HOPI (North-American Natives)


More: Arapaho, Assiniboine, Athabascans, Blood/ Blackfoot, Cherokee, Chipewyans, Apache Chiricahua, Comanches, Crow, Dakota, Flathead, Gros Ventre, Huron, Ingalik, Copper Inuit, Iñupiat, Iroquois, Kaska, Kiowa-Apache, Klamath, Kwakiutl, Lakota, Mohave, Mantagnais / Naskapi, Navajo, Nootka, Ojibwa, Omaha, Paiute, Point Barrow, Pomo, Powhatans, Qipi, Quineault, San Ildefonso, Shoshone, Shuswap, Sioux, Tinglit, Ute, Walapai, Yokuts, Yurok, Zuñi

See also: North-America Non-Natives

According to Eggan[1][85], “[t]here was little, if any, interference with sexual experimentation and few restraints of any sort before five or six years of age. Unfortunately this Utopia ended abruptly, for initiation into ceremonial life usually came at a very early age […]”. An old Hopi “insisted that any boy who had intercourse with a girl would stop growing and become a dwarf”[2][86]. Simmons (1940) sketches a rather detailed picture of Hopi boyhood sexuality. Quoting from a passage on genital teasing:


“After I was four or five nearly all my grandfathers, father’s sisters’ and clan sisters’ husbands, played very rough jokes on me, snatched at my penis, and threatened to castrate me, charging that I had been caught making love to their wives, who were my aunts. All these women took my part, called me their sweet-heart, fondled my penis, and pretended to want it badly. They would say, “Throw it to me”, reach out their hands as if catching it, and smack their lips. I liked to play with them but I was afraid of their rough husbands and thought they would castrate me. It was a long time before I could be sure that they meant only to tease”. The father did not partake in this teasing (p40). As I grew older […] [t]he rough grandfathers kept teasing me about my penis and threatening to take it from me. They made me believe that it was the most important part of my body”[3][87].


Castration threats seem to be a Hopi peculiarity. “Another time this man tied him like a billy goat to be cut and made a realistic pretence of castrating the four- or five-year-old boy for “trying to make love to my wife” ” (cited by Aberle). However: “Castration threats seem no longer to be made with any frequency, and some of the excesses of the ritual teasing have been abandoned”[4][88].

Hopi children learned by observation, and “jokes which we would consider obscene were taught to small boys to be used when they performed as ceremonial clowns[5][89] (Oswalt, [1973:p425])[6][90]. Aberle (1951:p22)[7][91]: “The male infant often receives genital stimulation while nursing and in other situations […; cf. p46]. Childhood masturbation is a matter of no concern to Hopi parents. Adults and older children casually play with the genitals of young male children (D. Eggan, 22, p. 365)[8][92]. Children are not formally instructed in sexual matters in childhood, nut a child’s public imitation of what he saw in the sleeping room creates no disturbance. Children, however, are warned against heterosexual relations. They are told that young girls can bear children, but that that the bearing of a child by a young girl would bring the world to an end. Boys are warned that heterosexual relations will bring about premature old age”. In addition, Titiev ([1944] 1971:p30)[9][93] states: “Babies are soothed by stroking their genital organs[10][94]; affairs of sex are freely discussed in the presence of youngsters; parents make little effort to conceal their marital relations even though they sleep only a few feet from growing children[11][95]; little boys are taught all manner of obscene remarks and actions when they serve as clowns; and adult women during clown performances do not hesitate to simulate copulation with pre-adolescent boys”[12][96]. The Beagleholes mention a “family game” among the Hopi, although “[n]o details were given [by the father of several children] as to how far this game actually went, e.g., whether there was simulated copulation or the like” (1935:p43)[13][97]. A Hopi told Simmons (1942:p79)[14][98] on his boyhood: “One day when I was playing with a boy named Felix, we found one of his grandmother’s hens on her nest. “Felix”, said I, “let’s make good use of that hen”. We watched her until she cackled and came off. Then we caught her and took her down the hill to a good hiding place in the bushes. There we attempted intercourse with her, Felix following me. She tried to squawk, but we choked her off. When we were through she looked pretty weak and wobbly. “Well”, I suggested, “she is nice and fat; let’s cook and eat her” ”. Dennis (1940:p78)[15][99] observes:


“Young children are warned against erotic experimentation with members of the opposite sex by the pretense that even children may bear babies. A girl is told that if a girl of eight or nine years were to have a baby, all the people would die and the world would come to an end. In addition, the girl is appealed to not to disgrace her family. A boy is told that sexual experience will cause him to stop growing, so that he will be a dwarf. He is also warned that if he has sex relationships at an early age he will grow old prematurely. Both boys and girls are told that if they start acting as grown-ups in sexual matters, their parents will cease to support them; i.e., sexual maturity and economic responsibility go together”.


Schlegel (1973)[16][100] states that the girl “must be wary of boy’s advances and do nothing to attract their sexual interest, if she is to remain chaste. This is particularly true at menstruation, when the smell of menstrual blood is believed to make the woman more sexually attractive to men as they are made aware of her sexual readiness”. On the other hand (youngsters of either sex are under so little constraint in matters of sex that it is not surprising to find that pre-marital affairs are taken for granted and readily condoned” (cf. Goldfrank, 1945 [1956:p310])[17][101]. There is no formal recognition of boy’s attainment of puberty (ages 12-3) (cf, Dennis, p78; the same for girls, p79), and soon spend their nights in the kivas rather than at home (Titiev). Titiev (1971)[18][102] learned that boys aged nine would already sleep in the kiva, “and is thus groomed in the art of dumaiya [clandestine visits for sexual purposes], so that at adolescence he will lose no time in getting started on his sex career”.

Girls were instructed at menarche, but the seclusion ritual was no longer consistently observed (Dozier, 1954:p328)[19][103].


Schlegel (1989)[20][104]:


“In an earlier writing (Schlegel 1975)[[21][105]] I discussed the part the women of the father’s clan, the “aunts”, play in promoting fertility. At the naming ceremony after birth, these women rub the newborn infant of either sex on their bare thighs, thus assuring the child’s fertility when an adult. It is these women who take the adolescent girl through the ceremony that moves her from childhood into social adolescence and prepares her to reach adult status through marriage. The sexual joking that takes place between a boy and the women of his father’s clan can also be explained, I believe, by the association between fertility and the father’s side of the kin group. The gift of the kachina doll to the daughter, then, is in my view another aspect of this association, between father’s side and the individual’s precious fertility”.


Brandt (1954:p196-200)[22][106] states that the Hopi practice trial marriage, with wedding preparations begun with pregnancy. Boys and girls play at marriage, including intercourse, without an adult attempt to stop it. The same is true for masturbation. Sex matters are discussed freely in front of children. The issue of age disparate sexual intercourse of a grown man with a young girl is not seen as horrible as whites would. “To the Hopi mind this experience, even for a child of ten or twelve, need not necessarily be unpleasant; and, although Hopi were deliberately queried on the point, they gave no indication that they thought any psychological damage would result” (p205-6).

No association with initiation rites and sexual behaviour curricularisation is noted. Thompson (1950:p109)[23][107] mentions “a marked rise in the instinctual urges at adolescence”, but this is not explored.

Honigmann (1972:p139)[24][108]: “However vaguely sex is defined by the young person, it is not perceived as evil. The force of the maturing sex impulse halts the introversive trends so apparent at the threshold of puberty that an easier acceptance of outside contacts takes place. Boys achieve sex indulgence more easily than girls. Hopi girls are not allowed to roam around and must avoid showing themselves to be boy-crazy”.


A female Hopi autobiography[25][109] reveals:


“It was while I was at home this time that my mother told me about the sex side of life, although even when I was younger she had not neglected that subject. She didn’t try to make it sound nice nor beat about the bush but told me in plain language so I would understand. When my sister was married and my mother went to help at her wedding ceremony, I was quite young. She told me then, “Never sleep away from me, even in the same house with your father and brothers. If I am away overnight you sleep in the bed with your grandmother. […] When a girl starts menstruating, then her mother teaches her the Hopi moral code, which is that she is to keep herself a virgin until she is married — that before marriage it is wrong, but at the time of her marriage it is right and proper. If she is attacked by a man she is to fight real hard and never yield, and a properly placed kick will stun a man for a while. After marriage, be true to your husband as long as you live. It will make a much better marriage if a girl keeps herself morally clean. It might break up your marriage if your man finds out that your past life has been bad. Even so, you would have to spend your life in the hereafter together. […] Mothers caution little girls to avoid bodily contact with boys, even their brothers, because the urge or desire is stronger in a man than in a woman, and to put your arms around him will awaken the desire. So when Hopi young people dance, they do not hold hands or touch each other. In most ceremonial dances a man dresses and takes the part of the woman dancer” (p117-8).







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

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1][85] Eggan, D. (1944) Hopi Marriage and Family Relations, Marr Family Living 6,1:1-2+6

[2][86] Simmons, L. (1942) Sun Chief. New Haven: YaleUniversity Press

[3][87] “[…] every male child was tickled in his private parts by adults who wished to win smiles and sometimes to stop crying. No doubt other children, including my brother and sister, played with me in the same way” (p34).

[4][88] Schlegel, A. (1979) Sexual antagonism among the sexually egalitarian Hopi, Ethos 7,2:124-41, see p124. As Schegel notes: “These institutionalized forms of aggression are emotionally salient and are greatly enjoyed (except by the small victim of the castration threat) […]”.

[5][89] See also Titiev, M. (1971) Old Oraibi: A Study of the Hopi Indians of the Third Mesa. New York: Kraus Reprint Co. Reprint of 1944 edition, p30. “[…] adult women during clown performances do not hesitate to simulate copulation with pre-adolescent boys”.

[6][90] Oswalt, W. H. (1973) This Land was Theirs. Second edition. New York: J. Wiley & Sons

[7][91] Aberle, D. (1951) The Psychosocial Analysis of a Hopi Life-History. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press

[8][92] Eggan, F. (1950) Social Organization of the Western Pueblos.Chicago, University of Chicago Press

[9][93] Titiev (1971), op.cit.

[10][94] Noted by Ford and Beach (1951:p188) and Stephens (1971:p407)

[11][95] All these items were gathered at Oraibi but similar data are given in Beaglehole, E., and P., 1935, p39–41. Other details may be found under the title “A Few Sex Practices” in Part Three [orig.footnote].

[12][96] See Parsons, E. C. ([1969]) The Hopi Journal of Alexander M. Stephen. New York: AMS Press, [1969]. Reprint of 1936 edition. Vol.1, p366

[13][97] Beaglehole, E. & Beaglehole, P. (1935) Hopi of the Second Mesa. Menasha, Wisconsin: American Anthropological Association

[14][98] Op.cit.

[15][99] Dennis, W. (1940) The Hopi Child. New York: John Wiley & Sons. See also Whiting, J. & Child, I. (1953) Child Training and Personality: A Cross-Cultural Study. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, p83-4

[16][100] Schlegel, A. (1973) The adolescent socialization of the Hopi girl, Ethnology 12:449-62

[17][101] Goldfrank, E. S. (1945/1956) Socialization, personality, and the structure of Pueblo society, Am Anthropol 47:516-39. Reprinted in Haring (1956), 3rd.ed., p303-27

[18][102] Titiev, M. (1971) The Hopi Indians of Old Oraibi: Change and Continuity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

[19][103] Dozier, E. P. (1954) The Hopi-Tewa of Arizona. Berkeley & Los Angelos: University of California Press

[20][104] Schlegel, A. (1989) Fathers, Daughters, and Kachina Dolls, Eur Rev Native Am Stud 3,1:7-10 p.

[21][105] Schlegel, A. (1975) Hopi Joking and Castration Threats, in Kinkade, M. D. (Ed.), Linguistics and Anthropology: In Honor of C. F. Voegelin. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press

[22][106] Brandt, R. B. (1954) Hopi Ethics. Chicago: ChicagoUniversity Press

[23][107] Thompson, L. (1950) Culture in Crisis. New York: Harper & Brothers

[24][108] Honigmann, J. J. (1972) North America, in Hsu, F. (Ed.) Psychological Anthropology. New ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, p121-65

[25][109] Sekaquaptewa, H. ([1969]) Me and Mine: The Life Story of Helen Sekaquaptewa. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press