North-American Natives


Featured: Eskimo (Generalia); Arapaho, Assiniboine, Athabascans, Blood/ Blackfoot, Cajuns, Cherokee, Cheyennes, Chipewyans, Apache Chiricahua, Comanches, Crow, Dakota, Flathead, Gros Ventre, Hopi, Huron, Ingalik, Copper Inuit, Iñupiat, Iroquois, Kaska, Kiowa-Apache, Klamath, Kutenai, Kwakiutl, Lakota, Menominee, Mohave, Mantagnais / Naskapi, Navajo, Nootka, Ojibwa, Omaha, Osage, Papago, Pawnee, Paiute, Point Barrow, Pomo, Powhatans, Qipi, Quinault, San Ildefonso, Sanpoil, Seminole, Shoshone, Shuswap, Sioux, Tinglit, Tolowa, Ute, Walapai, Yokuts, Yurok, Zuñi


See also: North-America Non-Natives




Berdaches (with a Reference to Ontogeny)

Menarche Rites

Early Betrothal / Marriage

Contemporary Coitarche






Eastman’s Indian Boyhood (1902)[1][1] does not reveal a clue to sexual development. This may be indicative of a reserved attitude, or of the truth. Anyway, as Karsch-Haack (1901 [1983:p243])[2][2] notes some authors in the middle of 19th century[3][3] dedicated the racial decay of New Caledonian man to “countless immoralities” (“beispiellosen Ausschweifungen”) perpetrated by women “from childhood on”. According to Bales et al. (1994)[4][4]:


“On the whole, American Indian societies were more permissive than any of the European Christian nations that began the conquest of Native America in the late 15th century. Among Indians, virginity was not necessarily prized in either sex. Sexual experimentation was regarded as ordinary adolescent behavior, and many tribes permitted—indeed expected— young people to gain sexual experience before marriage. […] As in other cultures, Native American sexual life and identity developed during childhood. The process varied from tribe to tribe in native North America, but most children learned about sexuality from adult behavior and talk. In the Qipi Eskimo society of the eastern Arctic, for example, parents taught about sex through play and example. Mothers and fathers openly touched, kissed, and admired their babies' genitals during infancy. Sexual play among Eskimo children continued well into adolescence. Children talked openly about sexual experiences, and parents took these discussions as a sign of normal child development. Nevertheless, parents discouraged masturbation during childhood. These people did not admire berdache behavior and thought that masturbation was a precursor to homosexuality”.


Williams[5][5] observes that sex was not interpreted as a sin, or as restricted to some reproductive role, instead as a “major blessing from the spiritual world, a gift to human beings freely enjoyed from childhood to old age. […] Children’s sexual play was more likely to be regarded by adults as an amusing activity than as a cause for alarm. This casual attitude of child rearing continued to influence people as they grew up, and even after their marriage”.

Addressing “the typical American Indian as it was before he knew the white man”, Eastman[6][6] states that within marriage ceremonials, “[e]ach girl […] approached the sacred rock and laid her hand upon it with all solemnity. This was her religious declaration of her virginity, her vow to remain pure until her marriage. If she should ever violate the maidens’ oath, then welcome that keen knife and those sharp arrows!”.

Voget (1961:p99-100)[7][7] sketches the rather “inclusive” sexual life of young native Americans, including bestiality, homosexual encounters, coital pretence, contests, quasi-introductions, etc.:


“Preadolescent gangs of boys served as a special source for sexual knowledge and experimentation. Such a group of Tenetehara boys would attempt to lure young girls into the bush, where they would attempt intercourse and other sex play. […] Sexual contests of one kind or another were conducted by Crow gangs. The erect penis would be measured against that of another claimant to determine the larger and they would divide according to clans and bet on champions who would attach a line to the penis and then drag a stone as far as possible. Like the Mohave, Crow youths would bet on ejaculation distance. A large penis was prized and preadolescents would pull on the pubic hair to stimulate growth and sometimes they would put on an irritating plant juice on the penis to make it swell. […].  Both boys and girls seem to have graduated to heterosexual contacts at an early age. Societal recognition of the fact is afforded by the brother-sister respect-avoidance behavior commonly initiated between the ages of 7 and 10. Chaco boys chased girls and openly tried to touch the vulva, and if a girl were caught they might attempt intromission. Kwakiutl boys of 6 or 7 would built little shelters in the forest and play house with girls of comparable age, lying with them in imitation of adult copulation. Play imitative of domestic life seems to have provided initial sexual contacts in many societies. […] Crow boys of 8 and 9 were invited by pubescent and sometimes older girls to urinate in lieu of ejaculation”.


A white informant told Erikson ([1963:p126])[8][8] that “Indian parents not only let their children masturbate, they teach them to masturbate”. In study by Havighurst and Neugarten (1955)[9][9] comparing white American and Indian children and adolescents, the category “sex” was commented upon only by a few subjects (p101, 109). The NavahoMountain child responded in the highest rate (5%), however “repeatedly warned against transgressing the sex taboo”. Responses are not detailed any further.


For a very brief identification of puberty, courtship and marriage customs, see Prizker[10][10].




Berdaches (with a Reference to Ontogeny)


Native ideologies on the ontogeny of a ‘berdache’ are ethnically diverse (Callender and Kochems, 1983:p451-3)[11][11]. Associated cases, however, typically include statements on active, early intervention[12][12]. Trexler (2002)[13][13]argues that the executive power to assign a small boy’s gender was vested in parents, rather than being the boy's free choice. Sources on berdache stress cross-sex occupational preferences in childhood (Whitehead, 1981 [1986:p87][14][14]).


Data on the age of first homosexual behaviour are probably rare (see Roscoe, 1994)[15][15] which leaves the point of berdache’s sexual inauguration blank in most cases. “While growing”, Arctic berdarche boys engaged in homosexual behaviour as passives[16][16]. Late 17th century Illinois men, not satisfied by their women as they were not sufficiently forthcoming, sexually trained groups of boys “from childhood” as passives to satisfy their needs[17][17]. Ellis (1927)[18]:


“If we turn to the New World, we find that among the American Indians, from the Eskimo of Alaska downward to Brazil and still farther south, homosexual customs have been very frequently observed. Sometimes they are regarded by the tribe with honor, sometimes with indifference, sometimes with contempt; but they appear to be always tolerated. […] The best early description which I have been able to find is by Langsdorff[19] and concerns the Aleuts of Oonalashka in Alaska: "Boys, if they happen to be very handsome," he says, "are often brought up entirely in the manner of girls, and instructed in the arts women use to please men; their beards are carefully plucked out as soon as they begin to appear, and their chins tattooed like those of women; they wear ornaments of glass beads upon their legs and arms, bind and cut their hair in the same manner as the women, and supply their place with the men as concubines. This shocking, unnatural, and immoral practice has obtained here even from the remotest times; nor have any measures hitherto been taken to repress and restrain it; such men are known under the name of _schopans_." Among the Konyagas Langsdorff found the custom much more common than among the Aleuts; he remarks that, although the mothers brought up some of their children in this way, they seemed very fond of their offspring. Lisiansky [[20]], at about the same period, tells us that: "Of all the customs of these islanders, the most disgusting is that of men, called _schoopans_, living with men, and supplying the place of women. These are brought up from their infancy with females, and taught all the feminine arts. They even assume the manner and dress of the women so nearly that a stranger would naturally take them for what they are not. […] The practice has, however, apparently continued to be fairly common among the Alaska Eskimos down to recent times. […] It is stated by Davydoff, as quoted by Holmberg[21], that the boy is selected to be a _schopan_ because he is girl-like. This is a point of some interest as it indicates that the schopan is not effeminated solely by suggestion and association, but is probably feminine by inborn constitution”.



Menarche Rites


Menarchal rites used to be common feature of native coming-of-age.


As reviewed elsewhere[22][18], in California these include that of the Shasta (Silver 1978:p215), Achumawi (Olmsted and Stewart 1978), Chimariko (Silver 1978:p209), Modoc (Ray 1963), Yuki (Gifford 1965:p69-70), Ninesan (Powers 1976:p423), Concow Maidu  (Jewell 1987:p102), Lake Miwok (Callaghan 1978:p268), Wintu (Du Bois 1935:p53), Gabriellino (Johnston 1962:p63), but not Yokuts (Spier 1978:p479) and Tübatulabal (Voegelin 1938:p46-7). Comparable female puberty ceremonies were held by all the Juaneñ:o, Serrano and Pass, Desert and Mountain Cahuilla. In others, transition ceremonials were not associated with menarche (Cupeño), or with the menarche of one of several participants (Luiseño).


Achumawi ceremonies were social festivals “with members of neighboring villages invited, much singing of ribald songs, and, on one day of each session, sexual intercourse” (Olmsted and Stewart 1978:p232). The Modoc also celebrated a girl’s first menses with a dance of notification, which was essentially a way of publicizing the fact that the girl was now ready for marriage. The festival also provided a period of “social pleasantry, love making, and sexual experimentation for young men and women, particularly the unmarried” (Ray 1963:p72). This announcement function was also described for the Gabrielino.




Early Betrothal / Marriage


At the beginning of the 16th century among Native Americans, an Amerindian mode of reproduction was the norm - universal marriage near the age of puberty[23][19].

Marriages among the Point Barrow Eskimo are “usually arranged by parents, sometimes when principals are mere children”[24][20] (cf. Sumner, 1906:p382-3)[25][21]. Among the Behring Strait Eskimo, “[f]rom the lower Yukon to the Quskokwin child-betrothals [are] common”. The girl may be four or five[26][22]. Among the Central Eskimo, children are generally betrothed when very young, but these engagements may be broken off at any time[27][23]. “[…] [I]n traditional Copper Inuit society, females were often betrothed or married before the onset of puberty” (Condon, 1987; Damas, 1972, 1984)[28][24]. Among the Pomo Indians, child betrothal was common (Bean, 1978; Essene, 1942:p29; Gifford and Kroeber 1937:p148–9, 190-1)[29][25]. Among the Blackfoot, child marriage is a recent historic fact; thus, “informants, speaking of the period of the latter half of the nineteenth century, placed the age of marriage for girls between ten and sixteen and that of men at thirty-five, rarely at less. It is during this period that we get the first cases of child marriage. Fathers now wished to marry off their daughters as early as possible in order to realize the bride price” (Lewis, 1973)[30][26]. Among the Thompson River Indians, girls are often betrothed while in infancy to men sometimes 20 years older[31][27]. Addressing the Eskimo to the North of Churchill, Franklin[32][28] stated that “as soon as a girl is born, the young lad who wishes to have her for a wife goes to her father’s tent and proffers himself. If accepted, a promise is given which is considered binding, and the girl is delivered to her betrothed at the proper age”. As cited by Westermarck ([1901:p213]), early betrothals are among the established customs of the Chippewyans[33][29], Inland Columbians[34][30], Botocudos[35][31], Patagonians[36][32], and other Native American peoples[37][33].




Contemporary Coitarche


In a study on adolescents (Edwards, 1992)[38][34], the average age of first sexual intercourse among sexually active students was 13.6 years among males and 14.2 years among females.



See further: Eskimo (Generalia); Arapaho, Assiniboine, Athabascans, Blood/ Blackfoot, Cajuns, Cherokee, Cheyennes, Chipewyans, Apache Chiricahua, Comanches, Crow, Dakota, Flathead, Gros Ventre, Hopi, Huron, Ingalik, Copper Inuit, Iñupiat, Iroquois, Kaska, Kiowa-Apache, Klamath, Kutenai, Kwakiutl, Lakota, Menominee, Mohave, Mantagnais / Naskapi, Navajo, Nootka, Ojibwa, Omaha, Osage, Papago, Pawnee, Paiute, Point Barrow, Pomo, Powhatans, Qipi, Quinault, San Ildefonso, Sanpoil, Seminole, Shoshone, Shuswap, Sioux, Tinglit, Tolowa, Ute, Walapai,Yokuts, Yurok, Zuñi






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

Last revised: Jun 2005


[1][1] Eastman Ch. A.  (1902) Indian Boyhood.University of Nebraska Press, Omaha

[2][2] Karsch-Haack, F. (1901) Uranismus oder Päderastie und Tribadie bei den Naturvölkern, Jb Sex Zwischenst 3:72ff. Reprinted 1983 (Schmidt, W. J. (Ed.), Vol.1:p229-96

[3][3] Stein, C. & Hörschelmann, F. (1855) Handbuch der Geographie und Statistik für die Gebildeten Stände. 7th ed. Vol. 1 Leipzig: Hinrichs, p353

[4][4] Bales, R., Weil, T. & Murdock, T. (1994) Indians: Native North Americans, in Bullough, V. L. & Bullough, B. (Eds.) Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia. New York & London: Garland Publ.. Inc.

[5][5] Williams, W. L. (1990) Indians of North America, in Dynes, W. R. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York & London: Garland Publ. Inc. Vol. I, p593-5

[6][6]Eastman, Ch. (1911) The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation. Boston, Mass., [etc.]: Houghton Mifflin [etc.]

[7][7] Voget, F. W. (1961) Sex life of the American Indians, in Ellis, A. & Abarbanel, A. (Eds.) The Encyclopaedia of Sexual Behavior, Volume 1. London: W. Heinemann, p90-109

[8][8] Erikson, E. ([1963]) Childhood and Society. Second, revised and enlarged edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

[9][9] Havighurst, R. J. & Neugarten, B. L. (1955) American Indian and White Children: A Sociopsychological Investigation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

[10][10] Prizker, B. M. (1998) Native Americans: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture and Peoples. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA [etc.]: ABD-CLIO

[11][11]Callender, Ch. & Kochems, L. M. (1983) The North American Berdache, Curr Anthopol 24,4:443-70

[12][12] As taken from Carpenter, E. (1914) Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk. Am. ed. New York: Mitchell Kennerley, chs. 1 and 2 (all italics mine): “Every temple or chief house of worship keeps one or two men, or more, according to the idol - who go about attired like women, even from their childhood, and talk like women, and imitate them in their manner, carriage, and all else”. [Cieza de Leon (1554) La Chronica del Peru. Antwerp, ch. 64]. “Has a boy with a pretty face also a graceful demeanour? The mother no longer permits him to associate companions of his own age, but clothes him and brings him up as a girl. Any stranger would be deceived as to his sex, and when he is about fifteen he is sold for a good round sum to a wealthy personage. [footnote omitted] ‘Choupans’, or youths of this kind are highly prized by the Konyagas. On the other hand, there are to be met with here and there among the Esquimaux or kindred populations, especially in Youkon, girls who decline marriage and maternity. Changing their sex, so to speak, they live as boys, adopting masculine manners and customs, they hunt the stag, and in the chase shrink from no danger; in fishing from no fatigue. [...] The priests in office do not leave the recruiting of their pupils to chance; they make choice at an early age of boys or girls” [Elie Reclus, nd, Primitive Folk (Contemporary Science Series). London: Walter Scott Studies, p68, 71, speaking of the “Inoits” [Inuit]]; “The male wizards are obliged (as it were) to leave their sex, and to dress themselves in female apparel, and are not permitted to marry, though the female ones or witches may. They are generally chosen for this office when they are children, and a preference is always shown to those who at that early time of life discover an effeminate disposition. They are clothed very early in female attire, and presented with the drum and rattles belonging to the profession they are to follow”. [Thomas Falkner (1775)  Description of Patagonia and of the Neighboring Countries of South America. Hereford & London. German translation, Gotha, 1775, p117]

[13][13] Trexler, R. C. (2002) Making The American Berdache: Choice or Constraint? J Soc Hist 35,3:613-36. Cf. Benjamin, H.  (1966) The Transsexual Phenomenon. New York: The Julian Press, Inc. Publishers, esp. Appendix C: Transsexualism: Mythological, Historical, And Cross-Cultural Aspects

[14][14] Whitehead, H. (1981) The bow and the burden strap: a new look at institutionalized homosexuality in native North-America, in Ortner, Sh. B. & Whitehead, H. (Eds.) Sexual Meanings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p80-115. Reprinted in Abelove, H. (Ed., 1993) The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 498-527

[15][15] Roscoe, W. (1994) How to Become a Berdache: Toward a Unified Analysis of Gender Diversity, in Herdt, G. (Ed.) Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. New York: Zone Books, p329-72

[16][16] Sauer, M. (1802) Account of Billing's Expedition. London, p160. As cited by Trexler (2002:p618), op.cit.

[17][17] Quaife, M. M. (Ed., 1947) The Western Country in the 17th Century: the Memoirs of Lamothe Cadilla and Pierre Liette, Chicago. As cited by Trexler (2002:p624), op.cit.

[18] Ellis, H. (1927) Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume II: Sexual Inversion. 3rd ed.  []

[19] _Voyages and Travels_, 1814, part ii, p. 47. [orig. footnote]

[20] A. Lisiansky, _Voyage, etc._, London, 1814, p. 1899.

[21] _Ethnographische Skizzen_, 1855, p. 121.


[23][19] McCaa, R. (1994) Marriageways in Mexico and Spain, 1500-1900, Continuity & Change [Great Britain] 9,1:11-43

[24][20] Murdock (1892:p410); Parsons, E. C. (1906) The Family. New York & London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, p70

[25][21] Sumner, W. G. (1906) Folkways. Boston [etc.]: Ginn & Co.

[26][22] Nelson, E. W. ( 1899) The Eskimo About BehringStrait. 18th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Part.1, p291-2; Parsons (1906:p70)

[27][23] Boas, F. (1888) The Central Eskimo. 6th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology; Parsons (1906:p70)

[28][24] Condon, R. G. (1987) Inuit Youth: Growth and Change in the Canadian Arctic. New Brunswick, N.J.: RutgerUniversity Press. Damas, D. (1984) Copper Eskimo. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press: “Marriage was arranged during infancy or at birth, and in most documented cases, betrothal was arranged between some sort of cousins. Marriage was acknowledged when both of the betrothed, or more frequently, when the girl reached puberty”. Damas, D. (1972) The Copper Eskimo.New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc.: “Child betrothal was widely practiced. Marriages were usually contracted early in the childhood of the pair”; […] [D]uring the period 1925-1955 […] [c]hild betrothal was still common and began to fade only in the centralized communities of the contemporary period”.

[29][25] Bean, L. J. (1978) Western Pomo and Northeastern Pomo. Washington: Smithsonian Institution

[30][26] Lewis, O. (1973) The Effects of White Contact upon Blackfoot Culture. Seattle; London: University of Washington Press

[31][27] Teit (1900:p321); Parsons (1906:p73-4)

[32][28]Franklin, Journey, p263, as cited by Westermarck (1901, 3rd ed.), p123. Other data on early engagements among the Eskimo would be found in Hall, Arctic Researches, p567; “Das Ausland”, 1881, p698; Cranz (I, p146); Wiatz, III:p308)

[33][29] Richardson (II, p23); Mackenzie (cxxiii)

[34][30] Bancroft (I, p276 et seq.); Mayne, Four Years in British Colombia and Vancouver Islands, p276 (Nutkas)

[35][31] Van Martius (I, p322)

[36][32] Falkner (p124); Kind and Fitzroy (II, p152 et seq.)

[37][33] Shoshones (Lewis & Clarke, Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, p307), Arawaks (Schomburgk, II, p460; Brett, p99 et seq.), Marcusís (Van Martius, I, p645)

[38][34] Edwards, S. (1992) Among Native American Teenagers, Sex Without Contraceptives is Common, Fam Plann Perspect 24,4:189-91