For a culture grossly over-saturated in inappropriate sexual images and themes, we as Americans have a remarkably difficult time having an honest conversation about human sexuality. Allow me to address that proverbial elephant which stands squarely in the figurative living room of American society which most others choose to ignore. I’ll state it straight up and straight out: every human being on this planet is a sexual creature, even children. As a result, we need to understand the consequences of over-sexualizing our children and saturating them with sexual imagery before they are ready to handle such a wonderfully complex aspect of humanity. There, I stated it plainly. For those of you who are already offended, I suggest you either buckle up or leave now because I’m about to off-road into some decidedly bumpy terrain.
For my readers who know little to nothing about child development it may come as a shock to learn that human sexuality is not something which is relegated in terms of development to the onset of puberty. No, in fact, sexuality in human beings begins in the very first years of life rather than in the teen and young adult years. Yes, sexuality begins to develop in very early childhood. Nobody panic! I’m not going to go “all Freudian” on you as my oldest daughter would say. Well, not too much, anyway and don’t panic, that is, unless you are oversensitive, immature, prone to hysteria and/or other neurotic behaviors, reactionary, and cannot look honestly at the truth about being human from a sexual perspective. I may touch a bit on Freudian concepts but I’m not going to tell you that penis envy is valid because it isn’t. This myth has been exploded at least in my mind in part because in this day and age of plastic surgery any penis-desiring feminist would have had one surgically attached by now spurring on a trend among fellow feminists to do the same. No, we don’t see this behavior but we do see women lashing the equivalent of large Honey Dew melons to their chests and calling them breasts. But I digress. What I am going to do is move into some highly uncomfortable territory which Freud himself might appreciate were he sane and alive, and that Piaget would continue to ignore.
This blog post is about sex. Sex, sex, sex! Sex is a basic human need – that’s right need – and we are all born with that need. It’s how we choose to express that need that is the point of difference between healthy expression and deviant criminal acts. Why am I writing about sex, particularly in relation to children, on this blog? I’m taking the time to address the issue here and now because we cannot even begin to understand the nature of criminally sexual behavior without confronting the hard truths about human sexuality and that truth is: sex in and of itself is good and no one should be vilified for having this need; and unless something is neurologically wrong, all humans including children experience sexual feelings. In other words, sexuality is universal.
What does this topic have to do with children? I’m getting to that but before I do let me state clearly and emphatically that I am well aware of the childishly manipulative tactics exercised by certain of those who occupy their time taking my words and twisting them around for the sole purpose of redirecting the conversation and putting me on the defensive. I understand what these poor misguided souls are attempting to do and it won’t work. If they choose to behave as I predict that they will in relation to this post then they can expect at least two things to occur: first, I will allow them to make fools of themselves in the comments section of this blog which will only prove my point in terms of knowing their behavior; and second, I will not move into defensive mode because I’m familiar with that tactic and know very well how to deal the personality type(s) who implement such predictably childish behavior.
Additionally, if they lack the courage to address me with their real faces and real names on this blog, they can each rest assured that I will find their true identities and address each as such in my responses. Lastly, anyone is welcome to comment on this post whether they agree or disagree with me provided they are not rude, have a point, and disagree without resorting to name calling or other hysterical behavior. I have no problem with debate and I can agree to disagree. Furthermore, I can admit when I am wrong so if I misstate something or there is evidence to the contrary of my point then, by all means, present it. What I cannot and will not do is suffer fools gladly. With that stated, on with the topic at hand: sex and child development.
It’s Not Just the Birds & Bees
Even in its earliest stages, childhood is not the asexual innocence that most parents envision it to be and this can be an uncomfortable discovery for many unseasoned parents and/or childcare givers. All that is necessary to shatter this sanitized version of early childhood development is to witness a toddler “discover” themselves through exploratory touch. Children are tiny investigators and tactile ones at that. In the pre-language stage children understand concepts through feeling and experience which is why pre-language abuses (and not just sexual in nature) often present in the form of maladaptive behaviors. One cannot articulate what one does not have language skills to describe. However, one can feel and re-experience outside of language barriers. It is for this reason that the general public appears to have the erroneous mindset that all behavior is learned therefore, if a child acts out sexually then they must have learned it from some external force or observation. If a child exhibits sexual behavior or curiosity pre-language then that must mean that he or she has been abused in some way, right? Not so and this is why.
The Dreaded “M” Word
Masturbation. Yep… that’s the one! The topic, the word, the activity that we like to ignore specifically when it is seen exhibited in children. It’s difficult for many to say and even more difficult to put into writing. For many, just thinking about “that word” invokes feelings of guilt and shame which likely can be traced back to a negatively associated early childhood experience. The “M” word represents an activity and topic that is simply too sensitive to touch for most, pun very much intended. However, that word describing that activity which you may find difficult to acknowledge is foundational to human sexuality and is very much present in most children before the age of five. Contrary to popular belief it very rarely has anything to do with having experienced sexual abuse.
Children masturbate. Shocking! In reading that statement I’m certain that some of you have just experienced a major anxiety attack, even more have likely experienced a mild heart attack, and yet even more are convinced that I am perverted for even bringing up the subject. Some may even twist my words into appearing as though I support child pornography because I used the words “children” and “masturbate” in the same sentence. I can just see all the Twitter feeds now exploding with phony outrage from the irrationally embittered that have about as much depth as a thimble, “Did you read her blog today? …she’s a pervert… a pornographer… she hates children,” blah, blah, blah. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I love children and go out of my way to advocate for sexual abuse victims, particularly victims who are children because they have no voice or power of their own to combat exploitation. It is for this reason that I am addressing this issue. Children experience sexual feelings in early childhood but do not have the ability to negotiate nor can they consent to the complex issues involving sexual activity until much later in life, and cannot legally in most states engage in sexual activity with another person before the age of eighteen.
Why do we need to look at the dreaded “M” word as it relates to children? Because it is how we react as adults to the very natural acts of sexual exploration that sets the tone for how the child will perceive themselves later in life and as they begin to mature. Plainly stated, it is how we react and the messages that we send culturally to our children and young adults early in life about individual sexuality that sets the stage for either healthy sexual expression (hopefully in a mutually loving relationship) or sexual devaluation and victimization.
We do more harm than good and potentially very real damage, when we demonize children for natural curiosity and then fail to direct that curiosity appropriately. We over punish for normal and innocent sexual curiosity in childhood or ignore the issue entirely leaving Hollywood and public schools to fill-in the information later in life because as parents we just don’t want to deal with such an uncomfortable subject. Or, we rush to false judgments and assume that any sexual curiosity is the result of abuse or learned behavior, and later in life it is learned behavior which becomes a detrimental issue for many. Parents need to understand that early childhood sexual exploration is developmentally normal and how you react has the potential to damage a child well into adulthood and this is especially true for girls.
Even in the current age with males immediately demonized for sexual expression and women congratulated for being “sexually free” human beings, males receive far more positive messages early in life as respects auto-erotic behaviors than do females. For girls, the issues of sexual identity can be even more confusing because boys tend to be congratulated for their sexuality from an early age while girls are made to feel like several derogatory words that I don’t like to use but will likely have to before this paragraph has ended. As boys mature they are openly encouraged by society to direct their attention toward pornography in relation to masturbation as an acceptable means of sexual outlet in lieu of actually sexual contact. I could write an entire series on the effects of classical conditioning as it relates to sexuality and I just might because it relates to pornography as being a socially acceptable and viable alternative to real relationships. That is a problem! Anyway, males are told that it’s normal for men to have near constant sexual feelings. Females are not. In truth, we as females are told expressly the opposite which is very confusing because as girls we know that this is not true! As women we know that we are far more sexually similar to men than the masses believe and we are just as visual. We enjoy sexual touch and this is true for young female children but girls are discouraged and boys are encouraged. Females are told deliberate lies about our own sexuality, i.e. girls like to cuddle and don’t like sex, any girl who likes sex is a whore, boys are more entitled to sex than girls and deserve multiple partners, etc. All of those things are myths, by the way, in case you were not aware. When a girl expresses an interest in sex then she is called a whore or a slut or a… it begins with “c” and I won’t state it here because it is truly vile but you get the idea. Over time, as females mature we begin to resent these messages, the proof of which can be found in the Women’s Liberation Movement in the not-so-distant past.
The Great Sexual Divide is Now A Bottomless Pit of Depravity
Back in the early to mid late 1960’s when I was allegedly born this trend began to change but fast forward some forty-plus years later and I cannot say that it is for the better. Instead of addressing the issues of sexual imbalance appropriately the proverbial pendulum has swung hard in the other direction. Not only that but we have also managed to turn the metaphoric clock upside down as well. In response to the unfair demonization of female sexuality boys are now vilified for sexual expression while girls are congratulated for piggish behaviors once reserved for their male counterparts. Men in America have progressively become the objects of public ire and somehow fundamentally “wrong” for having any amount of sexual feelings toward a woman or even women in general and are then summarily labeled as rapists while women are told that they can behave and dress however they wish then bear no responsibility for inappropriate advances. In terms of sexual behavior women are now told that they can do no wrong while men can do no right. I haven’t taught my daughters that nonsense and I certainly haven’t taught my son that either.
And right about now the reactionary who monitor me from afar – or so they think – have very likely made the leap to Steubenville and have probably interpreted my comments on this warped cultural sexuality shift as being about that specific issue. As the rational reader contemplates this post and digest its contents the irrational have likely read up to the previous paragraph and labeled me a rape supporter and a victim blamer. If that is the message which they have chosen to take away from this post then God help them because they clearly lack the maturity and clarity of mind to digest such a mature topic and to see the real issues within our sexually confused and blurred society. The ones who will predictably go off half-cocked on Twitter or Tumbler or Facebook or “thisbook” or “thatbook” about my so-called support of rape culture are the very ones who actively perpetuate, perpetrate, and punctuate the current twisted sexual stereotypes which I find so destructive to our youth today. Even adults have bought into this nonsense. No wonder our children are confused and prolific targets for sexual abuse.
I know that some of you are confused as to why I started this discussion from a place of early childhood. The reason why is actually quite simple. The attitudes that we project onto our children beginning in early childhood regarding sex have a lasting effect on them well into adulthood. Add to that a society that does not merely value bad behavior but openly celebrates it with shows like Girls Gone Wild, Buckwild, and Jersey Shore, and it is a wonder why our young people have any personal values and sense of self-worth at all. With a pattern of avoiding sexuality issues in early childhood and then throwing young people into a society that has limited, if any, sexual boundaries coupled with a hoard of mixed messages it’s no wonder our youth act out contrary to acceptable societal norms and cross the line into potential sexual criminality. Sexual responsibility does not equate in terms of creating an anything goes anti-establishment type of society, nor does it equate in terms of avoidance of addressing early childhood sexuality. Healthy sexual identity for both males and females begins at the cradle and not in the teen years when attitudes are already well established. By then, it is far too late and more difficult to change deeply ingrained maladaptive behaviors and negative sexual identities.
© Amy Lynn Burch 2008 – 2013
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