The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
By Tom Johnson
It is a disgusting and slavish treatment which
would certainly be regarded as an insult if it were inflicted on
adults... And consider how shameful, how dangerous to modesty are the
effects produced by the pain or fear of the victims. This feeling of
shame cripples and unmans the spirit, making it flee from and detest
the light of day...
Quintilian, A.D. 35-95
But what you would not so readily believe upon
my affirmation, was that there are persons who are stimulated to venery
by strokes of rods, and worked up into a flame of lust by blows... A
strange instance what a power the force of education has in grafting
inveterate ill habits on our morals...
Johann Heinrich Meibom, physician, 1629
Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children was
published in 1994
and last revised in August 2002. Copyright is waived on this
publication and it may be freely reproduced and disseminated. For
readers' convenience, a PDF version of this publication may be viewed
and downloaded at www.nospank.net/sdsc.pdf.
For further information about corporal punishment of children, visit www.nospank.net and, for information
specifically about its sexual implications, visit www.nospank.net/101.htm.
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education is a 501(c)(3)
nonprofit organization. Direct all inquiries to PTAVE, P.O. Box 1033,
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or call (925) 831-1661.
Spanking, defined as slapping of the buttocks, is a form of
hitting and thus of physical violence. That fact alone should make the
spanking of children unacceptable by the same standards that protect
adults, who are not as vulnerable. However, there is more to spanking
than simply hitting: spanking also trespasses on one of the body's most
private and sexual areas--the buttocks. To fully address the wrongness
of spanking children, therefore, we must consider not only the issue of
physical violence, but also the issue of sexual trespass. While the
harm of spanking's physical violence has been thoroughly explained and
demonstrated over the past century in a vast body of academic
literature, scientific research, legal treatises, and relatively
recently in the popular media, it is quite rare that the sexual
consequences of spanking are openly and seriously discussed. This
pamphlet aims to raise public awareness about the sexual aspects which
make spanking an especially inappropriate and even dangerous way of
disciplining children, whether it is done by parents, educators or
other caretakers. While this pamphlet focuses on "spanking," the most
seemingly benign form of physical punishment, the arguments raised
herein apply equally to paddling, switching, caning, strapping, or any
other mode of forcible buttock-beating.
Buttocks are a sexual zone
Like women's breasts, the buttocks are a sexual or erogenous part of
the human anatomy, even though they are not actually sex organs. This
is why baring one's buttocks in public is considered indecent as well
as unlawful and why their exposure in movies or on television
constitutes nudity. It is also why someone who uninvitedly fondles
another person's buttocks is treated by law as a sexual offender. The
sexual nature of the buttocks is explained not only by their proximity
to the genitals, but also by their high concentration of nerve endings
which lead directly to sexual nerve centers. Hence, the buttocks are a
major locus of sexual signals.
Children are sexual beings
The sexuality of the buttocks is significant not just to adults, but to
children as well. Even though they are sexually immature and without an
active sex drive, children are from birth neurologically complete
sexual beings who are capable of experiencing erotic sensation. The
existence of pedophiles, furthermore, means that children can also
become the targets of sexual intentions. As much as we might like to
imagine childhood as an innocent, carefree world beyond the influence
of sexuality, we do children a disservice if we fail to recognize that
they too have erogenous zones which deserve consideration and respect.
Spanking as sexual violation
Since children are sexual beings and since the buttocks are a sexual
region of the body, we should question the propriety of slapping
children's buttocks. We generally understand that fondling or caressing
a child's buttocks is a sexual offense (even if the child does not
understand it to be so). We also know that slapping an adult's buttocks
is a sexual offense (even if the offender does not get sexual pleasure
from doing so).
The question, then, is why slapping a child's buttocks is not
considered a sexual offense. Is it because spanking, unlike fondling,
is physically painful and used to punish misbehavior? No, or painfully
spanking a misbehaving adult would not be a sexual offense. Is it
because children are less likely to be sexual targets than adults, less
likely to feel violated, and therefore protected less strictly? No, or
fondling an adult would be a far more serious crime than fondling a
child. A more plausible explanation for this breach of logic is simply
that the majority of people are unable or unwilling to believe there
could be anything indecent about a practice as old, common and accepted
as the spanking of children--something which nearly everyone has
received, given or witnessed at least once. And since spankings
typically come from esteemed or even beloved authority figures, many
people are loath to question this behavior.
In any case, freedom from sexual violation is one of the basic
tenets of liberty most revered by Americans and by most of the free
world. As this principle of inviolacy applies to adults, it should
apply equally, if not especially, to children, who are below the age of
consent. Spanking children may be a time-honored tradition, but any
tradition that so gratuitously disregards their inviolacy deserves to
Some argue that spanking is justified or even commanded by the
Bible, specifically the Book of Proverbs. There is a distinction,
however, which should be of key interest to fundamentalists, between
the practice in King Solomon's day of beating people on the back and
the modern American habit of buttocks-hitting: the latter is not
prescribed anywhere in the Bible. Moreover, it should be kept in mind
that the Old Testament contains passages which could be (and in some
cases have been) construed as divine endorsements of wife-beating,
racial warfare, slavery, the stoning to death of rebellious children
and other behaviors that are outrageous by today's standards. As
Shakespeare once wrote, "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."
Spanking as sexual abuse
As in ages past, there are people today who are sexually excited by
spanking. This trait, which is often expressed in pornography and
associated with sadomasochism, is known in scientific literature as
flagellantism. While many flagellants seek to engage in consensual
spanking between adults, some find the spanking of minors to be either
more arousing or more opportune.
Since children in this country up to eighteen years old can
still be legally and forcibly spanked by parents, guardians, teachers,
school principals and other child care professionals, it is often easy
for flagellants to obtain positions where they can sexually abuse
children with little or no fear of repercussions. As long as society
sees spanking as a legitimate act of discipline, and as long as the
spanked youths are presumed to have "deserved" it, sexually abusive
spankers have an effective moralistic disguise for their true motives.
History, court records and current events contain numerous cases of
flagellant sexual abuse against defenseless victims, and there is no
telling how many instances have gone unreported.
Some adults might rationalize: "Well, I know my intentions are
purely nonsexual, so there's nothing wrong with my spanking a child."
The main problem with this rationale is that it fails to consider all
the children who are at the mercy of other adults, among whom there
will always be some with motives that are not so pure - and not
necessarily obvious. Even spankings that have no sexual motive
contribute to the cover that sexually abusive spankers depend on,
affirming the old alibi: "Hey, lots of people spank their kids. So
what's the big deal?"
Spanking and psychosexual development
Even without sexual motives on the part of the punisher, spanking can
interfere with a child's normal sexual and psychological development.
Because the buttocks are so close to the genitals and so multiply
linked to sexual nerve centers, slapping them can trigger powerful and
involuntary sensations of sexual pleasure. This can happen even in very
young children, and even in spite of great, clearly upsetting pain.
This kind of sexual stimulation, which undermines any
disciplinary purpose and which most people would agree is unsuitable
for children in any context, can cause a child to impressionably attach
his or her sexuality to the idea of spanking. This fixation may endure
to cause problems in adult life. Or, on the other hand, the child might
react against these unseemly feelings of pleasure by repressing his or
her sexuality, so much perhaps that as an adult, he or she has
difficulty experiencing sexual pleasure and intimacy.
An additional danger is that the confusing mixture of pleasure
with pain will become the basis for permanent sadomasochistic
tendencies. Sadomasochism, in which a person takes pleasure in
inflicting or receiving pain, drives behavior that is destructive to
oneself and to others, and therefore to society at large. While the
intensity and background of individuals' sadomasochism varies widely,
the great majority of studied cases point to the same primary cause:
childhood whippings, usually on the buttocks.
The odds that spanking a child will lead to psychosexual
aberrations would be difficult to calculate. However, the fact that
there is any chance of these problems occurring should be reason enough
to abandon the practice. (It is important to note that even children
who are never spanked themselves can be negatively impacted by seeing
other children punished this way.) The risks are completely
Spanking and modesty
Imagine your reaction if an authority figure, having discovered some
misdeed of yours, pinned you across his lap and began slapping your
buttocks. Painfulness aside, most people would consider this a rude,
inexcusable assault on their modesty, no matter what they had done to
Many people might assume that children, especially very young
children, are too ignorant or naive to feel such indignity, or perhaps
too impressed by the physical pain of spanking to care about much else.
The truth is, however, that spanking can seriously injure a child's
sense of modesty. When a child is old enough to be told by adults to
act modestly (which is not merely a social requirement, but also a wise
precaution against potential child molesters), that child is likely to
internalize and develop modesty as a personal value that will increase
with age. This value persists even though the child might lapse into
immodest behavior from time to time, as most children do. Consequently,
the child whose buttocks are slapped may experience deep and lasting
sexual shame, especially if the punishment is done in front of others
or involves a state of undress. Actually, there are some adults who
consciously emphasize this humiliation as part of the punishment (and
some, for that matter, who do not limit spanking to younger children or
even to preteens). But just as inflicting sexual shame is an
unthinkable punishment for adults in any civilized society, it is
surely an outrageous way to treat children.
It is a strange inconsistency, furthermore, for adults to
exhort children to modesty while punishing them in a way that
aggressively denies their modesty and privacy. Such mixed messages tend
to confuse children or make them skeptical toward adult authority.
Especially if adults hope to instill children with strong values of
modesty, self-respect, and respect for others -- values that become
very important through the trials of puberty and adolescence -- adults
should teach by example and refrain from the disrespectful practice of
It is not disputed that spanking has a sexual side as well as a
punitive side. Indeed, our popular culture and media suggest there is
wide awareness of this fact, however unspoken. Society has nonetheless
failed to squarely address the serious implications of spanking's
punitive/sexual duality. Considering the power of sex to corrupt, along
with the coercive nature of punishment, we should be alarmed at the
very idea of discipline through spanking - all the more so when it is
directed at a group of people as powerless, fragile and unsuspecting as
"Spanking on the buttocks can produce definitely erotic
including sexual orgasm, in some children. Some of these children have
been known to cause themselves to be spanked, by misconducting
themselves on purpose and by pretending distress while receiving the
desired `punishment'... The frequency with which this happens is not
known, although it may not be altogether rare... The spankings in these
cases may have been given for the adult's own perverted gratification
(`sadism'); or at least there might have been culpable awareness and
toleration of the child's sexual reaction on the part of the adult.
...Only some decades ago perverts masquerading as governesses or tutors
were reportedly anything but rare in some European countries."
J. F. Oliven, M.D. Sexual Hygiene and Pathology
"In many cases, the avowed disciplinary value of flagellation
in schools and colleges was a mere pretense to enable sadists to secure
George Ryley Scott, historian, sociologist,
anthropologist. The History of Corporal Punishment (1938)
"When a child is hit on the buttocks... [t]his kind of violent
touch can be sexualized in the child's mind not only because of a real
flow of blood into the genitalia, but also because of a longing for
intimacy with the parent: if painful physical touch is the only
fulfillment of that longing, then this can "feel good."
Shere Hite, sex researcher, sociopsychologist. The
Hite Report on the Family (1995)
"These are the realities that most of us remain eager to
deny... So long as children are beaten by adults, the obsessions with
domination and submission, with power and authority, with shame and
humiliation, with painful pleasure - all hallmarks of sadomasochism -
will remain an enduring consequence of the ordinary violence and
coercion done in the name of discipline... Sadomasochism is not an
aberration; it is inherent in corporal punishment..."
Philip Greven, professor of history. Spare the Child
"I have had constantly to do with neurotics in whom sadistic
feelings were first aroused by corporal punishment; after the sadistic
impulse thus awakened has been repressed and forms the starting points
of very malignant aberrations about which it would be very disingenuous
to aver that they would have developed without the free use of the
rod... The number of those who are harmed through beating, especially
upon the buttocks, is undoubtedly very great... Even one who
passionately contemns sexuality will hardly be inclined to deny that
the corporal punishment induced well-marked sexual
stimulation--although the gluteal region is not within the domain of
the genital organs."
Oskar Pfister, physician, psychoanalyst. Love in
Children and its Aberrations (1924)
"Frequent spankings, too, may have a negative impact on sex
development. Because of the proximity of the sex organs, a child may
get sexually aroused when spanked. Or he may so enjoy the making up
that follows the punishment that he will seek suffering as a necessary
prelude to love. There are many adult couples who seem to need a good
fight before a good night."
Dr. Haim G. Ginott, child psychologist. Between Parent and
"Advocates of corporal punishment in schools should examine
very carefully the weight of evidence now available and, particularly
in light of the pornographic component, consider whether they can
justify the continuation of a system with such a capacity for exciting
British Psychological Society, "Report on Corporal
Punishment in Schools" (1980)
"Being beaten excites children sexually because it is an
intense excitation of the erogenous zones of the skin of the buttocks
and of the muscles below the skin..."
Otto Fenichel, M.D. The Psychoanalytic Theory of
"Ever since Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, it has been
well known to all educationalists that the painful stimulation of the
skin of the buttocks is one of the erotic roots of the passive
instrument of cruelty (masochism)."
Sigmund Freud. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,
"The adult flagellant fantasy, in short, always derives from
the infantile one. As with all sexual perversions, we are dealing with
a variety of arrested development...that puberty and subsequent
experience have been unable to dislodge... We need to examine its roots
The New York Times (12/22/92)
Ian Gibson, The English Vice (1979)
The director of a Manhattan junior high school for children at risk of
dropping out was arrested yesterday and charged with sexually abusing a
14-year-old boy who was a ninth-grader at the school, officials said...
[Investigator Robert] Viteretti said that on two occasions [the
director] asked the boy into his office, then closed and locked his
door and pulled down the boy's pants and underwear. `He would start
spanking the boy for his own sexual gratification, and stroking and
caressing his genitalia,' he said...
The Sacramento Bee (3/26/95)
PHOENIX -- The headmaster of a private school has been arrested and
accused of forcing a 15-year-old girl to remove her clothing and kneel
in prayer while he struck her with a wooden paddle. The girl's mother
witnessed the paddling, too frightened to do anything to stop it,
Phoenix police said... The teen's 6-year-old sister, waiting in the
next room, also heard her sister's cries for help, police said...
Her mother had brought her there to consider enrolling her in
Police say Michael William Wetton told the girl during her
75-minute ordeal on Feb. 24 that he wanted her to understand corporal
punishment, which is used to discipline students at the school... After
Wetton's arrest, some parents directed anger at the police... "The
Bible says to use the rod," [school board member Rosemary] Rice said,
adding that the arrest "is an assault on Christian beliefs."...
As part of the orientation, Wetton reportedly took the girl to
a room alone and told her to take off her clothes. Crying, she removed
everything but her bra and panties. Wetton then struck her once with a
wooden paddle. Wetton then reportedly forced the girl to disrobe
completely, made her kneel as if in prayer and struck her across the
buttocks. Then, police say, he forced her to grab the edge of a table,
spread her legs and submit to another swat. Finally, he made her bow
down to him and recite the Lord's Prayer.
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
ELYRIA--Raymond Boyle could get two years in prison after pleading
guilty yesterday to child endangering for spanking his teenage
daughters with their pants down.
Gary A. Crow, executive director of Lorain County Children
Services, said the case shows how blurry the line can be between
discipline and abuse.
Ohio law permits use of reasonable corporal punishment, but
prosecutors said Boyle's methods were a mental risk to his daughters,
15 and 13...
Amherst police Detective Alex Molnar said Boyle, 39, required
his daughters to strip naked from the waist down before spanking them
Officials said one girl was spanked three times, with the
first in January 1995 and the last in April 1996; and the other was
spanked in April 1996.
Molnar said they confided the humiliation to a school
counselor after the April incident. Molnar said the girls were punished
by their father repeatedly for minor things, including misbehaving on
the school bus or disobeying his rules...
The News-Times (Danbury, CT)
LITCHFIELD, Conn. (AP) - A little league coach accused of repeatedly
spanking a little girl after pulling down her pants has been charged
with sexual assault.
Ronald Ellis, 30, of New Hartford, was in Bantam Superior
Court on Monday. He was released on a written promise to appear in
Ellis has been charged with fourth-degree sexual assault and
risk of injury to a minor in the October incidents...
The Gazette (Montreal) (10/31/00)
Amanda Green was being a naughty 7-year-old and knew it on that day 13
years ago when she played with the water and climbed on the toilets in
the girls' bathroom at Greendale elementary school in Pierrefonds.
She and her girlfriend were caught by their teacher, and
Amanda knew she was in for it when she was sent to the principal's
David Wadsworth, principal of the school, immediately said he
would see the girls individually. When it was Amanda's turn, the Grade
2 student nervously entered Wadsworth's office.
What she had done was wrong, Wadsworth told her, and now he
was going to let her pick one of two choices for a punishment: either
he would tell her parents and teachers what she had done and take away
certain privileges, such as recess and gym; or she could take off her
pants and panties and let him spank her as he would his own child, and
no one need ever know what had happened.
"Can't I leave my underwear on?" asked Amanda. No, she vividly
remembers Wadsworth telling her, embarrassment is part of the
Amanda, a feisty child, knew she shouldn't have to remove her
clothes. She didn't like either punishment, she told him, defiantly.
Perhaps taken aback by someone willing to stand up to him, Wadsworth
told her to leave his office and never again brought up the incident.
Amanda's friend chose the spanking.
Wadsworth has pleaded guilty to possession of child
pornography - pictures and videos of children being spanked - as well
as to sexual assault and gross indecency against eight former students
at a Pincourt elementary school. Amanda Green, now a Concordia
University student, finds herself haunted by how many other children
might have chosen to be spanked on a bare bottom by a man everyone
believed was a sweetheart principal and a terrific teacher...
A letter read on BBC Radio 4's "Any Answers?" (4/84)
"My partner is a retired headmaster of a prep school where he had the
power to beat any small boy. He now spends a great deal of time and
energy in contacting young men and women who are willing to be beaten,
as this is the only way he can get sexually aroused."
The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/10/95)
...He is 61, small, heavy, not particularly noticeable. Barbara, his
second wife of 15 years, knows about his addiction and continuing
"If he's late getting home, I get nervous," she says. "I'm not
concerned about him picking up a woman. I'm scared he'll get caught
being an exhibitionist."
His father liked spanking him. It was humiliating and
ritualistic, with his father always saying the slap of his hand on his
son's bottom "sounded like a drum or timpani." His mother, 15 years
younger than her husband, kept quiet. The result: "I've exhibited
myself constantly with the attendant fantasy of a punishment scenario."
Spanking is what he sought. In fact, his first arrest was for
soliciting two girls to spank him...
Charles, Jeffrey, Sin, Sex and Spanking
Children (1994). Online at www.nospank.net/s-chrls.htm.
Freud, Sigmund, "A Child is being Beaten: A
Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversion" (1919).
Reprinted in the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological
Works of Sigmund Freud. (Consult a university library.)
Gibson, Ian, The English Vice. London:
Green, Gerald and Green, Caroline, S-M: The
Last Taboo. New York: Grove Press, 1974.
Greven, Philip, Spare the Child: The Religious
Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse.
New York: Random House, 1991.
Hyman, I. A., Reading, Writing and the Hickory
Stick: The Appalling Story of Physical and Psychological Violence in
American Schools. Boston: Lexington Books, 1990.
Krafft-Ebing, Richard von, Psychopathia Sexualis.
(1886) (Translated from the German. Consult a university library.)
Maurer, Adah, Paddles Away: A Psychological Study
of Physical Punishment in Schools. Palo Alto: R&E Research
Miller, Alice, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in
Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence. New York: Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, 1983.
Newell, Peter, Children are People Too: The Case
Against Physical Punishment. London: Bedford Square Press, 1989.
Scott, George Ryley, The History of Corporal
Punishment. London: T. Werner Laurie, Ltd., 1938, Republication:
Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1974.
"Spanking Can Be Sexual Abuse" (Compilation). Online at www.
Straus, Murray A., Beating the Devil out of Them:
Corporal Punishment in American Families. New York: Free Press,
See additional titles by Tom Johnson
listed in Index to
See Spanking Can Be Sexual
Abuse, a compilation on this topic.