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Since 1977, Gilbert Herdt (CV) has covered the phenomenon of “Sambia” prepubertal insemination in many works[1] (cf. Valsiner, 2000:p289-91)[2]. The “Sambia” themselves have no ready word for puberty (Guardians of the Flutes, p173n21). Many tribes believe in the andropoetic quality of semen, and the onset of puberty (semen) is certainly an outstanding item in this spectrum; likewise, early heterosexual fellatio “ostensibly precipitates menarche in girls” (Guardians, p178-85): “Men perceive premenarche females as children, a category of asexual or not exciting erotic objects”, in contrast to boys. However, premenarchic coitus is considered dangerous because it would prevent the body from expelling lethal fluids at (naturally timed) menarche. Apart from this, the “Sambia” value male-virgin contacts (1984:p177), while “sexual partners are perceived as having more “heat” and being more exciting the younger they are. A second factor is reciprocity: the more asymmetrical the sexual partners (youth/boy), the more erotic play seems to culturally define their contact” [sic]. Against the background of an utterly phallocentric ideology on the androtrophic properties of semen, “Sambia” prepubertal boys (7-12, on average 8.5) fellate post-pubertal adolescents to ejaculation in order to grow and turn seminarchic themselves, so that they may reverse roles. The boys do not have orgasms, and might have “vicarious erotic pleasure as indicated by erections” only “near puberty” (Herdt and Stoller, 1990:p70-1). Herdt (1981, 1982)[3] had argued that this age is “psychologically necessary for the radical resocialization into, and eventual sex-role dramatization expected of, adult men”. Another theoretical significance of the timing of this custom was discussed by Herdt (2000)[4] and Herdt and McClintock (2000:p593-7)[5].


Herdt who gives the most extensive data on the Sambia, states that “all sex play is forbidden”, and that sexes are separated from age 5. If sex play should occur, “they would have no thought of being warriors or making gardens, according to the males. Thus, “boys would be polluted and their growth blocked by sexual play with girls […]” (Herdt, 1993:p199)[6]. This script is said to be successfully enforced. An informant told Herdt that boys are feared for sexual intercourse with women by men (Intimate Communications, p108-9). Thus, the boys, who are married to premenarchal girls after the signs of puberty (ages 14-16), are fellated by the wives until these are menarchal; then, coitus takes place. Girls practice fellatio on their adolescent spouses until menarche, and coitus thereafter (Herdt, 1977:p206)[7].


Dr. Birgitta Stolpe has worked among the Sambia on female development and menarche in particular[8].








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

Last revised: Jan 2005


[1] Herdt, G. (1977) The Individual in Sambia Male Initiation. PhD Dissertation, Australian National University, Canberra; Herdt, G. H. (1980) Semen Depletion and the Sense of Maleness, Ethnopsychia 3: 79-116. Reprinted in Murray, S. O. (Ed.) Oceanic Homosexualities. New York: Garland, p33-68; Herdt, G. H. (Ed., 1981) Rituals of Manhood. Berkeley: University of California Press; Herdt, G. H. (1981) Guardians of the Flutes. New York: McGraw-Hill; Stoller, R. J. & Herdt, G. H. (1982) The Development of Masculinity: A Cross-Cultural Contribution, J Am Psychoanal Assoc 30:29-59; Herdt, G. H. (1984a) Ritualized Homosexuality in the Male Cults of Melanesia, 1862-1982: An Introduction, in Herdt, G. H. (Ed.) Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press, p1-81; Herdt, G. H. (1984b) Semen Transactions in Sambia Culture, in Herdt, G. H. (Ed.) Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press, p167-210. Reprinted in Suggs, D. N. & Miracle, A. W. (Eds.) Culture and Human Sexuality: A Reader. Pacific Grove, CA, US: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., p298-327; Herdt, G. H. (1987a) The Accountability of Sambia Initiates, in Langness, L. L. & Hays, T. E. (Eds.) Anthropology in the High Valleys: Essays in Honor of K. E. Read, Novato, Chandler and Sharp, p82; Herdt, G. (1989) Father Presence and Ritual Homosexuality: Paternal Deprivation and Masculine Development in Melanesia Reconsidered, Ethos 17,3:326-70; Herdt, G. H. & Stoller, R. J. (1990) Intimate Communications. New York (etc.): Colombia University Press; Herdt, G. H. (1987b) The Sambia. New York: Holt, Rienhart & Winston; Herdt, G. (1994) Notes and queries on sexual excitement in Sambia culture, Etnofoor 7,2:25-41; Herdt, G. H. (1997) Male birth-giving in the cultural imagination of the Sambia, Psychoanal Rev 84,2:217-26; Herdt, G. H. (1999) Sambia Sexual Culture. Chicago: Chicago University Press; Baldwin, J. D. & Baldwin, J. I. (1989) The socialization of homosexuality and heterosexuality in a non-Western society, Arch Sex Behav 18,1:13-29. Comment by Herdt and Stoller at p31-4. For a review of ritualised homosexual practices, see also Knauft, B. M. (1993) South Coast New Guinea Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Ch. 3; Herdt, G. (2003) Secrecy and Cultural Reality: Utopian Ideologies of the New Guinea Men's House. University of Michigan Press. More sources in Herdt’s awe-inspiring CV:

[2] Valsiner, J. (2000) Culture and Human Development: An Introduction. London [etc.]: Sage

[3] Herdt (1981), op.cit; Herdt, G. (1982) Sambia nose-bleeding rites and male proximity to women, Ethos 10:189-231

[4] Herdt, G. H. (2000) Why the Sambia Initiate Boys Before Age 10, in Bancroft, J. (Ed.) The Role of Theory in Sex Research. The Kinsey Institute Series, Vol. 6. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p82-109

[5] Herdt, G. & McClintock, M. (2000) The magical age of 10, Arch Sex Behav 29,6:587-606

[6] Herdt, G. (1993) Sexual reproduction, social control, and gender hierarchy in Sambia culture, in Miller, B. D. (Ed.) Sex and Gender Hierarchy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p193-211

[7] Op.cit.

[8] G. Herdt, personal communication. See Herdt, G. & B. Stolpe (in press) Sambia Sexuality, Gender and Social Change, in Stockard, Janice & Spindler, George (Eds.) Cultures Through Case Studies: Continuity, Change, and Challenge. New York: Thompson