The reason most often given for choosing a child's plump bottom as the site for physical punishment is that it is fleshy and well-padded and "there are no vital organs there." Indeed, some say, "babies' butts were built for busting." Injuries that might blind, deafen, cripple, retard or permanently injure the child are thus believed to be avoided. In truth, there are many important structures in the buttock area which can be injured.
Most superficially, paddling a child's bottom with a hand or an object (wooden paddle, belt, brush) can cause soft tissue injury of various degrees, depending on the force used. It may cause only temporary reddening, raise welts or cause purple bruises. There may be bleeding of the skin if an object is used and multiple swats are given.
If a beating is more forceful, there can be bleeding deep into the muscles of the buttocks. This is called a hematoma. Autopsies of children who have died from multiple injuries, including being beaten on the buttocks, show old, deep scarring of the muscles along with the fresh bleeding from the most recent beating.
Medical reports document well the injuries that occur to the lower spine of adults from forces applied there by accidental direct blows, falls and blows sustained in car accidents. Bruising of the tailbone the coccyx, causes coccydynia, a persistent pain in the tailbone. Direct blows to the buttocks can fracture the sacrum, the large bone at the lowermost part of the spine. Many nerves pass through the sacrum to innervate the pelvic area. So profuse are the nerves at the end of the spinal cord that they are called the cauda equina, or the horse's tail. These nerves supply motor function and sensation to the bladder, the rectum, the genitals and the legs. Tearing of these nerves by a fracture of the sacrum causes problems with bladder and bowel function, such as an inability to empty the bladder and lax rectal tone, which causes soiling. Such fractures of the sacrum are often not suspected because proper x-rays are not taken.
Thus far, doctors have paid little attention to the injuries to the spines of children that might occur from paddlings. Certainly, paddling on the buttocks could bruise the coccyx; more serious injuries, such as sacral fracture and nerve damage, could result if enough force is used. If the paddle hits below the buttocks, on the back of the upper thighs, it can bruise the sciatic nerves which are close to the surface there, and which supply motor function to the legs. This bruising can cause partial or complete paralysis of the legs, depending on the amount of injury to the nerves.
THE SEX ORGANS In the days of sailing ships, when the cat-o-nine tails was used to punish drunken or mutinous sailors, the lashes were given on the bare upper back for the stated reason that "there are no vital organs there" that could be permanently damaged. The sailor, no matter how badly his back was lacerated, was still able, after a short recuperation, to scrub decks and haul sail, to hear and obey orders. Why was the sailor beaten on the upper back, and not the buttocks? In the case of both the sailor and the child, the sites for chastisement were chosen to avoid permanent damage by destruction of vital organs. Why then the difference in site? The sailor was beaten on the upper back for the excellent reason that there is a vital organ lower down, in fact, one of the most vital organs that a man possesses. The taboo in boxing and in playground fights is the same as for the sailor: "No hitting below the belt." The sex organs are sacrosanct.
Children, on the other hand, were considered to be sexless by the Victorians and their predecessors who pronounced, "lt's the place Nature made for spanking." But children are not sexless, and what is more obvious, neither are adolescents. Indeed they are especially vulnerable to stimulation of the extensive network of nerves that supply sensation to the whole area including the buttocks, the rectum and sex organs. Injuries to the sex organs and sexual functioning can occur in several ways from spankings.
Damage to the genitals by blows to the buttocks occur if the instrument hits the scrotum or if the penis is rammed against the object the child is leaning on. Injuries to the testes are not rare. In Florida, a middle school student was paddled for tossing stones at a maintenance building. Thirty minutes later, he was on the operating table, undergoing surgery on his testicles. The doctor who performed the operation stated that the paddling contributed to the aggravation of a congenital condition of the child's testes in which their attachment to the inside of the scrotum was loose. During the paddling, one of the testicles twisted 60 degrees, cutting off the blood supply and causing excruciating pain. Another case of injury to the testes occurred when a boy was paddled on the buttocks with his legs spread apart. He suffered a testicular hematoma from bleeding into his testes.
Although their sex organs are internal, girls are not immune from injury during a paddling on the buttocks. A young woman of 17 was given six hard blows by the vice-principal for a day's absence. She hemorrhaged for two days, and suffered nightmares and post-traumatic stress syndrome. When she was asked to testify for a Senate subcommittee, she told the lawmakers: "It was the worst pain I ever felt in my life. I felt violated." Some school systems specify that when girls are punished, there must be a female teacher present to officiate, thus recognizing the sexual aspects of paddling "where Nature ordained."
In his book The Naked Ape, anthropologist Desmond Morris emphasized the sexual aspects of the paddling act: "The female rump presentation posture is an appeasement gesture...with rhythmic whipping replacing the pelvic thrusts of the dominant male...lt is doubtful whether school masters would persist in this practice if they fully appreciate the fact that in reality they are performing an ancient primate form of ritual copulation with their pupils."
Another effect of paddling on girls is demonstrated by the case of the 14-year-old Texas girl who was paddled so hard the first blow knocked her to the floor. When she attempted to crawl out of danger, the principal used his belt to strike her on the legs, arms, back, neck and head. She ran from the building and was chased by the belt-wielder until she found shelter in a friend's home, She was treated for emotional trauma and bruises. Her menstruation stopped for several months.
Many of the nerve roots of the cauda equina supply sensation to the genitals in both males and females, and control erection in boys. Fractures of the sacrum which can tear these roots would cause loss of sensation of the genitalia and inability to attain erection in boys.
Psychosexual damage caused by excessive stimulation of the erotic zone that includes the buttocks is actually more likely to occur from a paddling than is direct or indirect injury of the genitals. This stimulation of the erotic zone can lead to subsequent distortion of the normal sexual response. David Bakan writes in his book Slaughter of the Innocents:The buttocks are the locus for the induction of pain in a child. We are familiar with the argument that it is a safe 'locus' for spanking. However, the anal region is also the major erotic region at precisely the time the child is likely to be beaten there. Thus it is aptly chosen to achieve the result of deranged sexuality in adulthood.Jean Jacque Rousseau in his Confessions described how he discovered at the age of 11 that the erotic stimulation provided by the spankings given him by a much admired schoolmistress outweighed the discomfort. To secure a repetition of the sensation, he planned ways to misbehave so he could be spanked again. He credits his adult distorted sexuality to this early experience.
The discovery that the pain and pleasure centers in the brain are vulnerable to "getting their wires crossed" was made long before Freud. lan Gibson in his thoroughly documented study The English Vice: Beating, Sex and Shame in Victorian England and After traces the first book on the subject to seventeenth century Germany, to a Dr. Meibom whose thesis was "a serious attempt to establish as fact that flogging can indeed act as a stimulus to erection in the victim and to manage an explanation of this phenomenon." Gibson describes brothels where prostitutes dressed as "strict governesses applied the birch to men who, having been subjected to this distortion in boyhood, could not function any other way. With unexpurgated quotations from English poets and men of letters, he leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that painful punishment on the buttocks of schoolboys deranged the normal procreativity of a great many males.
Sexual abuse of children has gained much current concern. Incest and other adult misuse of the bodies of children has been found in the background of runaways and promiscuous teenagers, prompting a strong trend toward enlightened sex education. Teaching children to protect themselves against sexual abuse by learning to say, "No!" is probably a good idea but it has limited use. Children have been saying no to spankings without success. Beating on buttocks must be recognized as a form of sexual abuse just as surely as is touching any erotic zone.