Featured : Owambo, Bergdama, Nama, !Ko/!Xo, !Kung, Herero



!Ko parents try to enlarge the boy’s penis by pulling and sucking it (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1972:p59, 63; p58, ill.)[1]. A boy may be punished in this way (Sbrzesny, [1975] 1976:p237)[2]. When the boy infant touches his member himself, he is prevented to do so (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, p153; 158, ill.). Girls mockingly “present” themselves ventrally and dorsally (p128-40, ill.; cf. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1976 [1982:p142-7, ill.][3]), but no further observations on sexual behaviour are communicated. “Although the Bushmen are fairly liberal in sexual matters, open promiscuity is not tolerated” (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1978:p136)[4]. Children play in groups and imitate incipient life events such as initiation rituals (Sbrzesny, 1973)[5]; sexual games were not noted in this article.

A menstruating girl is to marry an initiated boy, there are no child marriages[6] (Heinz, 1994:p131, 175-6)[7], and the !Ko frown upon it; rape of immature girls is considered particularly bad (p120). Boys and girls play together until they informally separate at age 8; “[g]irls have generally less freedom than boys”.


“At the age of about 12 boys begin to experiment with girls. They go into the bushes with them, fondle them, and try intercourse ante portas [sic], but no defloration appears to occur at this stage. Sometimes because older ones are not available the girls are still quite young and cry during these advances. Usually they are seen by someone in the village who reports the matter to the parents, who will reprimand them, telling them to grow up before they do this sort of thing; but these scoldings seem to lack conviction- grow-ups have told me about them without evincing the slightest sign of annoyance. When the girl reaches puberty she is no longer required by public opinion to abstain from sexual activities. Virginity on marriage is neither essential not common” (p118-9).


Girls are extensively instructed on marital life after menarche, emphasising passiveness when courted and during marital intimacy (p124); boys are not instructed on sexual matters (p129).


Heinz and Lee (1978:p41)[8] state that “[...] most children start early, and go into the bush to indulge in sexual experimentation. When a girl reaches puberty she is not by conviction required to show avoidance of sexual activities, but while having full licence in sex matters girls do come across practical obstacles to their indulgence: there are usually people about, especially younger children, who play around in the same house without respect for privacy”. The only other limitations to sex are “the taboos on sex before puberty and incest”.







Additional reading:


  • Power, Camilla & Watts, Ian (1997) The woman with the zebra's penis: gender, mutability and performance, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 3:537-60



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] Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1972) Die !Ko-Buschmann-Gesellschaft. München: Piper. “Tanten küssen oft die Scham weiblicher und den Penis männlicher Säuglinge, wenn sie diese erheitern wollen […]. Man lutscht und saugt an der Haut des Säuglings und mitunter auch an seinen Geschlechtsteilen […]. Babies erheitert man durch streicheln der Geschlechtsteile und durch Kitzeln. Ich filmte, wie ein Mann oftmals den Penis eines etwa 8 Monate alten Säuglings berührte. Als das Kind dann selbst danach griff, nahm er achtsam dessen Hand und führte sie weg, dann spielte er weiter, und zwar in Gegenwart vieler anderer Buschleute, mit der gleichen Selbstverständlichkeit, mit der Buschleute vor allen anderen die Geschlechtsteile eines Säuglings küssen”.

[2] Sbrzesny, H. (1976) Die Spiele der !Ko-Buschleute. München: Piper

[3] Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1975) Der Vorprogrammierte Mensch. 1982 4th ed. Vienna [etc.]: F. Molden

[4] Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I (1978) Early socialization in the !xõ bushmen, in Thobias, Ph. V. & Biesele, M. (Eds.) The Bushmen: San Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa. Cape Town [etc.]: Human & Rousseau, p130-6

[5] Sbrzesny, H (1973) !Ko-Buschleute (Kalahari)- Der Elandtanz. Kinder spielen das Mädchen-Initiationsritual, Homo 24,3/4:233-44

[6] According to Heinz (n.d.), among the G/andakhoe, considered a branch of the Bugakhoe, children are sometimes betrothed in infancy. The first two months after marriage, at puberty, during residence in the bride’s camp, there is no sexual intercourse. See Barnard, A. (1992) Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa. Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press, p127

[7] Heinz, H. / Keuthmann, K. (1994) Social Organization of the !Kõ Bushmen. Köln: Köppe. Based on Heinz’s 1966 MA thesis

[8] Heinz, H. & Lee, M. (1978) Namkwa. London: J. Cape