IES: Poland




For a note on formal sexual education, see Grassel and Bach (1979:p290-1)[1]. Social and intellectual changes in Poland after World War I stimulated debate among educationalists, psychologists, and moralists about who should provide sex education for children and in what way (Gawin, 1999)[2]. Conservatives, especially in the Catholic Church, wished to confine it within the family and took a restrictive and punitive approach to sexuality, while liberals favoured sex education in schools with a factual approach allied with ethical education. Both liberals and conservatives betrayed a suspicious attitude toward child and adolescent sexuality, recommending a strict upbringing for children and questioning the emotional side of child rearing.

Sierzpowska-Ketner (1997)[3] stated: “Research in 1992 with a nationally representative sample revealed that friends were reported as the principle source of sex information with half of the men and one third of the women surveyed. The second source, reported most frequently by young people in large cities, was publications. Parents hardly ever wanted to provide input into sexual education, preferring to have their children obtain this information in school or from publications. Still, less than 10 percent of the respondents approved of school as a source of sex information”. The repression of sex education is also demonstrated in terminology used to describe childhood sexuality in Polish medical literature.


On auto-eroticism in childhood:


“Retrospective research on the autoerotic behaviors of Polish children and adolescents has been carried out on a few select groups. M. Beisert (1990) found that about 15 percent of the girls and 29 percent of the boys remembered touching and manipulating their genitals in a repeated manner during childhood to evoke some pleasant feelings. In most children, an intensification of autoerotic behaviors is observed at ages 5 to 6, during nursery school education. The main purpose of autoerotic behaviors is to awake some positive emotions in oneself. Up to 80 percent of all children who engage in self-pleasuring consider the pleasure obtained as an autonomous value, while about 12 percent treat that pleasure as a side effect of fulfilling the need connected with what is termed a stimulation deficit, the deprivation of the need of receiving new and attractive stimuli from the surroundings. Research demonstrates that there are two types of autoerotic behaviors: one open, observed in children who are unaware of the common negative valuation of that behavior, and the other hidden and characteristic of children who are aware of the forbidden character of that behavior. An important source of information about the need to hide autoeroticism from parents is the child’s peers. According to investigations, 80 percent of parents have never learned about the autoeroticism of children.

Polish literature dealing with sexual education presents two opposite views: an opinion that self-pleasuring is a normal stage of psychosexual development in human beings and the contrary view that self-pleasuring is a sin reflecting in a negative way on human development. These opinions lead to two contrary educational recommendations”.


On heterosexual interests:


“M. Beisert’s 1990 investigation reveals an undulatory character in the child’s interest in sex. The first inflow is observed before the end of 5 years of age with the next during the prepubertal period, about the age of 10 and 11. Contacts with other children in nursery school are conducive to some exploratory activities. Up to 56 percent of investigated adults place their first discoveries connected with gender at that period. The most important source of knowledge are other children, particularly peers. The first discoveries are connected with playing together, bathing, and other hygienic activities. However, the awareness of a strict injunction not to stare at the naked bodies of others, and particularly their genitals, is passed down at a comparatively early age and is widely popularized. The division between erotic play and cognitive activities is a difficult one, especially since sexual curiosity is at the bottom of much of children’s play. However, when children want to study their own bodies, they often do it openly and clearly state their interest. In approximately 2.8 percent of childhood sexual exploration, coercion is a factor. The cognitive methods are a bit different in families with many children of both genders. When the children in a family are close in age, or when the age interval is larger but older children participate in taking care of the younger, sex differences are not particularly exciting nor do they offer any special discoveries. The situation is similar when a child has no siblings but is brought up in a family with liberal attitudes towards sex. Many different children’s games include an erotic element or produce specific pleasure connected with stimulation of the genitals. Nearly 70 percent of students surveyed remembered not only the fact of such games, but also all the details accompanying them. Gender was not a factor in such games. Considering all the functions fulfilled by erotic games, such as pleasure, learning, and stimulation, they were grouped separately from other forms of childhood activities. The essence of most games is to imitate a fragment of adult life. The most popular games imitate adult roles that create an opportunity of mutual touching, undressing, and body manipulation, playing doctor, hospital, nurse, mother and father, king and queen, convalescent home, masseur, or the theater, ballet and strip-tease. Among other inspirations for childhood games, direct observation of adult life takes place first, then movies, fairy tales, and stories told by others. Imitations of such adult activities that provide excuses for body contact are the most important children’s games.

A particular, qualitatively different variety of games is among those designed for only two children. In such games, watching and touching meet the needs of demonstrating a mutual bond. Children embrace each other, kiss, and touch. Such pairs are accepted by their peers, and their range of behavior does not differ from the behavioral patterns of groups. Solitary play also provides an outlet for sexual curiosity and rehearsal, as when a child enacts erotic scenes using dolls, draws pictures of naked girls and boys, or plays scenes that evoke pleasurable excitement. The second period of interest occurs during the prepubertal age. Up to 35 percent of children report gaining knowledge about gender differences at the age of 10 or 11 years. The interest is focused on details and confirmation of earlier knowledge and intuition. Watching and touching is limited mainly to the genitals, and the aim is to gain pleasure along with a clear understanding of gender differences. These games occur in pairs, and sometimes in groups of peers of the same and other gender. Boys, for instance, may compare penis length or compete in urination contests. Girls concentrate on bust observations or dressing as adult women. Often pair games are clearly directed at pleasure, and consist of genital exploration and touching without the pretext of playing doctor or hospital. According to survey data, most Polish children are well aware of the forbidden nature of these erotic games. The punishing attitude of parents towards erotic games reaffirms the fear of childhood eroticism and the unfavorable attitude towards self-pleasuring. Parental dissuasion and limiting the child’s time with peers are more mild forms of unfavorable reaction. However, two thirds of parents who catch their children in such games threaten them, punishing them verbally and/or physically for engaging in them. About 1 percent of parents do not adopt a punishing attitude, but quietly maintain their differing opinion of such games. Only 10 percent of parents treat these games as a normal stage in childhood development”.



“It needs to be emphasized that sexual education has always been a kind of taboo in Poland. This was clearly reflected in the language used by the state in the past, referring to sexual education as “preparation for the life in a socialistic family.” After 1989, sexual education was halted in the schools without any national debate about the relationship between the state and the Church, and the only textbook specially prepared by sexologists for school use was definitely forbidden. This was subsequently followed by introduction of religious instruction in all Polish schools. Research in 1992 with a nationally representative sample revealed that friends were reported as the principle source of sex information with half of the men and one third of the women surveyed. The second source, reported most frequently by young people in large cities, was publications. Parents hardly ever wanted to provide input into sexual education, preferring to have their children obtain this information in school or from publications. Still, less than 10 percent of the respondents approved of school as a source of sex information”.


Polish criminal law forbids sexual contacts with minors under 15 years old.


In a study (Cianciara et al., 1994)[4] on 1239 Warsaw primary school students of the 7th grade, findings show “insufficient proficiency of families in sex education of their children. Although parents are the most desired source of sex related information, the range of their info-educational activities is found to be limited. This is particularly true when sons are considered; more attention is being paid to daughters. The results also indicate that mothers are more engaged in sex education than fathers. The findings show positive correlation between proficiency of parents in this field and their social status. This competence is also higher in families with better communication between members and families in which child freedom is not essentially limited”.

According to a retrospective study reported by Trawińska ([1975:p51])[5], more than 60% of respondents denied a history of sexual experiences in childhood, while 15% had “sexual games of a demonstrative nature”, 5% had “an encounter with a deviated person”, and another 2% “tell of voyeurism”. Coitarche ages top at 17-18 (p56). In information sources on sex, peers outweighed parents, family, school, “lectures”, own experiences, and mass media, in that order (p71).



Additional refs:


§         CRLP (2000) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: East Central Europe, p100-25

§         Jaczewski, A. (1970) [Erotismus im Kindes- und Jugendalter]. Warschau

§         Moseley, M. (2001) Life, literature: autobiographies of Jewish youth in interwar Poland, Jewish Social Studies 7,3:1-51, at p33-4


§         Woynarowska, B., Izdebski, Z., Kololo, H. & Mazur, J. (2004) [Sexual initiation and use of condoms and other methods of contraception among 15-year-old adolescents in Poland and other countries], Ginekol Pol 75,8:621-32




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

Last revised: Dec 2004


[1]Grassel, H. & Bach, K. R. (1979) Kinder- & Jugendsexualität. Berlin: Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften

[2] Gawin, M. (1999) Dispute over the sex education of children and young people during the inter-war years, Acta Poloniae Hist 79:185-205. See e.g., Kozlowska, A. (1968) [On the investigation of sexual interests of adolescents], Psychol Wychowawcza 11,4: 473-80

[3] Sierzpowska-Ketner, A. (1997) Poland, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum, Vol. III. Quoted from the online edition

[4] Cianciara, D., Moscicka, M. & Przewlocka, T. (1994) [Competence of families for providing sex education of children], Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig 45,3:263-72

[5] Trawińska, M. [1975] Between the familygroup and the peer group- competitiveness between reference groups in the period of maturation, in Kozakiewicz, M. (Ed.) Sex-Society-Education, Polish Experience. Polish Family Planning Association, p44-71