IES: Spain


Spanish Basques: 3,3,3+,3+,4-,4-;2,2] 




Bachs-i-Comas (1984)[1] reports of a pilot study of sexual knowledge, identification, feelings, and attitudes of 5-7 year old children. Information was obtained on sexual identity, sex differences, role of the couple in reproduction, affective relationships within the family, pregnancy, birth, and lactation. Hernandez-Martinez (1984)[2] studied the sexual behaviour of 7,492 14-18 year olds. Subjects were administered a 116-item questionnaire and a face-to-face interview to assess “masturbatory activity, heterosexual intercourse, intercourse within an established relationship, homosexuality, and infantile sexuality”.

López Sánchez (2001)[3] refers to a numeric study on childhood sexual behaviours carried out by López et al. (1997) involving parents, teachers and adolescents. Noting the problems in conducting the research (“[…] estamos en una cultura que niega la existencia de la sexualidad infantil por considerar peligrosas sus manifestaciones y hay dificultades éticas para estudiarlas de manera experimental, a través de observaciones o a través de preguntas directas a los menores”), it was observed that:


“La frecuencia de la masturbación es mucho mayor de lo que se suele creer, tanto en niños como en niñas aunque las fuentes de investigación no son muy precisas. En una investigación reciente (López, Guijo, Del Campo y Palomo, 1997) [?] en la que usamos tres fuentes de información, padres, educadores y jóvenes, referidas a los 11 primeros años de vida, encontramos que: a) El 28% de los jóvenes recuerdan haberse masturbado con la mano y el 16% con un objeto. b) Los padres han observado en el 13% de los hijos masturbación con la mano y en el 5% con un objeto. c) Los educadores han observado en el 20% de los alumnos masturbación con la mano y en el 8% con un objeto. Otras investigaciones apuntan en la misma dirección. Estas conductas tienen para los niños un claro significado sexual hasta el punto que el 5% de ellos cree haber llegado a tener orgasmos antes de la pubertad. […] Los padres y educadores afirman haber observado juegos de contenido sexual en aproximadamente el 80% de los menores[4] (López y Otros, 1997)” (2001:p276, 278).


The original work [received from the author, entitled “Sexualidad Prepuberal”][5], however, claimed that 9.4% experienced orgasm, or 5.4% of females and 18.0% of males (p20, 32 of Engl. transl.).

More interestingly, the authors make the following observations:


“[Depite a heightened interest in abuse matters] the existence of childhood sexuality remains largely unrecognised. In fact, as has been discovered in many Englishspeaking countries (particularly in the United States), apart from some positive results the studies that have been carried out on the sexual abuse of minors have had three perverse [sic] effects: the persecution of healthy manifestations of sexual behaviour in childhood –by the children themselves and among each other, who explore each other or play in a consensual fashion-, the increase in the “fear of affectionate and social contact” between adults and minors (even within the family!), and the increase in a deeply rooted idea in our culture: the “danger” itself of sexuality”.


Barkley and Mosher (1995)[6] reviewed the research on childhood sexuality in Hispanic culture.


The difficulties that Tissot had in getting his work published in Spanish indicate opposition from medical authorities in Spain during the Enlightenment to consideration of onanism as a disease (Perdiguero Gil and González de Pablo, 1990)[7]. Nevertheless, Catholic priests warned children for masturbation by threat of “Heart problems, spinal debilities, brain tumors, and bowel obstructions” well into the 20th century (Mitchel, 1998:p107-8)[8]. Of course it was rampant even judging from schoolboys’ confessions.

Before its revision in 1998, Spain has the lowest age of consent in Europe (12). Nieto et al. (1997)[9] reported:


“Studies carried out with 12- to 13-year-old elementary school students in Education General Basica (EGB) indicated that 87.74 percent of the girls and 38.42 percent of the boys had never masturbated. The numbers lessened when groups of 14- to 17-year-old high school students were studied from Baccalaureate Unified Polyvalent (BUP). In this study, 70.51 percent of the girls and 12.16 percent of the boys stated that they had never masturbated. […]  Almost three quarters of the boys, 71.4 percent, began masturbating between the ages of 10 and 12 years, while only 10 percent of the girls stated they have masturbated at that age. […] The most-consistent masturbation frequency in children is once a month […]”.


“A national study on masturbation in children and young people found that 76.7 percent stated that they began masturbating between the ages of 10 to 15 years. Knowledge about masturbation came from conversations and readings (74.8 percent for males and 57.2 percent for women)”.




“Heterosexual conduct in Spanish children and adolescents has greatly increased in recent years. Current data indicate that more than 54 percent of the women and 52.7 percent of the men have already had their first date at 13 years”.


Thurén (1988:p202-3)[10] stated that many informants for a Barrio in Valencia emphasised “ignorance, fear, bitterness” against parents for lack of support when questioned about growing up feminine. Nevertheless, many commented upon “the excitement they felt as children when they began to realize there was a great mystery around sexual differentiation. Most women told with great tenderness of the exciting whispers with girl-friends in pre-adolescence, the slow putting together of pieces of information, the acceptance and growing expectation of what “life” was like, the first daring lies to the parents in order to go out with a boy…”. Although bookstores sold sex education materials since the middle 1970s, hardly anyone mentioned learning sex from books.

Marañón struggled with the issue of Freudian infantile sexuality, a notion that seems to offend “the patriotism of the human species. We want to believe that a child’s soul is pure”. He further believed that Freud’s theory was, in part, culture-bound and that the precocious sexual activities ascribed to children did not occur in Spain: “It is certain that our children are not like that”, he asserted (acc. Glick, 1982:p553)[11]. In a 1929 lecture, Juarros argued that, probably not exceptional for Europe at that time, “infantile sexuality [was] sadly ignored by most or all parents, who do not perceive sexual appetites in children”[12].


In a 1996-1997 study[13] based on 304 universities in, freshman students (63.49% female, average age 19.46 +/- 1.55 years) indicated in 51.77% to have begun to masturbate between the 11 and 14 years. In 56.15% of whom had sexual experience it was begun between 17 and 19 years of age. In another study[14] (2831 pupils aged 14-20 years from urban, suburban, and rural populations in the north of Madrid) the average age of the first intercourse was 15.4 years +/- 1.68 SD for males and 16.1 years +/- 1.46 SD for females. In yet another study[15] (3139 students aged 14 to 19 years living in the city of Barcelona), it appeared that boys had their first experience at a significantly earlier age, but girls participated in sexual intercourse more often.


To reflect on these figures, studies support the hypothesis that “religiosity and church attendance seem to still put a strong damper, in Spain, on young people’s sexual behaviors”[16].



Thuren (1994)[17]:


“While celebration of the first menstruation may seem especially logical in societies that emphasize motherhood, as does Spain, a girl’s first menstruation there is, paradoxically, a shameful matter. The explanation of this paradox lies in the supposition that what arrives with the first menstruation is not potential motherhood, but potential sexual activity, and also womanhood (as opposed to manhood), both of which are construed as negative or ambivalent. This, however, suggests a new paradox in the present Spanish context. After two decades of mostly positive change, the concept of change has become synonymous with improvement; and sexuality, always culturally emphasized in the Mediterranean area, has taken on the role of a key symbol of change”.


A recent study[18] examined representations about sexuality among adolescents by analysing the content of 1,204 questions about sexuality and reproduction written by male and female middle school and high school students (aged 13-14 years) enrolled in sex education classes during a 6-year period (1992-1998) in Spain. The questions were evaluated according to dimensions of theme, information versus opinion, concept clarification, health, pleasure or displeasure, masculine or feminine reference, or quantity. The results indicated that “girls speak about sexuality as a part of the future, have low interest in erotic aspects of sex, and high interest in body, reproductive health, and birth control. The boys speak more about sex than girls, are more interested in erotic aspects of masturbation and intercourse, and are interested in opinions rather than information”.





Further reading:


§         Oliva, Alfredo; Lourdes Serra, Reyes Vallejo (1997) Patrones de comportamiento sexual y contraceptivo en la adolescencia, Infancia & Aprendizaje 20,1:19-34





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] Bachs-i-Comas, J. (1984) Conocimientos sexuales en niños/as de 5 a 7 anos. Bases para el estudio de los factores de integracion [Sexual knowledge of 5- to 7-year-old children: Bases for the study of factors influencing integration], Quaderns/Cuadernos Psicologia 8,2:139-54

[2] Hernandez-Martinez, J. (1984) Analisis descriptivo de la conducta sexual del adolescente Murciano, Actas Luso Espanolas Neurol, Psiquia & Ciencias Afines 12,2:153-61

[3] López Sánchez, F. (2001) Intervención en la sexualidad infantil y adolescente, Boletín de la Sociedad de Pediatría de Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla & León 41(177):275-89

[4] “the frequency of masturbation is much greater than is usually believed, as much in boys as in girls, although the sources are not very precise [on this point]. In a recent study (Lopez, Guijo, Of the Field and Palomo, 1997) in which we used three sources of information- parents, teachers and young people, confined to the 11 first years of life-, we found that: a) 28% of the young people remember having masturbated with the hand and 16% with an object. b) parents observed in 13% of the children manual masturbation and in 5% with an object. c) educators observed in 20% of the students manual masturbation and in 8% with an object. Other investigations point in the same direction. These conducts have a clear sexual meaning for the children insofar as 5% of them claim to have experienced orgasm prepubertally [... ] the parents and educators affirm to have observed games of sexual content in approximately 80% of the minors” [DJ].

[5] López, F., Campo, A. del & Guijo, V. (nd/1997?) Sexualidad Prepuberal. Unpaged paper received from author 141102. From an additionally received translation, López, F., Campo, A. del & Guijo, V. (nd/1997?) Prepuberal Sexuality. Paged paper received from author 141102

[6] Barkley, B. H. & Mosher, E. S. (1995) Sexuality and Hispanic culture: Counselling with children and their parents, J Sex Educ & Ther 21,4:255-67

[7] Perdiguero Gil, E. & González de Pablo, A. (1990) Los valores morales de la higiene: el concepto de onanismo como enfermedad segun tissot y su tardia penetracion en España, Dynamis [Spain] 10:131-62. See also Cleminson, R. (2000) From the solitary vice to “the rehabilitation of onanism”: changing anarchist discourses on masturbation in Spain in the early twentieth century, Anarchist Stud 8,2:119-32

[8] Mitchell, T. (1998) Betrayal of the Innocents. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

[9] Nieto, J. A. et al. (1997) Spain, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum, Vol. III. Quoted from the online edition

[10] Thurén, B. (1988) Left Hand Left Behind. Diss., University of Stockholm

[11] Glick, Th. F. (1982) The Naked Science: Psychoanalysis in Spain, 1914-1948, Comparat Studies Soc & Hist 24, 4:533-71, citing Marañón (1968-77) Obras Completas. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe. Vol. III, p171

[12] Cited by Glick (1982:p555), op.cit.

[13] Sueiro, E., Dieguez, J. L. & Gonzalez, A. (1998) Jovenes que realizan estudios universitarios: salud sexual y reproductiva, Aten Primaria 31;21,5:283-8

[14] Hidalgo, I., Garrido, G. & Hernandez, M. (2000) Health status and risk behavior of adolescents in the north of Madrid, Spain, J Adolesc Health 27,5:351-60

[15] Parera, N. & Suris, J. C. (1997) Sexuality and contraception in adolescents from Barcelona, Spain, J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol 10,3:153-7

[16] Samson, J. M., Levy, J. J., Lopez, F., Picod-Bernard, C. & Maticka-Tyndale, E. (1993) [Sexual attitudes and scenarios among students in France, Quebec, and Spain], Contracept Fertil Sex 21,4:325-32

[17] Thuren, B.M. (1994) Opening Doors and Getting Rid of Shame: Experiences of First Menstruation in Valencia, Spain, Women’s Stud Int Forum 17,2-3:217-28

[18] Barbera, E. & Navarro, E. (2000) La construccion de la sexualidad en la adolescencia, Rev Psicol Social  Aplic 15,1:63-75