Social Question

nikipedia's avatar

Why do we consider children non-sexual beings?

Asked by nikipedia (27333 points ) August 4th, 2009

Let me preface this by saying I am in no way implying that I think it’s okay for adults to view children sexually or to have sex with them.

Daloon’s question about young girls’ sexual attributes raised this question in my mind. As a society, we are squeamish about admitting that children have sexual thoughts and feelings. We protect children from hearing about sexual acts, and we forbid children from engaging in them.

Why? What are the benefits of reserving sex for adults? What are the negative consequences of allowing children access to sex and sexuality?

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23 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

There are negative consequences to premature hypersexualization. I don’t think it’s a secret that all human beings have sexual thoughts and feelings from birth. It has been observed that a fetus will masturbate pre-partum.

Children do have access to sex and sexuality if they have access to their own bodies and their own thoughts.

Masturbation was once thought to be harmful, and a precursor of insanity, even blindness, so parents went to great lengths to discourage it, but thankfully those times are past.

I just think it is a private matter, and none of our business, so I merely observed to my children that public masturbation was not normative and that it is something they should do with the door closed; then I stopped inquiring, but I am sure that they, like I, played “Doctor”, and “you show me yours…” with friends, and did all the sexually exploratory things that humans do.

I’m glad they kept it hidden from us. That’s the way it should be. Sex is by and large a personal matter – I don’t discuss my sex life with my kids – that would be quite inappropriate – and I don’t expect them to share theirs with me.

ubersiren's avatar

Freud didn’t think so. I’m fairly certain I’ve been sexually interested since about kindergarten. Of course, I didn’t know what it was all about, and it never crossed my mind to wear revealing clothing, but I still had lusty feelings. It’s quite common for kids even to touch their privates and realize that it feels good, and they continue doing it. Are they actively masturbating? Probably not, but sex is an animal function. There’s a whole section on this in my Dr Spock Baby Care Book. Maybe people are just afraid of being labeled as a creep by admitting it.

CMaz's avatar

“we are squeamish about admitting that children have sexual thoughts and feelings.”

Admitting what? They are children. The “sexual thoughts,” are you sure they are not what you are projecting on them?

We, as children, have had “show me yours and I will show you mine”, experiences. But we were not aware of what we were capable of doing with what we had. A child’s sexual thoughts are innocent. We as adults are at fault for corrupting them so quickly.
They will find out soon enough. Why is it that parents feel the need to accelerate their discovery.
Now being aware or your child and what they are doing is another thing. W do not want them to be confused, but we also do nor want to provide information that they are not mature enough to understand.
A childs ignorance IS bliss.

eponymoushipster's avatar

Children don’t know it’s sexual until they hit puberty. At least they really don’t understand the implications. How many kids run around naked, want to “marry” mommy or daddy, etc. because they don’t understand any of those things?

kids say things with no understanding. they simply mimic and try to “be adults”. they have no concept of some of the deeper issues behind what they say. that’s what makes them kids.

trying to change that is kind of creepy.

Jayne's avatar

@ChazMaz; I for one was very aware of what I was capable of doing with what I had while I was still in elementary school (not from direct experience, of course). My thoughts were probably kinkier then than they are now. It’s definitely not a matter of projection, kids are very sexual indeed. Obviously they lack understanding, because they have not been given that information, but the sexual drive is there to make use of what information they have. Don’t forget that children, or at least girls, used to be married and started to have children right when they hit puberty, at the age of twelve or so, and if anything this is more “natural” then waiting until ones twenties or thirties as is now common; without modern medicine, most people would be dead by then. It is a practical fact that children are capable of procreating once they hit puberty, even if it is more dangerous, and that they commence mental preparation for this act well in advance. It is also true that in the modern world it is very harmful for a person’s prospects to reproduce at that age, and so it has become taboo, and especially if the male (and to a lesser extent female) half of the equation is older, because this implies the possibility of coercion. But children do still have explicitly sexual urges, less informed than adult ones, of course, due to our own reluctance to share information, but strong nonetheless.

CMaz's avatar

“But children do still have explicitly sexual urges, less informed than adult ones, of course, due to our own reluctance to share information, but strong nonetheless.”

What age children are we talking about?

If your 8 year old has a strong desire to have sexual intercourse there is a problem.

Hey, I had a sexual desire to have sex with my 3rd grade teacher. But I did not know what that meant. And, what little “knowledge” I had, came from the dirty magazines I found in my fathers draw.
Being an adult now I would say those urges would not have been so strong or non existent at that stage in my life if I was not made aware of them.

Was happy riding my bike, and playing with the girls and boys on the playground.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@ChazMaz I completely agree with you. A child shouldn’t be exposed to information about sexuality that they aren’t mature enough to understand.

samanthabarnum's avatar

I don’t know why people have this blind eye attitude, really. Children will explore, masturbate, etc., regardless of whether or not they know what’s exactly going on. Even if they don’t know, I don’t understand why we try to deter it—it’s part of human nature.

wundayatta's avatar

I think that “we” think children are non-sexual beings because we believe in this concept of the innocence of childhood. [When I say “we,” I mean a western society with specific norms concerning sexuality. These norms suggest that children should be non-sexual.] We believe, as @ChazMaz suggests, that ignorance is bliss.

Why do we want children to be innocent? I think it is because, as adults, we know the difficulties we have in negotiating our daily lives, and we hope to confer a period of time on our children where they have few worries, or where their worries increase in a gradual manner. There is a practical reason from letting worries increase gradually: it facilitates learning if you don’t dump everything on a child at once. Children seem to have a much harder time when they try to learn everything at once.

We try to protect children from violence, danger and death. Sexuality can be dangerous and harmful if people are not somewhat prepared to understand what happens and how to protect themselves from it’s harms. So can a lot of other things. We don’t throw children into running corporations when they are three years old. We have children gradually assume responsibilities as they grow more capable.

The question then becomes when should we start the process of educating children about sexuality. Personally, I think it should be earlier than what I perceive the normative thinking on this issue suggests. I have no hang-ups about innocence. I feel it is my job to prepare my children for autonomy as fast as possible. I can’t be around them all the time, and they need to learn quickly, including about sexuality. We start training them when we think they are capable of understanding, and only what we think they are capable of understanding.

At the beginning it’s about “good touch” and ‘bad touch.” Defining bad touch can be tricky. As many people have pointed out, most kids “play doctor.” Is that inappropriate? Most child psychologists think not. So kids touch each others genitals, but since they are kids, it is exploration, and not very dangerous. However, if it is an adult touching, then it can be much more dangerous. Adults could seriously hurt children by using them in ways the children don’t understand and are not prepared to deal with.

After “good touch” and “bad touch” it grows from there, as children become more educated and capable of making more sophisticated distinctions using their own logic. I’m not going to trace the course of sexual education, but I will point out that it is an area where there is much disagreement between adults as to when children are ready for what knowledge about sex.

I would argue that not all of us consider children to be non-sexual beings. People who do think that have a limited notion of what sexuality is. I think they think sexuality is confined to things like intercourse and mutual pleasuring, or using another person for one’s own pleasure.

The innocence theory of childhood wants to keep children from knowing things about sex or war or violence for as long as possible. They believe that if you don’t show kids images of these things, and they don’t personally experience any of these things, then they don’t have to deal with them. I think this is looking at the world through rose tinted glasses. Children need and can understand things about death and violence and sex from early on. They can understand more than the “innocence” theorists believe. I’m not saying we dump everything on them; just that they can handle more than the “innocence” camp believes they can.

As such, I think that sexual play is appropriate, in that it prepares children to handle these issues as they grow up. Children can dress up, wear makeup, and apply non-permanent “tramp stamps” without learning they are merely supposed to be sex objects or work in the sex trades when they grow up. It all depends on context, and how children are introduced to these things. We, as parents, can help them understand the implications of these things.

However, since most people believe in childhood innocence to one degree or another, when they see a nine year old with a tramp stamp, they assume the child is innocent and has no idea what the tramp stamp means. So it concerns them.

Should they be concerned? Not necessarily. Maybe the kids do know exactly what they are doing. Perhaps their parents or teachers have already discussed these issues with them. Even if they haven’t, children are not dumb. They see things on TV or in the real world, and they know what happens. In the old days, kids knew about sex because they saw animals doing it all the time.

These days, kids understand about “sexy” as a concept from age three or four, I bet. I know my daughter and her classmates were using the term by age five or six. They did not fully understand it, but they knew that it was a thing that made people like you. It is a thing that raises your status. They probably think it is just about clothes and looking attractive.

When parents tell them not to try to look sexy, I’m sure it confuses kids for a while. Of course, kids are always seeing contradictions between the way people actually behave and the things their parents and others tell them to do. They learn to deal with this confusion in one way or another. Sometimes it creates psychological problems such as enormous guilt when their bodies want to feel a way they have learned to believe is morally wrong.

But life is confusing and there are mixed messages everywhere and children deal with it. Many people are quite successful despite having all kinds of sexual problems. Children can be abused sexually or see death and violence in war and still grow up to be functional adults. They’ll have a different understanding of the world from a child whose “innocence” was protected, but who is to say which one is better, or better functioning?

There are dangers to not preparing children soon enough. It can result in teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. There are arguments on how to prepare (sex education vs abstinence education), but both sides are trying to prepare their kids, and I believe both sides are well-intentioned.

There are probably also dangers to providing more information than kids can handle, or to providing it in a misleading way. Kids might learn about the specifics of sex early on, and then try it out, where they might not have tried it if they didn’t know about it. Some people believe that knowledge is a double-edged sword—it can help, but it can also lead people into danger. Which is more likely? Your answer to that will depend on what you think about childrens’ capabilities.

In conclusion, let me say that I believe in more information sooner. I believe that the information can be provided in a context that will prepare kids, not lead them into danger. I believe that I am a parent who can do that well. I’m sure others doubt their capabilities of preparing children until the kids are much older. I think they would also prepare their kids in a very different way. We might call each other bad parents, depending on our theory of sex education, but beneath all that, we all have the same goal: keeping our children out of danger.

nikipedia's avatar

@ChazMaz, @eponymoushipster, @ItalianPrincess1217: I understand that you all are saying that children should not be exposed to sexual materials. That isn’t part of my question. I don’t think anyone has contested that. What I want to know is why.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@nikipedia because children are pure in a certain sense of the word. when you expose them to those things before they can comprehend them, it damages them. that’s why child abuse of a sexual nature is especially horrific. it sets them on a very damaged path of life.

think about why child abusers are so hated in prisons (aside from regular society): many of the people there were somehow warped, and had their innocence ruined because of inappropriate sexual activity at an early age.

CMaz's avatar

That was explained in the word innocent.

Sexuality is a stage in life, a process that starts at an early age to prepare them. That is where puberty comes in.

Putting aside that our children are being exposed to sexuality at such a young age.

As children, as much as they are “curious” they are not sexual.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I agree 100% with @eponymoushipster. Masturbating and curiosity and things of that nature are entirely natural and normal, but as someone else pointed out, when children engage in things like that it’s more like they’re on auto-pilot in a sense. They don’t truly realize what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. It’s natures way of introducing them to sex, but in a non-intrusive way, basically.

Some of the benefits of reserving sex for adults (and responsible older teens) is protection from childhood pregnancy, STDs, AIDS, and manipulative and abusive relationships. It’s entirely possible for 13-year-olds to have sex with each other, sure. But, I think in most situations – regardless of education – kids that age still have a 13-year-old brain. According to science, the 13-year-old brain is not capable of analytical thought, which is extremely important regarding sex. Analytical thought plays a huge role in the partners we choose, why we choose them and the precautions we take to guard against such things as STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

Garebo's avatar

Allow them to have there innocence, if you can; they are exposed to enough debauchery, violence and porn at an early age, besides it won’t be long before they are up and running. I think they should be allowed to enjoy the Easter Bunny at least for a little while.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I remember my childhood and my mother dragging me to the doctor because she discovered me at 6 years old with the shower head between my legs – and the doctor, thankfully, told her to leave me alone…yet she never let me shower after that with the door closed and I felt diseased for many years after…she was wrong to do that, people are so ignorant sometimes and my parents are of the generation and culture that is all about shame…with my kids nothing is off limits in terms of what they ask me and I answer simply…with my toddler we have dealt with his erections in the morning, him comparing his penis to my husband, him trying to make out with me the way those people did it in the movie, as he puts it…every time I don’t go into great details about sex but I maintain that all his feelings are normal and don’t make a big deal about it…‘yes your penis gets hard like that, that’s okay, it means you’re healthy’...‘yes your dad’s penis is bigger than yours because he’s all grown up and when you grow up you will have a bigger penis just like the rest of you will get bigger’...‘no you can not kiss mommy like that because mommy only kisses daddy like that and when you grow up you can kiss someone like that too’...we’ve talked about how babies live in the uterus…how they grow into babies out of a cluster of cells but we haven’t yet discussed how the cluster of cells get into human bodies…I think I will soon purchase a detailed anatomy book, actually…

Anyway, my toddler, as I’ve mentioned someplace else previously sees me naked often and his dad sometimes as well…he’s seen me breastfeed, we’ve had a conversation about that and what breasts are for…he’s seen me pee on the toilet just like he does…though sometimes he does stand up and pees that way, but he hasn’t asked why the difference just yet…I think I will deal with each new issue as it comes up and I am glad I remember myself as a child and how much I did with that girl Svetlana back in the day, heh…and with pillows and with that shower head…I also remember my brother molesting me when he finally hit puberty and therefore will teach my children that it is never okay to use others, especially younger siblings, to quench your curiosity about what feels good…

dannyc's avatar

For the good reason that they are emotionally incapable of dealing with complex, learned sexual self knowledge. Thus we protect them as we do from their emotional incapability of dealing with violence, sarcasm, politics, and financial planning (or Wall Street thieves). When their brains, body and mind develop we guide them to these next levels in a positive nurturing way. Society seems hell bent to make kids grow up too fast, and losing their natural innocence. What a pity. Protect them well as a parent, and let them enjoy their lives, never denying their questions or natural proclivity to awareness, but taking it in stride and with thoughtfulness. There are too many adults out there that are seeking to destroy that innocence, tragic individuals who seek comfort from their demons and who can crush the future of children in a flash.

justus2's avatar

Because people want to try to protect the innocence of children and sex has became very taboo now. I personally don’t understand it myself, I don’t think there are many negatives about allowing children to explore themselves, i think it would be good for their self esteem and growth. They need information though about the risks and what they need to protect themselves from.

Violet's avatar

First of all… ew.
Second, hormone levels
Third, mental capacity

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. “We protect children from hearing about sexual acts, and we forbid children from engaging in them.” Most don’t talk about it (sex) but they are hardly shielded from hearing it. They get small doses everyday through many facets of the media. As being forbidden from doing it? C’mon, society is almost rooting for them even if under their breath for them to get busy. There are no laws to say people 18yr and under cannot boink each other like bunnies so long as there is no force etc –nothing like keeping the ignorant with the ignorant—.

The other part is mistaking who is really a child and who are not, society especially Western society in an attempt to keep children as children for the longest time possible. For centuries, as touched on by Jayne, when a female hot puberty she was married or mated off soon after, and even in the early times of this nation not all that far ago women were married and starting families by age 16–21, if you were 28 unmarried and no kids you were in danger of being called an “old maid”. Did nature change? No. It was society’s outlook on it. As it is alluded to by pdworking, children still have the though especially in their teen years about aspects of sex. It is natural but seems unnatural to many because they don’t want to view young adults as young adults but children. Nature gives them all the tools in working order for family starting so they must be ready, do you see 8yr olds shaving just because hair decided to sprout with out reason? This is the main reason those older than this artificial number set as to when childhood ends and adult life begins (unless you are under 18 and did a very violent crime) has sex with anyone under that number even if the person under was onboard with it out of curiosity, belief in love, just bored etc. they are looked on as a monster because society has a mind set that everyone is out to screw them and get away with it. And they don’t want them getting any pleasure from sex (since sex is the ultimate roller coaster ride) at the expense of their child. They were mothers back in the day as young as they were but I guess the older women since men were suppose to be harder and in the fields or out on the range and did not involve themselves with those matters stepped up top take these young women under their wing and teach them what they needed to know and not run and hide or say nature is wrong, you are suppose to wait until you are 18.

While we expose sex to children in small watered down doses we give them violence up front potent to the max. What show can’t you watch where you don’t see a grizzly murder, blood flying, brains spilling or worse. And it is all good entertainment, yet most don’t turn into psychopaths. Even if one turned Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and it could be proven it was due to violence in the media or 1st shooter video games do you think it would be enough to shut it down like kiddy porn? Nope, society will dismiss is it as bad parenting or the likes had screws loose, and the tech 9s will wail away and the blood and body parts will still fly. And that is only one area society tongue in cheek say is niot good for children but do little about. The “protecting the kids from sex that will mess them up” part is a crock.

The problem is not with nature, or the young men and women it is with society ran by the older men and women. If the paint is dry, it is dry, to keep insisting that it is wet is silly.

eponymoushipster's avatar

that sure was a lot of diction, but not a lot of fact.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

But more than hot air from persons who can’t muster any facts or opinion….. That is fact.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central what i just said was an opinion. guess you better get that diction out of your mouth….

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@eponymoushipster @Hypocrisy_Central do you guys go way back or something? you’ve been at it for weeks – get a room or get over it

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