Friday afternoon. I felt lucky, relieved, and scared to be going to high school.

The high school years proved to be pleasant ones. Kerkhoven High was a small school in a small town, giving me a chance to play basketball (once I learned how to dribble), to pitch for the high school kitten ball team, to sing in a male quartet, to be in a couple of school operettas and a couple of class plays, and to spend exciting nights hanging out with friends.

Graduation came as a crushing blow: no more bright lights, no more hanging out with friends, no more walking a favorite girl home. It was back to the farm for me.

The rural economy was still bad, and there was no chance of going to college. I spent the next four years on the farm, all the time dreaming of far-off places and other things to do. I finally obtained a job with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration measuring the compliance of farmers on a government crop program. For that I needed transportation. My father took me to town; we bought a large, used Buick sedan for twenty-five dollars. The dealer threw in enough gas to drive the car home.

Since I'm writing about how I got into the field of sexuality, I might digress and talk about my own sex education in childhood and adolescence. I have heard that farm boys learn all they need to know by watching the farm animals. That would be a pretty crude education in human lovemaking! There were the usual things talked about by the older students in elementary school during recess, the "dirty" stories that farmhands told, and so on. But so far as formal education--I remember finding a book under my pillow which I suspect was placed there by my mother. That was the only "formal" education that I got in elementary school, high school, college, or graduate school.

After four years on the farm, I attended a small, liberal arts college, majoring in economics (because there was no sociology major) and minoring in history. Browsing through the library one day, I came upon an article by a prominent rural sociologist which told about the need for rural sociologists. A rural sociologist--that appealed to me. I did not want to return to the farm, yet rural life seemed pleasant and agreeable. I kept the idea in the back of my mind.

On graduating from college, I applied for and received a social science position in a rural high school. I taught world history, business law, biology, and senior social science, and read every book I could in the school library. The second year I was offered the same course load, plus directing a male chorus and coaching boys' baseball. I had studied music in college and did sing in the college choir, and I had enjoyed playing baseball, but I fell ill-equipped to direct extracurricular activities. Four different course preparations plus two extracurricular activities did not entice me. I entered the University of Minnesota and began to study rural sociology.

When I received my degree in sociology and cultural anthropology, there was little indication I would ever come to emphasize sexuality, especially child sexuality.

As a beginning assistant professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, a Lutheran church-related, liberal arts college, I was assigned a standard set of courses: introductory sociology, social problems, rural sociology, and family.

As I looked over the data for my Ph.D. thesis on rural-to-urban migration, with the intention of doing some secondary analysis, I noticed that students who married soon after graduating from high school were those with low scores on social and emotional adjustment. Authors of books on marriage claimed that marriage was for the mature, non-neurotic person, yet it looked to me that marriage was most attractive to younger, less well-adjusted people. I wrote a short article for the American Sociological Review titled "Ego Deficiency as a Factor in Marriage" (American Sociological Review, April 1955). This was followed by "Ego Deficiency as a Factor in Marriage--A Male Sample" (Marriage and Family Living, February 1959). I had written articles before on rural subjects for such magazines as the Rural Lutheran, The Stock and Dairy Farmer, and an even more professional one in Rural Sociology, but they received little attention. The article on "Ego Deficiency" was no sooner published, however, than I got a call from a New York Times reporter who wanted to know, among other things, what I had against marriage! I assured her I had nothing against marriage. But what interested me was that here was a topic that excited immediate public interest. What did this mean?

Also, of the courses I taught, the one that seemed to interest students the most was the course on the family. I also found the topic challenging; I studied it and eventually wrote two books, Marriage and the American Ideal (1960) and Family in Society (1970).

But how did I end up in child sexuality? It was more by accident than plan. The college was experimenting with a plan of teaching called a 4-1-4 plan: one semester of four months, one semester of one month in which a student took only one course, followed by another four-month semester. Faculty members were encouraged to think creatively in designing courses for the one-month term. I proposed a sociology course called "Sex and Society." I found it intriguing to develop a course in sociology and cultural anthropology centering on the theme of sexual culture and sexual socialization in our sex-inhibited society. The students were also interested. I taught the course again during a regular semester, and eventually taught two sections of the course in the fall and two sections in the spring semester.

By this time I was also a member of the board of directors of the Lutheran Social Service, one of the large, private social work agencies in the state. The board and the staff were concerned over the topic of adolescent sexuality: the amount of sexual intercourse among high school students, the number of unwed pregnancies, and so on. As a member of the board, I offered my services as well as those of my undergraduate students who were taking social research methods to work with the Lutheran Social Service in designing and carrying out a project studying adolescent sexual adjustment in Minnesota. I divided the methods class into four teams, trained them in methods of observation and interviewing, developed data-gathering instruments, and sent them out to four communities where we had received permission to work. Some communities were rural, some were urban. The students went out with the general question: "What is it like to grow up in ______ community?" But they also had a more focused question in mind, namely, "What is it like to grow up sexually in ______ community?" The students found it difficult, of course, to mingle with high school students during only a couple of weeks in the one-month semester; but they also interviewed school principals, pastors of local churches, the police, librarians, welfare workers, parents, and others to determine how progressive and how organized the community was in thinking about sexual matters. They came back to the campus and wrote a report on each community; one member returned to the communities to check the accuracy of the report. During the summer I also sent a team of students to New York to gather comparable data, and two students to Sweden, a much more open society. At the same time the staff of Lutheran Social Service was interviewing a sample of pregnant adolescent clients. A 373-page report was assembled and published as Sexual Knowledge, Values and Behavior Patterns: With Especial Reference to Minnesota Youth (1966). The report was widely covered by the press and resulted in many speaking engagements.

I have dealt with events leading to my emphasis on sexuality, but here is how I came to study child sexuality. It happened this way: I required a term paper of each student enrolled in my classes. Most papers I received were based on library research and dealt with subjects such as mate selection, marriage, divorce, reproduction, and cross-cultural differences. Enrollments were large in these courses, meaning that I read many papers. After a number of years of this routine, I introduced an alternative paper theme that literally changed my professional interest. I suggested to students that they could write on some aspects of their own life experience, which they would describe and analyze utilizing concepts introduced in the course. Many chose this new alternative. To my surprise, many wrote on some sexual experience that had occurred very early in their lives. Given my traditional American background of little education about sexuality at home, in school, in college, or in graduate school, I was unprepared to critique such papers. It called for quick self-education. I read a whole series of texts and studies, and also attended summer institutes on sexuality, one at Dakota Wesleyan University (1947), a second being the first summer session offered by the Kinsey Institute. In subsequent years I spent two leave years in Sweden studying its sex culture and its touted sexuality education system. I joined professional societies such as the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR), the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), the Committee on Family Relations, and the International Sociological Association (ISA).

You might ask how colleagues not in the field reacted to me. In a small college there are no others in the field of sexology. I do not recall ever having any difficulty with the faculty, but I do remember moving a course from the experimental January term to a regular semester without asking for faculty approval. I was not sure the faculty would approve. However, I had tenure, was department chairman, a husband and father of five children. This helped establish my status.

My students at one time called me "Dirty Floyd"; yet I never felt the name was derisive, but was used out of curiosity and bemused respect.

I had only one incident with a parent that I remember well. She wrote to tell me that she had heard of the things I was teaching and was thinking of removing her daughter from the college. I read the letter to the class as an example of one of the problems of teaching a course on human sexuality. I had planned to leave it at that, but a student stopped after class and asked me if she could write to the mother. I gave her my permission. Apparently the student did a good job of defending me and what I was doing in the class, for I heard from the mother who became a real friend of sex education in her home community.

I did not feel any rejection by my profession, but I also did not test it. I read and published a number of papers at professional meetings, but always in professional organizations that dealt with sexuality. I was well received in such groups. The SSSS Midwest region awarded me the Kinsey award in 1988 for "pioneering research into child sexuality." I was also voted into regular membership in the International Academy of Sex Research (IASR).

My reception by the church was always a concern, but not a serious handicap. Local pastors from time to time wrote to the college president about me; I was warned but never accused of anything by them, though I realized that the subject matter made me vulnerable. Teaching, even human sexuality, was easier then because the college was not caught up in the hysteria over sexual harassment as it would be later on.

I also had no difficulty with the national church leadership. In fact, I received a research and creativity grant from the Lutheran Church in America (LA) in 1968. I was recognized as an authority on sex, marriage, and family; often spoke to leadership groups; and was elected to membership on the Committee on Marriage with responsibility for helping to write a statement for the church. I was known as a liberal, but not as one too radical to speak to and for the church. I must say that I never compromised my position in my research or in my teaching to conform to any doctrinal position. I felt confident that what I was exposing needed to be exposed.

If I had problems, it was more likely society that gave me grief rather than the church. I wrote two additional books, Infant and Child Sexuality: A Sociological Perspective (1973) and The Quality of Adolescent Sexual Experience (1974). Only in the case of the first did I make a real effort to have it published. In the end it, I published it myself. I say in the preface that "twenty-nine publishers were offered the privilege of publishing it. All thought that it should be published, but each thought that some other publisher should have the privilege!" Why was the book not commercially published? It was favorably received. The only negative reaction came from the warden of the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners who wrote that the book

contains material that could encourage sexual relations with children, which is a violation of federal law. This material poses a threat to the good order and discipline of the institution and is, thereby, rejected on these grounds.

Over the years, I received a number of letters from prisoners around the country. Some merely wanted to discuss child sexuality with me, others asked for my help. By and large, they showed the most understanding of child sexuality of any letters I received. Also, they were the only letters I did not answer. If those letters came today, I could answer them, but at the time, to risk becoming associated with convicted pedophiles and homosexuals was a chance I could not take. Once, while I was in Oslo, Norway, to give a lecture, I received a call from a representative of the local pedophile group. Members of the group wanted to visit with me. I consented, and we met in the hotel lobby. They were a group of young men. Though I do not remember the conversation, I do recall that they explained their organization to me. They empathized with me. I could not empathize with them.

Another rather unpleasant incident occurred in connection with the International Conference on Love and Attraction at University College of Swansea, Wales, in 1977. I convened a symposium on infant and child sexuality. We had no difficulty with the symposium itself or the papers, but the audience that it attracted became a problem. One of the persons who announced his intention of attending was the president of the pedophile organization in England. I did not know at the time that there was a certain hysteria regarding this organization, but it soon became apparent. The union in charge of food services at the university threatened to shut down if this man attended the meeting. Reporters and photographers from both the English and American press were present to note his arrival. He protested that he only wanted to attend the meetings, and he asked me to appear with him on the BBC to explain the situation. I was in a quandary. I had invited speakers for the symposium from the United States, Norway, and Holland and did not want to risk the symposium being canceled. So I declined to appear with him. I never did meet the man, he did not show up at our symposium, and we were allowed to hold our meetings. I don't know if he tried to attend. As a compromise, the audience was monitored by the police.

In 1980, I received a call from a reporter with Time magazine. They were doing an article on child sexuality and wanted permission to quote me. The statement was something I had said at Swansea three years before. So Time had been at Swansea also. Time reporters wrote the following (September 7, 1981):

Sociologist Floyd Martinson of Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus College thinks adults involved in affectionate relations with tots should not go to jail. "Intimate human relations are important and precious," he feels. "I'd like to see as few restrictions placed on them as possible."

The quotation appeared in an article titled "Cradle-to-Grave Intimacy: Some Researchers Openly Argue That 'Anything Goes' for Children." The phone rang early the next morning. It was a local woman severely criticizing me for the article, but it was the only telephone call. I did receive a number of letters, generally unfavorable, and the college president received about fifty more. I answered all my letters. The president made out a form letter to send to the others. So far as I know, nothing more came of the incident.

I have now completed fifty years at the college, thirty-seven as professor of sociology and thirteen more as Research Professor of Sociology. I continue to do research and write. In 1992, I decided to make one more attempt, nearly twenty years since the first, to get a book on child sexuality published. After considerable updating to reflect the research that had been done, I published The Sexual Life of Children.

Is the climate better today? I don't know. The hysteria over child sexual abuse and sexual harassment at all levels keeps the issue of sexuality a highly emotional one.

Selected Bibliography

Martinson, Floyd. 1966. Sexual Knowledge, Values and Behavior Patterns. St. Peter, Minn.: Gustavus Adolphus College.

Martinson, Floyd. 1973. Infant and Child Sexuality. St. Peter, Minn.: Gustavus Adolphus College.

Martinson, Floyd. 1974. The Quality of Adolescent Experiences. St. Peter, Minn.: Gustavus Adolphus College.

Martinson, Floyd. 1980. The Child and the Family. Calgary, Alberta: University of Calgary.

Martinson, Floyd. 1994. The Sexual Life of Children. Westport, Conn.: Bergen and Garvey.

Floyd M. Martinson