IPT Book Reviews

Title: The Sexual Life of Children  Positive Review
Author: Floyd M. Martinson
Publisher: Bergin & Garvey, 1994

Bergin & Garvey
88 Post Road West
Westport, CT 06881
(203) 226-3571
$45.00 (c)

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 American children.

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., Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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