Growing Up Sexually


TRUKESE, Chuuk (Truk) (3-,3-,3+,3+,2-,2-;9,9;AF) (eHRAF) (Eastern Caroline Islands; Micronesia)

IndexPacificsMicronesiaCaroline Islands Trukese





“The Truk children are merry little people and often quite pretty to see, with their black locks, aside from the necessary dirt, of course”, says Bollig (1927:p96)[1], a Capuchin missionary. However:


“Unfortunately the Truk children lack something which makes our [Western] children so attractive and that is innocence, guilelessness. The native children are well informed. There are no secrets before them. They hear so much dirt in the conversations of the adults and see so much with their own eyes that one should not be surprised. Their conversations often revolve around the same material as those of the adults. Fortunately through their whole way of life the sexual, the naked, is as natural to them as eating and drinking. It does not excite them. Therefore most of them are nevertheless good. When they reach puberty, to be sure, many, if not all, are morally depraved. The parents do nothing about it, and what are they to do? This is indeed Truk custom” (ibid., p97).



Early childhood betrothal and age-asymmetric marriage has already been mentioned. Thus, (Bollig, 1927:p93) “[n]icht selten heiraten Erwachsene Männer Mädchen, die noch nicht geschlechtsreif sind und verkehren auch mit ihnen”. Damm and Sarfert (1935:p153)[2], on the Chuuk [Truk]: “Dem Geschlechtstrieb, der sich sehr frühzeitig einstelt, wird bereits in jungen Jahren stark gehuldigt. Bestimmte Grenzen scheinen dabei nicht zu bestehen […]”.


The Trukese do not consider sexual maturity to be reached gradually, Gladwin writes; “in their view, at puberty as culturally defined (or actually slightly before) the person is capable of a sexual role as complete as he will ever achieve and is expected to begin at once to fulfil this role” (Gladwin).


The Truk are known to apply menopoetic meaning to coitarche (Fisher, 1950:p26[3]; Fischer, 1963:p531[4]; Gladwin and Sarason, 1953:p100[5]; Swartz, 1958:p467-8[6]). Swartz (1958:p467-8):


“The first sex experience for a boy is not said to produce any physiological change. However, girls are believed to begin menstruating and/or developing breasts only after their first coitus. Informants did not agree on this: some said that when a girl’s breasts begin to develop it is then known by all that she has had sexual relations. Others said that both the onset of menstruation and the development of the breasts are due to coitus. One rather sophisticated informant suggested that men only get interested in girls when the breasts begin to develop, that perhaps both would begin without copulation, but that “we Trukese are bad and when we see a girl is almost a young woman, we want to have intercourse with her. […] Some informants say that preadolescent children would get sick if they engaged in sexual activity. Others said that boys “just did not start to think of women until they were almost young men”. Sex play was not observed in children’s groups, although boys in the 10- to 13-year-old age range were sometimes heard laughingly to accuse each other of masturbation” ”.



[To contest the biosophy in case of girls, Goodenough (1949:p615)[7], who has few words on childhood, stated that “[a]ll informants agree that girls normally start having intercourse when, at the age of fourteen, their breasts become fairly well developed. The initial sexual experiences of boys occur at a somewhat later age, between the ages of sixteen and seventeen”. Another source told Ford and Beach (1951:p181)[8] that in Trukese society, “children play at intercourse at an early age, although their parents will beat them if they are caught].

Gladwin and Sarason (1953:p89)[9] noted that the Truk vigorously battled masturbation.


“While idle fingering of the genitals is not stopped until the child can talk, active masturbation begins to be discouraged even before this time. Once the child is felt to be able to understand any such activity is dealt with severely. Heterosexual experimentation does not begin until later, probably not until shortly before puberty. It appears that most children of this age have experimented to some degree, but not many are caught at it. When they are they are disciplined but it is important to note that the reason given is not that it is inherently bad; rather it is not good for a child and will make him sick. The child is told to wait until he has reached puberty and then it will be all right”[10].




“[…] it appears that for several years they undertake little or no heterosexual experimentation of their own. Masturbation would of course be expected to be driven “underground” by parental censure, and we can make no estimate of the degree to which it is practised. However, even among children such self-stimulation evokes ridicule and since a child is seldom alone we are probably safe in saying that sexual activity is at a low level during the middle years of childhood- a lower level than it will again attain until real old age. During the two or three years which precede puberty, however, and possibly before, heterosexual activity of a limited sort does begin in spite of parental warnings. This probably results from the increasing contact of older children with young adolescents who, although considered mature sexually, are embracing this activity only tentatively. While such behavior even in late childhood continues to be disapproved it appears that parents actually expect their children to disregard their admonitions when the opportunity presents itself […]. Although it appears fairly certain that actual sexual intercourse takes place shortly before physiological puberty, at least in girls, we have already noted that several years prior to this time most children undertake at least some heterosexual experimentation, usually consisting in the boy putting his finger in and manipulating the girl’s genitals (p253)”.




“In our society sex is often explained to the child (frequently when he has been caught experimenting and punished) as “dirty”, or he is told it will make him sick, or even crazy. He gains the impression that sex is inherently bad and dangerous. The Trukese, on the other hand, also tell their children sexual activity will make them sick, but only because they are still too young for it. They thus do not get the impression that sex is inherently bad and, as adults, in spite of the overevaluation and anxiety attached to sexual activity from other sources, show no signs of real impotence or frigidity. An example from our society of this type of restriction might be the driving of automobiles: we do not let our children drive because they are too small, but we do not tell them it is an essentially wicked activity; when they grow old enough to drive they learn to do so without any difficulty and, whether they are actually good drivers or not, are seldom troubled by any real anxiety over their competence on this score, in spite of the great economic, social and functional importance of driving a car” (p253).


The masturbation attitude of the Trukese is remarkable, since they are reported to masturbate their infants themselves (Gladwin and Sarason, 1953:p75, 257[11]; Stephens, 1971:p407[12]; Broude, 1995[13])[14].

Goodenough (1951)[15]:


“In aboriginal times such a [marriage by] purchase was often made for a girl under puberty, though the marriage was not consummated until after she had reached puberty. Old men used it as a technique for getting young brides. Informants reported that this type of marriage has always been in disfavor”.


Fischer (1961)[16]:


“No doubt increased sexual interest at puberty can interfere with scholastic achievement in large urbanized societies as well. The point to be noted here is that Trukese culture maximized this interference by regarding early sexual activity as normal and healthy, whereas modern European cultures would tend to limit heterosexual contact and stigmatize sexual intercourse immediately upon reaching puberty as precocious and unhealthy”.




“Sexual intercourse is also offered as an explanation for illness in some of the branches of the spirit power “massage”. Indeed, people are often treated with massage for strains, sprains and other muscular aches and pains thought to be due to too vigorous sexual activities. Here, too, however, this theory is used as an important control over sexual behavior, particularly, in this case, to restrain and to postpone the exploratory behavior of preadolescents. Young people are often warned about the possibility that something may go wrong with their bodies if they engage in sexual activities before they are considered old enough. (Since Trukese believe that first menstruation is brought on by inter-course, young people are not required to wait too long)”.











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

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Bollig, P. L. (1927) The Inhabitants of the Truk Islands: Religion, Life and a Short Grammar of a Micronesian People. Munster i W.: Aschendorff

[2] Damm, H. & Sarfert, E. (1935) Truk, in Thilenius, G. (Ed.) Ergebnisse der Südsee-Epedition 1908-1910. Hamburch, Friederichsen. Vol. 6, 2nd halfvol., p153

[3] Fisher, A. M. (1950) The Role of Trukese Mother and its Effect on Child Rearing. Washington, D.C.: Pacific Science Board

[4] Fischer, A. (1963) Reproduction in Truk, Ethnology 2:526-40, p531: “There is some contradictory evidence regarding beliefs about menstruation. Most informants reported that menstruation begins at about sixteen years of age, but some stated that it can begin as early as fourteen. The first menstruation is thought to be the result of having sexual intercourse. One informant began to menstruate the morning after a man had come to her, but she admitted that as a child she had intercourse with a small boy without the same result. An informant pointed to a child with menstrual blood on the back of her dress and said she must be having an affair, but the child, when asked, said that she was too young to have affairs”.

[5] Gladwin, Th. & Sarason, S. B. (1953) Truk: Man in Paradise. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

[6] Swartz, M. J. (1958) Sexuality and aggression on Romonum, Truk, Am Anthropol 60:467-86

[7] Goodenough, W. H. (1949) Premarital freedom on Truk: Theory and Practice, Am Anthropol 51:615-20

[8] Op.cit.

[9] Op.cit.

[10] “Older men not infrequently perform cunnilingus on preadolescent girls; both are said to enjoy this, the men because it is their only sexual outlet and the girls because it is so gentle” (p115), while the elder use dogs for the same behaviour directed on themselves. “Both of these practices are referred to with tolerant amusement over the dilemma of these old people who have to resort to such devices in order to obtain sexual satisfaction”.

[11] Op.cit.

[12] Stephens, W. N. (1971) A cross-cultural study of modesty and obscenity, in Technical Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Washington, US: Government printing office. Vol. 9, p405-51

[13] Broude, G. J. (1995) Growing Up: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO

[14] An overview of contributors on the matter is also provided by Mahony, F. J. ([1971]) A Trukese Theory of Medicine. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms

[15] Goodenough, W. H. (1951) Property, Kin, and Community on Truk. New Haven: Published for Dept. of Anthropology, YaleUniversity

[16] Fischer, J. L. (1961) The Japanese schools for the natives of Truk, Caroline Islands, Human Organization, 83-8