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1.1 Sexual Climate



Childers (1936)[1][142] found that negro children of the lower class exceptionally free from constraint in relating details of their sex lives. Living in homes where both parents work, they began sex play as they do any other game of spontaneous origin, frequently at 5 or 6 years of age. A black American slum mother remarked:


“These kids grow up fast in this project. The five and six year olds heifers [girls] know as much about screwing as I do. My six year old boy has already punched [had intercourse with] two or three of these fast chicks and I’m teaching my four year old boy how to be a lady killer too. I can’t hide the facts of life from them because they can see them every day on any stairway, hall, or elevator in the project” (Hammond and Ladner, 1969:p43-4[2][143]; also quoted in Rainwater, 1970 [1973:p349])[3][144].


It should be noted that this attitude is in sharp contrast to communications by Radin and Kamii (1965:p143)[4][145] on lower-class Negro mothers. They are said to be “very disturbed by any evidence of sexuality and aggressiveness in their children and want to suppress it whenever it appears”. Bender (1939:p224-5)[5][146] found somewhat more reserve to talk about sexual subjects; she found “no preference for heterosexual experiences or feelings of taboo against so-called perversions. Where their sex life was really unrestrained it was allosexual. Many Negro children suffered from guilt over masturbation and castration fears and hysterical attitudes towards sexual urges and other mechanisms in relation to their sex life in no way dissimilar to those of white children”.

The Chicago slum experience was described in a first hand account by Yates (1978:p93-9)[6][147]:


“Erotic activities in the hallway were an intriguing substitute for toys. […] Children soon learned to stimulate themselves and others. One enterprising four-year-old was observed proficiently penetrating his five-year-old sister. Others wriggled atop one another, groaning and grunting in succinct imitation. Descriptive words were used, most often incorrectly. When I questioned one boy about a term he used while pummeling another, he was puzzled and then happily described it as “mother’s dirty butt.” Once children entered school, they were exposed to the mysteries and the perils of the alley. […] Sex play was a pallid term for what existed in the alley. Coitus commenced as early as age four, although ejaculation was generally absent until after age ten. Most young girls returned home directly after school, observing their mothers’ admonitions and their own better judgement. A few ran with the boys, buying protection and acceptance in the gang through sex. […] The sex act itself was brief, at best a barter, at worst a rape. […] In the slum sex and anger are companions from earliest childhood. The toddler observes its mother used, abused, and abandoned by her consorts. Occasionally she abuses her mate. The child himself is the recipient of abrupt physical punishment and is abandoned daily in the hallway. Once there, he is subjected to a series of sexual and aggressive assaults, until with growth, he becomes the master of the corridor. The microcosm of the hallway later becomes the macrocosm of the alley”.


Thus, “[p]readolescent sexuality [coitus] among urban, minority youth is considered within a normative developmental context”[7][148].




1.2 Dozens[8][149]


Formerly, children of both sexes would be exposed to what is referred to as the Dozens[9][150], and would get their opportunities to practice at this type of “folklore” at an early age. Schulz remarks:


“The Dozens […] functions to inform both sexes of some of the aspects of sexuality at an early age. These verbal contests acquaint children with many details of sexuality, often before they are otherwise aware of them. They are a kind of primer imparting information about the sex act, sexual deviance, sexual anatomy, and mores which serve as basic guidelines for children who are exposed to sexuality early and completely without being reared in a home where the matters of sex are commonly talked about”.


According to a study by Walker (1945)[10][151] on 52 unwed Negro mothers, the time of acquaintance with sex is a pre-adolescent event. Nonetheless, on the basis of clinical experience in New York, Kardiner and Ovesey (1962[11][152]:p68-9, as cited by Bernard, 1966[12][153]:p138) found that


“[i]n the lower class, the overt teachings about sex are Victorian for both males and females. However, although sex taboos are universally taught, explicitly or implicitly, it is rare they are enforced with beatings […] The sexual education of the lower-class female is a bit more thorough. She is generally taught Victorian morality […] Shame is invoked as the chief sanction. Later, the emphasis is more that sex should be associated with love […] In the middle-class […] there is more freedom […] in discussing sex with parents, and […] few instances of intimidation […] The middle-class female is much like her white sister [sic]. Sex education is rigidly puritanical […] and sex as an expression of love is highly stressed. The same is true of continence as a virtue. There is, however, little terrorization”.




1.3 Sexual Behaviour


Schulz (1969)[13][154] states that boys were earlier engaged in homosexuality than girls, but the reverse in the case of heterosexuality (p69). The girl obtains sexual information from peers, sibs and parents, and “does not enter the sexual arena defenceless”. Rather violent sex play is “a common, overt theme. Sex is regarded as natural, and as long as it is done with some discretion (that is, not in plain view of adults) little is done to guide its progression. […] Sex is not discussed in the homes. Most boys and girls discover for themselves, and discuss their discoveries with their close friends, the girls quite frequently with older sisters. As a result, there is little understanding about sexual matters despite great practical experience” (p46). Girls are said to “please” their boyfriends with intercourse when entering high school. The average age at which respondents indicated they thought youth begin heterosexual relations  was 14.2. The data for homosexual relations were 15.7, playing the dozens: 10.8; kissing and (being) felt up: 12.9; and an active or passive role in pregnancy: 15.8 (1966 data by Stromberg, as adapted by Schulz, p66).


Johnson (1941:p224-41)[14][155] discusses at length the sexual coming of age of blacks as indicated by interviews. For the “folk Negro”, “[s]ex play in some instances began young- as early as 7 and 8. Sometimes the children were imitating an older couple. In some instances they were of different ages and the older child would be the initiator. The age most frequently mentioned for beginning this sex play were 12 to 14. […] The older boys refer to sex experiences beginning at the age of 12 or younger. Sex play between children of 6 to 8 is not uncommon, and active relations may occur at 12 or 13”. In Middle-class youth, “there is considerable sex play, but there is also more recognition of the social censure of this behavior and increased fear of social consequences”. Among the upper-class girls, “active sex experience usually does not occur before marriage”.”

“Boys acquire sex information principally from the talk of contemporaries and older boys. Most of them are unable to recall exactly how sex information was acquired. In a few cases information was supplemented by books or instruction in school. […] Girls in families that are more stable and advanced culturally are usually warned by parents against having sex relations. Mothers usually give the girls instructions on the care of themselves during menstruation”. This picture is confirmed by autobiographies (e.g., Williams, 1985:p223, 228)[15][156].


According to a study on 300 African-American 9 to 15-year-olds (Romer, Black et al., 1994)[16][157], 13.6% of girls indicated having had “sex” at age 12, opposing a figure of 63.2% (!) for boys. 25% of nine-year-old boys claimed the same, and by the age of 15, all of them did. In a second study (Romer, Stanton et al., 1999)[17][158] figures are slightly lower.







Selected Additional References


§         Abney, V. D. (1995) African Americans and sexual child abuse in Fontes, L. A. (Ed.) Sexual Abuse in Nine North American Cultures: Treatment and Prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc; Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc., p11-30

§         Broderick, C. (1965) Social heterosexual development among urban Negroes and whites, J Marriage & Fam 27, May:200-3

§         Brown, C. (1965) Manchild in the Promised Land. New York: the Macmillan Company

§         Brown, Th. E. (1969) Sex Education and Life in the Black Ghetto, Religious Educ 64,6:450-8

§         Clarck, K. (1965) Dark Ghetto. New York: Harper & Row, p71

§         Destro, B. C. (1992) An evaluation of the effect of a comprehensive education program on the self-concept, future orientation, and decision to postpone sexual activity of pre-adolescent girls, DAI 52(9-A):3431

§         Davis, A. (1939) The Socialization of the American Negro Child and Adolescent, J Negro Educ 8,3:264-74

§         Eyre, S. L., Hoffman, V. & Millstein, S. G. (1998) The gamesmanship of sex: A model based on African American adolescent accounts. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, N.S. 12,4:467-489

§         Fang, X., Stanton, B. et al. (1996) Similarity of risk and protective behaviors among African-American pre- and early adolescent members of naturally occurring friendship groups, Bull N.Y. Acad Med 73,2:285-300

§         Forehand, R. et al. (2005) Sexual Intentions of Black Preadolescents: Associations with Risk and Adaptive Behaviors, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37,1:13-18 []

§         Hogan, D., Kitagawa, E. et al. (1985) The impact of social status, family structure and neighborhood on the fertility of black adolescents, Am J Sociol 90:825-34

§         McComb, E. (1999) Sexuality Communication Patterns in Rural, African American Families: An Examination of Parents' Sexual Attitudes and Values and Childhood Sexuality Socialization. M. S. Thesis, University of Georgia

§         Nelsen, E. A. & Vangen, P. M. (1971a) Impact of Father Absence on Heterosexual Behaviors and Social Development of Preadolescent Girls in a Ghetto Environment. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Washington, D.C., September

§         Nelsen, E. A. & Vangen, P. M. (1971b) The impact of father absence upon heterosexual behaviors and social development of preadolescent girls in a ghetto environment, Proc Ann Convention Am Psychol Assoc 6,Pt. 1:165-6

§         Smith, E. & Udry, J. (1985) Coital and non-coital sexual behaviors of white and black adolescents, Am J Publ Health 75,10: 1200-3

§         Stanton, B., Li, X. et al. (1994a) Anal intercourse among preadolescent and early adolescent low-income urban African-Americans, Arch Ped & Adol Med 148,11: 1201-4

§         Stanton, B., Li, X. et al. (1994b) Sexual practices and intentions among preadolescent and early adolescent low-income urban African-Americans, J Pediatrics 93:966-73

§         Stanton, B., Romer, D. et al. (1993) Early initiation of sex and its lack of association with risk behaviors among adolescent African-Americans, Pediatrics 92,1:13-9

§         Thigpen, J. W., Pinkston, E. M. & Mayefsky, J. H. (2003) Cross-cultural aspects - the African American perspective, in Bancroft, J. (Eds.) Sexual Development in Childhood. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

§         Ward, L. M. & Wyatt, G. E. (1994) The effects of childhood sexual messages on African-American and white womens's adolescent sexual behavior, Psychol Women Quart 18,2:183-201

§         Staples, R. & Johnson, L. B. (1993) Black Families at the Crossroads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers

§         Westney, O. E., Jenkins, R. R., Butts, J. D. & Williams, L. (1984) Sexual development and behavior black preadolescents, Adolescence 19,75:557-68

§         Wyatt, G., Peters, S. & Guthrie, D. (1988) Kinsey revisited, Part II: Comparisons of the sexual socialization and sexual behavior of black women over 33 years, Arch Sex Behav 17,4:289-332

§         Zabin, L. S., Smith, E. A. & Hirsch, M. B. (1986) Ages of physical maturation and first intercourse in black teenage males and females, Demography 23,4:595-605




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Aug 2005



[1][142] Childers, A. T. (1936) Some notes on sex mores among negro children, Am J Orthopsychia 6,3:442-8

[2][143] Hammond, B. E. & Ladner, J. A. (1969) Socialization into sexual behavior in a negro slum ghetto, in Broderick, C. B. & Bernard, J. (Eds.) The Individual, Sex, and Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, p41-51

[3][144]. Rainwater, L. (1970) Behind Ghetto Walls: Black Families in a Federal Slum. London: Allen. Pelican, 1973

[4][145] Radin, N. & Kamii, K. (1965) The child-rearing attitudes of disadvantaged negro mothers and some educational implications, J Negro Educ 34,2:138-46

[5][146] Bender, L. (1939) Behavior problems in Negro children, Psychiatry 2,2;213-28

[6][147] Yates, A. (1978) Sex Without Shame. New York: William Morrow

[7][148] Paikoff, R. L. (1995) Early heterosexual debut: situations of sexual possibility during the transition to adolescence, Am J Orthopsychia 65,3:389-401

[8][149] Cf. GUS Vol. II, §4.5.1

[9][150] Berdie, R. F. (1947) “Playing the Dozens”, J Abnorm & Soc Psychol 42:120-1; Golightly, C. L. & Scheffler, I. (1948) “Playing the Dozens”: a note, J Abnorm & Soc Psychol 43:104-5; Johnson, C. S. (1941) Growing Up in the Black Belt. Washington: American Council on Education, p184-5, 228; Schulz (1969:p67-9); Abrahams, R. D. (1962) Playing the Dozens, J Am Folkl 75:207-20

[10][151] Walker, D. R. (1945) The Need of Sex Education in Negro Schools, J Negro Educ 14,2:174-81

[11][152] Kariner, A. & Ovesey, L. (1962) The Mark of OppressionNew York: Meridian Books

[12][153] Bernard, J. (1966) Marriage and Family among Negroes. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

[13][154] Schulz, D. A. (1969) Coming Up Black: Patterns of Ghetto Socialization. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

[14][155] Op.cit.

[15][156] Williams, M. D. (1985) Childhood in an urban Black Ghetto: two life histories, in Hiner, R. & Hawes, J. M. (Eds.) Growing Up in America. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, p221-35

[16][157] Romer, D., Black, M. et al. (1994) Social influences on the sexual behavior of youth at risk for HIV exposure, Am J Publ Health 84-6:977-85

[17][158] Romer, D., Stanton, B. et al. (1999) Parental influence on adolescent sexual behavior in high-poverty settings, Arch Ped & Adol Med 153, 10:1055-62