Growing Up Sexually


MARQUESANS (FRENCH POLYNESIA) (2-,2-,2-,2-,2,2;8,8;B1;E)

IndexPacificsPolynesia French PolynesiaMarquesans


Featured: Pukapukans, Ra’Ivavae, French Polynesia [Marquesans, Cook Islands [Tahiti, Aitutaki, Mangaia], Samoa, Tonga Isl.]; Santa Cruz Isl., Santa Cruz Isl.



Suggs (1966:p51-2): “Marchand (1797:p109)[1] noted eight-year-old girls indulging in public intercourse and other unnatural acts. (One girl was held by four old women when she would not submit.) Lisiansky (1814:p67)[2] stated that “age was no test of innocence” for the Marquesan girls who had sexual relations with his crew. Some, who he believed were not more than ten years old, “rivalled their mothers in the wantonness of their mothers and the arts of allurement”. The same was noted by Von Krusentern (1813, I:p116, quoted by Danielsson, 1954 [1956:p88])[3]. Waitz (1872:p124)[4] remarked that, among older women, an eight-year-old girl “offered herself” to the ethnographers. Handy (1923:p93)[5] points out that in aboriginal times, presuperincision was practiced earlier than at the time of writing, suggesting an earlier coital license in that era.

Even as late as 1989, Oliver (p592, 593)[6] mentions that coitus is practised in childhood, and that actual insertion occurs at age seven to nine.

Apparently without more recent data, Bolin (1997)[7], reviews on French Polynesia:


“The cultural practices of Marquesans and Pukapukans not only allowed open sex play among children but [...] provided children clandestine opportunities to observe adult sexual behavior due to sleeping arrangements. According to Oliver (1974)[8] on Tahiti, coital simulation became actual penetration as soon as young boys were physiologically able. The Tahitians found children’s imitation of copulation humorous. Other evidence suggests that young girls may have engaged in copulation before age 10 (Gregersen 1983)[9]. […] Suggs (1966:p25) comments that in traditional Marquesan society, girls may have had their first coital experience by age 10 […]. Oliver’s (1981)[10] ethnography includes in-depth discussion of infancy, childhood, and other life-course stages in Tahiti (see the chapter on “Passing Through Life,” p342-400). In this regard, he notes that children played in mixed-gender groups until 13 or 14 years old. The Tahitian attitudes to children playing at copulation was one of amusement (1981:p366). However, as children approached the age of 11, adult parental attitudes shifted in regard to young females but not males. Oliver points out that parents objected to girls engaging in sex prior to marriage, an ideal that coexisted with an open and sex-positive attitude”.


Suggs (1966:p45-6, 51-3)[11]: “[At the age of approximately seven years, Marquesan b]oys and girls, playing at “mother and father”, will often place their genitalia in contact for brief periods. The girl either stands against a tree or lies supine on the ground, with the boy assuming the normal position for coitus. Contact is brief, accompanied occasionally by pelvic movement with much laughter. This activity is carried out in isolated areas where adults will not be apt to surprise the gathering”. Suggs agrees with Linton (1939)[12] that it was a group event. Linton (1939:p168): “Sexual play was a regular practice among the children from the earliest period. The adult attitude toward it, if not one of active encouragement[13], was at least that of mild amusement. […] Regular intercourse began before puberty with patterns of group sexual play, two or three girls in the gang serving a number of boys in rapid succession with the other boys looking on. Occasionally there were individual affairs. Sexual techniques were learned through imitation of the adults. […] Homosexuality was present in the form of mutual masturbation, but I have no data as to its frequency”. The children had their own sexual culture: “The gap between adults and children was such that it was impossible for an adult to win the child’s confidence. Relations between them were amiable but entirely dissociated”.


Suggs (1962:p118-21)[14] relates:


Marquesan children are likely to suprise Europeans with their sophistication in sexual matters- if they can be induced to talk at all. This is a direct result of the matter-of-fact treatment that such matters receive in daily life and the fact that in most families parents and children sleep in one room. The children begin experimenting rather early; little boys begin masturbating at two or three years of age, engaging in group activities of this type by the age of five or six, and having casual homosexual contacts as well. Little girls are carefully prepared for their roles as future mates by parents and grandparents. At the age of a few weeks a course of medication is begun with a view to making them more satisfactory sexual partners later in life. Astringents, concocted from a number of herbs and bushes, are employed for this purpose, with daily dosages continuing to the age of about twelve. Little girls also engage in “the solitary vice” and begin homosexual contacts at an early age, which continue from the years before to shortly after puberty”.


“A boy usually has his first sexual experience [sic] with a much older woman, who instructs him in his first bungling attempts. Many of my older Marquesan friends looked back upon this initiation with fond memories and much amusement at their own ineptitude. The boys generally join a small informal group of comrades of similar age, who spend their evenings wandering about the dark valleys attempting to enter the homes of receptive women of all ages and conditions of life. […] For girls, adult sex life begins somewhat earlier than for boys, usually with defloration by an older male, after a chance encounter in the bush or a surreptitious invasion of the family home. Girls are usually, therefore, far more experienced than boys of their own age and may have been indulging in normal sexual relations for some months before the onset of menstruation”


Frequent sexual relations in adolescence are considered normal.

Contemporary Marquesans seem to recognise an adolescent sex problem (Kirkpatrick, 1987)[15]. Menarche gives occasional for “a few words of instruction” from the mother, not a public rite. Boys are supercised at age 10-18, and no sexual intercourse should be had until then. One woman would “make a point of initiating boys in her valley soon after they were cut, but this was her choice, not a ritual role”.


Additional refs.:


-- Kirkpatrick, J. (1987) Taure'are'a: a liminal category and passage to Marquesan adulthood, Ethos 15,4:382-405













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

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Fleurieu, C. P. Claret de & Marchand, E. (1798-1800) Voyage autour du Monde, pendant les années 1790, 1791, et 1792. Précédé d'une introduction historique auquel on a joint des recherches sur les Terres Australes de Drake, et un examen critique du Voyage de Roggeveen. Paris, Imprimerie de la République

[2] Lisiansky, A Voyage Around the World in the Years 1803-806 in the Ship “Neva. London

[3] Kruzenshtern, I. F. (1813). Voyage around the World in the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, & 1806, by order of His Imperial Majesty Alexander the First, on board the ships Nadeshda and Neva, under the command of Captain A. J. Von Krusenstern, of the Imperial Navy. Translated from the original German by Richard Belgrave Hoppner. [Facsimile ed.] London, John Murray, 1813. Tenri, Japan, TenriUniversity Press, 1973; Danielsson, B. ([1954] 1956) Love in the South Seas.(transl. F. Lyon). London: Allen & Unwin

[4] Waitz, Th. (1872) Anthopologie der Naturvölker. Leipzig: F. Fleischer. Vol.6

[5] Handy, E. S. C. (1923) The Native Cult of the Marquesas. B.P.Bishop Mus. Bull. 9, Honolulu, as cited Suggs, R.C. (1966) Marquesan Sexual Behavior.New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, p52

[6] Oliver, D. L. (1989) Oceania. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Vol. 1

[7] Bolin, A. (1997) French Polynesia, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum. Vol. 1. Quoted from online edition

[8] Oliver, D. L. (1974) Ancient Tahitian Society.Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press

[9] Gregersen, E. (1983) Sexual Practices: The Story of Human Sexuality.New York: Franklin Watts

[10] Oliver, D. L. (1981) TwoTahitianVillages: A Study in Comparisons,Provo, UT: BrighamYoungUniversity Press

[11] Op.cit.

[12] Linton, R. (1939) Marquesan Culture, in Kardiner, A. (Ed.) The Individual and his Society. The Psychodynamics of Primitive Social Organizations.New York: Columbia University Press, p137-96. Quoted in Whiting and Child (1953:p83)

[13] Parents masturbated the children (p166, 168, 205, 213).

[14] Suggs, R. C. (1962) The Hidden Worlds  of Polynesia. London: The Cresset Press

[15] Kirkpatrick, J. T. (1987) Taure’are’a: A Liminal Category and Passage to Marquesan Adulthood, Ethos 15,4:382-405