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The Sex Life of Tadpoles


Giving a speech at a conference on sexual abuse, I was asked if prepubescent girls and boys can, especially after a sexual assault, masturbate to orgasm, alone, independently.

It’s a known fact that males can be sexually excited even when they are forced to have sex. I also know that prepubescent boys can experience an orgasm—a dry cum—before they have sexually matured, before they produce semen.

In my office patients have confided this fact sometimes without any history of sexual abuse. They had somehow discovered masturbation to climax independently, usually accompanied or preceded by a desire to pleasure themselves without a fantasy of any sexual relationship with someone.

So why has “nature” provided for this premature predisposition?

Freud was been both credited and criticized for introducing the concept of libido as arriving with birth, that libido was a driving force toward life, to seeking pleasure which was directly chained to feeding, to reproduction, and to socially salient productivity. “Love, work and play” were in Freud’s words the central manifestation of libido, the driving life principle.

 

“Nowadays masturbation is an accepted, universal practice of post-puberty males and females.”

 

And he wrote of unearthing sexual desire in the early memories and current dreams of his analytic patients. Indeed, psychoanalysis was born out of this search for the driving force behind present day symptoms, for origins that emerged out of free association, the spontaneous, uncensored, verbal outpourings that Freud encouraged as he sat silent and out of sight. This process of free association was, according to Freud, the key to unlocking unconscious thoughts, suppressed memories, the revelations of early libidinal urgings, early sexual desire.

Masturbation had long been obviously observed in boys, and probably girls, and gave birth to the idea – strongly advocated in the repressive 19th century – that habitual masturbation leads to mental illness, especially neurasthenia. Middle class women were believed to be incapable of orgasm and sexual pleasure and, denied its fulfillment, often fell ill to the condition of neurasthenia, a form of chronic low-level depression, listlessness, lack of motivation, pessimism. Male masturbation, by depleting the male element of forcefulness and virility (semen) was therefore thought to make men prone to suffer neurasthenia as well.

As everyone  knows now, the electric vibrator, when first applied to a woman’s vulva in 1885, induced orgasm which seemed to cure women of symptoms of so-diagnosed neurasthenia. When the direct cause-and-effect relationship between vibrator and orgasm was finally exposed (apparently through very early porn movies) the medical use of the vibrator, along with its spurious rationale, vanished.

The origin of childhood sexual arousal was initially laid to early sexual abuse by Freud who, facing professional ostracism for this claim, re-directed his theorizing to a more general theory of sexual arousal arising de novo in childhood as a normal course of development, its recollection repressed by the ego and thereafter domiciled in the unconscious. Free association and dreams allowed that memory to surface even if disguised by the mental process of displacement.

Nowadays masturbation is an accepted, universal practice of post-puberty males and females. The burgeoning online porn industry and even sexually explicit dating sites depend on masturbation as client motivation. But all of them require (though do not verify) that viewers avow their age to be over 18.

Where does this leave the pre-pubescent children now so frequently exposed to almost explicit sexual agents (images, books, articles, video, movies) and often able to access frankly porn sites by by-passing parental or on-site bans? What would Freud recommend?

We might wonder if early sexual arousal, especially spelled out through media, increases a child’s risk of succumbing to a predator or, perhaps worse, of acting out behaviors learned through media, even with an age peer. If prepubescent boys and girls are capable physiologically of sexual arousal and orgasm, what’s to prevent them from acting them out, trying “it” out?

Is that healthy? Most of us would turn away and forbid it. Most of us would regard early age sex as an incipient destroyer of childhood. Not just of innocence but of a child’s usual occupation with education and play—learning to manipulate and explore non-corporeal objects, developing impassioned skills in music, sports, dance, even literature.

Freud championed sublimation as the key to creativity, to cultural development, to producing and maintaining civilization. Play is surely key to the initiation of that process. It is probably why most cultures shield its offspring from sex before maturation. That boundary is in itself a libidinous limit.

So, let the tadpoles swim and gambol and play until its time to quit the water and grow up.

2 comments on The Sex Life of Tadpoles

  1. Ken Eatherly says:

    Seems we must constantly be asking society (as it is construed at the moment) about which parts or functions of our bodies we are permitted to enjoy.
    Your analysis is enlightening.

    1. Murray Schane says:

      It’s good to enlighten.

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