Burmese: 2,2,3-,3-,4-,4-;2,2)



IndexAsiaBurma, Myanmar


In Burma “[m]arriages below [the age of fifteen or sixteen] are not common, and child marriages […] never formed a feature of the Burmese family system (Maung, 1963:p52)[1]. As for sexual education, “[m]ost women in Yadaw had not had any instruction or advice from the senior generation, and what sex lore they have is picked up through observation or peer group talk and speculation” (Nash, 1965:p256)[2]. Children never see parents nude, and the reverse appears to be prohibited after ages 12 to 13 (boys) or eight to nine (girls) (Spiro, 1986:p219)[3]. Children are not instructed but observe parental intercourse in both urban and rural areas (p221-2). Parents are ashamed to discuss sexual matters with their children, and children are told babies drop from the sky or that a baby who likes a particular married couple enters the stomach of that woman. Some villagers have their first sexual experience with prostitutes. Young boys may also be initiated by unmarried women, widows, and divorcées. Girls, unlike boys have no sexual outlet of any kind, since premarital sex is “the worst possible stigma” (p223). Sex training begins early. Infant genital handling is counteracted, a masturbating child is warned or spanked, boys more than girls. “Children sexual behavior, whether homosexual or heterosexual, also meets with a spanking, either by parents (if seen in the home) or monks (if seen in the monastic school). In addition, children are warned that such behavior will be punished by rebirth in hell, by the loss of friends, by being hated by others, and so on. If this is not enough, they may also be warned that sex play leads to venereal disease, and boys may also be threatened with castration. […] A boy may be threatened with castration for exposing his penis in a monastery or a pagoda, or for urinating in the presence of others- he is told to squat or cover his penis with his hand- or for insulting a playmate by holding out his penis and saying he will copulate with the latter’s mother. Children are scolded for using other obscenities, and, if they persist, they may be spanked” (p220-1). At twelve or thirteen, children are prohibited from playing or being alone together, punished by spanking.

Burmese babies’ nipples are squeezed “to prevent her from having a large bosom” (Brant and Khaing, 1951:p447)[4]. “Apart from modern legal ideas concerning the attainment of adulthood, the Burmese view is one is adult when physiologically mature. Upon reaching pubescence boys as well as girls are referred to by a term meaning “virgin”. The connotation is that the individual has now entered a period of life in which the dangers of temptation are especially great and in which corresponding precautions are necessary”. Such phenomena as eruption of the skin or sexually delinquent behaviour preceding the first menstrual period are regarded as evidence that the “blood is trying to flow”.


Leach (1954 [1970:p133])[5], writing about the Kachin, states that by the time puberty is reached youth and maiden “[…] are regularly sleeping together, but courtship and flirtation is carried on in groups rather than by individuals”; marriage occurs in late teenage.

Among the Burma Karen people, “[c]hild betrothals were not uncommon in early days” (Marshall, 1922:p176-7)[6]. The children might not know of the arrangement until “later on” (marriage was to take place in early adulthood). Adolescent life seems to have been characterised by chastity and etiquette.








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

Last revised: Dec 2004


[1] Maung Maung, U. (1963) Law and Custom in Burma and the Burmese Family. The Hague: Matinus Nijhoff

[2] Nash, M. (1965) The Golden Road to Modernity. New York [etc.]: Wiley

[3] Spiro, M. E. (1986) Kinship and Marriage in Burma. Berkeley [etc.]: University of California Press

[4]Brant, Ch. S. & Khaing, M. M. (1951) Burmese kinship and the life cycle: an outline, Southwest J Anthropol 7:437-54

[5] Leach, E. R. (1954) Political Systems of HighlandBurma. [University of] London: The Athlone Press. 1970 repr.

[6] Marshall, H. I. (1922) The Karen People of Burma. Columbus: University at Columbus