Growing Up Sexually


More: Ari, Banaro, Baruya, Binim-Kukusmin, Busama, Dani, Darabi, Dobu Isl., Eipo, Etoro, Foi, Gebusi, Huli, Jaquai, Kaluli, Keraki, Kewa, Kimam, Kiwai, Koko, Kwoma, Lesu, Manus, Marind Anim, New Britain, New Ireland, Normanby Islanders, Paiela, “Sambia”, Trobrianders, Vanatinai, Wogeo





According to Leavitt[1],


“Traditionally, a girl’s first menstruation entails the only celebration of womanhood in bumbita culture. […] It meant that she was now a woman and she would soon be sought after for marriage. […] it is physical maturation that defines how a girl becomes a woman [which] follows naturally from the onset of a young woman’s menstrual cycle […] it is the physical maturation of a woman that makes her desirable to men. […] In the first tambaran initiation, Rehin, given to boys, initiate’s penes are slashed to discharge bad blood that develops from this kind of nurturative contact with women. […] When a boy is an adolescent, he lets blood for the first time. Throughout his adolescence, he must not let blood too frequently because preservation of blood is important for proper maturation. […] I saw confirmed Tuzin’s [1980:75] observation that penis bleeding was “an act very close to masturbation [involving erections and squeezing] […] The ceremony of first menstruation is a celebration of a girl’s maturation into womanhood, while a man’s experience of penile blood suggests that it too is a kind of celebration, a celebration of masculinity. Girls experience with the onset of menstruation a quiet pride that they will now be women, but along with that comes a sense of foreboding, for they sense that their attractiveness to men, simply by virtue of their having matured into women, will propel them headlong into the arena of courtship and marriage. […] The practice of penis bleeding, by contrast, illustrates a man’s perception that masculine prowess is something that he must actively create in himself ” (p189-205).


On sex (p207),


Bumbita boys and girls interact freely, and sexual play among children is recognized as a common occurrence. Men jokingly assert that while white people begin having sex after adolescence, Papua New Guineans have sex as children. Male informants, in their discussions of their childhood, frequently describe incidents in which they met with a girl in secret, shed their clothes, and together explored each other’s bodies. Sometimes they would even mimic sexual intercourse. Men characterize the girls as always willing, though occasionally they would make an initial effort to protest. Boys and girls imitated the courting ritual in which the boy would ask the girl who it is that she likes or who it is that she will marry. And the girl would inevitably say, “Not you!” Women would not tell me of any of this explicitly sexual play, but they did talk of pretending to be married to a boy and of pretending to cook food for him. Informants conveyed an emotional tone of carefree play, occasionally remarking, “That’s the way children are”.


Adolescent secret get-togethers after dark


“occasionally […] included sexual encounters with the young couple disappearing into the bush away from the others […] Young men told me that before they could talk with adolescent girls, they had to “learn how” to flirt. […] Both sexes describe flirting behaviour in highly specific terms. […] Love magic is one of many varieties of magic that men perform […] contracting a marriage is for Bumbita a protracted and difficult process, both for the apprehensive couple and for the many relatives involved”.





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

Last revised: Jun 2005


[1]Leavitt, Stephen C. (1989) Cargo, Christ, and Nostalgia for the Dead: Themes of Intimacy and Abandonment in Bumbita Arapesh Social Experience. PhD dissertation, University of California at San Diego