Growing Up Sexually

The Sexual Curriculum (Oct., 2002)

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Janssen, D. F. (Oct., 2002). Growing Up Sexually. Volume II: The Sexual Curriculum: The Manufacture and Performance of Pre-Adult Sexualities. Interim Report. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

II [next Appendix] [previous Appendix]

Ethnographic Coverage of Early "Sexual" Behaviour Development and Socialisation. An Impression


Summary: This Appendix provides a rough outline of ethnographers' tendencies to cover sexual developmental issues. The extent of this coverage is specified using numeric indications as provided by cross-cultural studies; this is followed by a focal critique of this type of studies. Ethnographer's coverage in a qualitative sense is explored via a rough historical appraisal, and further by a discussion of selected problems in descriptive material encountered in the current study.


Contents [up]


Ethnographic Coverage of Early "Sexual" Behaviour Development and Socialisation. An Impression 1


II.1 General Observations 1

II.2 Numeric Coverage 2

II.2.1 Extent of Coverage: Selected Numeric Observations on Prepubertal Sexuality 2

II.3 Descriptive Coverage 3

II.3.1 Rough Historical Considerations 3

II.3.2 Selected Problems in Descriptive Accounts 4

II.4 Summary 5


Notes 5


II.1 General Observations [up] [Contents]


Coverage of the "sexual" life "cycle" has been a more or less institutional item in American ethnography. A number of ethnographic series routinely included a chapter on the life cycle, but these appear rather variable in their integration of the sexological compartment. At times, marriage seems to follow birth, or puberty does. Authors of all times have claimed a considerable degree of freedom in their limitation criteria in describing what is taken to be the sexual socialisation curriculum. One can only suspect that the evident infrequence and the scarcity of data on the childhood age curriculum are due in some indeterminable degree to personal choice and ideology not inherent to native ideologies. This seems to be a fundamental problem within general sexological coverage in ethnography. It makes the interpretation of inter-observer differences a complicated matter, especially when observations are temporally and spatially segregated. Contrary to adolescent courtship, pre-adolescence rarely is described as a period of institutional sexuality, be it not for marriage; where it is patterned, it is likely to be designated "adolescent" even despite its commencing place before puberty.


Photographic instances of infant or childhood sexual expression in academia are rare[1], so one is limited to descriptive material. Children's Eros in "adult" prose seems also to be a relatively infrequent phenomenon[2], so that the body of literature suffers the limitation of academic representations. This also seems to limit the clues to culturally specific arguments on growing up within an erotic framework (polity, economy) to ethnographers' communications on the matter. American culture has studied its childhood sexualities rather extensively but never, it seems, without a secondary agenda, and rarely with the hypothetical objectivity of ethnography.



II.2 Numeric Coverage [up] [Contents]


II.2.1 Extent of Coverage: Selected Numeric Observations on Prepubertal Sexuality [up] [Contents]


The following chapter roughly explores the extent of (English-language) ethnographic coverage of "sexual socialisation" items via a numeric approach. Hypothetically, the quality of ethnographic coverage on the sexual life span can be measured by its including specific data on prepuberty. Specific chaptering of this part of the life cycle is rare[3]. This appears to be author-related in some cases (e.g., Tessmann), but mostly it seems to be suggestive of the phenomenon's public nature, that is, its entering public discourse or display.


(1) (e)HRAF. The Human Relations Area File (1937), presently also in electronic form (eHRAF, 2002, covering a current selection of 90 societies, presently[4] including 431 matches in 138 documents for 64 societies in category 864, Sex Training) contains no separate categories on early "sexual" behaviour, socialisation or cognition; the inclusions focus on data for childhood/ adolescence/ puberty. Given the all-inclusive character of the OCM code[5], HRAF as well as eHRAF identifications tend to be pluriform, at times incomplete, and at other times debatable. The full extent of HRAF coding of category 864 could not be established[6]; eHRAF data are updated annually. Using 75 selected HRAF societies, Whiting and Child found "sexual satisfaction potential" (SSP) to be measurable for 17 societies in the case of "masturbation", for 26 in the case of "heterosexual play", and for a further, unidentified small amount in the case of "homosexual" (same-sex) behaviour.


(2) Ford and Beach rated only a selection of societies (94/190) on the basis of socialisation severity by means of a three-point scale (permissive, #=33; semi-restrictive, #=47; restrictive, #=14); the work includes relevant though fragmentary descriptive data on only a third of these societies (De Leeuwe).


(3) SCCS. Taken into consideration the rather loose definitions utilised by the 1976 Sexual Restraint ratings, the matter apparently proved measurable for about 160 of 186 SCCS societies, with little sex differences (156 vs. 154 for early childhood b/g, 164 vs. 165 for late childhood, 155 vs. 159 for adolescence), and, thus, some phase difference. Adolescent sexual expression could be measured for 154 vs. 158 societies. One might imagine that the amount of cases where boys and girls received the same rating, and where phases are rated equally (see literature review), suggests that arguments in the original sources might not have been gender or phase specific. The figures are not much less than those for general non-permissiveness, measurable for about 168 societies with even less gender/phase differences. [See overview]


(4) "Timing" Variables. Specific timing data are rare, but the applicability of the mere concept depends on the variables chosen. Studies reveal large differences in measurable of the timing of even relatively unambiguous variables[7]. Within their sample and definitions, Whiting and Child could rate the "age at beginning of [serious] training in heterosexual play inhibition" only for 17 of 75 selected HRAF societies; the age of initial "serious" "modesty training" could be established for 19 societies (25%). In the study by Rogoff et al., of 50 HRAF cultures, 22 for "considered sexual" ("The age when the child is considered capable of sexual activity and stimulation, or when this behavior is bound by the taboos of the culture"), 18 for "stressing sexual attractiveness" ("The culture encourages the child to be concerned with sexual attractiveness in clothing, self-decoration, hair-styling, personal cleanliness"), and 30 for "stressing sex differentiation".


(5) Numeric Studies. The full extent of numeric studies not being measured, it appears from a previous inventory that data on the prepubertal sexual behaviour development and socialisation of non-European non-U.S. societies are very sparse; this applies even more to cross-cultural comparisons.



II.2.2 Focal Critique of Previous Comparative Numeric Studies [up] [Contents]


Reductionism. The problem with most of existing numeric data is that they "condense" a potentially complex socialisation mechanism into a set of ratings that entirely obscures the mode of its organisation, its effectors, its potential intracultural (subcultural, interfamilial, interindividual) variability, and its potential historical variability.

Sampling. Also, the SCCS provides only a modest selection of cultures (N=186), with a definite underrepresentation of given societal classes, historical cross-sections and geographic regions.

Referencing. Another problem is that (exact) references are not available in any of the SCCS works and most of the earlier work (unlike HRAF), which renders both historical and cultural comparison problematic. Historical updates, such as provided for some codes, are not provided for the critical codes.

Definitions. Terms appear rather loosely utilised. Specifically, implicit and explicit handling of definitions regarding both independent and dependent variables may be biased for the various life phases, which makes comparisons controversial.

Curricular Setting. The concept of curricularisation, for various reasons[8], cannot properly be examined on the basis of this material. Specific limitations exist regarding the issue of age or phase specificity of ratings. Barry III, Josephson et al. (1976) used the distinction of early and late "childhood". Apart from the variability in timing and duration of phases (ibid.), the meaning of this term appears extremely multidimensional, especially so in sexualibus, and when comparing for alternative (e.g., economic) definitions of maturity.

Conceptual Framework. As explored elsewhere[9], the whole concept of training, socialising, educating and controlling sex urgently needs to be rephrased within terms of operationalisation and curricularisation.

Concluding, it is suggested that the existing quantitative data on sexual socialisation are ultimately dissatisfying for a number of reasons, most of which are methodological or refer to the very concept of such socialisation. Specifically, it is not fit to explore historical discussions, and the addressing of fundamental theoretical issues (curriculum).



II.3 Descriptive Coverage [up] [Contents]




II.3.1 Rough Historical Considerations[10] [up] [Contents]


It is evident that anthropological narrative on sexual development has always been formulated through current perceptions on the matter. Previously[11], I have suggested that the biomedical discourse on prepubertal sexuality has known four thematic epochs (pre-history, Paradoxia, Freud, and abuse), and it appears these laterally correspond to anthropological epochs of "child sexology".

Pre-20th century material consists of isolated remarks on the "precocity" of the individual, which was generally well tuned to the academic discourse on childhood sexuality. Where early sexuality was dealt with in positive formulations, it was so through the euphemism of courtship ("love instincts") crudely separated from imaginable physical perspectives[12], on the basis of biomedical arguments[13]. The derogative terms in which the sexuality of the "savage" was portrayed surely were to include his alleged neglect of the duty of impulse socialisation. The child was father of the man. This typified a moral concern for socialisation before any clear ideology on socialisation existed, not exclusive to the erotic sphere.

With Moll and a few less central authors, a more multidisciplinary argument was made for the variations of early erotic life. With the arrival of Freud, whose reference to Groos and Ellis was inevitable, matters changed in benefit of the ethnographic appraisal of "instinct" socialisation and "habit training", giving a definite curriculum and thesaurus for the spectrum of early development: weaning, toilet-training, aggression, infantile sexuality (masturbation, sex play, primal scenes, birth explanations, castration threats), and latency. This ultrastructure was to become the skeleton of American ethnological thought on childhood, and sporadically, few other elements than these were offered. Concurrently, with the ethnographic recognition of adolescence (e.g., Hall) the paradigm of courtship was given full attention, and a second traditional mode of communicating human sex was through the adolescent period[14].

Lateral from colonialist, missionary and early anthropological sexology from the United States and Europe, a slow expansion of sexological interest in non-Western areas of the world was motivated by mapping demographic and medical issues particularly concerning the adolescent. Ethno- and "native" sexology further tuned in to early adolescence through the paradigm of STD and AIDS, centralising coitarche patterns and, frequently, little more. In the ethnography of AIDS, pre-adolescent socialisation was almost invariably considered of minor importance. Also, sex (STD, AIDS) education programs seemed primarily directed to early adolescents rather than children, thereby re-issuing the wide-spread cult of coitarche, combined with epidemiological interests informed by current medical issues.


Table 1 Rough Contextual Analysis of eHRAF (2002) Code 864, "Sex Training"[15]





"Life cycle"





} 43



Puberty/ adolescence




Puberty/ adolescence


Betrothal/Marriage Customs















} 15





Life Cycle/Sex










Taking into account the broad definition of the code, the even more diverse nature of the rated sections, along with the obvious omissions, the historical and thematic span of the works included, etc., ethnographers come to discuss "sex training" via a number of entries (Table 1). In this unrepresentative sample of 138 works, measurable material is first approached via life span approaches only, subsequently via more than one here identified approach, and thirdly via some sexological entry. Only in 5, the matter is approached via appreciable concern for sexuality, and within this an appreciable concern for development.



II.3.2 Selected Problems in Descriptive Accounts [up] [Contents]


The reciprocal relationship between fieldworker and preadolescents in the process of field entry and data collection are of imminent importance for the quality and nature of its outcome[16]. The use of techniques may be especially important in this respect. A group of girls tell amatory secrets and present themselves for future readers in front of a tape recorder, while boys use the video camera to spy on girls and show off game performances.


A number of factors renders the validity of ethnographic and cross-cultural work disputable:


Identification of Methodology. The mode of eliciting material is rarely specified in an adequate manner. Several ethnographic studies are excluded from this general problem, for instance the valuable doll mediated observations by the Henries, and by Róheim. This renders the extent of specific cross-cultural comparisons limited.

Methodological Diversity. Whether or not associated with cultural norms, methods used to generate data are diverse. This renders cross-author comparison a delicate case.

Sexologisms (Coitocentrism). A large part of the literature seem to equate sexual development with coital development, which can be further simplified as the transition of coitarche. This essentialist, reductionist approach, whether congruent with native perspectives or not, does not routinely address important culturally diverse matters of anticipation, and such frameworks as love.

Developmental Idio-Logisms (Ethnocentric Phase Ideologies, Biologism, Developmentalism). A large part of the literature seems to equate sexual development with adolescent sexual development. Whether congruent with native perspectives or not, this attitude fails to challenge the fundamental convictions that surround biologist, developmentalist and culturalist interpretations of phase-identified sexual behaviour phenomena.

Agenda. Reviewed in §1.2, agendas both operationalise otherwise unissued research formats, but also limit hypothetical, theoretical and, more dramatically, outcome space. According to the Dr. Brongersma Foundation's current position on this point, pre-adult sexualities should be researched within an at least nonactivist frame of mind; on the other hand, activist formulations demonstrate existing political discourses that perfuse "sexologies" so guarded for objectivity. This is also apparent in the limited number of

Cultural Interests. Whether congruent with native perspectives or not, anthropologists have largely refrained from studying psychological determinants and precursors of sexual behaviour (romantic attachment, subcultural dynamics, etc.). This is peculiar regarding the paedocentrism and sex-centrism that tend to co-occur with the presence of an academic sexology. This closely relates to

Ethical Limitations/Taboo Observance interfering with the acquisition of data. Whether congruent with native perspectives or not, ethical limitations to the study of early sexual behaviour are rarely discussed by ethnographers, except from lateral or general indications. At times the presence or absence of sexological material is posed in terms of possibility or probability, due to the unavailability of, or distrust of existing, sources; in other instances the credibility of diverse informants is weighed to best abilities. This problem closely interacts with that of the interpretation of data being subject to

Moral, Political, Idealist Bias. Mapping sexological geographies, perhaps especially developmental sexological geographies, is likely to fall subject to extensive debate (e.g., Mead-Freedman), in which the "hidden" or personal agendas of either party are publicly identified as critically informative to the (counter-)positions taken. Refraining from specifics in these difficult yet important matters, I expect such controversies to become possible for many societies as both political and academic orientations change over the course of time.


In summary, all factors are associated with the scientific, cultural bias in approaching the theme.



II.4 Summary [up] [Contents]


Concerning sexual behaviour development, several problems with both numeric and descriptive material are identified. These problems generally compromise any numeric or qualitative comparison between authors and ethnographic settings.



Notes [up] [Contents]


[1] Examples (mostly debatable) may be found in Williams, Th. R. (Ed., 1975) Psychological Anthropology. The Hague [etc.]: Mouton, plates 6-8; Sorenson, E. R. & Gajdusek, C. (1966) The study of child behavior and development in primitive cultures, Suppl to Pediatrics 37,1, Pt. II, p168; Sorenson, E. R. (1967) A Research Film Program in the Study of Changing Man, Current Anthropol 8,5, Pt.1:443-69, at p460 [comment on p464 by De Heusch]; Sorenson, E. R. (1976) The Edge of the Forest. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, p179; Bryk, F. (1928) Neger-Eros. Berlin [etc.]: Marcus & Weber, p118; Bateson, G. & Mead, M. (1942) Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. New York: The New York Academy of Sciences, p130-1; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1972) Die !Ko-Buschmann-Gesellschaft. München: Piper, p158, etc.; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1989) Human Ethology. New York: De Gruyter, p247; Schiefenhövel, W. (1982) Kindliche Sexualität, Tabu und Schamgefühl bei "primitiven" Völkern, in Hellbrügge, Th. (Ed.) Die Entwicklung der Kindlichen Sexualität. München: Urban & Schwarzenberg, p145-63, at p154, 155; Diamond, M. (1990) Selected Cross-Generational Sexual Behavior in Traditional Hawai'i: A Sexological Ethnography, in Feierman, J. R. (Ed.) Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions. New York: Springer Verlag, p422-43. Money (1976/ 1986:p522; 1988: p64/65) draws a visual parallel between animal and human copulatory play. See Money, J. (1976) Childhood: the last frontier in sex research, The Sciences 16,6:12ff. Reprinted in Reflections 12(1977):13-21, and in Money, J. (1986) Venuses Penuses. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, p520-5. Cf. inclusion in Money, J. (1988) Gay, Straight and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation. Oxford University Press. Despite increasingly tight regulations, many recent examples appear to find their way to popular works, such as Molcho, S. (1996) Körpersprache der Kinder. München: Mosaik Verlag, p7, 190-1 [and how about p58?]

[2] Consider the following examples: Friedman, M. (1953) Valery Larbaud: The Two Traditions of Eros, Yale French Studies 11:91-100; Shaw, P. W. (1984) My Antonia: Emergence and Authorial Revelations, Am Lit 56,4:527-540[539]; Fong, G. S. (1994) Inscribing Desire: Zhu Yizun's Love Lyrics in Jingzhiju qinqu, Harvard J Asiatic Stud 54,2:437-60

[3] The more detailed cases include Malinowski (Trobrianders), Firth (Tikopia), Chuuk (Gladwin), !Kung (Shostak), Kaguru (Beidelman), Asaba Ibo (Isichei), Zaire (Erny), Baushi (Kokonge and Erny), Ghana (Kaye, Bleek), Bengali (Roy), Muria (Elwin), Lepcha (Gorer), Santal (Mukherjea), Tibetans (Ludwar-Ene), Morocco (Serhane), Hopi (Simmons).

[4] 25-04-2002

[5] Description reads (Outline of Cultural Materials, 4th revised, 1961; eHRAF, 1997) as follows: "adult beliefs, standards, and aims concerning sex behavior in children and methods of sex training; incidence of specifically sexual behavior in infants and children [...]; rules for the control of such behavior [...]; training in sexual modesty; imparting of knowledge and beliefs about sex and reproduction; reactions to curiosity of children about sex; normal age for each aspect of sex training; reactions of children to sex training; etc".

[6] Various personal communications.

[7] In Whiting and Child the age of initial "serious" "modesty training" could be established for 19/75 societies (25%), Rogoff found 24/50 (48%) HRAF ethnographies reporting ages for modesty training. In a 1971 SCCS study, Barry III and Paxson rated the age of modesty training (genitalia first covered, as would be typical for males) for 140 of 186 societies (75%). The measure demonstrated relative large sex differences. A SCCS restudy (Broude and Green, 1976) revealed data on "the age at which clothing begins to be worn" in 42 (males) and 53 of 186 cultures (females) (23 vs 28%).

[8] The ratings do nothing to prevent the suggestion that sexual socialisation curricula are commonly biphasic, (or triphasic, including "adolescence"), a hypothetical organisation perhaps even interacting with the image of an "early" versus "late" childhood. These issues are probably even more urgent in the case of "adolescent" age sexual socialisation (Barry III & Schlegel, 1984). For instance, the content of the concept "adolescence" in case of a society that betroth and marry girls well before puberty, but not boys, can hardly be determined by the same measures as can most cases of contemporary European adolescence. Data suggest these concepts are ethnographically and historically rather fluid. Comparison of life phases within cultures are also problematic, given the lack of context of the data relative to the organisation and meaning of age/phase stratification.

[10] See also chapter 2

[11] See Paradoxia Sexualis.

[12] This may be best illustrated by Bell's arguments on this matter in his 1902 paper.

[13] See Paradoxia Sexualis.

[14] This "adolescent" paradigm of human sexuality was to remain aside from the psychodynamic curriculum, and still seems fundamental due to its "lateral" claims to social relevance, that is, in terms of medical and demographic anthropology.

[15] Methodology: Examines code 864 for contextual significance, for all 138 eHRAF documents currently including the code (June, 2002). This measure provides a (very rough) indication of approach and significance, not necessarily of content. Contextuality is determined by interpreting chapter headings on two levels, less if appropriate, or more, if necessary. If uninformative, sections are judged on the basis of their content. If ambiguous or atypical, works are judged to be of "unclassified" context. If more than one here identified approach are encountered (e.g., via family and marriage) the works are judged to be of "mixed" context.

[16] Evaldsson, A. C. (2000) Don't Write That We're Children! On the Dual Nature of Ethnographic Research with Preadolescents. Paper for the American Sociological Association