Growing Up Sexually



South America






SARAMAKANS, Saramacca (“Bush Negroes”;Suriname)


IndexAmericasSouth AmericaSurinameSaramakans



Early betrothal has already been mentioned. Price (1993:p12)[1]: “Little children are constantly reminded in a playful way about their sex, most often by adults of their grandparents’ generation, but also by others. Men tease girls from infancy on by grabbing at their “breasts” and genitals, and women often pull playfully at a little boy’s penis, interrogating him about whether he really knows how to use it and whether he thinks it is big enough to satisfy them. A favorite way of engaging a two- or three-year-old boy is to ask after his pregnant wife or, for a girl, to inquire whether her recent labor pains were severe, and children are expected to provide appropriate answers. When three- or four-year-old children play at sexual intercourse, adults are generally amused, expecting them to learn discretion in these games as they grow older”. Thus, “Sexual banter is enjoyed by Saramakas of all ages. Toddlers are frequently teased about sex and encouraged to develop their verbal wit in this direction […]”

(p39). Summing up: “By the age of ten or eleven, Saramaka girls have already tasted almost every ingredient of a woman’s life. […] All have had some kind of sexual experience, most commonly digital penetration, and about half of them are formally betrothed to an older man. Unlike the boys of their age, who are still a decade or so away from social manhood, prepubescent girls are well aware that the responsibilities of marriage and child rearing will be theirs within a few short years” (p15). Teenage girls have romantic affiliations with older women (p17). Herskovits (1934)[2], however, noted a strict taboo on the part of young men or women to speak of sexual matters with both their parents, and parents-in-law.


“Emergence from menstrual seclusion is also marked in marriage customs for a girl who was betrothed during adolescence. On the day that she leaves the hut after her first stay there (that is, at the conclusion of her first menstrual period as a socially recognized adult), a messenger is dispatched to the prospective husband, who comes that night to consummate the marriage” (Price, p23).








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] Price, S. (1993) Co-Wives and Calabashes. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

[2] Herskovits, M. J. (1934) Rebel Destiny. New York: Whittlesey House