Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield*
ABSTRACT: Our current sexual abuse system promotes an
antisexual view of human
sexuality. This is seen in the depiction of sex as bad
in sexual abuse prevention
programs, the readiness to define a sexual or affectionate
interaction as abusive, the
criminalization of childhood sexual behavior, and the
genitalization of human
sexuality. The consequences of this are likely to be
negative for children, adults, and
In October, 1988, a prosecutor made a closing argument
in a criminal sexual abuse
trial in Ohio that illustrates the antisexuality of
the way we respond to allegations of
child sexual abuse. A man had befriended a woman who
was a single parent with a
10-year-old son. After several months of friendship,
he asked the lad to spend Good
Friday with him. They had a good time making Easter
eggs and after dinner the lad
asked if he could stay overnight with the man. The man
called the mother who said it
was fine. When they were ready for bed, the man kissed
the boy on the cheek and
patted him on the buttocks. The man slept downstairs
on a couch and the lad used the
bed upstairs. The next day the lad went home.
A week later the man was arrested for sexual abuse.
In the trial the only discrepancy
from the above account was that the lad said the man
kissed him on the neck. In her
closing argument the prosecutor said, "No man should
ever be allowed to get away
with anything that makes a child uncomfortable by claiming
he was just being
affectionate." She claimed that because the child
felt uncomfortable when he was
kissed this was an act of sexual abuse. The man was
more powerful than the child
who could not resist being kissed. The man was convicted
and sentenced to two years
The Wenatchee World (1991) reported that a 73-year-old
man was "charged with
indecent liberties for allegedly putting his hand down
the blouse of a 93-year-old
woman at an East Wenatchee retirement home in May. (The
man) was charged and
ordered to undergo a 15-day observation at Eastern State
The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the revocation of probation
for a 16-year-old
juvenile found guilty of shoplifting because, while
on probation, he was said to have
sexually abused a child. The juvenile had touched the
breasts of his 14-year-old
girlfriend in a consensual petting session (Thompson,
1992). The Arizona Supreme
Court ruled it was a criminal act.
In Minnesota, a 15-year-old girl became pregnant and
later married her 20-year-old
boyfriend. The man worked nights as a truck loader to
support his wife and daughter
and the young couple, although struggling financially,
were happy and self-
supporting. Despite this, the man was criminally charged
and convicted of child sexual
abuse for the act that conceived his daughter (Duchschere,
In 1970, 86,324 persons in the United States were arrested
for sexual offenses. In
1986, 168,579 persons were arrested for sexual offenses.
This is almost doubling the
number of persons arrested. From 1970 to 1979 the rate
of increase for sexual
offenses other than forcible rape and prostitution was
+5%. From 1979 to 1988 the
rate of increase for these offenses was +44.5% (U. S.
Department of Justice, 1981,
1989). It appears that the single largest group in our
prison population may well be
those convicted of sexual offenses. At least it is second
only to the broad category of
convictions for drug offenses.
In a trial in December, 1986, in Anchorage, Alaska,
we first testified about the
antisexuality inherent in some aspects of the effort
to deal with sexual abuse of
children. We described the criminalization of behaviors
that had formerly been
viewed as foolish or deplorable but not as criminal
acts. We also wrote about the
antisexuality of the child sexual abuse system in our
1988 book, Accusations of Child
(Wakefield & Underwager, 1988).
Nothing that has occurred since then has caused us to
change that view. We believe
that the manner in which our society attempts to reduce
sexual abuse of children
represents the most virulent and violent antisexuality
the world has known since the
days of Tertullian in the second century. Tertullian
was an early Christian theologian
who maintained that the only proper way to be a Christian
was to emasculate yourself.
Fortunately, however, the church officially labeled
Tertullian a heretic and his view
never became dominant.
The view that there has been a movement towards antisexuality
and overreaction to
childhood sexuality is supported by a poll of mental
health and legal professionals
reported by Haugaard and Reppucci (Okami, 1992). The
poll indicated that 20% of
these professionals believed that frequent hugging of
a 10-year-old child by parents
required intervention, that between 44% and 67% believed
intervention was required
if parents kissed the child briefly on the lips (as
when leaving for work), and that 75%
believed intervention was required for parents who appeared
nude in front of their 5-year-old child.
Antisexuality is also evident in the need to deny and
ignore the sexuality of children.
The oft-repeated but unfounded dogmas that children
cannot talk about anything they
have not experienced and that age-inappropriate sexual
behavior means the child
must have been sexually abused are counter to the research
sexuality. What children normally do sexually is more
involved than most people
believe (Best, 1983; Friedrich, Grambsch, Broughton, Kuiper, & Beike, 1991;
Gundersen, Melas & Skar, 1981; Langfeldt, 1981;
Martinson, 1981; Okami, 1992; Rutter, 1971). Haugaard and Tilly (1988) found that
approximately 28% of male and
female under-graduates reported having engaged in sexual
play with another child
when they were children.
In one trial a pediatrician testified that a 4-year-old
boy had been abused because he
got an erection when she was inspecting his penis. In
another case, a Canadian
judge ruled it was nonempirical that 4-year-old girls
could have fantasies about
sexuality, so therefore the child's account was accurate.
When mental health professionals who deny the reality
of children's sexuality testify,
any sexual behavior by children may be labeled age-inappropriate
indicative of abuse. Children who French kiss, or even
kiss sloppily; children who
masturbate; children who like being tickled; children
who use sexual language, laugh
about feces or urine, or joke with other children about
genitalia; and children who
engage in sex play with peers may be labeled as abused
because such behaviors are
said to be outside of normal expectations. For example,
a prosecutor in Wisconsin
claimed that two children who had been found in bed
under the covers, giggling, were
abused because only abused children could act that way.
The Criminalization of Childhood Sexual Behavior
Young children are also labeled sexual abusers. A 9-year-old
California boy was
charged with rape, sodomy, unlawful sexual intercourse,
and child molestation of a 7-
and an 8-year-old girl, allegedly occurring at a birthday
party (Lachnit, 1991). A 9-
year-old boy was convicted of rape of a 7-year-old boy
in Bellingham, Washington (Logg, 1990). The charge, which the older boy denied,
was that he attacked the
younger boy in the school restroom handicapped stall.
The police detective said, "We
see many cases of offenders that are 3, 4, 7, 8 years
old, offending against younger
children, usually" (p. A1). A 10-year-old San Francisco
boy was charged with rape
and sodomy of four younger playmates in 1989 (Thompson,
Okami (1992) notes that the criminalization of childhood
sexual behavior has resulted
in a new category of criminal deviant - a "child
perpetrator" or very young "sexual
offender." Johnson (1988 & 1989) exemplifies
this view in her description of a child
perpetrators treatment program at Children's Institute
International (the organization
that interviewed the children in the McMartin Preschool
case). Johnson applies the
label of "child perpetrator" to children as
young as 4 and, in some cases, when the
"perpetrator" is younger than the "victim."
Others with this view include Cantwell
(1988), who gives examples of a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old
child perpetrator, and
Hartman and Burgess (1988), who label a 4-year-old boy
an offender and abuser
when a 3-year-old girl's play is interpreted to suggest
the boy was sexually aggressive
towards her at the day care center.
Haugaard (1990) notes that there is no justification
for labeling mutually enjoyable sex
play as sexually abusive and for labeling one or both
of the children as an abuser. But
this is happening. Young children may be sentenced to
therapy programs or to
various forms of detention. In Phoenix children as young
as 7 were sentenced to a
treatment program for young offenders using a penile
plethysmograph and avoidance
conditioning (Young, 1992).
Negative Views of Adult Sexuality
The antisexuality of the child sexual abuse system is
also evident in a critical view of
adult sexuality. Prosecutors and mental health professionals
portray an adult who is
accused of child sexual abuse as some sort of perverse
monster. Questions are often
asked about the sexual behavior of the accused adult.
Former wives, girlfriends,
neighbors, relatives are quizzed about their knowledge
of the accused person's
sexual behavior. A departure from the pattern of straight
missionary position once a
week with the wife or steady girlfriend may be used
as evidence to show how deviant
the accused is.
Adult sexual behaviors such as fellatio, mutual masturbation,
intercourse or unusual positions, massage, use of massage
oils, lubricants, dildoes,
sexual aids, pornography (including Playboy and lingerie
ads), ménage a trois or a quattro, adultery, and unusual fantasies are used to
portray an accused person as
sexually deviant and thus a child molester. Any interest
in fantasies of bondage or
fantasies of rape or fantasies of orgies or multiple
partners is used to present the
accused as a sexual sadist. Even homosexual experiences
may be used to prove the
person accused is a child sexual molester. The prosecutor,
Glen Goldberg, in the
Kelly Michaels trial in New Jersey, spent two days on
evidence that Ms. Michaels had
a single homosexual experience during her freshman year
in college. Together with
the fact that she was a drama major this was presented
as evidence that she was an
Factors Behind the Antisexual Attitudes
Okami (1992) notes that the increasing concern with
negative aspects of human
sexuality is reflected in the Psychological
In 1969 there were no index
categories for sexual abuse, sex offenses, sexual harassment,
rape, incest, sexual
sadism or pedophilia these were all included under the
category of sexual
deviations which listed 65 journal articles. However,
by 1989, these categories were
added and 400 articles were listed, a 20-fold increase.
In terms of the category, child abuse, not only has there been a 34-fold increase in
the number of articles listed
between 1969 and 1989, but in 1989 between 75% and 85%
were concerned with
sexual rather than physical abuse of children. Okami
comments that this supports the
observation that the term child abuse has come to mean
child sexual abuse.
Mosher (1991) describes the concept of the moralistic
intolerance of the left and the
analysis of "claims makers" who create new
problems and then make their career out
of manufacturing the answers. He traces the development
of the view of children
presented in the history of American child-saving: "The
rebellious child became the
deprived child who became the sick child who has now
become the victimized child"
(p. 15). This aspect of antisexuality is accepted without
criticism by the professional
societies and accorded respectability in the professional
community (Money, 1991b).
Money (1991a) sees the antisexuality of the child sexual
abuse system as a reaction
to the sexual revolution of the 60s and a response to
the fear generated by AIDS.
Okami (1992) also believes there is a "covert moral
crusade" against the "sex positive"
changes occurring in this era. In addition, he adds
the component of historical social
political feminism to the explanation for this phenomenon (Okami, 1990).
Victor (1993, and this issue) also sees a moral crusade
as underlying the belief in a
satanic cult conspiracy. He believes the satanic cult
scare arises from deep-seated
frustrations and anxieties by people about modern society.
He views the moral
crusaders as basically rational and decent people who
are attempting to deal with
confusing and ambiguous problems of everyday life. The
moral crusade arises out of
the need to identify scapegoat deviants to blame.
Money (1991a) discusses the antisexuality evident in
the prevention programs and
the sexual terror induced by good touch/bad touch presentations
(1991b). The sexual
abuse prevention programs which have proliferated throughout
the country are based
on empowerment theory. The orientation of empowerment
theory is political ideology
which has at its core antisexuality (Krivacska, 1991b).
This antisexuality may be seen
in the language of sexual abuse that has its own peculiar,
idiosyncratic usage of terms
such as "hurt," "touch," "feel
funny," "body parts," "yucky,"
and "uncomfortable." The
system does not use direct language about sexuality
but instead uses circumlocutions such as "parts covered by a bathing suit."
This communicates to children that
sex is viewed negatively and cannot be talked about
freely and openly. When a young
child is questioned repeatedly about deviant sexuality,
that child has been taught a
negative view of sexuality. This focus on parts of our
body and genitals teaches a
genitalized and partial view of sex that will hinder
the development of concepts of
intimacy and sexuality (Krivacska, 1990; Nelson, 1978).
(For a more detailed analysis
of the antisexuality in the child sexual abuse prevention
programs, see Krivacska
1991a, 1991b, 1991c, and this issue).
Another possible factor in the need for the repetition
of the horror of child sexual
abuse is the concept of reaction formation. This concept
describes the titillation and
reinforcement of a covert prurient interest by the apparent
aversion but nevertheless
continued pre-occupation with the overtly despised behaviors.
Power and Antisexuality
The concept of power appears to be at the root of the
antisexuality of the sexual abuse
system. Sexual abuse is defined as ". . . any form
of coerced sexual interaction
between an individual and a person in a position of
power over that individual"
(Dolan, 1991, p.1). Logg (1991) reports that therapists
distinguish between children's
exploratory sexual play and sexual abuse by children
primarily on the dimension of
power. It is the disparity in power that is believed
to be the cause of the harm that is
done to children by sexual abuse (Bass & Davis,
1988). It is because older and bigger
people are more powerful than smaller and younger people
that sexual contact is
Because such aggressive power is so terrible, when the
individual understands how it
harmed the victim, the best and most desired response
is anger and rage (Dolan,
1991; Bass & Davis, 1988). In the records of therapy
sessions with 405 young children
we found in almost every case some effort to teach the
child to be angry at the
perpetrator (Wakefield & Underwager, 1988). This
has included weekly sessions
practicing assassinating father with toy pistols, throwing
a father doll in a cardboard
box labeled jail, role playing hitting and kicking the
perpetrator, and sending angry
and accusing letters to the alleged perpetrator.
Even if the behavior is gentle, tender fondling by an
older and bigger person within a
context of a caring and loving interaction and is experienced
by a younger and
smaller person as a rewarding and pleasant genital stimulation,
it is defined as
abusive, traumatic, and a stressor experience that may
lead to dissociation, numbing,
hopelessness, and all the possible negative effects
of sexual abuse. Even if an event
of sexual contact is a single non-intrusive and non-violent
occurrence, if it is between
a child and an adult, it is defined as abusive, destructive,
and likely to generate long-
term damage. There is an assumed dichotomy between the
powerless child who is
asexual and innocent and the powerful adult who is sexual,
experienced in lust, and
The frequent use of the circumlocution of "hurt"
when adults question children about
possible sexual abuse demonstrates the assumption that
the power imbalance is
harmful. When an adult asks a child if Daddy "hurt"
her and both the adult and the
child understand that what is being asked is a question
about sexual contact the
message is that sex and violence are inseparable. In
and of itself "hurt" does not imply
sexual contact. When it is understood that sexual contact
is included, the power
imbalance has been broadened to be the cause of the
"hurt." Herman (1981) puts it
this way: "Any sexual relationship between the
two (an adult and a child or an
adolescent) must necessarily take on some of the coercive
characteristics of rape" (p.
Connecting power and human sexuality runs the risk of
sexualizing aggression and
making all sexual activity aggression. As we become
more aware of and convinced of
power imbalances in sexual interactions it becomes easier
to perceive a sexual
encounter as coercive-maybe subtly coercive, but nevertheless
characterized by an
imbalance of power. Thus sex becomes violence and sexual
rapes. Inasmuch as men are regarded as physically stronger
than women, men are
the aggressors and all men are basically rapists (Brownmiller,
1975). We are
perilously close to that state of affairs right now (Okami, 1990).
However, one of the few empirical tests of the relationship
between power and
intimacy did not support an inherent connection of sex
and power. Howard, Blumstein,
and Schwartz (1986) gathered data on how partners in
long-term intimate relationships dealt with efforts to influence each other
and pursue individual needs and
goals. They had two strong influence behavior patterns-bullying
and autocracy. They
report that neither sex role orientation nor sex had
any effects on the perceived use of
strong influence tactics. Heterosexual women who were
not employed used autocratic
tactics and bullying even though they were in a position
of structural weakness in
being unemployed. The authors conclude that their study
documents the separability
of sex and power.
In human life all forms of human contact involve inequitable
Since there is no way to completely remove the imbalance
of power in a relationship,
the only hope to reduce the impact of uneven power reality
is a voluntary
relinquishment of the advantages of power and a concomitant endorsement of the
value and desirability of love. Punishment of the misuse
of power is simply the
exercise of superior power.
The Genitalization of Human Sexuality
The genitalization of human sexuality in the child sexual
abuse system is evident in
the circumlocutions for genitals: "private parts,"
"parts covered by your bathing suit,"
"parts that nobody else should touch," "parts
that make you feel uncomfortable when
they are touched." The body is viewed as a fortress
that must be defended against all
incursions from the outside. Anybody who tries to penetrate
the body's boundaries is
dangerous. Here, too, the connection with aggression
and violence becomes evident
in the names elicited from children for genitals. The
words used for penis tend to be
tool names and poking, penetrating words are used for
intercourse. Younger children
tend to use more direct expressions while older children
use somewhat more indirect
expressions (Sutton-Smith & Abrams, 1978).
The consequences of genitalizing human sexuality are
often overlooked. It is a return
to Greek dualism and the idea of the body as bad, evil,
wicked, and a prison for the
soul. This dualism is linked to the oft-reviled perception
of sex as evil and wicked.
When the body is alienated from the self and viewed
as a thing, an object, the
consequence is the objectification both of sex and the
sexual actions, as well as any
sexual partners. Tertullian, in a reference to female
genitalia, called women the "gate
to hell." Augustine saw every act of sex as an
act of lust because of what he
understood as concupiscence, the genitals were no longer
under voluntary control.
It is the genitalization of sex that leads to the various
forms of performance anxiety. In
turn, almost all sexual dysfunctions can be traced to
performance anxiety. The
genitalization of human sexuality obscures the reality
that whole persons are the
entities that love. The genitalization of human sexuality
by the child sexual abuse
system is likely to result in an increase in sexual
dysfunction in the years to come.
A consequence of the antisexual attitudes in the child
abuse system is that men are
driven back to seeing themselves as tough, hard, cold,
unemotional, and aggressive.
After 20 years of trying to persuade men that they can
be soft and gentle, that they can
have feelings and cry, and that they can be tender and
intimate, now when they
believe it and affectionately touch children, they may
go to prison.
All over this country men have told us they are afraid
of children. They see an
attractive, cute child in the supermarket and they don't
go down that aisle. They don't
make reinforcing comments to children in elevators.
They worry about kissing and
hugging their children or changing their diapers and
wiping their bottoms. They
cannot go into hot tubs or showers with their children
for fear of being misunderstood.
Teachers who were taught that children need to be touched
and hugged risk being
accused of sexual abuse, losing their jobs and careers,
and even going to prison.
Children who have been taught to see themselves as distinct
from their bodies and to
abhor any sexual pleasure as "hurt" cannot
experience the wholeness and unity of
their own selfhood nor that created by the union of
persons who abjure power and
embrace mutuality. The mingling of violence and sex
is dangerous as is shown by
Take the following two scenes enacted in a shopping
mall, say, or on the street or in
the park: in the first an adult is striking a screaming
child repeatedly on the buttocks; in
the second an adult is sitting with a child on a bench
and they are hugging. Which
scene is more common? Which makes us uneasy? Which do
we judge to be normal?
Which is more likely to run afoul of the law? A society,
I believe, which honors hitting
and suspects hugging is immoral; one which sees hitting
as health and hugging as
illness is mad; one which is aroused by hitting alone
is psychotic and should be
locked up (p. 362).
When anger is advanced as a positive healing force (Bass
& Davis, 1988) and
aggression becomes more palatable than tenderness and
affection and men go to
prison for kissing boys, something is amiss.
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|* Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager are psychologists at the
Institute for Psychological Therapies,
5263 130th Street East,
Northfield, MN 55057-4880.
1 This is a revised version of a paper presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Society for
the Scientific Study of Sex, San Diego, California, November
15, 1992. [Back]
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