“ESKIMO”[1]  (North-America,Alaska,Canada)

(Ingulik/Ingalik, Point Barrow, Ammassalik[Greenland], Copper Inuit, Athabascans, Iñupiat)


IndexAmericasNorth AmericaNorth American Natives“Eskimo”


More: Arapaho, Assiniboine, Athabascans, Blood/ Blackfoot, Cajuns, Cherokee, Chipewyans, Apache Chiricahua, Comanches, Crow, Flathead, Gros Ventre, Hopi, Huron, Ingalik, Copper Inuit, Iñupiat, Kaska, Kiowa-Apache, Kwakiutl, Lakota, Mohave, Navajo, Nootka, Ojibwa, Omaha, Point Barrow, Pomo, Qipi, Quinault, San Ildefonso, Shoshone, Shuswap, Sioux, Tinglit, Walapai, Yokuts, Zuñi


See also: North-America Non-Natives




Early / Age-Stratified Marriage

Play Sexuality

Auto-Erotic Asphyxia


Early / Age-Stratified Marriage



For a discussion on Inuit age of marriage, see Smith and Smith (1994:p599-600, n12)[2][161]. According to Rasmussen (1931:p472), the Netsilik nuptial age of is 14. According to Malaurie (1956:p79)[3][162], writing about the Northern Greenland Eskimos, “only at about twenty or twenty-four years, when the young hunter is capable of keeping a family, does marriage take place”. Arima (1984:p455)[4][163] states that marriage among Caribou Eskimo usually occurred “when the girl reaches puberty”, but he does not indicate the typical age of the groom. Citing various sources, Gilberg (1984:p586-7)[5][164] notes that among the Polar Eskimo “girls often married between the ages of 12 and 16” while “most men did not marry until their midtwenties”, a situation attributed to the excess of males in the population. Damas (1975:p412)[6][165] states that “girls married quite young in the areas where the sexes were skewed, even before puberty in some cases”, but that young men were often unmarried at age eighteen or twenty.




Play Sexuality



A. Bertelsen (cited by Brusendorff and Henningsen, 1963:p34) [7][166] noted that, on more than one occasion, Eskimo fathers, having surprised five or six-year-olds at attempts at intercourse with little girls, assembled everyone in the settlement to feed them and celebrate “the son’s growing to be a man”. According to Bertelsen, “it is not rare for children of twelve to have sexual intercourse [while at examinations] practically no virgins of more than 16 were found” (ibid.). Von Wrangell (1839:p219-20)[8][167] indicated that a virgin over the age of 12 was rarely found on the Aleutian Islands (Aleut:2+,2+,2+,3,2,2;4,4).


Due to the absence of conversational taboos in the presence of children, there was no secret for them after age 7 or 8 (Hawkes, 1916:p119; Fehlinger, 1926:p19)[9][168]. Kjellström (1973:p25)[10][169] further noted that Eskimo boys learn from free observation. The actual sex act “was included in the repertory of games to imitate the copulation between their elders, and the heterosexual contracts started already in childhood. Coitus was practiced during puberty, and sometimes even before puberty. On West Greenland it was not infrequent to have coitus as from the age of 12 years”. Speaking of the Sallumiut (Takamiut), Graburn (1969:p190-1)[11][170] states that traditionally, “Eskimo life was very open, and children learned all about sex from babyhood. Among boys sex activities were initiated at puberty or a little after”. The modern pattern of sexarche is estimated at age 16 or 17 for boys, and at 12 or 13 for girls.


Spenner (1959 [1976:p244-5])[12][171] states: “Heterosexual experimentation in late childhood was apparently not unusual [and] boys and girls, around the age of puberty, might go off together on excursions away from the community and engage in sexual relations”. Also (p202), a child bride on Nunivak had sexual intercourse before she reached puberty; among the kuskowagamiut a shaman was the first to have intercourse with a girl[13][172]. However, the Nunamiut girl “should not have sexual intercourse or be approached until after her second menstruation (Gubser, 1965:p208)[14][173]. Rasmussen (1931:p197)[15][174], as quoted by Balikci (1970:p160)[16][175]: “At a very early age children know all about the problems of propagation, indeed to such a degree that copulation enters into their games. They make small tent rings that are usually called places where one plays at copulation. The result is that the boys and girls lie together at a very early age, sometimes at ten or twelve, and it does happen that adults will lie with little girls that are not yet nubile”.


Early sex life among the Eskimo is probably heterogenous. This is suggested by Briggs (1975)[17][176]. Briggs states that “Qipi children […] learn about [sexual] intercourse, sometimes a soon as they join a play-group; and they practice it, too, or watch their friends doing so, hidden by the rough shore ice at the edge of the camp- an activity laughed at by their elders. But Utku children […] are much more restrained, sexually […]. [In Utku children] there is no courtship and very little sexual conversation or play of any sort- none at all in the case of girls, though adolescent or preadolescent boys may be teased by older men, who ask if they have any pubic hair yet or playfully pretend to grab at their genitals” (p174, 177). In wintertime, male may have “approached” children, although intercourse would be prevented by the family (Jenness, 1922:p239)[18][177]. Among the Utku Eskimos, “the genitals of small children are the object of public admiration and affection. This is true of boys as well as girls (Briggs, 1986)[19][178]. “Generally speaking, boys and girls grow up like wild plants, without much care or attention from the time they can run about till they approach puberty” (Jenness).


Oswalt (1963:p44)[20][179] states:


“Sexual differences and bodily functions are regarded casually from early childhood. Small children often go about the house or outside in the summer wearing nothing more than a shirt. Children also freely urinate and defecate before one another, and they often peek into the windows of a bathhouse where men and women are bathing. Boys and girls play together from the toddler stage to that of marriage, with little or no adult supervision. Schoolchildren sometimes play hide-and-seek in the tall grass behind the village, and during this play there may be talk of sexual organs and activities as well as some experimenting. Sexual interests are further manifested in close body contact during play. Boys and girls lounge on the beds or bump against each other and giggle. They may also grab at each other’s pubic region. […] When a group of [adolescent] boys passes a group of girls on a path, often a boy will grab at the pubic region of a girl; the latter is usually aware of his intentions and quickly moves his hand aside. Courtship activities bring adolescents together in the late evening, but during the day a boy never walks with a girl in the village and seldom speaks to one more than to say few words or tease her”.


Savishinsky  (1974:p127)[21][180] noted for the Hare: “Children are allowed the freedom of the village during all ingatherings, and no attempt is made to shelter them from brew parties, or from their sexual and aggressive overtones. Young people learn to adjust to drunken behavior with an accomplished air of stoicism and resignation, and people this become socialized to drinking patterns, violence, and sexuality at a young age”. Due to the small houses, “[c]hildren are exposed to and witness sexual relations [of parents] from a young age, which helps foster the people’s easy acceptance of sexuality among adults and adolescents” (p123).




Auto-Erotic Asphyxia


Stearns (1953)[22][181] reports the following: “Anthropologists have reported that Eskimo children hang themselves in some game, probably sexual [...]”. While reported in many societies, parental asphyxia practices during intercourse seem to be imitated by children, and sometimes incorporated in (mutual) masturbation. Freuchen (1961:p212)[23][182]: “The Eskimos […] are known to choke each other as part of their sexual activity and it is common for their children to suspend themselves by the neck in playing”.

Diamond et al. (1990)[24][183] agree: “Eskimo children have been reported to seek unconsciousness as a delightful game”[25][184].  Resnick (1972)[26][185] states: “Children of Shoshone-Bannock Indians play games where suffocation is a part of the game”. De Coccola and King report a fatal case (1986:p185-7)[27][186]:


“Now here again was an opportunity to toy amorously with their new-found playmates, and the youngsters were not going to waste precious moments idly on the sidelines, passively watching the oldsters dance and sing. They left to make their own fun. But tragedy struck them dramatically that night during their sexually oriented hanging game. By no means the children’s most popular pastime--that honor went to blind man’s bluff--the hanging game was usually played by thrill-seeking youngsters during the Eskimos’ great spring assemblies, or at other large gatherings of several families. To my knowledge, adult Eskimos did not indulge in it. The boys had placed a piece of driftwood atop an igloo’s dome, tied a sealskin thong around the wood, lowered the other end of the narrow strip of skin through a small hole in the snow roof, and made a lasso at its dangling end. On this occasion a tall, slim 12-year-old boy named Attiguyok used a block of fresh snow underfoot to allow him to reach up and place the sealskin loop around his neck. With his hands tied, he then pressed his feet down against the snowy support until the leather noose tightened about his neck. This maneuver decreased the flow of oxygen to his brain, and heightened his sexual arousal as he was masturbated by some of the young spectators near him. Unfortunately at that moment, word came from beyond the igloos confines that a dog team was approaching the camp. Ever-curious, the children scrambled outside to have a look at the latest arrivals, leaving a helpless, struggling Attiguyok alone to his fate. The partly flattened block of fresh snow, which had supported him, gradually gave way under his feet and he choked to death. By the time his playmates finished welcoming the newcomers to their campsite and returned to their unfinished hanging game, Attiguyok was dead. The children's agonizing cries for help then reached the adults who were blithely singing and dancing in the big igloo. Two male dancers, whom I recognized as Immerak from Hanimok River and Aliknak from Perry River, responded immediately and I followed them. Groups of youngsters milled around the entrance to the fateful igloo, excitedly muttering misgivings such as “Attiguyok is dead! He’s hanging in the igloo!” We crept through the narrow passage of the igloo to be confronted with the motionless body of the thin-faced, stubbynosed, open-mouthed lad. His feet barely touched the crumbled block of snow, while his breeches were pulled down to this knees, exposing his genitals.

Immerak and Aliknak pulled up the boy’s pants to his waist and lowered his body on to the snow floor. I tried my best to revive Attiguyok, but it was too late. Sorrowful wails now emanated from the big igloo as its adult occupants ran toward us with shouts of “It’s too bad, too bad! The little man is dead!” Particularly pathetic were the mournful outcries of Attiguyok’s parents who had come for the Celebration of Spring from a little place called Kilinguyak on Kent Peninsula”. Attiguyok’s body was taken to his family’s tent where it was placed in a krepik (sleeping bag) in the customary reclining position with the legs bent, and secured like a bundle of furs--ironically--with sealksin thongs. Traditionally, too, the body was placed behind the tent where it would remain for the next three days.
Although Attiguyok’s death understandably put a damper on their festivities, it was temporary and the adults returned to the kalgik to continue dancing and singing throughout the night. The children, too, resumed their frolic as if nothing untoward had happened. But they did not go back to their hanging game”.










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

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] "Eskimo" would be the lexically correct term for all the peoples of Eskimoan origin; "Inuit" is preferred for bad reasons in Canada and Greenland; but "Eskimo" is the only correct term in Alaska and Siberia.

[2][161] Smith, E. A. & Smith, S. A. (1994) Inuit Sex-Ratio Variation: Population Control, Ethnographic Error, or Parental Manipulation? Curr Anthropol 35,5:595-624

[3][162] Malaurie, J. (1956) The Last Kings of Thule. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell

[4][163]Arima, Eu. (1984) Caribou Eskimo, in Damas, D. (Ed.) Handbook of North American Indians. Vol.5. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, p447-62

[5][164] Gilberg, R. (1984) Polar Eskimo, in Damas, D. (Ed.) Handbook of North American Indians. Vol.5. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, p577-94

[6][165] Damas, D. (1975) Demographic aspects of Central Eskimo marriage practices, Am Ethnologist 2:409-18

[7][166] Brusendorff, O. & Henningsen, P. ([1960]1963) Love’s Picture Book. Vol.3: Exotic horizons. Copenhagen: Veta

[8][167] Von Wrangell, F. (1839) Statistische und Ethnografische Nachrichten über die Russischen Besitzungen an der Nord-Westküste von Amerika. Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Russischen Reiches 1. St. Petersburg. Cited by Kjellström (1973:p24).

[9][168] Hawkes, E. W. (1916) The Labrador Eskimo. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau. Reprinted 1970; Fehlinger, H. (1926) Geschlechtsleben und Fortpflanzung der Eskimo. Bonn: Marcus & Webers

[10][169] Kjellström, R. (1973) Eskimo Marriage (Transl.). Lund: Berlingska Boktryckeriet

[11][170] Graburn, N. H. H. (1969) Eskimos Without Igloos. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.

[12][171] Spenner, R. F. (1959[1976]) The North Alaskan Eskimo. Toronto: General Publishing Company

[13][172] Von Wrangell (1839), op. cit.; Lantis, M. (1946) The social culture of the Nunivak Eskimo, Transact Am Philosoph Soc 35,3:153-323, see p225, 233-4

[14][173] Gubser, N. J. (1965) The Nunamiut Eskimos. New Haven & London: YaleUniversity Press

[15][174] Rasmussen, K. (1931) Intellectual Culture of the Eskimos. Reports of the 5th Thule Expedition, Vol.8. Copenhagen

[16][175] Balikci, A. (1970) The Netsilik Eskimo. New York: Natural History Press

[17][176] Briggs, J. L. (1975) Aggression in Eskimo groups, Psychoanal Stud Soc 6:134-203

[18][177] Jenness, D. (1922) The Life of the Copper Eskimo. Report of the Canadian Artic Expedition, Vol. XII. Ottawa. Reprinted 1970

[19][178] Letter to Duerr, H. P. (1988) Nacktheit und Scham. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp. Vol. 1 of Der Mythos vom Zivilizationprocess. 2nd ed., p416n27

[20][179] Oswalt, W. (1963) Napaskiak: An Aaskan Eskimo Community. Tucson: University of Arizona Press

[21][180] Savishinsky, J. S. (1974) The Trail of the Hare. New York [etc.]: Gordon & Breach Science Publ.

[22][181] Stearns, A. W. (1953) Cases of probable suicide in young persons without obvious motivation, J Maine Med Assoc 44:16ff

[23][182] Freuchen, D. (1961) Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Eskimos. Cleveland, OH: The World Publishing Company

[24][183] Diamond, M., Innala, S. M. & Ernulf, K. E. (1990) Asphyxiophilia and autoerotic death, Hawaii Med J 1:11-16, 24

[25][184] Freuchen, op.cit., p212; Walsh, C. et al. (1977) Autoerotic Asphyxial Deaths: A Medicolegal Analysis of Forty-Three Cases, Legal Med Ann, 155-82

[26][185] Resnik, H.L.P. (1972) Erotized Repetitive Hangings: A Form of Self-Destructive Behavior, Am J Psychother 26,1:4-21

[27][186] De Coccola, R. & King, P. (1986) The Incredible Eskimo: Life Among the BarrenLand Eskimo. Surrey, B.C.; Blaine, Wash.: Hancock House