||The Sexual Life of Children
||Floyd M. Martinson
||Bergin & Garvey, © 1994
Bergin & Garvey
88 Post Road West
Westport, CT 06881
In 153 pages, Floyd M. Martinson, a professor of sociology at
Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and member of the Editorial
Advisory Board of The
Journal of Sex Research, presents a survey
of the sexual development of children, with chapters following the
course of growth and sexual experience from early infancy to
preadolescence. He also discusses the legal status of children
within the context of their development, including the debates
concerning child sexual abuse.
In 1973 and 1974, Floyd M. Martinson published books on the sexuality of
children from infancy through adolescence. These books were important
because of the dearth of data at the time on normal sexual development.
Much of his evidence was obtained through the retrospection of young adults; for
then as now, the direct study of children's sex lives was discouraged, if not
forbidden. Twenty years later, he brings us up to date; yet there is still
a distressing scarcity of empirical research to draw upon. Funding is
available for exploration of what our society sees as the dangers of sex, such
as child sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, or gender orientation in sexual
minorities, but not to examine the sexuality of the great majority of American
children. Martinson presents information from history and anthropology
that reveals the tremendous variety of childhood experiences considered normal
at different times and across cultures; yet it is equally interesting to read
his own evidence of the considerable variety in the sex lives of ordinary
There is ample testimony from sex therapists about adult problems apparently
created by strict and repressive upbringing. Martinson argues that
children should be allowed to explore their budding sensuality and given the
knowledge to understand what is happening to them. He looks to Sweden as a
country that teaches far more accurate information to children about sexuality
than our own with good results. He outlines a grade school sex education
curriculum, one that places at least as much emphasis on the deeper meanings of
sex, relationships, and responsibilities as on the mechanics of reproduction.
At the same time, Martinson recognizes current concerns about the dividing line
between what are appropriate interactions between child and child or child and
adult, and what may be inappropriate and even harmful. At present, there
appears to be some agreement in our society about the importance of a warm and
intimate bond between parents and infants for healthy psychological development.
As children mature, however, agreement ends and fears increase about the
stimulation children derive from themselves and receive from others, whether
peers or adults. Unfortunately, the lack of solid data hinders our ability
to draw clear guidelines.
There must be a better way of promoting healthy sexual development than our
present course. Deliberate ignorance about a topic of great interest and
import can never be a wise choice for a society. There is no reason the
development of sexuality should not be studied as rigorously and extensively as
the development of any other major facet of our lives, such as aggression or
cognition. The contribution of Martinson and the few other researchers in
the field must be welcomed.
I recommend the book to readers of this journal interested in a broader view
of sexual development that can provide a valuable perspective on the topic of
child sexual abuse.
Reviewed by Ross Legrand, Consulting Psychologists, Ltd.,