[ << Vorige ]     [ Content ]    [ Volgende >> ] 

Chapter 1

Early Development And Experience

Children are active and sensual, even before they are born. One of the earliest sensory systems of the human body to function is the skin, which begins to function during the embryonic stage of development.' The skin enables the organism to first experience its environment. The areas from which a response can be obtained are very generalized over the body. When the embryo is less than an inch long from crown to rump, and less than six weeks old, light stroking of the upper lip region or wings of the nose has been shown to cause a response, a bending of the neck and trunk. Stroking the palm of a fetus also results in a response. The conceptus in the womb is massaged with each movement of the mother as she carries on her daily activities. "In his dark, watery cradle of amniotic fluid, the fetus swims gracefully about, weightless, as buoyant and active as an astronaut on a spacewalk, capable of free-floating movement and reflexive action" (Rice 1975:61). Without this stimulation and activity, normal growth and maturation is hampered. Conceptus movement is even necessary for the development of bones and joints. Experience with prematurely born babies gives evidence of this. This effects of stroking, massaging, and rocking prematurely born babies who have missed the stimulating activity in the womb are dramatic, including a significant increase in body weight and nerve and body functioning.

The conceptus is active in the womb in response to pressure and touch from outside the mother's body. It responds to make itself comfortable in the womb. During the prenatal stage, the systems of the body do not operate in a fully automatic way; they need outside stimulation.

Some communication between the mother and the fetus is possible. One study involving two groups of mothers found that a group of mothers who touched and identified, through the body wall, the moving parts of the fetus and engaged in fetal massage increased the attachment between mother and newborn baby. Whether it was the fetus or the mother or both who were stimulated to an increased attachment is debatable.

The fetus in the womb also becomes acquainted with the outside environment because it can hear. Sounds within the amniotic sac have been recorded by inserting a small hydrophone in the mother's womb shortly before delivery. The mother's heartbeat and other organic sounds can be
heard, but so can sounds from outside the mother's body. Conversations between the mother and others, at least their rhythm and tone, are clearly audible, and the difference between male and female voices can be detected. Other sounds, such as music played in the room, can also be heard clearly. The mother's voice will be the one the fetus most regularly hears, and if the rhythm, intensity, and timber of that voice provide a pleasant experience, the fetus at birth will be primed to like its mother.

Sucking activity and the grasping reflex are also present before birth. It is not uncommon to detect a fetus sucking thumb, fingers, or toes. The reflexive response that produces an erection in males has also been observed in male fetuses through ultrasound pictures as early as the seventeenth week of gestation. Because of analogies between the male and female genital systems, it is logical to assume that females develop the capacity for cyclical vaginal lubrication before birth as well.

In conclusion, the period before birth is a very busy and active one for the sensory development and experience of the human organism. For best development, the fetus must make the most of its experience in the womb.

After nine months in the womb the baby is born and enters the newborn phase of life. It is said that human offspring spend as much of their gestation period outside the womb as they have previously spent inside the womb because they are totally unable to care for themselves at birth. Because of its dependence, a baby must literally pass directly from the birth canal into the waiting, enveloping arms of the mother or other caretaker. The mouth is well developed for, and perhaps practiced in, sucking before birth, but the muscles and the limbs are not sufficiently developed for crawling or walking. The mouth is superior to the hand in direct activity and definiteness at birth. Its function in early infancy is fairly clear; that of the hand is uncertain. The food and protection needed must be immediately available at birth.

At birth, mother and baby become acquainted with one another. As any two people begin a new relationship, each is essentially unsettled, unfinished; that is, many aspects of selfhood remain unclarified, awaiting definition through the relationship. That is true for a baby and its mother; for the baby, nothing has been clarified. For the mother also, much remains to be clarified, especially if she is a first-time mother. Even if it is her second or subsequent child, the infant-mother relationship is unique in each case. Interaction that gradually, almost imperceptibly, becomes communication between them evolves slowly.

Let us look first at the mother's first minutes with her newborn infant. Klaus and Kennell (1976), who coined the term maternal sensitivity, give what appears to be almost magical powers to this meeting of mother and infant immediately upon birth. They see this sensitive period in the first minutes and hours after birth as very important for parent-infant attachment and as the wellspring for all the infant's subsequent attachments that will influence the quality of all future bonds. Recent research has cast doubt on the absolutely critical influence of these first minutes and hours.

Nevertheless, the newborn is capable of beginning an attachment with the mother immediately upon birth. Under the best conditions, the mother's attachment to her baby appears to bloom during these first minutes and hours. After one month, Klaus and Kennell reported that mothers in a group of mothers who had immediate contact with their babies after birth were more reluctant to leave them with someone else, showed more soothing behavior when their babies cried and significantly more enface (the posture in which the mother rotates her face so that her eyes and those of her baby meet fully in the same vertical plane of rotation), and fondled their babies more than did mothers in a group with less initial contact with their newborns. Similar differences between the two groups of mothers appeared when the babies were one year of age. Just sixteen extra hours of contact within the first three days of life appeared to affect the behavior of the first group of mothers for one year and possibly longer. Mothers who had the early contact spent significantly more time in the enface position and in kissing their infants, whereas the other group of mothers often spent the time cleaning their infants. "The two groups appeared to focus on different ends of the baby. One group was busy cleaning whereas the other was giving love" (Klaus and Kennell 1976:63).

What capacities to relate does the newborn infant bring to the infant-parent relationship? The newborn's resources are meager indeed but only when compared with those of an adult. The infant's lack is especially clear when we consider that the greater the number of words in one's vocabulary, the greater one's ability to relate; the greater one's ability to take the role of another person, the greater one's ability to relate; the greater one's ability to play several roles, the greater one's ability to relate; the more one knows about one's self, the greater one's ability to relate. On all of these the newborn scores near the zero point. In other words, any relating a baby engages in with its mother shortly after birth is reflexive. The baby's initial movements are not socially acquired; they are physiological and psychological givens. So in the beginning the baby has its first experience with others in the enveloping arms of a parent, is at zero point as far as social development is concerned, and begins only with energy and some inborn predispositions, capacities, and needs.

To say that the baby at birth is totally incapable of fending for itself is not to say that it is only passive and receptive, however. From the moment of birth a baby has a relatively advanced sensory system. The first impulse appears to be the desire to establish contact with the outside world. A baby is born with a capacity for curiosity and an instinct to master-that is, to want to do what it is able to do, a basic psychobiological impulse or urge to experience and to control as large a segment of the outside world as is compatible with its locomotive limitations and limitation in the use of words. The healthy infant possesses an immediate desire to use each function and to perfect it as soon as it becomes physiologically possible. The whole body of impulse can be regarded as a yet undifferentiated desire for physical, emotional, and intellectual satisfaction. Those who observe newborns are struck with the active part-the initiative-that they show in the development of attachment to others. Observers point out that it is largely through the infant's own activity that attachment to the mother is effected rather than through stimulation by the mother or through her satisfying of the infant's creature comfort needs.
An attachment can be defined as a unique relationship between two people that is specific and endures through time. Maternal-infant attachment behaviors such as fondling, kissing, cuddling, and prolonged gazing are behaviors that serve both to maintain contact and to exhibit affection.

The newborn immediately begins to become actively involved in the process of communication. This is a first step in acquiring content (mentally) that he or she begins to share with others. This early communication is referred to as analogic communication-it is nonverbal and includes posture, gesture, facial expression, and voice inflection. In infant-parent interaction, communication must be analogic because the baby is not capable of digital language, which is verbal and includes words, signs, or symbols that carry meaning arbitrarily. In fact, infant-parent communication will be random rather than analogic on the infant's part and largely analogic on the parent's part because of the baby's inability to translate symbols into thought and action. The random and accidental gestures of the newborn baby may be attributed as communication by the parent even though the baby is not aware of communicating anything. The mother infers the baby's intentions from his or her behavior. The parent observes an action or an emotional state in the baby and makes a judgment as to its cause and intent. The parent is apt to attribute baby's behavior to some ability or intention rather than to external causes, and responds with behavior consistent with that interpretation. As the baby in turn internalizes the parent's responses and reacts to them, true communication begins to develop and the interaction becomes verbal and symbolic. The continual nonverbal and verbal statements that the parent and infant make to each other transform the two of them into interlinked intimates. Messages conveying intimate relationships can be verbal ("I love you") or nonverbal (e.g., an embrace).

Before a parent can act in other than a random manner toward the baby, the situation must be defined. It is the parent who patterns the baby's first random gestures into intimate and affectionate responses, and baby soon begins to share with the parent an ability to generate an activity of a distinctly nonrandorn kind that takes the form of meaningful actions interspersed with breaks. Baby begins to share with the parent its capacity to produce strings of meaningful actions. When these actions become interlinked and interdependent, as a result of repeated entraining over time, communication as such begins to take place.

There has been a surge of interest through the 1970s in the systematic study of infants in the presence of their mothers (Newson, 1977).Two behaviors have been found to be much more frequent among the mothers of secure infants than among the mothers of anxious, insecure infants. These behaviors are contingent pacing and encouragement of further interaction. A mother is identified as showing contingent pacing when she leans toward the baby, smiling and talking gently and in slow tempo, allowing the baby plenty of time to mobilize a response before she gives a gentle burst of stimulation. After little or no initial response from the baby, these mothers gently persist in stimulation, increasing positive responses as the infant becomes more responsive.

Between three and six months, the baby's smile becomes a smile of preference for the mother. The baby smiles more frequently for its mother than for others, and the smiles for her are bigger and more joyful. In contrast, mothers of anxious babies confine face-to-face interaction to routine care situations. They are initially silent with impassive facial expressions, and they are more frequently inappropriate in their pacing.

During the first minutes and hours after birth, the newborn is usually in a state of readiness to begin the attachment process. A newborn displays a number of different states of consciousness. The state most significant for attachment to begin appears to be a recurring quiet, alert state. In this state the newborn's eyes are wide open and able to respond to things in the environment. Initially, the newborn may be in this state for a period as short as a few minutes during the first hour after birth but may be in the state for as long as forty-five to sixty minutes. Even at this early age the newborn has visual preference and will turn its head in response to the spoken word. Having heard mother's voice as a fetus, the newly born baby appears curious to see what she looks like. Frequent recurrence of the alert state results from the interaction of a mother with her baby. If a newborn is in any state other than the alert state and its mother intervenes, it is likely that it will become alert. With favorable early attention and stimulation, newborns will track a triangle with their eyes on the day of their birth, can mimic the facial expressions of others before entering the first three- or four-hour postnatal deep sleep, and can vocalize within the first three days of life.

Eye-to-eye contact is an especially significant aspect of initial mother-newborn interaction since newborns lack meaningful vocal sounds. The distance between the eyes of the mother and the eyes of the infant when the mother is holding the baby in her arms is about twelve inches, the distance at which newborns can best focus on an object. A high degree of eye-to-eye contact between mother and infant has been observed to lead to immediate cessation of crying and a stronger bond with the mother. In observing the behavior of sixty-three first-time mothers and their newborns (age two to four days), onset of the newborn's vocalization was shown to be coactional rather than alternating, with the newborn joining in with the mother (Rosenthal 1982). The mother begins such vocalization rather than her vocalization being affected by the baby's preceding vocalization.

Human speech is not sound alone but also includes movement. Exchanges play a special role in the earliest human experience. Both the listening newborn and the mother move in time to the words of the mother, creating a type of dance. The newborn's motor behavior becomes entrained by and synchronized with the speech behavior of the mother. In fact, synchrony is an important element in mother-infant interaction. Microanalysis of these rudimentary infant-mother "dialogues" at birth shows that infants move synchronously with mother's speech as early as the first day of life. By this subtle entrainment of the baby's movements to the rhythm of the mother's speech, the baby gives the mother feedback that she can hardly resist. Their communication becomes a sort of "mating dance."

Establishing mutual attention is often the first step in a whole series: mother may look where her baby is looking, may comment on what she sees, label it, and then in other ways verbally elaborate on it, thus beginning the pattern of communication.
Because of the newborn's dependency and immobility, first social experience (whether immediately on delivery or later) is almost of necessity within a two-person group, usually with the newborn's mother; the two-person group can be characterized as the true locus of intimacy. The two are not distracted by the presence of others. As they engage in intimate interaction with its high degree of emotional access, they are likely to develop pronounced feelings toward one another and to become jointly engaged in more and more activities. In other words, mother-infant pairs become developmental pairs. If one member (baby, for instance) undergoes developmental change, the other is also likely to do so. Hence not only reciprocal interaction takes place, but reciprocal development as well.
The earlier and more time mother and infant spend together, the more intimate the relationship becomes. In families in which maternal care is supplied by a single female, as contrasted with families in which caretaking is provided by more than one mother figure, mothers have been found to be more self-confident, less intellectualized in their relationships, more sensuous in their touching and handling of their babies, more likely to vocalize, more concerned with the well-being of their babies, more active, and more playful.
Interaction of family members with each other, and especially mother and baby, is both psychic and physical; the physical involvement is intense. Much of the early interaction is caregiving, and infant care that is not physically intimate is almost inconceivable. Physical handling that is gentle, firm, close, and frequent has a beneficial effect on the baby's attachment and responsiveness as well as on cognitive and motor development. Babies who have been held tenderly and carefully earlier tend later to respond positively to close bodily contact as well. It is the nonanxious parent who is most apt to hold her baby tenderly and carefully.
Intimate and sensate paired relationships can become so intense, consuming, and concentrated as to appear almost hypnotic and are sometimes referred to as hypnotic role taking. Activities involved in sucking at the breast for infants and coitus for adults fall into the category of hypnotic role taking. Ecstasy is another term used to characterize activity that is intense and perhaps erotic. In an ecstatic state a person is so carried away by the interaction that there is usually a suspension of voluntary action. Lewis (1965) reported having observed such ecstatic behavior in infants eight to ten months of age being held by their mothers. In a moment of apparent delight, the infant clasps the mother and begins rapid rotating pelvic thrusts at a frequency of about two per second and lasting ten to fifteen seconds.


Such thrusting behavior has also been observed in rhesus monkeys beginning as early as the eighth week of life. Thrusting behavior is most characteristic of adult coital behavior.

The most physiologically charged relations of infant and mother occur during breast-feeding as the two organisms mutually excite each other. Sucking at the breast is primarily a food-getting response for the baby, and unless the activity is eventually rewarded with nourishment, sucking gives way to fretting and crying. `Ihe reactions of older babies to breast-feeding shows signs of eagerness-rhythmic motions of hands, feet, fingers, and toes may occur along with the rhythm of sucking.

With an older baby there is more than just mouth-breast stimulation. The suckling infant puts its fingers into its mother's mouth; she responds by moving her lips on the baby's fingers. The baby moves its fingers; she responds with a smile. Babies also pat their mother's breast while sucking or during breaks in feeding, pat her face, turn a cheek to be kissed, clasp her around the neck, lay a cheek on hers, hug, bite. Such scenes can be observed in endless variation in any mother-child couple. In many cases the breast-feeding mother strokes and caresses her baby with the hand that is holding the baby and uses the free hand to prevent the breast from occluding the baby's nostrils. The sensuous enjoyment of nursing is likely to increase the baby's desire to suckle frequently and fully, thus also stimulating the secretion of milk.

Breast-feeding is a cooperative process. From the infant's side, problems may result from insufficient sucking, dislike of the nursing situation, and lack of responsiveness. Not all infants suck alike. Some fail to suck, some are weak suckers, some are normal, and some are active. However, sucking generally functions with a high degree of coordination from the first day and undergoes considerable improvement in subsequent weeks. The baby prefers sucking at the mother's breast to being bottle-fed.

The physiological responses to orgasm and to lactation are closely allied in nursing mothers. Uterine contractions occur during suckling and during sexual excitement. Nipple erection occurs during both. The observed increase in nipple length due to stimulation may lead to more effective sucking and even more stimulation for mother. The degree of milk ejection appears to'be related to the degree of sexual response for some nursing mothers has been observed to occur during sexual excitement with an adult partner as well as while nursing.

For some nursing mothers the nursing experience itself is sexually stimulating enough to carry them to the plateau level of sexual excitement and in some cases even to an orgasmic response (Kinsey et al. 1953; Masters and Johnson 1966). Some mothers experience serial orgasms and then drift into a refreshing slumber (Yates 1978). Regarding a baby's physiological sexual responses to breast-feeding, babies possess a capacity for oral orgasm, a quivering of the lips and tongue in connection with breast-feeding followed by relaxation of the face into sleep. Oral orgasm can be frequent in occurrence during breast-feeding (Baker 1969). Baker observed that oral orgasm does appear to have a sharp peak similar to the genital orgasm following puberty.

Not only does the sucking experience give the infant pleasure, especially orally, butpenile erections are also commonly observed in boy babies during the sucking experience. We must be cautious in attributing such genital response to stimulation resulting from the sucking experience. In other words, there may be organic pleasure, but the pleasure is not necessarily genitally sexual. It has been reported that vigorous sucking by active infants is accompanied by penile erections that may last throughout the sucking period and continue for several minutes after the breast is removed (Baliassnikova and Model, as reported in Halverson 1938; Newton and Newton 1967). On the other hand, Halverson (1938), as a result of his experiments on infant sucking, reported that though infants like to suck at the breast and prefer it to the bottle, penile erection never occurred during sucking at the breast. According to Halverson, so-called pleasure sucking activities have little or no connection with erection. So organic pleasure in infancy need not result in observable physiological-sexual reflex responses. Halverson did observe penile erections during feeding periods, sometimes as frequently as three or four times in a period, but he attributed these to occurrences in which infants encountered a difficult or irritating situation. He interpreted the erections as related to abdominal pressure, for when thwarting was introduced (such as removing the bottle or giving the infant a difficult nipple) the resulting movements were conspicuously characterized by severe contractions of the abdon-final walls.

It is possible that Halverson's experimental situation itself served to deter the full pleasurable response since during the breast-feeding part of the experiment the infants reclined on the mother's lap while the mother leaned forward so that her breast was above the baby's mouth. To remove the nipple from the infant's mouth, the mother merely assumed an upright position. In other words, stimulation was severely limited to the presence of the nipple in the infant's mouth. No caressing, no fondling by the mother, no eye-to-eye contact, no opportunity for the infant to touch the mother's face, to place his fingers in her mouth apparently existed during the experiment. The question left unanswered is how many of these infant boys would have responded with penile erections under normal nursing conditions. The fact that marked abdominal pressure is probably the most effective stimulus bringing on penile erection does not rule out pleasant stimulation received in a normal nursing experience as a stimulant.

The sensory and sexual responses of infant and mother to their stimulating experiences appear to be almost wholly reflexive in nature; that is, they are neither planned nor intended. Masters and Johnson (1966) reported a heavy overlay of guilt expressed by some mothers who were sexually stimulated by the suckling process. Mothers sometimes cease breast-feeding in the fear that the experience may prove to be too sexually stimulating both for themselves and for the infant. Also, some mothers reject the opportunity to nurse a newborn because of high levels of eroticism experienced during the nursing of an earlier sibling. Winter (Lowry 1970) raised the issue of whether or not mothers who experience reflexive sexual pleasure during breast-feeding engage in erotic fantasy and found little evidence but did note a characteristic state of reverie, in which loosely connected pleasurable and charitable ideas replaced everyday constructive thinking during the sexual pleasure.

Not only do most mothers claim not to fantasize erotically when sexually stimulated during breast-feeding, they also do not generally attribute erotic motives to their baby, even to an infant son who has erections. Conn and Kanner (1940) asked parents whether erections had ever been noticed in their boys. Most mothers were surprisingly definite in asserting that they had or had not observed the phenomenon, yet sexual significance was not attached to it. Even mothers who displayed embarrassment when talking about any sex topic spoke freely about early erections in their boys, which would seem to indicate that they in no sense regarded infant male erections as sexual and certainly not as erotic.

Though mothers may not expect breast-feeding to be a sexual experience for diem, they do accept that mother-infant interaction will be intimate. Society also expects it. In fact, if one were to design an infant socialization model intended to lead to the development of full erotic potential in a child, one could hardly improve on the model currently in vogue and recommended for the care of infants during the first year of life. If we look at infant care practices and the folk wisdom associated with them--especially the folk wisdom that has been influenced by the child development literature-we see recommendations to parents about the care of infants that would be expected to lead to the expression and enactment of what Freud described as incestuous desires. Infants are to be stimulated, cuddled, fondled, and aroused by the mother from the moment of birth. The relationship is often described in highly erotic terms yet without erotic intent. Fraiberg (197 1) asked whether the relationship between mother and infant can be regarded as a love relationship. She suggested that it may not be a love relationship but that it will lead to love as mother and infant arouse in each other sensuous joy, conviction that they are absolutely indispensable to each other, and that life without each other is meaningless. Developmental studies suggest that infants' emotional maturation depends on such stimulation. As we pointed out, intimacy even at ecstatic and hypnotic levels is possible in physiologically and emotionally charged infant-parent interaction. Clinical studies credit insufficient physical contact between infant and mother as the cause of later inability to form attachments. It is suggested that if sexual identification is to develop in a child, attachment to parent must evoke and encourage corresponding responses from the infant.
Most activities associated with nurturing and hygienic care of babies is intimate and sensuous since it involves contact with sensitive organs-lips, mouth, anus, and genitals-that can produce in the infant a physiological response of a sensuous and sexual nature. 'Mese activities include (in addition to breast-feeding) toilet training, bathing, cleaning, and diapering. The highly physiological and emotionally charged first encounters of mother and infant play an indispensable part in the developmental process. Part of the aim of tactile stimulation and close, warm, gentle, caring affirmation and intimate communication in infancy and childhood is to eroticize the child, to arouse, to awaken, to turn the child on to life. Part, but only part, of the eroticization process is the developmental process by which infants and children gain the necessary interest, knowledge, and experience to enable their sexual functioning to mature. The eroticization process is a process all children undergo, more or less successfully, determining whether the erotic activity in their lives will manifest its adaptive or its maladaptive potential. Becoming fully eroticized would involve optimal physiological, psychological, social, and cultural conditions, though it is rare that all of these are optimal at any stage in life.
Freud referred to the infant as polymorphous perverse, meaning that any infant has the potential for developing any type of erotic orientation. Erotic orientation is in large measure built on the person's physiological capacity to respond; cultural scripts help to guide and control its development. If we agree that the normal infant is born polymorphous perverse, then the process of civilizing the sexual potential that infants are born with consists of enhancing stimuli that are appropriate and desexualizing stimuli that might otherwise arouse the child in ways that are not considered good for the person or appropriate in society, at least in public. For example, in our society children are taught at an early age that touching the genitals or masturbating, if it is done, should be done only in private. The very nature of childhood is itself socially constructed and is constructed at different times in different societies according to different models. What is called the protective model best characterizes the way children have been raised in recent generations inWestem society and surely in the United States. The child is held "in trusf 'for a period in early life, a period of time in which it is believed that children must be protected and shielded from and kept ignorant of many aspects of adult life. This perspective on children, this method of child care, in addition to the spatial and age segregation that characterizes much of modem life, reduces the opportunity for children to develop an understanding of grown-up activities, thus contributing to their innocence and naivet6. Providing a good balance so as not to sexually over- or undereroticize a child is a challenge that many parents find awesome. There is a broad range of behavior that would be considered normal depending on the permissiveness of the society and the family as well as on the age of the child. Parents know, and need not regularly bring to consciousness, that the United States is not a society in which children are expected to be highly eroticized (Ford and Beach 195 1). In the United States, sexually eroticized children are apt to be viewed as prematurely eroticized or distinctly pathological. Awakening sexually erotic interest performs functions, but it also creates problems, especially in a culture such as ours that believes that children should be sexually repressed. Unrestricted erotic gratification is seen as standing in the way of personality development, good interpersonal relations, and the operation of society.

The best recent study indicating how American parents feel about and deal with their children's sexuality is the interview study carried out by The Study Group of New York (Berges et al. 1983). Two hundred and twentyfive parents of children ages three to eleven from throughout the United States were interviewed. The sample is neither random nor representative since most of the respondents were middle-class suburban, but the researchers interviewed both men and women and sought persons of diverse philosophical positions.

Almost all of the parents were "enthusiastic and positive" about the value of touching-picking up, holding, hugging, fondling-as a way of expressing love, warmth, and trust and as "a method of reassuring children and helping to shape healthy and confident personalities" (Berges et al. 1983:66). Some parents admitted to darker and more complex emotions, being awed at the power of sensuality and feeling unable to reconcile themselves to its existence in children. Though they could not be certain at what point sensuous play became sensual play, many felt uneasy about confronting blatant sexual eroticism in their children.2 Most seemed to think that children's pleasure in being touched-stroked, cuddled, rubbed, caressed-all over their bodies, even nongenital areas, was sensual even for the smallest toddlers. Many children let their parents know which areas of their bodies gave them special pleasure. Hence, though parents reported positive feelings about the overall value of physical contact, they believed that there would always be situations in which touching would have to be limited. Generally mothers were more comfortable with the sensual aspects of physical contact with their children than were fathers. Parents reported instances when their children attempted to touch them, rubbed against them in an innocent but erotic way or in a way that aroused them, asked to feel or play with the mother's breasts or nipples or to hug when in the nude. Parents expressed a great divergence of opinions on the touching of sexually sensitive areas of their children's bodies. Some said they would touch any part of a child's body unconditionally, while a much smaller number, especially fathers, described all sexual parts of their children's bodies as categorically and absolutely off limits for them. Often parental reaction to such touching had less to do with the nature of the touching experience than other considerations, such as the age or sex of the child and the context. As a general rule, parents seemed increasingly reluctant to touch the sexual parts of a child's body, whatever the reason, as the child grew older.

It has been the practice in our society, not only in sexual matters, to move children as rapidly as possible from a mode of interaction that includes touching, holding, and rocking to a mode of interaction that places the child at some distance, such as looking at, smiling at, vocalizing to. Children as young as four years of age are conscious of a nonreciprocating touching pattern developing as part of their tactile communication with their parents. That is, though their parents may be free to touch them, they are to be circumspect in their touching of their parents.

Restrictions placed on contact through the maintenance of social distance provide a way in which awe can be generated and sustained. The blocked response becomes the essence of their emotional experience. Any response of a child to parental contact that alerts the parent to a growing sexual awareness in the child leads parents to reassess their policies and adjust their behavior accordingly. This is a way of letting the child know what types of affection, curiosity, or play are acceptable, including affection within the family circle. There were a number of parents (Berges et al. 1983) who said they placed no restrictions on the sexual forms of touching as long as the physical contact was of a positive nature-that is, not insensitive, aggressive, or dangerous.

Perhaps more children in our society are inadequately or undereroticized sexually than are highly or overeroticized. Though sexual development is in part a natural physiological process, unlike any other natural physiological process (such as breathing or the function of eliminating) sexual responsiveness is the most malleable and can be delayed indefinitely or functionally denied for a lifetime (Masters and Johnson 1970). The effect of delay can be observed even in young children. Spitz (1949) reported on infants in a foundling home wherein mother-infant interaction was nonexistent. The infants were raised without their mothers by an inadequate number of nurses--officially one nurse for eight infants, but in practice one nurse for ten or twelve. What was not provided was the tender, loving care so important to sexual development. Whereas almost all children reared in a normal farnily relationship play with their genitals within the first year of life, the foundling home infants did not play with their genitals even in their fourth year of life.

It was sexual nonfunction or dysfunction that led Masters and Johnson to develop a set of structured sexual experiences, the famous "sensate focus," to heighten awareness of the genitals of erotic and sensuous pleasure, for the socialization of some adult clients had made whole areas of sensuous experience taboo, especially making the genitalia a tabooed part of the body. According to the therapist Kaplan, again and again the history of patients who had sexual problems revealed that an extreme of punitive and moralistic attitudes prevailed in their families during childhood (Kaplan 1974). The parents provide inhibitory rather than excitatory attitudes and practices. They may be passing on to their child an erotophobia or aversion picked up in their own process of being socialized. The exclusion of the child from most aspects of family sexual life, broadly conceived so that the child is never touched tenderly and never sees the parents embrace or kiss, can conceivably lead to a form of affective deprivation, perhaps best described as sexual neglect.

A normal process of sexual eroticization would enable a child to learn, prepubertally, some of the attitudes and responses that will allow him or her to function appropriately as an adolescent and adult. Children who are sexually overeroticized for their age (there are some of these in U.S. society) are the product of an accelerated eroticization process. There is a danger that as a result they come to define themselves in sexual terms too early in life. As Freud (1938:592) stated it, "Seduction prematurely supplies the child with a sexual object at a time when the infantile sexual instinct does not yet evince any desire for it." In the words of Yates (1982:483), "the highly cathected focus on sexual learning seems to detract from social learning and a more even distribution of the libido."

Yates (1982, 1990) has found that for young sexually overeroticized children, the genitals may function as a central, organizing principle in their development as they seek, expect, and yearn for sexual experience. Their genitals become a well-differentiated part of the body and are highly valued,which contrasts markedly with the characteristically poor differentiation and undervaluing of the genitals among children generally in our society. Overeroticized children can be easily aroused through close contact with others-playmates, animals, adults. They may also have a problem in differentiating sexual from nonsexual touch. Sexual activity may come to be a permanent or exclusive mechanism by which they reduce tension. Preschool sexually overeroticized children are readily orgasmic and find sexual activity eminently pleasurable, so much so that it is difficult to find a comparable reward. Some form unusually intense, personalized relationships; others use sexuality as a way to make another child a friend, even briefly; some eroticize other children. Contrary to what Yates reported, Johnson (199 1) stated that few such children, even those who participate in a full spectrum of sexual behavior with peers, report any real need or drive for sexual pleasure or orgasm.
Most of the sexually overeroticized children that come to attention, either through the courts or through therapy, are classified as sexually abused. They usually live in socially and psychologically disordered families, for so-called child sexual abuse in the family rarely occurs in isolation from high levels of familial distress and less than average educational and financial resources in the family. The consensus among child psychiatrists is that factors related to the makeup of families rather than the sexual behavior per se is the more pathogenic. A causal relationship between early parent-child sexual intimacy and emotional damage cannot be automatically assumed, nor do all sustain damage. Yates, who has worked with children sexually overeroticized in their families, stated categorically, "I believe that the eroticization process is independent of the emotional disturbances" (Yates 1982:483).

Besides abusive parents at the one end of the parent-child sexual relations continuum, parents at the other end of the continuum who think that withholding sexual expression is damaging sometimes exhibit a passion to instruct. Among them are persons who claim to practice family sexual expression in a highly educated, sophisticated, and carefully responsible manner. Such persons receive impetus from the writings of Rene Guyon (The Ethics of Sexual Acts, 1934) and others. The following cases are characteristic of such families.

Their daughter was disturbed by her mother's agitation and breathing during intercourse. She otherwise seemed happy with being with her parents as they made love. Her mother explained the whole thing very carefully one day. Her daughter then said "I want to make love with you, mommy." At first her mother didn't know what to do and then decided to go along as long as her daughter seemed OK. She put her hand on her daughter's genitals and suggested that her daughter put hers on top, showing her mother how it felt best. Her daughter started moving rhythmically and breathing heavily, exactly as she had seen her mother do. Her motion and breathing gradually built up to a climax and she relaxed. Whether she actually reached orgasm or mimicked it is uncertain. She was happy and thanked her mother. (Personal correspondence)

Daughter was about 3 years old. One morning she came in on her parents having intercourse. This was her first exposure to it and her parents could see she was confused and disturbed. As they described it, they "sent out good vibrations" making their enjoyment obvious. They included her in their lovemaking by holding her and talking with her. She responded positively and showed no further negative reactions then or later to her parents' lovemaking. (Personal correspondence)

A number of advocacy groups had some degree of notoriety in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s when there was interest in what was called child liberation. The Sexual Freedom League advocated sexual activity between children, but not transgenerational sex. The Rene Guyon Society advocated both child-child and child-adult sexual intimacy. One organization, Parents Liberation, apparently practiced familial sex and advocated child liberation in broad terms, and the Child Sensuality Circle was dedicated to the liberation of children in 0 aspects of life. None of these organizations grew to any national prominence, and today one hears little about children's sexual liberation. Rather, there has been a growing fear in our society that children are damaged through sexual contact of any kind.

In sum, there are children who receive the kind of tactile stimulation and close, warm, gentle, caring affirmation during infancy and childhood that promotes their sexual development in a manner appropriate to their age. At present there is no way of knowing how many children are raised in that way. Such infant and child care is in the middle range of what we call a sexual eroticization continuum. At one end of the eroticization continuum are those children who receive the greatest amount of public attention today, namely those who are sexually abused by being introduced into sexual experiences of a nature and intensity that is totally inappropriate for children, and sometimes of an insensitivity and brutality that can result in long-term physiological and psychological damage. At the other end of the continuum are children who, because of the lack of attention given them during their formative years or because of inhibiting factors in the family, grow up retarded in their sexual development or sexually undereroticized for their age. To care for infants and children in the tender, loving way regarded as appropriate in our society today is impossible without sexually eroticizing the child to some extent. The appropriate role for parents in the erotic sexual socialization of their children is a subject rarely discussed in our society.

[ << Vorige ]     [ Content ]    [ Volgende >> ]