SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Physical punishment of children may lead to their bizarre sexual behaviour as adults, writes SHERE HITE in her new book, The Hite Report on the Family, based on more than 3,000 responses to her questionnaire. The Herald continues its exclusive extracts.
At the same time, the parent is usually showing a (gratifying?) degree of emotional agitation, passion and involvement.
When asked, "Did your parents touch and cuddle you?" many people answer, "No - only through spanking."
Spanking and beating give a strong unspoken message connecting power, violence and sexuality. Spanking especially is an invasive "sexual" experience which defines the child's body and connects the buttocks and genitals with violence and sometimes pleasure.
The majority have been hit only once or twice, as this girl describes: "Apparently I was just about a model child. I was only hit once in my life. I was about four and ran out in a parking lot and narrowly escaped getting wiped out by a car. My mother spanked me for that."
Infrequent and relatively non-brutal spankings such as this are less traumatic than repeated violent abusive eruptions, often premeditated, as other people describe in this chapter. But almost all spankings are still very much remembered.
Girls and boys are equally frequently struck, according to this study, but in different ways. Girls tend to be punished by the mother, usually in a more spontaneous "slapping" or hitting way. If a father punishes a daughter, this is more likely to be non-spontaneous ("Go to your room and wait for your punishment there") and to involve spanking or lashing with a belt.
A father's punishment is usually more severe and feared - he seems bigger, more overwhelming and frightening. It is much more frequently fathers who strike boys (fathers also strike sons more often than daughters) although the fear is always there for girls too in such warnings as, "Wait until your father hears about this |"
"I WAS very young, maybe six, when l first masturbated to orgasm," one respondent to the questionnaire said. "It was on my own, with a lot of guilt. Until I was 12, I fantasised about being spanked while masturbating, rubbing against a pillow. Then I stopped feeling guilty and used my fingers. At the same time, I stopped fantasising about being spanked."
Another respondent said: "We used to play house. I was the mummy and my brother was the daddy. I would fix dinner and then we would do dishes. Mummy would complain that Daddy wasn't putting the dishes away. He would say, 'If Mummy isn't nice, I'm going to have to spank Mummy'. Then he would put me over his knee and spank me. I wouldn't cry during the spanking (it didn't hurt), then we would say, 'OK, now it's time for bed', and lie down together (on the floor or ground) as if we were in Mummy and Daddy's bed, to go to sleep. I wonder if we wondered what they did there."
The aim of physical punishment, according to many child-care books, is to break the child's will: the child must learn to obey unquestioningly. This is more important than actual physical pain. Thus, to be most effective, the event must be set up in advance, say 15 minutes or so, during which the child is told to "wait" in his or her room for the spanking. After the event, the child "should ask to be forgiven", thus "deservedness" of the punishment.
These are also basic elements of sado-masochistic activity. The teaching of these connections between power and genitals often creates a strong love-hate, fear intimacy bond with the abusive parent or person. Philip Greven suggests, in Spare the Child (Knopf, 1991), that sado-masochistic sex may be a way for some people to re-enact these scenes (emotionally and psychologically re-experience them) but make them come out with a different end result.
Other interpretations of sado-masochistic sexuality stress that such activity is not "harmless" or (even less) "therapeutic" in any way; it merely demonstrates how deeply people have been imprinted with horribly deformed definitions of "love" as hate, fear and submission - or aggression and control- and so can only "love" in this way.
In particular, it is notable that in heterosexual sado-masochistic pornography, it is almost always the woman who is made to experience pain and domination of her body. Sado-masochism is a statement about the power relationship between men and women, and sometimes an incitement to men to abuse women. Yet its erotic appeal in our culture cannot be denied.
How exactly are the connections made in the child's mind between the parents' power, the private violent invasion of the body, the "rule" that the child cannot resist or fight back - and possible simultaneous sexual stimulation?
When a child is hit on the buttocks, blood rushes to the area, causing a tingling in the genitals. Girls, according to this research, seem slightly more likely to be hit on the buttocks, while boys are hit on the back, or backs of the legs. More of girls' sexual anatomy is exposed in the bent-over position than boys'; although the scrotum is vulnerable in such a position, the penis remains in the front of the body, while the vaginal opening, more towards the back of the vulva, is nearer the buttocks, and nearer the blood-flow brought on by the blows.
This kind of violent touch can be sexualised in the child's mind not only because of a real flow of blood into the genitalia, but also because of a longing for intimacy with the parent: if painful physical touch is the only fulfilment of that longing, then this can "feel good".
Some studies say the vast majority of the US population has been physically disciplined. Has the "vast majority" of the British, German, French, Indian population also been physically assaulted, "disciplined"?
In Britain in 1990, 90 per cent of those responding to a Woman's Own survey admitted to smacking their children, although more than half regretted doing so.
Five European countries - Sweden (1979), Finland (1983), Denmark (1985), Norway (1987) and Austria (1989) - have outlawed physical punishment of children. In Britain, EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) is campaigning for the same legislation.
CHILDREN are generally forbidden to act/react appropriately and effectively in these situations to defend themselves from assault and invasion. Indeed, if they try to defend themselves or fight back, the punishment may be more severe, they are told. The "best thing" for them is to submit. Thus the associations of love, fear and pain begin early and remain embedded in the unconscious mind for life, unless removed.
According to Greven, following also Alice Miller, "Spanking, whippings and beatings are the painful origins of much adult sado-masochism. The astonishing absence of studies of sado-masochism in our history and culture is evidence of the denial that most people experience concerning the long-term consequences of physical punishments both for the psyche and sexuality.
"It is the early fusion of pain and love and the eroticisation of coercion through the assaults upon the body and the anus that often shape the creation of sado-masochistic feelings, fantasies and behaviours in adults."
If spanking and physical punishment are widespread in a society, it is logical that sado-masochism will also be. It may not be an aberration; it can be inherent in any culture in which children suffer from painful physical punishments and humiliation and are subject to more powerful authorities.
And yet, adherents of corporal punishment and "discipline" for children (often members of fundamentalist religious groups, as their child-rearing manuals can attest) refuse to admit to the sexual aspects of what they are doing, or even to the fact that such "pointing out" of the genitals of the child in this "humiliation" setting (yet one full of attention and passion) could have profound effects on the sexual feelings and emotional poles of the child.
The absence of "sexuality" in these situations has always been stressed by advocates of corporal punishments for children. Yet this is clearly self-deceptive.
Astutely, Greven also points out, "The unconscious association of love with anal punishments is surely among the psychic sources of much of the fear and hatred of homosexuality and of sodomy rampant in the Christian Right today. Homophobia is as central to the ideology and psychology of the Christian right today as anti-Semitism was to Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s."
From The Hite Report on the Family by Shere Hite, published in Australia by Bloomsbury
Copyright 2005, Hite Research International
All rignts reserved.
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