Dear Dr Saltzman,
After having visited your website, I thought that you could help me by
answering these questions:
When is child sexual experimentation just
What is the age limit for childhood sexual contact to be qualified as
Whenever we talk about childhood incest the first thing that comes to
mind is abuse, isn't childhood incest the same as normal childhood
I just want to add a third one. I am very much curious to know why you
are offering this kind of service for free?
sexual experimentation between two children of roughly similar ages
is normal. Most children have had sexual contact with other
children at times during childhood, and this is an expected part of
child development. In keeping with their judgmental and largely negative understanding of
human sexuality, religious fundamentalists, prudes, hypocrites, and other purveyors of "morality"
often try to demonize any kind of sexuality other than straight intercourse
between legally married partners. These sex-hating, sex-fearing types frequently attempt to portray childhood
sexuality as something wicked, claiming that a child's interest in sex, or that child's experimenting sexually with others is somehow perverse
or abnormal, but this is simply mistaken. A child's interest is sex
is entirely normal, and, in fact, is genetically programmed in
the human brain.
prohibition of incest is a legal matter and also a cultural taboo,
but obviously incest is both desired and experienced by many, because
if it were not, there would be no need for such strong taboos against
it. By the way, incest usually refers only to actual sexual
intercourse. Other forms of sexual contact between close relatives is
not technically incest, and in some cultures even is quite normal.
For example, according to psychologist Gregory Bateson, in
traditional Balinese families, mothers routinely stroke the penises
of their young sons, and such behavior is considered no more
incestuous than breast-feeding. Ordinary sexual
experimentation between children within the same family is definitely
When incest or any other sexual contact takes place between an adult and a child, that constitutes, by definition, child abuse. In fact, physical contact is not even a criterion for child sexual abuse, since such things as talking sexually to a child, showing the child pornography, exposing ones sex organs to a child, and other such sexualizing of a relationship with a child may also qualify as abuse. But sexual contact between two children of roughly similar ages and intellectual capacities does not, and cannot, by definition, constitute child abuse.
Emotional incest is another form of child abuse. This involves a parent relating to a child as a substitute for an adult partner. That child may become emotionally bonded to the parent in ways which discourage the normal process of maturing and leaving home. Such emotional incest usually occurs before any actual physical parent-child incest. For example, a man who is not close with his wife may use his daughter as an emotional substitute, and this may or may not eventuate in actual father-daughter incest. But even without any actual physical sexual contact, the consequences to the child may involve a lifetime of relationship difficulties. This kind of post-abuse emotional aftermath comes up frequently in my therapy practice, and sometimes is complicated by the now-adult child having felt special or especially loved by the adult (most often, but not always, a father of a daughter) while the emotional incest was taking place. Psychologist Martyn Carruthers maintains that such emotional incest is a socially accepted form of child abuse in many countries. In other words, in many cultural milieux such invasion of a child's emotional space is considered normal, but that does not mean that it is healthy. This is an important distinction which you should apply in thinking further about your questions.
Now, James, I
find your question about why I would share freely my knowledge, understanding, and point of view a bit strange. Not everything has to
be about money. I reply to the questions sent to me--as many as my schedule allows--as a form of community
service, and the community I am serving happens to be the
citizenry of planetary cyberspace.