Some bdsm-related reasons why hitting children is a bad idea 6: Children interpret spanking

All humans have some ability to turn pain and submission, or the giving of pain and the taking of submission, into sex. It’s part of a genetic and behavioural pattern we share with the other homo or pan species.*

It’s got survival and genetic advantages. If you can turn fighting into fucking through a dominance/submission ritual, you’re less likely to get killed or damaged. And having an extra pathway for sex means you’re likely to have more sex and more partners, with better chances of passing on your genes. 

There’s no such thing as “a bdsm gene”. But there seem to be a number of genes that in combination make certain people readier than others to perceive certain experiences as sexual and to respond accordingly. 

Childhood spankings are about the most most blatant of those experiences.

images-2The sexual triggers include being held close to an adult’s sexually mature body, and the way the over-the-knee spanking position places the child’s genitals in close proximity to the adult’s genitals.

The misconduct that provoked the spanking may have been exciting (and may have involved sexual exploration) so that the spanking becomes part of the same excitingly “naughty” experience.

When a child is forced to present his or her bottom (even if clothed) to an adult, as part of the spanking, the child can read this as an indication that this is a “rude” event, allowing them to feel sexual about it. Children are likely to experience an adult’s attention to their buttocks as sexual regardless of the adult’s perception or intentions.

About five per cent of children, or one in twenty, are particularly likely to do so.


That footnote

Hands across the genus: bonobo and human hand

Hands across the genus: bonobo and human hand

*  Humans, chimps and bonobos are all in the same genus. Their part of the genus is called “pan” while we’re the only member of the “homo” genus. Really we should be re-classified as “pan sapiens”, or they should be re-classified as “homo”. There are three reasons why this change hasn’t happened yet:

  • It’s historical. Just how closely they’re related to us wasn’t fully understood until the second half of the 20th century;
  • Human ego. We want to be unique, called “homo sapiens sapiens”, and not too obviously linked to our hairier brothers and sisters;
  • If we admitted how far the human species is from being unique, it’d drive all the creationists nuts, especially the US ones, and when science is under attack on all fronts that fight isn’t worth having.

Some bdsm-related reasons why hitting children is a bad idea 5: The school setting

It’s not just that hitting a child or young person’s buttocks pumps blood to their genitals. That’s a powerful sexual signal, and we’ll come to that in the next couple of posts. But there are also things about the setting of schools, especially “strict” or authoritarian schools, that make it easy for children or young people to sexualise things that happen to them in that setting. 

For many children in the English-speaking world, school is their first experience of an organization that runs on dominant and submissive hierarchies. It’s also their first experience of a relationship with a dominant figure who is not a parent or older sibling, but an unrelated adult who may be quite young and attractive.

Authoritarian schools place children in a setting not too different from a classic bdsm scenario. (You could also say that some bdsm scenarios draw heavily on the authoritarian school experience, but in fact it doesn’t make much difference.)

hand-ruler-childDressed in uniform or according to a dress code intended to stress their non-adult and subordinate status, they must obey orders, restrict their body movements, address the teacher respectfully, and present themselves submissively for verbal humiliation.

They must also remain in detention rooms (a harbinger, in its way, of the bondage experience), and in some schools, for example in the southern and mid-West United States and in Saudi Arabia, present their hands or buttocks to be beaten by a teacher or other official.

So the issue isn’t just of the flow of body fluids. It’s also a matter of the flow of the ritual of child-beating, and the way the institution itself affects people’s behaviour, and their interpretation of what they do and what others do to them.

Leaving aside the evidence connecting corporal punishment with later violent offending, it’s not good for adults to hit children in a ritualized setting, with deliberation, using an object specifically designed and manufactured to hurt children, with the adult using their institutional power to force the child to cooperate in their own beating.

I mean, how could that possibly have anything to do with bdsm?

Some bdsm-related reasons why hitting children is a bad idea 4: Abuse and anger

Adults who spank children usually believe they’re behaving responsibly. Most certainly don’t believe that they are acting sexually, either from their own or the child’s perspective.

Suggestions to the contrary can enrage people, like the PJMedia people who called Jillian Keenan a pervert, a weirdo and so on. She’s “that disgusting woman” on a Christian right site for people who passionately like the idea of children being beaten, so long as they’re sure no one’s enjoying it. They call the site “Bring Back the Rod”, which sounds incredibly like a porn site, but isn’t. They don’t have any sense of irony, but they make up for that in anger. 

See? Jesus spanks little girls bare-bottomed, and there's nothing weird about the Lord! (From US Christian right pamphlet)

See? Jesus prefers to  spank little girls with their pants down, and there’s nothing weird about the Lord! My sweet saviour is not a pervert!”  (Illustration from US Christian right pamphlet)

The anger that’s tied in with denial is understandable, in a way. There’s huge cultural and emotional investment in child-beating, reinforced, in many cases, by religion.

Most people who beat their own children, or who support the idea of their and other people’s children being beaten in schools, had parents who beat them, or allowed their school to do it.  

So pointing out the sexually abusive aspect can seem like an attack on their parents.

Worse, once a parent has beaten a child, that parent will find information about the sexual aspects of “punishment” incredibly confronting. They have strong feelings about child molesters, and they don’t like to think of themselves shading into that group.

On my side, my feelings about any adult who hits a child with a strap or piece of wood or bamboo tend to start with anger. And contempt. And get stronger from there. 

And yet, it’s not helpful to think about this in solely emotional terms. Most, as in more than half, of physical assaults on children are not perceived as sexual by either the child or the adult. I think that people who hit children are wrong for a number of reasons, but in most cases they’re not “abusive” in the tabloid media sense.

In most cases the adult didn’t touch the child sexually, or rather, they didn’t understand that they were touching the child sexually when they held his or her body to theirs and touched their buttocks, and they didn’t knowingly make any sexual suggestions to the child. 

So, most of the time, the job is to educate people, not to shame them. 

Some bdsm-related reasons why hitting children is a bad idea 3: sex fantasy and reality

Today’s post was planned to be about why so-called “corporal punishment” is unethical. But I’ve decided to leave that argument till later.

You can think this looks like they're having fun...

You can think this looks like they’re having sexy  fun…

This post is about sex fantasy and reality, and how they do and don’t overlap.

I’m writing this series on child-beating in schools and in the home, and at the same time I’m writing a “bad headmaster/naughty schoolgirl” sex scenario. I’m doing it for my lover and for Wicked Wednesday.

He said, nobly.  

I considered having these two series a little further apart, but I decided they complement each other. Because “it’s a sexy scenario” is relevant to both series.

The actions and the symbolic interaction between an adult and a child or young person have some very powerful sexual messages and signals for both parties.That’s unavoidably true, and it’s a key reason why beating of children and young people, at school or in the home, should not be accepted or legal.

So “it’s sexy” is a good reason for having and enjoying the scenario as fantasy or play for consenting adults, and it’s a key reason why so-called “corporal punishment” should never, ever happen with real, non-consenting children or young people. 

I started writing the schoolgirl fantasy because my lover wrote a schoolgirl fantasy, and we thought it’d be a good idea if I wrote roughly the same story, but from the headmaster’s point of view. 

I made a few concessions, but even so I’m finding it quite hard to write. There’s a reason schoolgirl spanking stories are usually told from the POV of the schoolgirl. She’s an innocent, and she’s being swept along, having a sexy time. That’s easy.

But when you imagine and write the headmaster POV, you have to acknowledge just how dark that POV has to be, for him to do what he does.

The concessions I made include that my heroine, Jennifer Perch, is over the age of consent, and she does lust after Mr Beecham, the headmaster. That wouldn’t help the headmaster in a prosecution, and nor should it, but it makes  him more tolerable as a story character. There’s some mutuality going on.

As well, the headmaster has moments where he reveals that he doesn’t just desire Jennifer, he also wants to do what’s best for her. Though his ideas of “what’s best” wouldn’t stand up in a courthouse, either, and nor should they.

Ans support outlawing child or young person beating in schools and at home.

And still support outlawing child or young person beating in schools and at home.

Still, as a passionate opponent of beating children and young people, so-called “corporal punishment”, in schools and in the family, I don’t have a problem with making the forbidden and dark aspects of the fantasy sexy.

As sexy as I can, even. 

The uniform, the authoritarian aspects of it, the shifting balance of power and meaning all help to make the fantasy sexy. And little pleated skirts are sexy. Period.

It’ll still be a sexy scenario when all assaults on children and young people are outlawed.

Similarly, I doubt if there are many French maids called “Fifi” left in the real world, who get spanked and inevitably fucked because they broke their employer’s best vase and tried to hide it. If you have a maid, and she happens to be French, and if you lay a hand on her because she broke something, you’d make a court appearance and the front pages. But the French maid game, ooh la la, donne-moi une fessée, s’il te plait, M’sieur, will always be sexy even as reality drifts farther and farther away from it.

So, “it’s sexy” is true. It’s hot in sex play and in fantasy and that fact is damn confronting to people who argue against the abolition of so-called “corporal punishment”. Their discomfort is telling, and it’s well-earned. 

Jennifer’s pleats and pleas is, among other things, a pair of fingers waved in their general direction.


Some bdsm-related reasons why hitting children is wrong 2

There hasn’t been much research on whether children get turned on by being spanked.

It’s not a research project you’d ever get past a university ethics committee, and no private research company would touch it because it’s one of those things that a lot of people don’t want to know. 

Ah, the Folsom Street Fair. And a woman dressed as a schoolgirl getting the cane. A memory for some and a fantasy for others.

Ah, the Folsom Street Fair. And a woman dressed as a schoolgirl getting the cane. A memory for some becomes a fantasy for others.

Still, a survey taken among participants in a California-based bdsm community (in 1979) found that nearly one in five of them remembered having been sexually aroused by one or more spankings they’d received as children. 

So it’s not a question of, “is there a danger that in spanking or paddling children, they may find that it turns them on sexually?” We know that that happens, for a significant minority of people. 

So the question we should be asking now (apart from asking someone to up-date that 1979 research), is not a factual one but an ethical one:

Is it right to impose a form of adult sexuality on non-consenting children?

And: does it make any difference if the adult concerned is unaware of the child’s possible sexual response to the spanking they’re experiencing, or the adult is in denial about it?

We’ll talk ethics in the next post in this series. Then we’ll start looking about the mechanisms: why is school or home beating of children likely to become sexual for some children, regardless of the adults’ intentions?

By the way, that this isn’t an argument that attraction to bdsm is”caused” by childhood beatings. It’s more that, for a significant minority of people, a beating experienced in childhood is their first experience of sexual arousal in a bdsm context.

In fact we know, because of the two Australian Surveys on Health and Relationships, that people who’ve taken part in bdsm activities in the past year are no more likely to have experienced childhood sexual coercion than anybody else, and they have the same mental and physical health as everybody else. 

There won’t be fewer people attracted to bdsm if we make homes and schools safer environments for children. The question here is the ethical one, that is: Is it right to impose a form of adult sexuality on non-consenting children?